Small-group training—a service in which a personal trainer works with anywhere from three to 10 people at a time—has quickly become a fitness steamroller. Independent studios as well as “big box” facilities have added SGT to their list of offerings, because it provides a financial win-win for all. Clients gain access to the guidance of a personal trainer at minimal cost, and personal trainers and fitness facilities make more money per hour. SGT also allows the fitness industry to accomplish one of its primary missions: to help as many people as possible improve their health and fitness.
Still waiting to implement SGT at your facility? Perhaps it’s time to finally take advantage of this growing trend. Here’s a primer on how to launch SGT in a large gym setting.
Potential financial gain isn’t the only reason to consider SGT.
Ron Merryman, MS, director of education at YouFit Health Clubs in Deerfield Beach, Florida, believes that SGT builds greater bonds among members, which can positively impact retention. “We are all looking to create communities within our clubs,” he says. “Like [when you’re] looking for a residence, you want to like your neighbors and share common interests with that community. Only in that environment will the community survive and promote a safe, clean and correctly challenging place to live.”
Dovetailing on Merryman’s point, Eric Cochran, fitness director for Midtown Athletic Clubs in Chicago, suggests that individuals who become part of a community are more likely to be successful. “It is incumbent upon clubs to capitalize on the collective ethos of their member base,” he urges, “in order to facilitate behavioral change that is consistent with existing theories of social psychology.”
“[SGT] allows the staff to communicate in a professional manner with more members,” explains Josh Gonzales, owner of Athletic Performance of Texas in Longview, Texas. He finds that, in a traditional gym setting, one-on-one personal trainers tend to put on blinders and focus solely on their own clients. “This cuts off lines of communication with many other members who would be interested in personal training but aren’t secure enough to ask for information.” Trainers who also offer SGT are more likely to interact with others, which can create an environment of ease and comfort among members.
Gonzalez believes that trainers can gain more than extra cash from leading SGT sessions. “Small-group training will improve the trainers in many ways. It improves their communication, delivery and organization, and it adds variety to their job with different forms of program design.”
Launching SGT in Your Facility
Launching a new program is always a risky endeavor. But with the right analysis and thoughtful implementation strategies, you can develop a profit center that rivals all others.
Unlike one-on-one sessions, where trainer and client can easily find room to work out on a busy gym floor, SGT requires a bit of space. Fitting group training into an already cluttered area can negatively impact the gym experience for both the SGT clients and facility members nearby.
“I believe that space becomes a little less important when you have a good group structure and good traffic flow,” says Merryman. He adds that while the situation may not be ideal, a lot can be done in an area 5 feet by 5 feet.
Gonzalez suggests setting aside a designated SGT space as a way to secure a quality program.
If interest is lacking, SGT could fall flat at your facility. To alleviate this concern, Cochran suggests that you ask members whether it’s a service they want: “A simple survey can be a very cost-effective way to evaluate how your member base prefers to be engaged.”
A more informal assessment can also be helpful. Gonzalez and his staff often query members about their interest in various programs. He finds that this uncomplicated approach enhances the member-staff relationship, while also letting people know about potential services.
A successful SGT program won’t run itself, which means you’ll need highly skilled trainers with complete buy-in. “Coaches need to be confident in their ability to adapt to the environment and move around the members who are not participating,” advises Cochran.
Gonzalez prefers to target group fitness instructors who have an interest in personal training. He looks for friendly, outgoing people who have a strong voice, are adept at writing programs and keep an organized schedule.
“You’ll also need to incentivize the trainer to participate,” counsels Merryman. “Typically, the best times to run SGT are during primetime training hours, which means if you want your best instructors teaching it, you’d better offer some kind of motivation, whether financial or other, to get them to buy in to telling their 2- to 4-times-per-week regular clients that they cannot train at 6:00 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays anymore.”
The first step in developing an expert team is to select appropriate staff. They’ll need to be trained to handle the rigors specific to SGT.
“Have them observe a great class,” Cochran suggests. “Then perform a group meta-analysis of the session. Lastly, have them perform teach-backs. The instructors should be rated, and given a green light to teach, a yellow light if improvements are needed or a red light if they require additional training. Give feedback and strategies for improvement until the staff is up to standard.”
Business-wise, one of the primary benefits of SGT is that it is designed to bring in more money per hour than one-on-one training. For example, if a private session costs $100 per hour, you might charge an hourly rate of $150 for SGT and divide the cost evenly among participants. So if you were working with a group of five, each would pay $30.
Merryman notes that a solid way to determine pricing is simply to look at what your competitors are doing and go from there.
Define the Program
Before you promote SGT to members, it’s important to understand—and be able to explain—the difference between traditional group exercise and SGT. Although SGT has grown in popularity, many members may not fully grasp its expanded benefits and could be unwilling to pay extra for it, says Merryman.
Gonzalez recommends that all gyms have some sort of standardized programming model that a novice SGT coach can easily follow. “Once trainers have mastered the standardized group workouts, then the option to allow trainers to spin off and build new programming would be very beneficial,” he declares. “Having a standardized program should help the advanced trainer build smart, progressive and fun workouts that the whole club could add to their books.”
To create buzz for your new program, enlist the help of group fitness instructors. “Start with the members who are already involved in your group exercise programs,” Merryman offers. “This community is already built, and if you get one key person, you may get many more to follow.”
He also suggests tapping the roster of once-per-week training clients. While these individuals understand the benefits of personal training, they might be on a budget. Still, they may be willing to put up a little more cash to work in a group setting.
Cochran believes that a great way to help potential clients understand the benefits of SGT is to give them a taste of what they can expect from it. “From a club culture perspective, to mitigate any members’ hesitation about participating in a group, it would be wise to offer them a complimentary session,” he advises. “The cost of these sessions would be incurred by the club.”
“SGT has become a great community builder, feeder system and retention tool for many clubs,” Merryman observes. “Establish the top five objectives for creating and launching this service inside your club. Consider your core values when you design and/or implement a program, and look to [those values] for support and rationale when making decisions. This will infuse integrity into your program and will serve as your decision-making guide for the future.”