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2008 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey

A revamped survey reveals new data that trainers can use to refine programming, plan future equipment purchases and gain a leg up on competition.

To keep pace with the dynamism in this robust and rapidly evolving sector, this year IDEA revamped the annual Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey. New questions were added to amass information about what goes on within training sessions, and old questions were revised to better understand individual trainers and trainer–entrepreneurs. The results allow us to delve deeper into the training and business practices of our members and afford you the opportunity to compare notes with colleagues on how you excel at your profession.

The Overview

According to personal trainer members who completed the 2008 survey, training adults one-on-one remains the primary format. The focus within private session time includes strength training, stretching, balance and functional resistance training.

These are the session options offered by over 50% of survey respondents:

99% personal training (adult, one-on-one)

97 strength training

97 stretching and/or flexibility

96 balance training

96 functional resistance training

88 flexibility/range of motion assessment

86 height/weight assessment

86 training for weight management

85 cardiorespiratory interval training

84 personal training (2 clients share)

82 balance assessment

81 body composition assessment

79 cardiorespiratory circuit training

79 resting heart rate assessment

79 cardiorespiratory endurance training

78 circumference measurements assessment

77 muscular strength assessment

76 body-weight-only training

75 cardiorespiratory cross-training

73 back pain prevention

72 senior-specific training

71 muscular endurance assessment

71 activity heart rate assessment

69 speed, agility, quickness conditioning

67 plyometrics

66 postrehab following injury

66 cardiorespiratory endurance assessment

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

61 exercise for chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes or coronary heart disease)

61 blood pressure assessment

57 nutrition assessment

57 nutrition coaching

57 sport-specific training

55 outdoor personal training sessions

Trends within the survey show us that even with the consistency of one-on-one training, new formats such as group training sessions and functional resistance training are gaining popularity. As personal trainers become bombarded with the differing needs of clientele, these results reveal that efforts are being made to accommodate them. A plethora of fitness assessments, as well as back pain prevention and postrehab programs, parallel the increase in programming for people with chronic diseases. This underscores not only the market power of Baby Boomers but also the sheer need for servicing aging bodies that are fiercely clinging to youth. Nutrition coaching and nutrition assessments are on the rise as personal trainers recognize the demand for a fusion between nutrition and exercise programming.

Small, portable pieces of equipment continue to be the most popular. Overall, respondents show that they use a variety of equipment in order to meet the diverse needs of their clients.

Trainers say that 85% of their clients stay with the business 1 year or longer. A detailed look inside the survey reveals how they keep clients coming back for more.

One-on-One Training at the Top

Personal training has evolved over the years, but one thing has remained constant: the popularity of one-on-one training. Once again, it is the top program offered by IDEA professionals. However, while 99% of the trainers surveyed offer one-on-one training, only 54% believe it is still growing. Partner training (84% offer), in which 2 clients share a session, is also very strong among our respondents, while only 49% offer sessions wherein 3–5 clients share.

Interestingly, with the rise in childhood obesity, the percentage of trainers offering services to youth is still relatively small. Personal training for youth, one-on-one, is offered by just 65% of the respondents, and only 36% of those surveyed offer personal training for youth in small groups. In addition, less than 50% of respondents who offer personal training for youth feel that the growth potential is very strong.

Training Well-Balanced in Its Approach

This year the survey dug more deeply into training issues by asking respondents to tell us more about their client instruction methods.

During training, 54% of the time is spent on resistance training, with the remainder focusing on cardiorespiratory (22%) and flexibility training (18%) as well as other training methods (18%). Strength training (97%) and functional resistance training (96%) methods are the most common resistance training techniques used, while Olympic-style lifting (16%) is used the least. Among cardiorespiratory training techniques, interval training (85%) is used slightly more than other methods, with circuit (79%), cardiorespiratory endurance (79%) and cross-training (75%) following closely behind. Trainers also include specialized options such as balance training (96%) and speed, agility and quickness conditioning (69%).

