Small-Group Training: Tips for Success

You’ve heard the buzz about small-group training (SGT): more money in less time. You may also have heard that SGT business growth relies—heavily—on referrals from satisfied trainees. Both statements are true only when you deliver a fantastic fitness experience.

So here’s the catch: If you are a career boot-camp instructor or a one-on-one trainer, SGT is a whole new gig for you. Compared with one-on-one training, it demands a different base of soft skills, such as group management and rapid, effective cuing. Instructing three to a dozen clients simultaneously will require you to modify some of your existing teaching techniques.

But successful SGT also looks and feels different from group exercise or boot camp. Jonathan Ross—the Bowie, Maryland–based author of Abs Revealed (Human Kinetics 2010) and the 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year—puts it succinctly: Great small-group trainers are leaders, not cheerleaders.

Translation? Simply calling a session “small-group” and then delivering a boot camp–style workout—complete with one-size-fits-all cheers (“Nice work, everybody!”)—won’t motivate participants to pay a premium for additional SGT services.

So what do current one-on-one and boot camp leaders need to do to create amazing client experiences?

First, Retrain Yourself

A world-class SGT client experience is about more than exercise. The dynamics of social camaraderie and group interaction, combined with personalized fitness tips, set SGT apart and drive customer results and retention. Provide mediocre leadership in this regard, and your trainees will trickle away.

“It takes a very skilled trainer to ensure an SGT session is not totally chaotic with one person twiddling his thumbs while another person gets all the attention,” says Sherri McMillan, MS, a two-time IDEA award winner and the owner of two training centers in the Vancouver, Washington, area.

To succeed, you must demonstrate professional leadership by delivering a “personalized” experience that happens to be in a group setting. And it will be your systems and skills that make the SGT client experience feel as much like private training as possible—for all participants.

Small-Group Versus One-on-One Techniques

“The biggest obstacle for a trainer who is only well versed in one-on-one training is how to practically manage sessions with a number of different clients,” observes McMillan.

According to Dale Huff, co-owner of the NutriFormance and Athletic Republic training centers in St. Louis, effective SGT trainers must function well in a group, relate easily to a broad clientele, have lots of personality and patience, and be confident in a leadership role.

To ensure a great client experience, heed the following:

Pay attention evenly. “Learn to distribute your time equally among all participants rather than spending too much time on any one person,” says McMillan. How? “Be sure to make eye contact and spot each person in your program at least once per session.”

Cue succinctly. In small-group, your time and attention become divided among all participants. This means you no longer have time to explain exercises in great anatomical detail. You must become able to “see and correct movement issues with very quick, effective, down-to-earth cues,” Ross notes.

“When teaching small-group, you cannot ignore movement quality,” he explains. “Yet at the same time, you also cannot get so lost in correcting one person that you lose track of time, or of what other participants are doing.”

Curtail conversations. You want group camaraderie, but not at the expense of a good workout. Learn to use humor and tact to curtail excess chatting. “You cannot be a ‘Chatty Cathy’ and must be able to reel in clients who get too talkative,” cautions Huff.

For suggestions on how to train small groups of mixed ability and ages, please see “Small-Group Secrets: Crafting the Client Experience” in the online IDEA Library (August 2013 issue of IDEA Trainer Success). Look for the sidebar “Managing Mixed Groups.” If you do not receive IDEA Trainer Success and would like to, please contact IDEA’s Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7, or (858) 535-8979, ext. 7, for more information.

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Megan Senger

IDEA Author/Presenter
Megan Senger is a writer, sales consultant, and fitness instructor based in Southern California. Act... more less
December 2013

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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