Want to increase your revenue stream using the resources you already have at hand? Here’s a formula for success: One personal trainer plus several club members equals extra income—at no additional cost to you!

Sound too good to be true? This win-win situation is a reality for a wide range of fitness facilities that offer training packages for couples or for groups of three to five clients. According to the 2003 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, 54 percent of last year’s survey respondents offered small-group training sessions shared by three to five clients, up from 43 percent in 2002.

How Clients Benefit

More and more clients are recognizing the benefits of training in a group setting. At the Wyndham’s Golden Door Spa in Las Casitas Village in Puerto Rico, training in small groups appeals to a wide variety of guests, says spa group fitness manager Lawrence Biscontini. “Clients who are too shy or scared to dedicate an hour alone with a personal trainer, those who want to train with a friend to stay motivated, those who understand the value of group dynamics . . . are all attracted to group training,” says Biscontini.

“Clients are attracted to small-group personal training because it is time-effective,” says Joe Stankowski, owner of AbsoluteFitnessUSA.com and in-house fitness pro at Residences at Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware. Carving out the time to work out is a real concern for his clientele, which is primarily composed of busy executives and “DINKs” (couples with “dual incomes, no kids”). Clients are also attracted to the reduced cost of group training. “Group training allows potential one-on-one clients to sample personal training without [incurring] the full expense,” says Stankowski.

Recognizing that one of the main motivators for clients is money, sisters Erica Roberg Williams and Lea Roberg-Chao recently opened a facility in Oceanside, California, that specializes in small-group training. Billed as the first fitness facility to offer unlimited personal training programs for a flat monthly rate, SIFT (Structured Interactional Fitness Technique) Workout offers group training at rates far lower than are typical for traditional one-on-one training sessions.

Splitting the cost of training is also an enticement at The Fitness Group in Vancouver, British Columbia, which offers sessions for groups of three to four members. “A lower price point is always a factor,” says program director Krista Popowych. “Also, the interaction between clients makes the workout fun, and the time goes more quickly. The team atmosphere helps each person achieve more, since clients tend to cheer and support each other.”

What’s in It for You?

Personal trainers and fitness facilities also reap benefits from group training. “Clients may enjoy a discount, but trainers actually can make more money per hour this way,” says Karla Overturf, fitness specialist at Sierra Fitness in Tucson.

“It results in more income for the trainer,” says Mindy Mylrea, who trains small groups at World Gym in Scotts Valley, California.

“Training small groups allows you to connect with more people per hour,” says Sherri McMillan, co-owner of Northwest Personal Training & Fitness Education, in Vancouver, Washington. “You get more word-of-mouth referrals and an extra revenue stream, plus you make more money per hour.”

“Small-group training allows us to pay our trainers as employees instead of on fluctuating commissions,” says Roberg Williams. “Our trainers can focus on training instead of selling. It allows us to bring a higher level of customer service to our members.”

Working with clients of different personalities is a plus for trainer Linda Diehl-Perry, who trains groups of two to six clients at Fitness in Motion, a personal training studio in Glens Falls, New York. “It’s not all that different from working one-on-one, since you can still personalize the workout to meet individual needs or you can have all the clients do the same workout.”

Trainer skills also get honed in a group setting, says Popowych. “Trainers get experience managing more than one client. They learn how to improve skills like time management and creating transitions between exercises.”

What’s the Downside?

The main drawback to group personal training from the trainer’s standpoint appears to be juggling the needs of several people in a single session. “Program design becomes a little more ‘generic’ if clients’ fitness levels and goals are not exactly the same,” says Overturf.

“It can be a challenge to make four members happy at once,” concurs Roberg Williams. “Some may not feel they are getting enough attention.” To address this issue, trainers should work with each group member to set short-, medium- and long-term goals and then revisit those goals each session, she advises. “Communication is the key to ensure their success.”

Meeting everyone’s needs is more of a challenge when the group is larger, says Mylrea. She recommends that trainers offer as many modifications as possible, along with clear instructions for each exercise.

Trainers can address the needs of different group members by offering various resistance levels and specialized training, suggests McMillan. “Instead of customized programming, we offer group training sessions that cater to a specific need, such as leg or upper-body strength,” says McMillan.

Another challenge is finding enough members willing to commit to working out at the same time, says Popowych. One way to overcome this is to establish a market niche to attract group members who share an interest. For example, after-school sessions might attract groups of teen athletes, whereas early-morning sessions may suit retired adults. Finding the facility space to train three or more clients can also be problematic for smaller studios, says Popowych.

A final challenge cited by several trainers is establishing the way group members will pay you individually. “For example, if someone doesn’t show up for the session, who do you charge? This needs to be decided before you begin training,” cautions Popowych.

That Bottom Line

In addition to determining how you will be paid, you need to establish the session rate for each group member. Overturf charges each group member $50 per
session but offers discounts for members who buy multiple sessions; session rates are as low as $36 when 36 sessions are purchased.

SIFT Workout charges group members a flat fee of $300 per month if they make a 1-year commitment to training; this entitles them to an unlimited number of monthly sessions, which are by appointment only. Those who choose not to commit to a year contract pay $325 per month.

Diehl-Perry charges $10 to $15 per person for her group training sessions, whereas Mylrea sets her fees at $35 to $75 per session.

Training small groups is apparently paying off for several fitness facilities. “We started our program 3 months ago, and we now have more than 60 people participating,” says McMillan. “This has added $6,000 a month to our revenue stream!”

McMillan is not alone in lauding the success of small-group personal training programs. According to Biscontini, group personal training at the Wyndham’s Golden Door in Puerto Rico accounted for a whopping 44 percent increase in the spa’s fitness center revenues in 2002!