Launching Small-Group: How to Get It Right

by Ryan Halvorson on May 21, 2014

Launching a small-group training (SGT) program in your facility may seem like a win–win–win. However, leading effective SGT sessions requires a very specific skill set.

“Small-group training requires skills that not every one-on-one personal trainer has,” explains Jason Stella, director of education for Life Time Fitness in Chaska, Minnesota. “The dynamic is much different from one-on-one sessions. You have to monitor multiple people and understand how to quickly offer modifications for each movement. You also have to be a great show-woman or showman to motivate your group through a high-energy session.”

Here are the traits you need to look for when selecting coaches. You will also learn how to train those coaches to lead effective sessions and to help you create a successful SGT department.

Choosing Your Talent

Look for the following characteristics when selecting trainers to lead your SGT program. These are also the skills you’ll want to polish throughout the training process.

Drive. “First and foremost, we look for passion,” says Amy Boone Thompson, national director of personal training services at Wellbridge in Denver. “Is the trainer truly excited about the style of training and the population that the program targets?”

Willingness to learn. Lashaun Dale, senior national creative manager for group fitness at Equinox® in New York City, looks for individuals who will put in the time required to become a quality coach. “The candidate has to be willing to do the work to elevate his skill set,” she says. “Whether that means tightening up his knowledge or polishing the ability to deliver a dynamic group experience, there are tangible aspects to study and then he has to be willing to practice getting out of his comfort zone and leveling up to meet the new challenge.”

A keen eye. An SGT session can be difficult to facilitate, owing to its many moving parts, says Jesse Leuer, senior program manager of group training for Life Time Fitness in Minneapolis. To maintain optimum safety, the trainer must be able to observe the form of multiple people’s movements simultaneously. “Small-group training is a sweet spot for people [who pay] great attention to detail,” he adds.

Communication skills. “A coach must have a very strong understanding of impact and the significance of his cuing,” explains Alex Zimmerman, T4 national manager at Equinox. “[In an SGT session] you don't have time to demonstrate for all . . . so you must be able to make big changes with a few words.”

Motivation. Small-group trainers must command a room and keep clients motivated throughout the entire session, reiterates Stella. You need someone who feels comfortable in front of a group.

Teamwork. The experts interviewed for this article state that their programs are designed with crossover in mind. Ideally, each client is able to work with multiple coaches. This means that instead of taking sole responsibility for one client, each trainer needs to be able to work with other trainers so that the SGT experience is seamless for each participant.


At Life Time Fitness, Equinox and Wellbridge, all individuals interested in becoming SGT coaches must participate in an extensive education program.

“Our coaches complete an online learning course to become qualified to teach the program,” says Thompson. “They watch training videos [in which] we teach the science behind the programming, and we test to make sure the trainer understands and can apply the information.”

At Life Time Fitness, Stella notes, one of the education fundamentals is to learn a common nomenclature. Since SGT participants work with multiple trainers, a centralized language is needed in order to optimize the training experience. “Every single tool that’s out there—from ViPR® to TRX® to CrossCore®—has a different training system. Now you have 16 different ‘languages.’ Each individual trainer also has to come up with his own exercise name. We teach a common language that all trainers use, so that it’s easier for the members to understand what to do.”

For more on this topic, please see “How to Launch a Successful Small-Group Training Program, Part 2” in the online IDEA Library (see the March 2014 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Want more from Ryan Halvorson?

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 12, Issue 6

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2014 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor.