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Starting a Small-Group Training Program

There’s no denying it: Small-group training is hot and getting hotter. According to the 2013 IDEA Fitness Programs & Trends Report (June 2013 IDEA Fitness Journal), SGT is listed as one of the top 10 personal training trends.

The growth of SGT isn’t surprising. Fitness facilities and professionals benefit by helping more people—and bringing in bigger bucks—per hour. For budget-conscious consumers, SGT offers an economical option that allows them to work with a personal trainer without the high cost usually associated with one-on-one training.

Why SGT?

Facility Benefits

SGT—a service in which three to 10 individuals work together with a personal trainer—is an attractive offering. It allows the facility to bring in more people and money per hour. If an hourlong one-on-one session runs $75 at your facility, for SGT you might charge $20 or $25 per person; that’s revenue of $200-$250 for a 10-person hourlong session.

“I decided to explore small-group training after going to an IDEA convention and learning that it was going to be the next trend,” explains Becky Tucker, co-owner of Bell Fitness in Jackson, Wyoming. “It seemed consumers were wanting personal training but were limited [in their] ability to afford it. Small-group training seemed to fit the bill.”

Amy Boone Thompson, national director of personal training services at Wellbridge, based in Denver, felt that offering SGT was a no-brainer. “[We started a small-group program for] three simple reasons. One is increased revenue per member. Two is increased penetration rate of members involved in supervised, solution-based programs. And three, we retain more members who hold a higher level of accountability and are getting desired results.”

Tucker adds that her SGT program has attracted a previously untapped market to Bell Fitness. “A side benefit was that, after posting fliers around town on various billboards, we got interest from people who are not your normal gym-goers,” she recalls. “It brought in a community that we have not previously been able to attract.”

Client Benefits

At Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, California, where I serve as director of group training, we structured the entire business around one-on-one training and SGT. Aside from the potential monetary benefits, the goal was to ensure that everyone walking through our doors received some sort of guidance. Our members appreciate that they always have access to a personal trainer who oversees the workout, provides motivation and ensures optimal form. It’s a perfect solution for individuals who don’t need one-on-one attention. We call it “Personal Training Without the Price Tag.”

Another benefit is increased member retention. Our trainers focus on cuing quality form and executing effective workouts. They also work hard to facilitate interactions between members.

Is SGT Right for Your Facility?

On paper, SGT sounds like a viable option for any facility. But before you dive in, be sure it’s appropriate for your membership.

Here are the top three considerations to make before moving forward with SGT:

Space. How much space you need depends on the number of participants you will allow per session. Bird Rock Fit devotes 1,200 feet of its space to small-group, which is just about maxed out at 10 people. From the client perspective, the space offers a more intimate, private experience that makes participants feel they’re getting what they paid for. From a facility and trainer standpoint, it’s all about safety and injury prevention. You want to make sure that participants are not competing with each other—or with other facility members—for space and equipment.

If you do not have access to a separate space, then you’ll want to try to schedule your SGT sessions during less busy times, or host them in low-traffic areas. You might also consider sectioning off a space in the facility just during SGT times. While everyone at your facility should be valued, keep in mind that SGT participants pay extra for specialized services.

Knowledgeable staff. SGT sessions can be difficult to oversee, because they require fitness professionals who can safely manage several moving parts at once. A small-group trainer should be able to offer a high-quality, effective workout to individuals of all levels and capacities. This can be quite challenging for someone who has worked predominantly in a one-on-one environment.

When looking to launch SGT at Bell Fitness, Tucker chose an instructor who had experience working with individuals and with groups. A hybrid trainer—someone who acts as both a personal trainer and a group exercise instructor—is an optimal choice for SGT.

For the third key consideration and more tips on small-group training, please see “How to Launch a Successful Small-Group Training Program, Part One” in the online IDEA Library (January 2014 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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