Candice Campbell, a personal trainer in Long Beach, California, says that using a variety of training methods with her clients ensures that each component of fitness is addressed. “The amount of each component in the session depends on the goal of the client, but the program design should include a foundation for every component. In order for clients to obtain the maximum benefit from their workouts, it is important that they have adequate strength, cardio endurance, flexibility and balance. It is all about balancing the appropriate components to meet the needs and goals of the client.”

Fitness Assessments Present but Inconsistent

One of this year’s survey modifications included in-depth questions regarding client fitness assessments. The most frequently completed assessments reported were flexibility/range of motion (88%), height/weight (86%), balance (82%) and body composition (81%). Surprisingly, there appears to be a disconnect between what is assessed and what is emphasized in program design. While 97% of trainers use strength training techniques with their clients, only 77% assess muscular strength and just 71% assess muscular endurance. The same holds true for cardiorespiratory training: 75%–85% of trainers use some format of cardiorespiratory training, yet only 66% assess cardiorespiratory endurance.

Assessments play a crucial role in designing and evaluating effective workouts; however, approximately 25% of trainers do not take into account initial muscular strength/endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance levels, nor do they reassess clients to determine whether they have improved with training. Jonathan Ross, owner of AionFitness.com and personal training director at Sport Fit in Bowie, Maryland, points out that there are three perspectives on fitness testing, all of which can play a role in assessment and program design: (1) what needs to be tested so that the training program adheres to industry standards of practice; (2) what will motivate the client; and (3) what the trainer needs to know to inform exercise choice and/or intensity.

“Many clients enter a training relationship at such low levels of conditioning that the strength tests themselves are often too challenging to be performed safely and without causing high levels of soreness, thus making a negative experience for the client,” says Ross. “This experience would be a powerful demotivator for the client and is of little usefulness for the trainer (who already knows the client needs to do strength training). Therefore, it is important to know when to assess and what assessments to perform with clients.”

To track clients’ physiological responses to exercise, 79% of trainers measure resting heart rate, 71% capture activity heart rates and 61% assess blood pressure. Such assessments are critical when working with individuals who have various chronic diseases and “should be mandatory for all trainers working with any client,” says Ross. Eighty-four percent of trainers indicated that they work with clients who have special medical needs.

Mind-Body Formats Lacking in Sessions

Mind-body activities are offered within sessions by a modest number of trainers. Pilates is still the most commonly offered training regime (37%), while yoga comes in a close second at 30%. Interestingly, meditation, offered by 18%, is more popular among trainers than mind-body fusion (8%), tai chi (8%) or Gyrotonic®/Gyrokinesis® exercise (2%).

Pete Kirchmer, a life coach at Rancho La Puerta, a fitness resort in Tecate, Mexico, believes that some trainers might avoid mind-body techniques because there is a definite learning curve to mind-body training. “Clients can get frustrated after one session when they ‘don’t get it,’ā€ he says. “It takes patience and discipline from both the client and the trainer to slow down and do exercises that build mindful connection to the breath and the subtle movements of the body. We work in an industry that is driven more by quick results than by the integrity of the process and long-term success. I think this makes mind-body a tough sell for many trainers.”

While mind-body formats are not the norm for session activities, survey respondents are optimistic about the growth of mind-body options. While just 34% of respondents offer one-on-one Pilates or yoga training, 57% of them expect to see growth in this area. Among those who offer Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis exercise, there is the same growth expectancy; however, only 2% of respondents currently offer the formats. Mind-body fusion (a combination of disciplines, such as yoga with Pilates; cycling with yoga; Pilates with resistance training; etc.) is expected to grow by 74% of respondents who offer it, but only 8% currently do. Pilates and yoga fusion, offered by 22%, is expected to grow by 56% of those who offer it.

There are definite benefits to using mind-body techniques within client sessions, feels Kirchmer. “Teaching our clients to bring mindfulness to their workouts helps them to experience a greater sense of connection in their bodies. When people can feel their bodies and are more efficient with their movements, they are less likely to injure themselves.” 

