Growth Potential Continues for Personal Training

2007 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey data show that personal trainers are creative, specialized and poised for new opportunities.

Personal fitness trainers (PFTs) are consistent and steadfast contributors to the fitness industry. While continuing to serve their main clientele, they are also flexing and growing their businesses as new populations and opportunities emerge. According to the personal trainer members who completed the 2007 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey, one-on-one training of adults remains the focus of the industry and is poised for even more growth. Trainers are also expanding into partner/ multiple-client sessions and moving their clients outdoors. These are the session options offered by over 50% of survey respondents:

95% personal training (adult, one-on-one)

92 strength training (individual, nongroup)

89 fitness assessment

83 stretching and/or flexibility

82 outdoor personal training sessions

77 personal training (2 clients share)

65 personal training (youth, aged 18 or younger, one-on-one)

58 body-weight-only training

57 abdominals training

56 nutrition assessment

55 nutrition coaching

55 sport-specific training

53 back pain prevention

52 core conditioning

Most personal trainers are working with clients who have chronic or temporary injuries and with people who have special medical needs, such as diabetes or heart disease. Specialized programs, such as fitness assessments (89%), enable trainers to evaluate the needs of these clients.

The survey respondents report frequent use of portable equipment that can be incorporated in multiple ways to help clients meet their goals. In addition, trainers are conducting sessions in a variety of environments, including health clubs, personal training gyms, clients’ homes and the outdoors.

PFTs say that 71% of their clients stay with the business 1 year or longer and the median number of personal training sessions conducted per week is 20. Clearly, clients are happy with the success they are seeing from the personalized programs designed by their trainers.

One-on-One Training Still Number One

One-on-one personal training still holds the top position as the most frequently offered program (95%), according to respondents. In addition, 60% of trainers predict that one-on-one training will continue to grow. As Mary Bratcher, MA, co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego, points outs, “Personal training by nature is intended to be an individualized experience. Clients want to achieve the biggest gains in the shortest amount of time. They may feel that sharing a session with other people reduces the amount of individualized attention they personally receive and, as such, could impact their results.”

With the exception of personal training shared by 2 clients, which is offered by 77% of respondents, small-group training options are offered by fewer than 50% of the PFTs who completed the survey. Bratcher suggests that while multiple-client training may reduce the cost per session for the individual, people generally prefer to pay extra to have things catered exactly to their needs. “The side benefits of decreased expense and increased social interaction [that come with] multiple-client sessions may be found elsewhere in the fitness arena, such as group fitness classes,” she said. However, some small-group training options appear to be gradually gaining ground within our facilities. Boot camp programs have increased from 26% to 30% (indoor) and 16% to 31% (outdoor) since 2006. And personal training sessions shared by 2 clients and 3–5 clients have risen from 68% to 77% and 40% to 44%, respectively, since 2004. Small-group training options are more likely to be offered in health clubs than in personal training gyms or clients’ homes.

Curious about why 100% of respondents do not offer personal training? This survey, sent to IDEA members in the personal trainer membership category, includes a small number of respondents (for example, a few working in yoga and Pilates studios) who do not offer traditional personal training.

Strength Training Flexes Its Muscle

What type of instruction is going on within sessions? Most trainers (92%) report strength training as a key component. It may take several forms, with body-weight-only training (58%) being the most popular, while very slow strength training (30%) is the least common. In addition, trainers have not forgotten the importance of range-of-motion activities, with 83% of the trainers including stretching and/or flexibility exercises within clients’ sessions. As Matthew Seril, personal trainer at Michael Seril Fitness in Whittier, California, says, “A lot of individuals are comfortable with performing cardio exercise in the gym because the machine, whether it is a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, can walk them through a predesigned program. However, they are much less confident with resistance training. They are unsure of what exercises to do, how much weight or [how many] reps are appropriate and if they are doing the exercise correctly in regard to form. In addition, strength training contributes to more efficient movements that improve all aspects of the training session.”

Special Populations Have Arrived

As the incidence of hypokinetic diseases continues to rise, trainers find themselves working with specialized populations. Health clubs tend to have higher percentages of members with physical disabilities (68%), medical conditions (86%) and chronic injuries (86%) compared with personal training gyms (52%, 83% and 89%, respectively) and in-home training (36%, 75% and 70% respectively). However, back pain prevention programs (61%), postrehab following injury (62%) and exercise for chronic medical conditions (54%) are more likely to be offered in personal training gyms than in health clubs or clients’ homes. Charlie Hoolihan, personal training director at the Pelican Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana, states, “Knowledge of corrective exercise techniques with and without equipment is going to be critical in the future as trainers begin to see more clients who have special medical needs. Not only can these exercises help correct specific medical conditions, but more importantly, [they can] help prevent them from occurring in the first place.”

