When the average consumer hears the term personal trainer, does it evoke the image of a leader or educator—or of a glorified workout partner leading a tough training session several days per week? Perhaps more importantly for our industry’s future—how do we, as trainers, perceive ourselves?
Today, the answers to these questions will affect more than how you structure your business; they may actually determine your future ability to maintain financial success. The increasing financial pressure on people at all income levels is causing everyone to re-evaluate expenses. As members of the industry, we know that fitness is essential. However, are the services we provide essential? Are clients truly unable to live without them?
Any working trainer has surely met people who believe they need to get in shape first, then hire a trainer. This notion comes from the common perception of trainers as little more than workout partners or drill instructors. For your part, as a trainer, you may get bored running the same client through the same workout multiple times per week. It doesn’t stimulate or challenge you to grow professionally—and too often, it results in clients who rely on you for hard workouts while taking little responsibility for their results outside the sessions.
To stave off future financial obstacles, and overcome current perceptual ones, it might be time for our industry to rethink how we offer and deliver personal training services. Can we make changes that will improve outcomes for clients by making them more responsible for their results, while simultaneously enhancing the health of our businesses and allowing more people to afford personal training services?
The typical personal trainer has a low number of clients with a high session frequency. The 2008 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey (Schroeder & Friesen 2008) lists the average price of a training session as $58, with the majority of respondents (55%) reporting an average of 10–29 sessions per week. The overall mean number of sessions per week is 19, while the mean number of clients per week is 14. To keep the calculations simple in our example, let’s use a session fee of $60 and 20 sessions per week.
Two sample trainers:
- Trainer A: 10 clients, 2 sessions each per week
- Trainer B: 40 clients, 1 session each, biweekly
Consider the following: Even during prosperous economic times, much less during the current challenging ones, who can afford to work with these two trainers under the traditional model of one-on-one training? What is the potential impact on their revenue from the loss of a single client?
With Trainer A, each client has two sessions per week for a total of $120 (assuming 4 weeks in a month, that’s $480 per month). With Trainer B, each client has a biweekly session at $60 ($120 monthly). In both cases, the trainer grosses $4,800 per month. If each trainer loses a client, Trainer A drops 2 hours of weekly income immediately and now has nine clients (and a monthly income of $4,320), while Trainer B drops 1 hour of biweekly income and now has 39 clients (a monthly gross of $4,680). Note the significantly less drastic financial hit for Trainer B—a $120 drop in monthly revenue versus a $480 decrease! Furthermore, given the significance of the loss, Trainer A faces more stress and a more urgent need to replace the lost client quickly.
A low-frequency, high-client model provides many benefits to both personal trainers and their clients—and it is versatile enough to meet the scheduling needs of any individual.
First, you will enjoy a greater number of word-of-mouth referrals. In the above example, if both trainers deliver equally great results they will have clients singing their praises. Trainer A has 10 clients, while Trainer B has 40. How many more people are hearing about the training that Trainer B provides? (By using this strategy, I’ve managed to populate my current one-on-one client roster with 62 unique names.) Second, recall the less severe negative financial impact of losing one client if you schedule like Trainer B and drop just 1 hour versus 4 hours of income in a 2-week span.
Third, every trainer has clients who, even with several sessions per week, fail to get results. Clients like these rely too heavily on time with a trainer, often failing to follow through with their programs on their own time. With a lower session frequency, these clients experience a shift in perception and realize they need to be more responsible for their workout programs outside of the sessions. When your scheduling and policies force clients to care as much as you do about their goals, they often get better results, and you get less frustrated.
I have been structuring my training like this for a long time and have not had a slow period in at least 5 years. Several clients are schoolteachers—a group known for income limitations—and if I followed the traditional model of multiple sessions per week, they could not be clients. One extra benefit—you will rarely find yourself frustrated and drained, because with fewer sessions clients realize that the only way to get results is to take what you teach them and run with it. They cannot rely on you as much for their results, and this is a good thing!
Clients will treat their time with you more seriously, and they will show up ready to learn their routine and absorb information from you. They will look forward to every session, and fewer of them will be tardy. Apart from their training sessions, they will still have periodic appointments with you where they report on their workouts; this arrangement will keep them accountable to you. Moreover, now almost anyone can afford your services. With low session frequency, the financial entry point for hiring a trainer is low enough that most people can avail themselves of your services. Even with one session a month, by the end of the year that’s 12 hours spent learning and growing in fitness knowledge from a competent and caring fitness professional—you!
After getting clients started on their initial program, I decrease their session frequency and have them meet with me every 2, 3, 4, 6 or, in a few cases, 8 or 12 weeks. You can settle on an arrangement that will work for just about any combination of financial resources, need for accountability and client workout independence.
The future direction and success of the personal training industry are up to us. We have enjoyed massive success in recent decades while reaching only the minority of the population. There is a great untapped market full of people who think they aren’t fit enough, can’t afford it and are intimidated by trainers. If you teach clients to be independent, that demonstrates professionalism. It also shows that you are secure in your ability to impart information and in their ability to make use of it.
Give clients a workout, and they are more fit for a day. Teach them to work out, and they are more fit for a lifetime. Educate your clients, build on their accumulated exercise knowledge, and watch them enjoy greatly amplified results. When you treat clients as strong, capable, intelligent adults, they will act that way and feel more confident in their exercise programs. As a result, their progress will accelerate and they will tell all their friends who will listen that they just have to work with you.
Eventually you will find an approach that can be adjusted for individual clients. Based on my experience that it takes most people 3–5 sessions to learn a workout program, here is a sample progression to use with new clients:
- first 2 weeks—2 sessions per week
- next 2 weeks—1 session per week
- 4 weeks after the second weekly session—1 session (assess progress to decide if it’s time for a new program)
- every 4 weeks thereafter—1 session (tweak exercises and/or start a new program)
- To determine when clients are ready to meet less often, ask yourself the following:
- Am I having the same session/workout with clients over and over again?
- Am I or my client(s) getting easily distracted during sessions?
- Are any clients considering dropping sessions for financial reasons?
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