fbpx Skip to content


IDEA Personal Training Trendwatch

Referrals power the personal training business

What’s the key word for personal training businesses this year? Referrals.

Referrals to those with specialized skills, whether another trainer or dietitian. Referrals from physiotherapists and physicians.

Referrals emerged as the theme among trainers interviewed in this year’s poll of trainers from around the United States and Canada. IDEA’s fifth poll of trainers, this year’s Trendwatch report offers various snapshots of what is working and not working across a spectrum of 11 personal training businesses.

Additional keys turning on the business for trainers are:

And all these keys are being turned by referrals.

Question: Client Populations
Trend: Growing

While the majority of clients may still be “average healthy adults,” growth is coming primarily from clients with special medical or postrehabilitation needs. Clients with medical needs seek training because of injuries or other conditions. Clients looking for postrehabilitation conditioning are referred to trainers by physicians, physical therapists and current clients.

Michael Crow reports that referrals from local physical therapists provide him with a “consistent base” of clients with postrehabilitation needs. He feels that clients are leaving therapy earlier and medical populations are becoming more active and less sedentary. Crow has maximized this opportunity by working as a contractor for a physical therapist. After the client leaves therapy, Crow receives the total session fee as the client continues to exercise.

Several trainers who are seeing these clients cite the impact of clients being allowed fewer physical therapy appointments. Kate Schmidt estimates that 50 percent of her clients have postrehabilitation needs, and she notes these clients come from referrals.

Crow finds he is seeing more women clients in pre/postnatal or perimenopausal stages, and is focusing on this niche because of the demand. Likewise, Joan Pagano specializes in working with women with medical issues, such as osteoporosis and postoperative conditioning.

Question: Client Goals
Trend: Stable

General fitness remains the primary goal of most clients. “This is still what most people want to keep in their lifestyle,” says Janis Gilbert. She includes clients with arthritis or diabetes or those with a special request such as sports conditioning in the “general fitness” category.

On the other hand, Michelle Shaw-Hettinger sees sports conditioning, postrehabilitation and special client niches replacing general fitness. Shaw-Hettinger feels clients “come into the club with more realistic goals for themselves” and have a better sense of what to ask for because they are much more informed. “Though there is still a lot of misleading information out there, in general, most major magazines and television news programs are typically using more credible sources and providing some solid basic information,” she says.

Sports conditioning requests are also increasing for Don Walker, who sees a lot of untapped potential “especially among adolescent and high-school athletes.”

In Canada, sports conditioning for hockey boosts business for Jason Supryka. Jason’s personal experience and commitment to the sport led to a strong number of referrals that allowed him to specialize. In the summer, Jason trains many professional athletes in one-to-one, two-to-one and three-to-one sessions. During the hockey season, he contracts with hockey clubs for land training and workshops. This work has grown so much that Jason will be hiring an assistant and debuting hockey camps later this year.

Question: Lifestyle Management
and Weight Management
Trend: Stable

These trainers do not see lifestyle management as a separate component of the business, but rather wrap information into a typical session. Trainers may feel that clients would benefit from lifestyle changes, but don’t see clients requesting this type of support. And, Gilbert admonishes, “most people are not motivated enough.”

Interest in weight management—a typical request for new exercisers—is declining for some trainers and increasing for others. Trainers report that anywhere from 10 percent to 98 percent of client requests include weight management. But many of these trainers do not consider weight management
a separate part of the business.

“People have an increased desire for a better quality of life,” reports Dawn Furbank. “There is an increased awareness of ‘self-care’ and overall health.” Furbank finds that weight management, tied to a client’s awareness of obesity and health issues, overlaps with lifestyle and personal training and, thus, isn’t really separated in her business.

Pagano includes information on lifestyle management in the training fee and refers out clients who need nutrition counseling. “Our clients’ priority is to be healthy. They feel it would be nice if they happened to lose a few pounds along the way, but their clear goal is health maintenance over time.”

In the corporate setting, however, Leah Steinberg feels that 98 percent of her fitness center members “are trying to lose weight or maintain their weight loss.”

Ross Clark finds the combination of general fitness and weight management “are huge sellers.” His staff discusses food pyramid concepts, and a registered dietitian meets with clients on an appointment basis. Clients with serious medical or psychological needs are referred to a hospital-based registered dietitian.

Walker hasn’t seen a demand for lifestyle management, although he feels that could be because it is not his focus.
He has seen the most growth in client requests for weight management. “As a result I now use a computer program that assists me in designing meal plans.” Walker feels the growth in this aspect of the business is “primarily” due to
the software program, which allows him to offer the service.

Weight management is a goal for a high number of clients, says Shaw-Hettinger. Her club chain “offers a program called Complete Personal Training, in which we combine nutritional guidance with a personalized exercise program. The program focuses on the five key elements of health and fitness: proper food intake, cardiorespiratory exercise, supplementation, resistance training and professional assistance,” she explains.

Question: Services Offered
Trend: Stable

One-to-one personal training remains the primary revenue stream for these businesses. Surveyed trainers attribute more than 65 percent of revenues to one-to-one. Annette Lang, whose broad perspective is achieved by lecturing to personal trainers around the country, feels that most trainers work one-to-one with clients interested in general fitness.

