Marketing Your Training Services With Group Exercise

Attract more clients and gain a new perspective by teaching classes.

By Amanda Vogel, MA
Sep 26, 2012

Personal trainers who teach group exercise classes find that this is a common experience: participants routinely ask them about their personal training services and, from there, often sign up to become clients. There’s something to be said for the marketing power of teaching to groups.

While personal trainers already do well leading boot camps and small-group training—forms of group fitness in their own right—trainers often have to do marketing, round up clientele and carry out administrative duties for these classes as they would for one-on-one training. However, it’s also possible for trainers to leverage the built-in customer base that already exists within a gym’s own schedule of group exercise classes.

There’s probably never been a better time for personal trainers to join the fitness-class movement. Now that most workouts are far less choreographed than traditional “aerobics” classes and tend toward much more athletic- and interval-style formats, many trainers who have shied away from choreography are seeing a place for themselves in the “group X” landscape.

Consider that teaching just 1–2 classes a week can help you demonstrate your knowledge as a trainer to a wide audience and gain a devoted following in thegym(s) where you also train. You will pad your paychecks a little as well: according to the 2010 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends report, group fitness instructors make an average of $24.50 per class (or often more for teaching a specialty class like indoor cycling or martial arts). Teaching just 1–2 classes a week could help you bring in roughly an extra $100–$200 per month—essentially for marketing your training services. Here’s how to make the transition to group exercise for the purpose of marketing a training business while supplementing monthly income.

Prospecting for “Dream Clients”

“The platform of a class provides an instant promotional opportunity [in front of] a group of potential clients,” says Ingrid Knight-Cohee, regional director of group fitness for Steve Nash Fitness Clubs in Vancouver, British Columbia. “When teaching a class of 40 members, for example, even a sales success rate of 10% can result in four long-term clients.”

What’s more, you might find you connect with a particularly rewarding type of clientele. After all, teaching on a gym’s class schedule means prospecting for people who, for the most part, have experience with working out. Since trainers often work with new clients who are just getting into exercise for the first time, the chance to train more advanced clients can be a great incentive, says Cori Parks, a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle and weight loss management consultant currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Teaching classes exposes you to an audience of participants who already demonstrate a commitment to exercise—these people show up regularly to classes on their own volition. “Some of the most difficult clients are the ones who aren’t in the habit of getting to the gym and prioritizing exercise,” says Parks. “Exercisers who are already motivated and have a certain mastery and level of fitness are dream clients for many personal trainers.”

Matching Yourself to the Right Class

Successfully teaching fitness classes at a gym starts with knowing what classes best suit your style, skills and personality. For example, while many trainers could probably teach a technically effective stretch class, some personalities and coaching styles might be more cut out for a fast-paced Tabata or interval workout, or vice versa. “If the class is not something you can mesh organically with your basic personality, it will come across forced and inauthentic,” says Parks, who says she doesn’t advertise her personal training services at all. Instead, her clients come from referrals and from the circuit and indoor cycling classes she teaches.

There’s also the issue of how comfortable you feel teaching to music—an essential part of most fitness classes. “‘Moving to the beat,’ let alone developing blocks of choreography based on the musical phrase, tends to be extremely foreign [to many trainers],” says Knight-Cohee. “For this reason, class formats that minimize musicality are usually the best starting point. Classes that involve stations or a sport-oriented circuit/interval format with a coaching style of teaching are usually most comfortable for the trainer entering group fitness.”

Another great starting point for trainers is group cycling, according to Knight-Cohee. Although this format often relies heavily on the right kind of music to guide the workout and motivate participants, there’s no choreography, and pressure to “feel the beat” is less than in other traditional fitness classes.

Alternatively, consider the angle of teaching a themed class designed to play up your role as a trainer and warm participants to the concept of personal training. For example, if you teach, say, a core class, name it something like “Trainer’s Abs,” suggests Knight-Cohee.

