The new year is always a popular time to recommit to regular exercise or get into it for the first time. However, as a personal trainer, you know that many people allow their new fitness routines to fizzle out before too long. One way to help clients stay on top of exercise-related New Year’s resolutions—and extend their efforts to a routine that lasts well past February—is to offer introductory “quick-start” or “jump-start” training with beginning and end dates.

While jump-start programming may get the ball rolling on positive results for clients—such as weight loss, a boost in energy and better muscular strength—its main objective is to educate and steer fitness newbies in the right direction for long-term exercise adherence. Think of it as careful “hand-holding” by a professional (you) to help new clients avoid feeling overwhelmed, uninformed, unmotivated and/or intimidated during the initial stages of a new program.

With the new year fast approaching, jump-start programming might be just what your business needs to attract more dedicated clients in 2012.

Benefits of Offering a Jump-Start Program

Jump-start training is different from ongoing training because it’s meant to get people in the door as a first step to exercise. Reality Fitness in Naperville, Illinois, offers a program called “6-Week Weight Loss Challenge” that’s available to clients year-round. “It’s a wonderful way to educate people and explain that although our program is only a start, we can offer them long-term motivation,” says Nicki Anderson, an NASM-certified trainer and 2008 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, who oversees the 6-Week Weight Loss Challenge.

The hope is that at the end of the introductory program, those who signed up for it will become regular clients. “We have found that about 50% of the people stay on with us and continue to train one-on-one,” says Anderson. “[It’s a] pretty good return on investment.”

Of course, jump-start programs also benefit clients. “The benefit is getting to know the gym, the equipment, reducing the intimidation factor and creating confidence about the exercises and how to perform them correctly,” says Channing Morales, a personal trainer, nutrition coach and owner of Life & Body Fitness Inc., in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “I know they feel a sense of security about choosing a strength training routine if they’ve been escorted through the effectiveness of proper sets/reps and rest intervals.”

The more confident clients feel about their abilities at the gym, the more likely they are to stick to a long-term program. Not only that, but your program can also be the gateway to important lifestyle changes for people who haven’t spent much time exercising before now. “Jump-start programs can launch participants into a world of new experiences and open them up to new ways of being,” says Danielle Vindez, an exercise specialist and owner of Define Yourself Health Coaching in Redondo Beach, California.

Types of Jump-Start Programs

The types of jump-start programs you could offer are limitless. Be creative about what might work best for your target clientele. Three effective formats are educational seminars, group workouts and individualized training. Jump-start programs tend to work best when they are short-term (e.g., 4–12 weeks) and accessible (e.g., 1–3 times per week). You might charge the same fees as you do for your personal training sessions, or less than your usual fee, depending on the program’s format, target market and time frame.

Educational Program. Morales offers an education-based women-only class called “Foundations in Strength Training” that meets for 1 hour once a week for 4 weeks. “I charge $75 for the 4 weeks, which comes out to less than $19 per class,” she says. The classes include “classroom” education, exercises done with the support of a group and individualized program design.

Group Coaching and One-on-One. In a 12-week program, Vindez provides one group coaching session and two one-on-one sessions each week. “Progression is a necessary component,” she says. “People come to the program for change, and change happens on a continuum. All club-based programs start with individual health histories and biometric measurements. Care is given to designing individualized exercise prescriptions based on health history, assessments, needs and desires. In the last week of the program, individuals are assessed again, and we celebrate their wins.”

One-on-One Training. To attract jump-start clients, Reality Fitness offers monthly orientations to its 6-week program, which includes a package of assessments, training, a nutrition program and more. “We typically sign up 80% of those attending the orientation,” Anderson says. From there, clients of the 6-Week Weight Loss Challenge schedule their individual sessions. They can choose to attend once a week ($345), twice a week ($595) or three times a week ($875) over the course of 6 weeks. “It’s not a group-type class, and people can start any time,” she explains. This approach creates scheduling flexibility for both the clients and the trainer.

Reality Fitness offers exclusively one-on-one training in its introductory package. “Many people coming in to this program are deconditioned and very self-conscious,” Anderson says. “The hope in those 6 weeks is to get them stronger and more confident. Then they can move on to a group class or go back to their gym,” she says. The program begins with assessments, and then, depending on the client, an introduction to strength and interval training. Each subsequent week involves progression based on cardio intervals.

Marketing a Jump-Start Program

The best time to begin marketing a jump-start program aimed at the New Year’s resolution crowd is before the new year begins—and perhaps before people get swept up in the holiday season. A good timeline for getting the word out would be 4–8 weeks before the program begins. When preparing your marketing messages, consider your program’s major goals. A short-term jump-start program is meant to get people started on the path to exercise. If the program is also designed to help them lose weight or gain other benefits, market that, too—but “do not promise anything you can’t deliver,” says Anderson.

You can market and provide a similar program multiple times during the year, using different themes or seasonal hooks. For example, a New Year’s Shape-Up program could be repackaged as a Summer Shape-Up program. After all, deconditioned people need introductory exercise guidance at any time of the year.

Converting Jump-Start Clients Into Ongoing Clients

In addition to the reward of helping people transition to a healthier, fitter lifestyle, your hope as a fitness businessperson is to convert the participants in your short-term programs into long-term clients. How do you do that? “It’s simple,” says Anderson. “If you’re great at what you do, people will recognize that and stay with you.” You have the duration of your jump-start program to prove that you are a quality trainer who can help clients meet their long-term goals.

Plus, since introductory programs are too brief to teach clients everything they might need to know about health and fitness, this type of programming is the perfect segue, or “appetizer,” to a longer client-trainer relationship. You might offer jump-start clients an incentive—for example, an initial discount on long-term training—to stick with you.

“[My] class is enough for the women to realize they need more than the basics to be successful with strength training,” says Morales. “I usually give a discount if they want to continue, and offer the option to do ‘paired’ sessions with someone else from the group to drive the cost down. Mostly, I create a value during each class so clients intrinsically decide they need to continue one-on-one.”

Jump-Starting Your Own Jump-Start Program

Crafting the right jump-start program for you and your target market takes “research, creativity and flexibility,” according to Vindez. With the right approach and careful preparation, these introductory packages can become a valuable addition to your training repertoire. Says Vindez, “Jump-start programs are successful if you target a ripe audience, discover the right partnerships, continually adjust and refine based on feedback, and passionately believe in [the program’s] value.”

Reaching New Clients

You can promote your jump-start program in the facility or studio where you train; however, since the goal is to attract people who typically are not present at the gym, it’s smart to branch out with your marketing. Consider these ideas:

  • Seek referrals from clients and members who do work out. Perhaps they have family and friends who are gearing up to shape up in the new year.
  • Reach out to inactive members and clients. Let them know that the jump-start program would be an ideal way to get back to the gym.
  • Spread the word on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter™.
  • Post signs in your community and/or create cross-promotional alliances with neighborhood businesses. Channing Morales, a personal trainer, nutrition coach and owner of Life & Body Fitness Inc., in Virginia Beach, Virginia, partnered with a local grocery store, enabling her to offer a free month’s membership and discount to her jump-start class on the back of store receipts.

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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