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How to Launch a Successful Small-Group Training Program, Part Four

Small-group training is making waves as a viable means for budget-conscious consumers to gain access to a highly skilled personal trainer or coach. It’s a boon for fitness facilities as well. The service can bring in more cash per hour because of the higher session rate, and it gives clubs the opportunity to inspire more people to fitness in a shorter timeframe.

So far, this series on launching a successful SGT program has guided you in assessing whether SGT is right for your facility, ensuring that your coaches are capable of handling SGT’s unique demands, and choosing from among the various program design options. This installment will explore the client experience. A successful program cannot be treated like a large group exercise class; at the same time, it requires a different skill set than working one-on-one does. Read on to learn of five ways your peers ensure a perfect SGT session every time.

1. Onboarding

When a client signs up for SGT at New York’s Olean-Bradford Area YMCA, the first priority is onboarding. Ink Young, the facilities’ senior wellness director, has her intake staff gather the client’s health history and complete other critical paperwork. During that first contact, the staff member tries to learn as much as possible about the incoming member. Notes about that individual are then entered into an online system that group trainers can access before they meet the new client. As Young explains, “That way the trainer has a way to relate to and connect with the client almost immediately.”

Young also encourages her staff to follow up with the new client right after the initial intake. “It’s not always possible to do a one-on-one sit-down, so we try to give a quick 5-minute phone call for a welcome touch,” she says. “This can be a great opportunity to manage expectations and to educate the client on what they will experience. “

2. Preparation

The unique nature of SGT presents specific demands—for instance, the need for space. While a one-on-one session can be easily integrated onto a busy workout floor, finding room for SGT—which can include anywhere from three people to 10—can become a bit cumbersome. Not only do you want to make sure that you’ve got enough space to coach your group safely, but you also want to ensure that your session doesn’t encroach on your facility’s other paying members and training clients.

Nic DeCaire, president of Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, Delaware, overcomes this hurdle by designating a training space for SGT only.

However, if your facility does not have the requisite square footage, a bit of careful planning can keep everyone on the floor happy, says Adam Wright, owner of Irvine, California–based Fitness the Wright Way. Wright secures a corner of his facility before each session. To ensure fairness, he confers with his fellow trainers in advance so that everyone’s goals and needs are understood.

“You should know your participants ahead of time,” says Josh Maras, fitness director at the Sportscenter Athletic Club in High Point, North Carolina. “Set out weights and equipment that everyone in your group is capable of using, and make sure those weights are heavy enough to be effective.”

Young adds that it’s important for coaches to be flexible and to keep in mind alternate exercises and equipment choices, in case you need to implement “plan B.” Perhaps you intended to incorporate some Olympic-style lifts into the session, but all of the barbells are in use. You can’t disrupt the session or demand handover of equipment that’s in use, so it’s important to be able to think on the fly and keep clients moving.

Young also reminds her staff to have what she calls “thinker” exercises to draw on—that is, exercises that will keep clients busy if you need a moment to think about your next move.

3. Community

You may have the most comprehensive, effective workout on the planet, but our experts say the single most important component of SGT is the community.

“When you bring clients into a group setting, they make friends,” observes DeCaire. “We have people who have developed deep relationships from [being in] the group. They’re hanging out on weekends, and their kids play together.”

This leads to a more enjoyable experience for the client and enhances retention, he says.

Building bonds between clients should always be top of mind, advises DeCaire. Not only does it make for a more memorable and enjoyable session for the client; it also means increased retention.

“The trainers need to find some way to facilitate social situations in the sessions,” Young says. “A lot of this comes down to the trainers’ personalities. Some are into cooking, so they’ll introduce some nutrition questions during workout downtimes. By asking questions and gaining answers, clients learn more about one another, which can become an icebreaker.”

Wright builds camaraderie by emphasizing shared goals. Most of his clients are placed within a group with specific themes, like sports performance.

“So throughout the session I might say something like, ‘Remember that we want to get even stronger for spring training this year,’ or ‘Let’s train well so you can pitch without pain this season.’”

4. Multiple Trainers

If you have the staff to support it, both Young and DeCaire encourage you to develop a program that allows clients to work with multiple coaches.

DeCaire has found this method successful from a business perspective: If a client forms bonds with multiple coaches, and one of those coaches leaves, the risk of the client also leaving is minimized.

DeCaire insists that working with multiple trainers is highly beneficial for clients. “It’s easy to get used to one trainer, and results naturally wane,” he explains. “Working with multiple trainers keeps things fresh and prevents clients from becoming too comfortable, which can negatively impact their progress. Having a new coach is kind of a treat. It keeps clients on their toes and prevents relaxation and complacency.”

DeCaire also believes that even the highest-quality coaches can become used to a client and might fail to see potential hazards. He’s found that with the multiple-coach approach, “other trainers might pick up on something you don’t.”

5. Safety

Safety should be a primary focus for any personal trainer. However, ensuring safety during a workout can pose a significant challenge, owing to the complexity inherent in individuals of varied physical capacities training together. DeCaire has developed a system to minimize potential hazards.

Before new clients can join a group at Fusion Fitness Center, they must complete at least one solo intro session with a coach. “We want to make sure that you know how to perform the basic movements first,” DeCaire says. “If you’re not ready to go into the group, we’ll be honest with you. If clients struggle or don’t successfully complete the initial training, I have no problem telling them that they need more individual training before I feel comfortable having them join a group.”

While an eager client may initially be disappointed, DeCaire explains that it all adds up to a better client experience. “I can’t stay in business if inexperienced clients are allowed to join groups and then hurt themselves,” he says.

As previously mentioned, Wright facilitates physical assessments before placing someone with a group. He also takes plenty of notes about a client’s performance, so he can follow up before the next session, or so he can modify the workout for maximum safety.

Summing Up

The key to successful SGT sessions is to provide as much individual attention as possible. While it’s impossible to get as in-depth with SGT as you would during a one-on-one session, many programs fail because they begin to look like group exercise classes. SGT clients pay extra so that you can make sure they exercise safely, receive top-notch motivation and coaching, and enjoy their time with you.

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