Trainers Favoring Small, Portable Equipment

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

97% resistance tubing or bands

97 stability balls

95 barbells and/or dumbbells

91 medicine balls

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

83 foam rollers and small balls

82 steps and platforms

78 weighted bars

77 pulley equipment

76 treadmills

Eight of the top 10 pieces of most frequently used equipment are small and transportable. This preference in small equipment may reflect where IDEA professionals train clients (52% offer personal training in clients’ homes and 25% offer personal training in their own home studio), as well as the cost-effectiveness and versatility of the products.

While pulley equipment and treadmills are the only large pieces to make the top 10, this does not indicate that stationary equipment is disappearing from the landscape. Strength equipment, such as selectorized (pin-selected) and plate-loaded machines, are being offered by 66% and 65% of respondents, respectively. And the majority of respondents offer cardio equipment: elliptical trainers, 72%; recumbent cycles, 66%; and upright cycles, 62%.

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 three e-mail invitations to link to a Web-based survey in February 2008. The 926 trainers who responded represent 80% personal trainers, 12% owners, 3% fitness directors, 2% personal training directors, 1% general managers and 1% other titles. There was a 10% response rate, with a 95% confidence level and a ±5% margin of error.

About the Demographics

On average, the respondents work at two separate facilities. Fifty-two percent offer personal training in clients’ homes, whereas 25% offer personal training in their own home; otherwise, 25% work in fitness-only health clubs, 24% in multipurpose health clubs, 24% in personal training gyms, 10% in Pilates or yoga studios, 11% in parks or recreation programs, 8% in a YMCA/YWCA/JCC, 8% in corporate fitness centers and less than 6% in other venues. Most of the respondents are self-employed (61%), while 38% listed themselves as independent contractors, and 35% as employees. As for location, 27% work in suburbs, 35% in large cities, 34% in small cities or towns and 4% in rural areas. Most respondents live in the United States—37% in the West, 24% in the Northeast, 20% in the North Central region and 19% in the South; 3% live in Canada.

About the Clientele

The clientele of the personal trainers surveyed is quite diverse. Our trainers serve a predominantly female clientele (72%), with the most common age ranges being 35–44 years (22%), 45–54 years (28%) and 55–64 years (22%). Most clients are at an intermediate (48%) or a beginner (39%) fitness level, while only 19% are advanced. While 98% of trainers have clients that are apparently healthy, they also train individuals with special medical needs (84%), chronic injuries (83%) or physical disabilities (56%). Amateur athletes (64%) are also a common clientele for trainers, while professional athletes (16%) are clients less frequently.

About the Cost of Training

Survey results show the average cost of a training session is $58 (median $55). Most clients pay for their training sessions either by purchasing a package (76%) or by paying for individual sessions (69%). Only 16% pay a monthly membership fee, and 5% pay an annual membership fee. (More details on trainer compensation will be available in the January 2009 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal in our biennial Fitness Industry Compensation Survey.)

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.

Editor’s Note: Look for detailed data (six extra pages of valuable facts and figures) on this survey in the September issue of IDEA Trainer Success. IDEA business, program director, personal trainer and mind-body members receive this issue as a membership benefit. If you wish to join or upgrade to receive a copy, contact IDEA member services at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7. If you are interested in more information about programs and equipment offered in fitness facilities, you can find the full data portion of the 2008 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey in the July–August issue of IDEA Fitness Manager. To order either, call IDEA member services at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Sidebar: One-on-One and Partner Training Are Strong

Sidebar: Methods Used in Training Sessions

Sidebar: Assessment of Flexibility/Range of Motion Is Common

Sidebar: Mind-Body Activity Is Not a Top Priority Among Trainers

Jan Schroeder, PhD

Jan Schroeder, PhD, is a professor and past chair of the department of kinesiology at Long Beach State University. She coordinates and teaches in the fitness and integrated training undergraduate program and has written 60+ articles on exercise physiology/fitness. She is also a certified group exercise instructor who teaches weekly in the private sector. Schroeder is the recipient of the 2021 IDEA Fitness Leader of the Year Award.

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