Equipment/product sales (5%-20%) and home/corporate gym design (3%-10%) still make up a small share of personal training revenue for those who do it. Trainers who provide equipment or equipment sales seem less focused on revenue than on providing customer service or helping their clients acquire the tools they need to be more successful.

Question: Partner and Small-Group Training
Trend: Stable

Partner or group training represents 15 percent or less of the revenues of these businesses. Several trainers note that husbands and wives primarily purchase partner training. Only five trainers report that small-group training (3-5 clients) represents a portion of their revenues, although four out of the five say it is growing.

At his gym, Clark discourages partner training. “It would grow quickly, but we limit it because it takes up more space and generates less revenue than one-to-one.”

Schmidt has a few partner sessions, generally with couples. She prefers to work one-to-one. She finds group training “too much work for too little profit” and recognizes she just doesn’t like to teach classes.

“People want more individual attention,” observes Furbank, who says small-group training represents only 5 percent of her business. While Gilbert has seen one-to-one sessions decline due to a poor economy, she has seen an increase in group training. The biggest obstacle is scheduling a time and date that works for the group.

Question: Additional Programs or Profit Centers
Trend: Varies

Workshops for consumers or fitness professionals are the theme for nontraining profit centers. In addition to his hockey workshops, Supryka’s company provides workshops on topics such as healthier lifestyles, positive focus and stress management for corporations and government organizations, aboriginal groups and sports teams.

Lang has virtually no one-to-one clients and currently concentrates on training trainers. Pagano presents continuing education workshops for health club and wellness staffs (e.g., retirement communities and hospitals) and fitness associations. As well, she directs the Marymount Manhattan College Personal Fitness Trainer Certification Program.

The Power of Referrals

Throughout the Trendwatch poll, you’ve read how trainers have credited their business growth to referrals from satisfied clients as well as other trainers and health care professionals. This year, nearly every trainer talked about “referrals.”

As Pagano states, “My business is personal training and it grows from within as present clients refer family and friends. In one case, we train three generations of the same family.
In another, a woman, her brother and father are all training one-to-one. Often, a spouse or child will join in for an occasional session. It really is a family affair!”

Schmidt readily refers clients to personal trainer friends in other parts of town when it is geographically impossible for her to train the client. “There are 3 million people in Los Angeles—they all need exercise!”

Crow’s philosophy is well worth reporting: “I try my best to establish and maintain each business relationship I can. The fitness world is still a small niche and bridges burned can be expensive and/or impossible to repair. I always refer out when I have a full client load or interested party who would be better suited to another trainer.”

The most dramatic result of good business from referrals was described by Andrea DiRocco-Supryka. In 1994, the Suprykas used their “minimal” life savings to open a 600-square-foot studio in a blue-collar city of 40,000, and continued to work in clubs and homes “just to make ends meet.” Today they are in a 4,000-square-foot location, have increased net sales 50 percent or more each of the first six years in business and spent “no more than $800 in advertising over the past seven years.” Andrea points out the “business has grown strictly from positive referrals” because of their professionalism, consistency and positive results.

Pricing Strategy

IDEA personal trainer surveys have repeatedly shown that most businesses offer a discount for a “package” of sessions. Ross Clark and Don Walker, both in Southern California markets, use an opposite strategy. They do not discount session fees because they feel it also discounts the value of their services.

Explains Clark, “We do not provide discounts because our facility is filled with full-paying clients, and we do not want to devalue our service. We are confident people will continue to come after the first session.”

Walker adds, “I figure my time is worth a certain fee, regardless of how many times I train someone. Not giving multiple-
session discounts has never hindered my personal training sales.” Of the independent contractor trainers who work at his club, some offer package discounts and others do not.

Industry Projection

All the trainers except one expressed optimism about their businesses stability and growth. Their comments indicate
a focus on their core of one-to-one training, but they also indicated that they are exploring new areas that seem to be
a fit for their geographical areas.

One trainer, a veteran of 16 years in a Great Lakes suburban area, has seen a significant decline in her business over the past year, compared to three years ago when she was turning away clients. She attributes the decline to the poor economy, a saturation of trainers, and potential clients feeling they get the information they need over the Internet.

Overall, the atmosphere was upbeat, even for the two trainers working in New York City. What key will you turn to keep your business thriving? l

IDEA PERSONAL Trainer march 2002 Trendwatch

Trendwatch Snapshot: How Much Do You Pay Trainers?

Number of Trainers Employee Independent Contractor Benefits

4 — $10-$14 (30 min. sessions) clothes, gifts, bonuses

2 — $15 not applicable

6 — $50-$75 not applicable

4 $10-$15 — retirement benefits if work 1,000 hours/year

8 — set and collect own fees; trainers pay club not applicable

22 — $22-$47.50/hour based on: volume, revenue, not applicable
productivity; education; longevity IDEA PERSONAL Trainer march 2002Trendwatch

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up tp date with our latest news and products.