Personal Training Positioned for Growth

New IDEA survey data show personal trainers stick to the fundamentals and continue their winning formula.

By IDEA Authors
Aug 31, 2006

Personal trainers are true to their core business, according to the personal trainer members who completed the 2006 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey. Training adults one-on-one remains the centerpiece of the training business, and the largest area for growth. At the same time, trainers have expanded their services to include select types of multiclient sessions.

These are the session options offered by over 50% of survey respondents:

95% personal training
(adult, one-on-one)

91 fitness assessment

90 strength training
(individual, nongroup)

83 stretching and/or flexibility

75 personal training (2 clients share)

64 personal training (youth, aged 18 or younger, one-on-one)

59 nutrition assessment

55 body-weight-only training

53 nutrition coaching

53 sport-specific training

51 personal training and Pilates or yoga

The popularity of the personalized exercise programs that trainers offer may stem from the fact that special needs can be addressed in these programs. Personal trainers frequently offer fitness assessment (91%), which provides a foundation for setting accurate exercise guidelines. Since trainers report that 86% of their clients have chronic or temporary injuries and 81% have special medical needs, such as diabetes or heart disease, it’s not surprising that one-on-one and partner training are core businesses.

In addition, trainers remain the masters of adopting appropriate equipment and modalities to enhance training sessions. The survey respondents report frequent use of a wide range of equipment that trains function as well as strength, balance and other fitness parameters. These trainers also move among body-weight-only training, Pilates and other options to keep sessions interesting—and effective.

The median number of clients that respondents have on their books is 50, and 72% of trainers report that their clients stay with the business 1 year or longer. Those numbers indicate a winning formula.

One-on-One Training Has
Highest Growth Potential

Personal training with a single client is the option most frequently offered by these respondents. One-on-one also has the highest growth potential (and stability) of all kinds of sessions, across all business types. Right behind it is partner training, where two clients share a session.

With 60% of trainers predicting one-on-one will grow and 43% feeling partner training has growth potential, the value of the “personal” in training is apparent.

“Confidence in the growth of one-on-one is not surprising, in that it is the traditional picture of personal training and it is the easiest one to prospect, develop and program,” points out Charlie Hoolihan, personal training director at Pelican Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana. “Trainers start their practice one client at a time till their slots are full.”

Curious about why 100% of respondents do not offer personal training? This survey, sent to IDEA members in the personal trainer membership category, includes a small number of respondents (for example, a few working in yoga and Pilates studios) who do not offer traditional personal training.

Small-Group Training Holds Steady but Doesn’t Grow

The number of trainers offering sessions and classes for three or more clients has remained steady since 2004, offered by fewer than half of businesses. While multiclient sessions (3–5 clients share) are most often found in personal training gyms, health clubs are the home of group strength training and larger classes.

Why don’t more trainers offer group options? Experts in the industry have been recommending that groups are a great source of new clients, bring in additional revenue and make a trainer’s expertise affordable to more people.

There is an element of risk, suggests Hoolihan, who believes the risk is worth it, given the potential for group sessions. “Group training is a bit more difficult to develop, but once you do, it takes off much like the individual training does—by word of mouth. The trainer has to take an initial risk with establishing group training by setting aside a few hours of prime time for group training sessions and [must then] be diligent about holding those spots. It’s risky to watch a prime spot that could be occupied with a paying client go dormant for any amount of time, but investing the time and effort to develop it as a group spot will pay off down the line.

“Once clients see or participate in successful group training sessions, they will be your best advertisement. And it is especially important for trainers with a full client load to develop this aspect, so their returns are greater and their workdays are not oppressive,” he says.

Personal Trainers
Gear Up for Kids’ Fitness

There has been a great deal of attention placed on the lack of fitness in kids today. In this survey, 64% of respondents said they offer personal training for kids and teenagers, although they estimated that only 7% of clients are 18 years or younger.

A relatively few businesses offer kids’ fitness classes and after-school camps (28%), yet half (53%) of those who do feel this category will grow. The lack of classes is likely due to the large number of personal training gyms and in-home trainers responding to the survey.

In the health club setting, Mitch Batkin, vice president of fitness and personal training at Sport & Health Clubs in the Washington, DC, area, is enthusiastic that training “is a great way to teach kids how to exercise safely and effectively and have some fun at the same time.” He notes that Sport & Health is “expanding what we offer to kids.”

Nutrition Information Offered More Than Lifestyle Coaching

Lifestyle coaching is another activity that has been talked about a lot over the past few years and recommended for trainers as an additional revenue stream. This year’s survey shows that more trainers offer nutrition coaching or assessment than offer lifestyle coaching, although all are areas predicted for growth.

Most often these services are provided in personal training gyms, rather than in clients’ homes or health clubs.

