Do You Offer Small-Group or Partner Training Options in Your Business?

I offer small-group sessions for my studio business. The setup is mutually beneficial for my clients and me because friends or relatives can train together, and each person receives a discounted rate. I earn significantly more at one time training two people versus one. Because my studio is small and I am the only trainer, group training is for no more than two clients at a time, and the same two people always train together. They have to make sure their schedules synchronize, and [if one of them misses] sessions, it does not excuse the other from coming. For some people, unless they are a married couple, keeping their schedules in line can be very challenging.

Clients who choose this training option like it because they save money and can motivate each other. Everything they do with me they tend to do together (e.g., their sessions are together, and their assessments and follow-up discussions are together). This strategy seems to help them understand that they are not alone in their struggle, and that they can support each other. It has been a heartfelt experience for me in this regard.

Liz Guscott

ISSA Certified Personal Trainer,

Renaissance Woman Fitness

Lakewood, Ohio

I have paired personal training clients together and will strive to do it more, but not for the obvious economic reasons. Clearly there is great advantage to all, as the per-hour cost for the client goes down and the per-hour earnings for the trainer go up. However, as a trainer I ultimately want my clients to graduate to being self-motivated and adequately educated, so they can pursue a well-rounded, healthful lifestyle. Trainer dependence is counterproductive to this. But when a trainer sets into motion a dynamic relationship between training partners, their interdependence on each other (given the right partners, of course) is motivating, compelling and productive.

Here are some things I would keep in mind when pairing clients:

  • Consider compatibility. While partners don’t need to have identical training needs, they should have similar ability and goals, with congruent availability.
  • Sell partner training in sets to ensure commitment. For example, book six sessions across 3 weeks, paid up-front, with the opportunity for one reschedule within that 3-week period. This setup allows for flexibility but not for abuse of the trainer’s time.
  • Have an “out” clause. Things can go wrong in partnerships, and that possibility should be discussed long before any problem arises.
  • Where space is limited, be mindful of downtimes in the gym and try to book partner training when it is less crowded. The session will go more smoothly if you can get partners to coordinate without tripping over other gym members.
  • Think outside the gym. Your market base may not even be at the facility where you work. Your services may be needed by plenty of people who will never set foot in a gym until introduced to one. Partnering nonexercisers and introducing them to gym workouts might be a new niche for you.
  • Don’t forget to book your prep time. Just because clients share the same hour with you doesn’t mean they share the same prep time. They still have individual considerations, and their programs should meet their unique needs and expectations. (So if, with one client, you book her for 1 hour and plan 30 minutes’ prep time for each 1-hour session, when you go up to two clients in the same hour, you still need to book 30 minutes’ prep time per client, and your rates should reflect this.)

Don’t be afraid to promote your intention to graduate your client sets away from you. Client dependence is just as counterproductive as trainer dependence. Success is the best advertisement: if you play your cards right, your clients will recommend your services to others, perpetuating your business.

Cori Parks

ACE Personal Trainer,

Group Fitness Instructor

Cairo, Egypt

Solo Fitness Inc. is an in-home personal training company based in New York City since 1990. Our sessions are one-on-one for the most part. But we also offer semiprivate and guest-visit sessions (exercise training or yoga) in the following ways:

1. Either the client asks about shared sessions or even small-group sessions with a spouse or friend(s), or I suggest it if the fee for a private session seems out of the client’s price range. This is a way to make the sessions more affordable. Our fee for a shared session is a bit higher than it is for a private one, because the trainer works that much harder during the session and more work is involved overall. However, the cost to the client is half of what it would be if he were to do the session alone. The tricky part is when one person cancels. Does the session now become a private session? Does the client taking the session absorb all of the fee (the private-session fee or the whole semiprivate fee)?

2. Sometimes a client wants to bring a guest to share the session. We have a guest-visit fee for this type of arrangement. We need to know about the guest prior to the session (the client knows this from her initial contract) so that the guest can sign an informed consent and complete a PAR-Q form. The guest fee is then passed on to the trainer.

