Over the past 7 years, personal trainers have shared their programming strategies with IDEA through the IDEA Fitness Industry Programs & Equipment Trends Report. This data has allowed us to track trends (not just fleeting “fads”) that are unfolding in the industry.
As reported by 2,817 respondents in 2013, some of the most popular programming that emerged for clients included balance training, cardio interval training, functional resistance training, stretching and/or flexibility and strength training. Take a closer look at the top-line trends to see how you can strengthen your programming or business model.

Small Group Training

The strongest trend emerging over the past 6 years is for personal training where two clients share and 3-5 clients share. We believe this reflects practical reaction of consumers to cut costs during the ongoing recession as well as personal trainers preserving their business base by retaining clients at lower hourly fees through shared group costs. However, trainers are actually making more per hour by increasing the number of people they train during that hour. This single cause-effect trend has changed the face of personal training programming by ushering in the era of small group training.

Myrna Brady, CEO, Qameliyan Fitness & LifeStlye Consulting, LLC, in Westchester, New York, has discovered that, aside from the benefits mentioned, small group training can significantly enhance the client experience.

“[The clients] become a part of a community that encourages loving the body they are in while achieving the healthy and fit body they desire,” says Brady. “It offers my personal training clients another cost effective way to train with me and gives my group fitness members an opportunity to work with me in a smaller and more personal environment.”


The use of assessments, a longtime staple of fitness programming, is also seeing marked growth. Bill Sonnemaker, MS, owner of Catalyst Fitness in metropolitan Atlanta, believes that this increase is in part due to the elevated expertise among fitness professionals and increased consumer awareness about the benefits of assessments.

“Assessments are important because they allow individuals to reach their goals in the safest, most time efficient manner possible,” he says. “They also allow the trainer to become more aware of the client’s capabilities.”

In combination with common assessments of yesteryear—BMI, circumference or body fat percentage, for instance—today’s professionals implement protocols focused on movement quality and performance.

“Dynamic movement screens like the Functional Movement Screen and Redcord use words to qualitatively describe a movement but, most importantly, they give a numerical score or value that further describes the results,” Sonnemaker explains.

Sonnemaker asserts that assessments should be applied based on the individual’s needs, goals, training experience and physical capacity. Not every client will need to be put through every assessment you offer, he concludes.

Nutrition Coaching

Nutrition coaching—still a somewhat touchy subject due to scope of practice concerns—continues to chart new territory. Kristen Horler, CEO of Karna Fitness in Sarasota, Florida, states that more fitness professionals are having conversations about nutrition because exercise alone doesn’t seem to be sufficient enough in helping people achieve health and fitness goals.

“The fitness industry has been focused for over two decades on getting fit by burning calories,” says Horler, who is also a graduate student studying sports and nutrition at Northeastern University in Boston. “Meanwhile, obesity rates are rising across the country, along with related diseases. We are now seeing that the quality of the calories we consume has a tremendous effect on how our body functions and how we recover from exercise. Nutrition education for fitness pros is an essential component of our ability to truly help our clients reach their goals.”

Health Coaching

Another type of coaching—health coaching—has seen increased popularity. Also known as wellness coaching, health coaching is defined as a process of facilitating lasting behavior change for the client. Encinitas, California-based Pete Kirchmer finds that health coaching is a natural progression of personal training.

“From my perspective the industry has to move in the direction of addressing the whole person and coaching offers education on how to do that most effectively,” explains Kirchmer, founder of Mindfulness Based Health. “After more than a decade as a certified life coach and wellness coach, my appreciation for the subtle art and science of coaching continues to deepen. By integrating coaching [into training sessions], the impact a fitness expert can have on her client’s ability to own the changes they’re making is profound.”

Here are some other highlights from the 2013 survey:

Summary Points:

  • Over the past three years, Body weight leverage training (body weight only, TRX® Suspension Trainer™, GTS® (Gravity Training System), climbing ladders, ropes, push- up and pull-up devices, etc) has experienced a steady increase (70% to 83%).
  • Outdoors activities such as outdoor personal training sessions and outdoor group activities have declined over the past 6 years; however outdoor boot camps have remained relatively stable.
  • Gentle exercise such as walking, water fitness and stretching/flexibility programming have increased over the past 6 years.
  • The greatest increases in programming offerings over the past 6 years, excluding mind- body programs, were very slow strength training (from 30% to 55%); personal training 3-5 clients share (from 44% to 62%); stretching/flexibility (from 83% to 98%); lifestyle coaching (from 37% to 50%); body weight leverage training (from 70% to 83%); and nutritional coaching (from 55% to 67%).
  • More personal trainers are programming sport clinics, SAQ training, plyometric training, and Olympic-style lifting.
  • While it appears that mind body programming such as yoga, group reformer, tai chi, Pilates, Pilates and yoga fusion and mind-body fusion have revealed an exponential surge in offerings over the past 6 years, this may not accurately reflect the trend in the industry. When we see a major increase in a programming offering that has remained steady or grown at a consistent rate, we caution the reader to interpret these results carefully.