Kay L. Cross, MEd, at Cross Coaching & Wellness in Fort Worth, Texas, feels that one-third of trainers offering lifestyle coaching is a reasonable number based on today’s marketplace. “Consumers are in the early stages of learning what coaching is and what it can do for their wellness. Many trainers do not have the training to offer coaching, and/or they prefer the physical exercise/program design of the personal training business.”

While more trainers offer nutrition coaching or assessment, Cross cautions that “you still have to be careful not to step outside your area of expertise, giving specific [nutrition] advice that may be unsafe or unhealthy.”

Training, Pilates and Yoga Find a Home in Health Clubs

Overall, 51% said they offer “personal training and Pilates or yoga” and, of these, over half (64%) feel that this category is growing and 62% feel that “Pilates and traditional strength training” is growing. Of the fewer who offer “yoga and traditional strength training,” 56% feel it will grow.

However, since 2004, the number of trainers offering these options has dropped: Pilates (-10); Pilates and traditional strength training (-11); yoga
(-6); and yoga and traditional strength training (-10).

These apparently conflicting figures may be explained by location. Health clubs most often offer Pilates and yoga, which is reasonable given their space and large instructor base. This capability allows clients to take a Pilates or yoga class independent of their training sessions, and it allows trainers to learn techniques to integrate into their sessions.

As Batkin said, at Sport & Health Clubs, “We have not seen a drop in personal trainers offering fusion-type classes. It is growing for us, and I think it will continue to grow.”

Trainers Use All Equipment, and Favor Pieces That Train Function

The survey respondents reported using all types of equipment, with an emphasis on the smaller, portable pieces. These are the 10 pieces of equipment most frequently available:

93% stability balls

92 barbells and/or dumbbells

89 resistance tubing or bands

79 balance (BOSU® Balance Trainers, disks, wobble boards, balance boards)

75 treadmills

75 foam rollers and small balls

72 steps and platforms

71 pulley equipment

67 elliptical trainers

65 recumbent cycles

Not only are small pieces of equipment portable (and often used by in-home trainers), but they are also the tools of functional fitness. Catherine Logan, licensed physical therapist and certified personal trainer at Physical Therapy Associates in Boston, points out that “there is definitely an underlying trend in fitness to do exercises that appear to be more functional and utilize multiple planes of motion. Equipment tools like the BOSU Balance Trainer or the balance board allow participants to work on these functional movements. Core stabilization is also a steady trend for injury prevention and overall performance and health, further contributing to the popularity of these smaller pieces of equipment.”

Large stationary equipment is available fairly equally in health clubs and personal training gyms but, understandably, less available in clients’ homes where smaller, portable pieces—such as tubing, bands and stability balls—predominate. Over the past 3 years, the only real decline in equipment is for stair climbers. Trainers observed that people aren’t using them as much any more.

The demise may result from the rise of ellipticals and the enduring popularity of treadmills—or, suggests Logan, from gym myths that stair climbers are bad for the knees or cause large derrieres.

About the Survey

The percentage (%) shows the number of survey respondents who answered yes to a given survey question. All percentages have been rounded up at 0.5 and down at 0.4. Percentages do not necessarily total 100, because of multiple or missing responses.

About the Respondents. IDEA personal trainer members who gave us permission to use their e-mail addresses were sent three e-mail invitations to link to a Web-based survey in February 2006. The 329 trainers who responded represent 39% personal trainers, 27% owners, 6% fitness directors, 1% personal training directors, 2% general managers and 19% both trainers and group instructors, along with other titles. There was a 16% response rate, with a 95% confidence level and a ±5% margin of error.

About the Demographics. Of the respondents, 23% offer personal training in clients’ homes, whereas 21% work in personal training gyms, 19% in multipurpose health clubs, 6% in fitness-only health clubs, 4% in Pilates or yoga studios, 4% in a YMCA/YWCA/JCC, 3% in corporate fitness centers and 6% in other venues. As for location, 33% work in suburbs, 30% in large cities, 30% in small cities or towns and 6% in rural areas. Most respondents live in the United States—38% in the West, 31% in the Northeast, 17% in the North Central region and 15% in the South; 5% live in Canada.

About Median and Mean. The mean (average) is found by adding together all the numbers and dividing by the number of responses. Very large numbers and very small numbers can create a wide range, which may make an average less representative of most of the people.

The median is the midpoint, meaning 50% of respondents answered above that number and 50% answered below it. A median is useful because it helps eliminate the distortion that an average can cause.

About Health Clubs. The “health clubs” category in the charts includes multipurpose and fitness-only health clubs and YMCA/YWCA/JCC facilities.