Classes Are Not “Free” Personal Training

When marketing your services through teaching fitness classes, be sure to distinguish openly between what you provide to participants in class versus what you provide to clients in a personal training session. Students must recognize that attending a personal trainer’s fitness class is not the same as getting a personal training session from that trainer at a reduced rate or for “free.” This distinction is important for the marketing strategy to be effective.

Says Knight-Cohee: “We aim to keep group fitness classes more general and basic, emphasizing that enhanced results are achieved by hiring a trainer who will design a program based on personal goals, monitor individual technique and incorporate a wider variety of tools for added resistance and challenge.”

Still, some trainers may fear that they stand to lose business by sharing all their expertise “for free” in a class environment. “In fact, the opposite is true,” says Knight-Cohee. “In my personal experience and in surveying every trainer I know, not one has ever reported losing clients due to teaching group fitness—[trainers] always build rather than shrink their client base because of group fitness classes!”

To help differentiate between teaching classes and training clients, analyze the hows and whys of each scenario. Parks explains this concept well: “As a personal trainer, you work with precision and seek measurable progress. You do a lot of coaching and communicating off the clock. Group fitness is entirely different. An experienced group fitness instructor has the knowledge and background to modify and balance the needs of an individual with the needs of the class, but ultimately a successful class depends on management, flow and multitasking, sometimes at the expense of precision.”

Longevity in Fitness

Ironically, teaching fitness classes might be just what some personal trainers need to keep up with the training side of the industry. “If you want longevity in the fitness business, cross-pollinate,” says Knight-Cohee. “The more hats you wear, the more marketable your skills and the more valuable you are as an employee. I’ve had many trainers tell me that teaching their group fitness classes has saved them from burnout and [stopped them from] leaving the industry altogether in trying times. The one-on-one setting can be very draining for trainers; the group setting often replenishes empty stores of energy and enthusiasm!”

First Steps to Group X

Personal trainers who wish to try their hand at marketing personal training through fitness classes should consider these three steps to success.

1. Be a participant first. Participate in a variety of classes to make sure you feel comfortable in the overall fitness-class environment. Doing this will also help you hone your skills as a future class leader. “Analyzing the way instructors teach will help you confidently build your own style,” says personal trainer and group fitness instructor Cori Parks.

2. Get certified. As a personal trainer, you should already be certified, but group fitness is a different skill set. “Despite the fact that personal training certification courses exceed the theory, breadth and depth of many group fitness topics, they rarely cover other useful topics such as musicality, motivational cuing, principles of leadership and dynamics of a group,” says Ingrid Knight-Cohee, regional director of group fitness for Steve Nash Fitness Clubs.

Some large club chains offer in-house certifications for staff. Otherwise, seek out courses for fitness instructor certification; for a complete listing of accredited sources, go to IDEA’s Career Guide at www.ideafit.com/fitness-certifications.

3. Commit to a class! Sign on to teach one class a week to get a feel for how you like it and to practice your skills in front of a group. Don’t forget to encourage your existing one-on-one clients to attend—it’s a clever way to cross-market and increase attendance and energy in your new class.

To Sub or Not to Sub?

The occasional routine of getting or being a sub—where another instructor covers your class or you cover someone else’s class—is part of teaching fitness classes. Normally, instructors seek out subs with plenty of notice, but every now and then, there might be an instructor no-show for one reason or another. In those cases, trainers might be the first go-to people to cover a class if they happen to be working in the club at the time.

While on-the-spot subbing can be a good way to introduce yourself to new prospects and boost cash flow (last-minute subs sometimes receive a monetary bonus for helping out on short notice), being called on too often for “emergency subbing” can interfere with time needed for administrative duties or breaks between clients.

To keep your involvement with group fitness running smoothly, be sure to prearrange with your group fitness supervisor what level of commitment you can make to subbing—last-minute or otherwise.

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Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA, is a fitness professional and the owner of Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for fitness professionals. She writes for IDEA, Health, Prevention, and Self, and has co-authored books on postnatal fitness and yoga. With a master's degree in human kinetics, Amanda has worked in the fitness industry for more than 15 years, including time spent as a program director and vice president for a chain of all-women clubs in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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