Training Moves Outdoors

An impressive 82% of survey respondents offer outdoor personal training, up from 43% in 2004. Outdoor bootcamp (31%) and outdoor group activities (46%) are additional options being offered. Trainers believe that outdoor training will continue to grow, as evidenced by the respondents reporting that outdoor personal training (56%), outdoor bootcamp (48%) and outdoor group activities (52%) will continue their growth. Ayla Preszler, outdoor training specialist for Sportivo Ativo in Brea, California, agrees that outdoor settings are becoming popular with personal trainers: “Outdoor programs provide an unconventional training environment to stimulate the client’s physical and mental health. Clients spend a majority of their day inside an office building or home, and being outside provides them with an opportunity for playful physical activity.”

Body-Mind Activity Remains Popular in Health Clubs

Pilates and yoga have demonstrated a small decline over the past 4 years. In 2004, 54% of respondents reported offering Pilates and 46% offered yoga to their clients. This year, those numbers dropped to 47% of survey respondents offering Pilates and 42% offering yoga. However, these fitness professionals still express confidence in the growth of body-mind techniques, with 57% expecting Pilates to grow and 51% reporting that yoga is still on the rise. One-on-one Pilates or yoga training (36%) and Gyrotonic® or Gyrokinesis® exercise (3%) are not offered by a large percentage of the respondents; however, those who do offer these options believe strong growth will occur, with 53% reporting growth potential in one-on-one Pilates or yoga training, and 79% predicting growth for Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis exercise. Overwhelmingly, Pilates, yoga and one-on-one Pilates or yoga training are offered more often in health clubs than in personal training gyms or clients’ homes.

Almost parallel with the findings on growth expectation of Pilates instruction is the expected growth of Pilates equipment: 56% of survey respondents reported there will be a rise in Pilates equipment usage, while 28% believed it will remain stable.

Versatility and Variety in Equipment

Survey respondents reported using all types of equipment, with an emphasis on the smaller portable pieces. These are the 10 pieces of equipment most frequently available:

92% stability balls

91 barbells and/or dumbbells

91 resistance tubing or bands

86 medicine balls

83 balance (BOSU® Balance Trainers, disks, wobble boards, balance boards)

76 foam rollers and small balls

75 treadmills

73 steps and platforms

70 elliptical trainers

69 pulley equipment

Trainers prefer equipment that is multifunctional and small enough to be portable. Treadmills, elliptical trainers and pulley equipment are the only stationary pieces of equipment in the top 10 of this year’s list. Large equipment is still popular in health clubs; however, these pieces are offered less often in personal training gyms or for in-home training.

Equipment such as stability balls, resistance tubing or bands and balance equipment have a variety of uses and tend to be less intimating for new clients. Preszler agrees, saying, “Stability balls or BOSU [Balance Trainers] have multiple uses in that they can train cardiorespiratory endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. I need fewer pieces of equipment to train multiple physiological systems. Small equipment allows me to adjust to the needs of clients, depending upon their initial fitness level and goals. I can use one piece of equipment like a medicine ball for an older client or an athlete to reach different training outcomes.”

Creativity and Specialization Are Key

Trainers who offer specialized services need to be able to personalize each training session based on the distinct requirements of each client. In addition, trainers who use equipment and the environment in creative ways produce unique training protocols that keep clients interested and progressing toward their goals.

About the Survey

The percentage (%) shows the number of survey respondents who answered yes to a given survey question. All percentages have been rounded up at 0.5 and down at 0.4. Percentages do not necessarily total 100, because of multiple or missing responses.

About the Respondents. IDEA personal trainer members who gave us permission to use their e-mail addresses were sent four e-mail invitations to link to a Web-based survey in January and February 2007. The 512 trainers who responded represent 43% personal trainers, 21% owners, 5% fitness directors, 4% personal training directors, 2% general managers, 16% both trainers and group instructors, along with other titles. There was a 5% response rate, with a 95% confidence level and a ±5% margin of error.

About the Demographics. Of the respondents, 22% work in multipurpose health clubs, whereas 22% offer personal training in clients’ homes, 22% work in personal training gyms, 6% in fitness-only health clubs, 3% in Pilates or yoga studios, 4% in a YMCA/YWCA/JCC, 2% in corporate fitness centers and 19% in other venues. As for location, 36% work in suburbs, 27% in large cities, 30% in small cities or towns and 5% in rural areas. Most respondents live in the United States—34% in the West, 31% in the Northeast, 16% in the North Central region and 15% in the South; 2% live in Canada.

About Median and Mean. The mean (average) is found by adding together all the numbers and dividing by the number of responses. Very large numbers and very small numbers can create a wide range, which may make an average less representative of most of the people.

The median is the midpoint, meaning 50% of respondents answered above that number and 50% answered below it. A median is useful because it helps eliminate the distortion that an average can cause.

About Health Clubs. The “health clubs” category in the charts includes multipurpose and fitness-only health clubs and YMCA/YWCA/JCC facilities.

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Jan Schroeder, PhD

IDEA Author/Presenter
Jan Schroeder, PhD, is an associate professor of kinesiology, specializing in fitness, at California... more less

Karlie Friesen, MS

IDEA Author/Presenter
Dr. Karlie Moore holds a PhD in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition from Oregon State University where... more less
September 2007

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

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