Building on Fundamentals

The fundamentals of personal training are meeting client needs, offering personalized attention and providing an exercise program that can be maintained over time. The survey results show that one-on-one clearly has the potential to continue expanding to new clients who need a trainer’s support. n

P

one-on-one sessions
offered the most

Personal

Training

All Personal Clients’ Respondents Health Clubs Training Gyms Homes

n (number) 329 93 70 77

Offer These Sessions

personal training
(adult, one-on-one) 95% 97% 100% 97%

personal training
(2 clients share) 75 80 90 74

personal training
(3–5 clients share) 39 37 50 38

Sessions Are Growing

personal training
(adult, one-on-one) 60% 66% 59% 56%

personal training
(2 clients share) 43 37 37 39

personal training
(3–5 clients share) 39 19 26 18

Multiclient Sessions and Small Groups Hold Steady

Personal

Training

All Personal Clients’ Respondents Health Clubs Training Gyms Homes

n (number) 329 93 70 77

strength training
(group, background 49% 68% 40% 30%

  music)

small-group classes
(8 people or fewer) 42 46 31 35

personal training
(3–5 clients share) 39 37 50 38

strength training
(group, no music) 34 34 33 34

indoor boot
camp classes 26 46 17 8

outdoor boot
camp classes 16 18 19 16

Trainers Get Ready for Kids

Personal

Training

All Personal Clients’ Respondents Health Clubs Training Gyms Homes

n (number) 329 93 70 77

personal training
(youth, aged 18 or
younger, one-on-one) 64% 73% 73% 60%

kids’ fitness
(classes or after-
school camps) 28 37 27 17

Nutrition and Lifestyle

Personal

Training

All Personal Clients’ Respondents Health Clubs Training Gyms Homes

n (number) 329 93 70 77

nutrition assessment 59% 60% 67% 61%

nutrition coaching 53 58 57 49

lifestyle coaching 33 28 41 25

nutrition analysis
software 19 24 19 12

Pilates and Yoga
Primarily in Health Clubs

Personal

Training

All Personal Clients’ Respondents Health Clubs Training Gyms Homes

n (number) 329 93 70 77

personal training and
Pilates or yoga 51% 62% 41% 36%

Pilates 44 71 26 18

yoga 40 71 17 17

Pilates and
traditional strength
training fusion 32 39 24 27

yoga and traditional
strength training 24 28 16 27

Personal Training Services

Current Programs and Future Projections

Yes, my company offers this

program, and I think it is:

Offer Growing Stable Declining

Basic Training

personal training (adult, one-on-one) 95% 60% 28% 2%

personal training (2 clients share) 75 43 34 6

personal training (3–5 clients share) 39 39 30 12

outdoor personal training sessions 47 42 36 5

personal training (youth, aged 18
  or younger, one-on-one) 64 43 31 7

Additional Services

clinics on special topics 42% 43% 43% 3%

fitness assessment 91 30 48 7

lifestyle coaching 33 50 33 3

nutrition assessment 59 42 37 4

nutrition coaching 53 45 35 6

online training programs 10 44 21 9

outdoor boot camp classes 16 46 35 6

indoor boot camp classes 26 48 41 4

outdoor group activities 25 46 35 5

small-group classes (8 people or fewer) 42 16 22 3

Program Design

body-weight-only training 55% 39% 43% 2%

personal training and Pilates or yoga 51 64 19 1

Pilates 44 60 26 1

Pilates and traditional strength
  training fusion 32 62 21 0

strength training

  (group, background music) 49 41 44 1

strength training (group, no music) 34 49 40 2

strength training

  (individual, nongroup) 90 49 37 1

stretching and/or flexibility 83 45 42 2

very slow strength training 30 28 36 11

yoga 40 46 35 5

yoga and traditional strength training 24 56 28 1

Client Goals

back pain prevention 48% 48% 37% 2%

exercise for chronic medical conditions
  (diabetes, coronary heart disease) 46 50 31 1

kids’ fitness

  (classes or after-school camps) 28 53 23 4

postrehab following injury 47 51 34 1

sports clinics 15 55 29 4

sport-specific training 53 45 36 3

walking 43 32 49 4

water fitness 30 31 50 7

Personal trainers are true to their core business, according to the personal trainer members who completed the 2006 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey. Training adults one-on-one remains the centerpiece of the training business, and the largest area for growth. At the same time, trainers have expanded their services to include select types of multiclient sessions.

These are the session options offered by over 50% of survey respondents:

95% personal training
(adult, one-on-one)

91 fitness assessment

90 strength training
(individual, nongroup)

83 stretching and/or flexibility

75 personal training (2 clients share)

64 personal training (youth, aged 18 or younger, one-on-one)

59 nutrition assessment

55 body-weight-only training

53 nutrition coaching

53 sport-specific training

51 personal training and Pilates or yoga

The popularity of the personalized exercise programs that trainers offe

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