Some cautionary notes: each client needs to have an initial fitness assessment, which—as an exercise physiologist—I conduct; then the clients usually have their first sessions alone so they can at least start their unique programs. We encourage clients who decide to share sessions to choose workout partners with similar goals and fitness levels. The trainer then develops the sessions accordingly.

For program design purposes, trainers often use one of the following setups for a 1-hour session:

  • Client A on cardio for 30 minutes, while Client B works with trainer, then A and B switch places.
  • Clients A and B work simultaneously, as in a group fitness program.

The best experience I have had with shared sessions has been with a husband-and-wife team. I worked with each of them individually once a week, and then they came together for a shared session at the end of the week. While one was on the stationary bike, the other was working one-on-one with me. Or they worked together the whole time like a group exercise class. A special moment came when they partnered each other for stretching. I saw lots of smiles and good banter going on between the two of them.

Lisa Hoffman, MA

President and Owner, Solo Fitness Inc.

New York, New York

Since we run a personal training studio, we love having small-group and partner training as options for our clients. We offer several different variations: semiprivate (two or three clients); small-group format with GRAVITYStrength and GRAVITYPilates (up to six clients); and Sport Circuit Training (with as many as 15 athletes). These options are less expensive than one-on-one training, making our services available to more folks in our area.

The semiprivate training offers accountability (improving compliance), reduces the training rate by about 25% and often provides a unique bonding experience between the two clients. We have worked with countless partner combinations, including father and son, mother and daughter, teammates, spouses and friends. We have even had folks who initially met at our studio (because they worked out at the same time with different trainers) and decided to add partner training sessions to their workout schedules!

We started offering the small-group format when we expanded our studio last year. This format has been an exciting addition to our services, saving clients 65% over traditional one-on-one training. We schedule sessions (much like group fitness classes) on a monthly basis, adding them as needed to accommodate our clients. We can offer special free introductory sessions to targeted groups. For example, we scheduled free sessions at 3:30 pm several days one week for the teachers and classified staff at a local elementary school. Those folks really felt valued because we customized the time for them! Additionally, if three or more people want a different time than what we currently offer, we can create it for them.

Sport Circuit Training is another relatively new addition to our services. By using adjoining spaces (an athletic training area and the group training room, in which we have six GRAVITYSystems set up), we have been able to offer some of our local high-school athletic teams a customized conditioning program. As a retired high-school physical education teacher, Scott has a keen interest and loads of experience in working with the youth of our rural community. Access to high-quality equipment is very limited in our area—at any price—so we are thrilled to have our well-equipped studio used for such a noble cause! This program is a community service for us, not a profit center.

Our clients have really benefited from these different training options. Sometimes we keep clients longer or they can afford to work out more often because of these alternatives. Also, I think we see new folks “try” training who never would have done so without these less expensive choices.

One of the challenges we face with the partner and small-group formats is that our clients have to trade some flexibility for a price break. For example, the “studio” side of our facility can accommodate up to four trainers and four clients at one time. If one trainer has scheduled a partner training session, that couple will occupy half of our space for 1 hour. That leaves us rather vulnerable as business owners. If the couple calls in with a late cancellation, we have lost half of our potential income with one call. Because of this possibility, we have to be somewhat strict with our cancellation policy regarding this type of training.

Another challenge with any type of partner or small-group training is coordinating schedules and exercise skills. We have had couples who think they want to train together, only to find out their schedules are not truly compatible. Another hurdle to jump can be when a couple wants to train together, but one participant is much more experienced than the other. The trick in this circumstance is to convince the inexperienced client to get some one-on-one sessions under his belt before he jumps into partner training.

Scott and Barbi Jackson

Owners, Scott Jackson’s Real Life Fitness

Nevada City, California

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April 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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