Come gyms, and boutique studios. How does small

Come January every year, we set aside time to take stock of
our lives. Whether it’s our business, career, fitness, or personal relations,
the New Year brings a time for reflection. How can we step up our game? What
can we change to move to that next level? Are there ways to improve and
accomplish even bigger and greater goals? The New Year is a harbinger for a
brighter, more prosperous future.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s
(ACSM) “Worldwide
Survey of Fitness Trends for 2018, published in the November/December issue
of the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®, group personal training ranks 13th
among the top 20 fitness trends for 2018. Small group training (SGT) or group
personal training was first recognized by ACSM as a top 20 fitness trend in
2007. Since then, SGT has managed to stay among the top 20 trends. In 2010, it
just made the top ten list coming in at number ten. In 2012, it placed eighth
and continued as one of the top ten fitness trends from 2012 to 2015.

Small group training remains a program staple offered by
high-end clubs, gyms, and boutique studios. How does small group training evolve
to stay on trend and to continue to delivery what members and exercise
enthusiasts seek? 

Influential Fitness Trends – Potential Impact on Small Group Training

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We’ve witnessed recently the creativity and ingenuity of
health clubs and gyms to harness the best of what powers the boutique studio to
remain competitive. So, it’s not unusual that club operators and gym owners
keep a watchful eye on industry trends to continually shape the direction of
the member experience, fitness programs, and member services offered. This
article will examine the potential impact on small group training of
influential characteristics that drive personal training, group fitness
classes, a newly-emerging aging fitness market, and wearable technology.

As a well-established fitness program and revenue center in
most health clubs and gyms, group personal training programs are exceptionally
positioned to evolve by drawing from these various trends in fitness.

It will require owners, program managers, and trainers
responsible for developing, designing, and delivering small group training to fuse
together key fitness trends: the personalized distinction and community
experience of boutique studios and group training; the fitness education
delivered in personal training; and the enhanced performance-driven data with
fitness technology.

The Next Level in Small Group Training Programs

The valuable benefits of small group training for health
club owners, fitness professionals, and exercisers are well established. It’s
truly a win-win. Exercisers gain the benefits of individualized and
personalized training from talented and motivated fitness trainers at a more
affordable cost than personal training. Fitness professionals effectively
increase their personal income, credibility, and reputation. Club and gym
owners improve retention rates and see increased revenues, reaching well into
$1 million annually for some companies.

We should, however, never become complacent with our
achievements and comfortable with the experience we’re providing our members.
It’s essential to stay aware of trends in the market, both locally and
nationally, to remain relevant, innovative, and competitive. 

Four Trends to Invigorate a Small Group Training Program

1.       Leverage the Power of Boutiques
Take a page from the boutique
studio playbook to revitalize your small group training experience. Boutiques do
several things right. One of those is customer-centered and results-driven
training. Boutique members are uniquely cared for. Make sure your small group
program demonstrates accountability to its clients. Know your client’s fitness
goals. Work closely with clients and make sure they know you recognize the
importance of their contribution to their health and fitness.

Boutiques create a community – a
tribe. In re-envisioning a small group training program, create an intimate team
environment. Build a sense of support and community amongst participants.
Consider aspects of commonality: group types, age, and activity interests.

Specialize in a few formats.
Popular training formats are sport-specific such as running, strength training,
yoga, boot camp-style, and weight loss. Consider any special certifications your
fitness trainers may have, e.g. kettlebells, boxing, Pilates, etc. in offering unique

2.       Adapt to An Emerging Market
Despite the attractiveness of capturing the millennial market, any “future
forward”-designed small group training program will have a format focused on
the active aging market. Ray Algar’s Health Club Industry Active Ageing Report –
Harnessing the opportunity of an ageing society takes a deep dive into
the implications of a globally aging society and how the health and fitness
industry is responding. Algar argues a longevity economy is emerging, which
offers people products and services to enjoy life much longer and includes technology-enabled
physical activities that transform the lives of older people.

Aging baby boomers are the fastest
growing health club member group. Baby boomers represent 29% or one-third of
the American population and are the wealthiest population group. There are 75
million aging boomers, between 50 and 70 years of age. 35% of baby-boomers
exercise and represent the beginning of an active-aging trend.

According to Algar’s report, not
only is life expectancy increasing, but populations are aging faster. Considering
these two factors, more and more of us will hope to enjoy a longer life with
more of those years spent in good health. Any health club, gym, or studio that
wants to stay relevant and innovative will program a small group training
format for this growing market.


3.       Blend Quality Education and Highly
Interactive Motivation for A New SGT Experience

training is increasingly focused on an educational experience. Personal fitness
trainers help clients understand their fitness physiology and how best to independently
maintain lifelong fitness. Personal training professionals require more
sophisticated skills in identifying an individual’s postural and movement
quality concerns to set them on the path to reaching their long-term goals.

Group fitness classes, on the
opposite end of the training program continuum, are where exercisers connect
with like-minded individuals to get a high-energy workout experience led by a
motivational instructor. Group training, though it’s been around for many
years, first made ACSM’s top 20 fitness trends in 2017 at number six. In 2018,
group training climbed to second place, behind high intensity interval
training. Although unsure of the rise in its popularity, it’s easy to attribute
it to the strong growth in boutique studios, which has revolutionized the group
training experience.

Gym operators and group fitness
directors should look to artfully strike a balance between these two opposing training
programs to boost their offering of the small group training experience to
exercisers. Heading into 2018, consider reviewing your small group training
programs with a vision to blend the successful traits of both types of
training: the high quality educational experience of personal training and the
fun, vibrant, highly interactive, community-oriented nature of a group fitness

4.       Embrace Wearable Fitness Technology

In 2017, wearable technology held
the top spot in the ACSM’s “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends” and continues as
a major disrupter in group fitness, witnessed by the success of Orange Theory
Fitness studios. Indoor cycling has also taken up the charge with such
companies as Spivi and Performance IQ tracking and displaying a rider’s
performance data. Companies such as MyZone, Heart Zones, and Fitmetrix offer
complete group fitness technology solutions for health clubs.  Increasingly members are accustomed to strapping
on a heart rate armband sensor to track their intensity during their workout.  

Studies conducted on the use of
wearable fitness technology show a correlation between an exerciser’s use of a
wearable device and the valuable interpretation of the data to engage and
motivate the exerciser. In a study from Indiana University, 90% of participants
said that even though both their activity tracker and their trainer were
helpful over a 10-week training period, it was the combination of both that helped
them maintain their goals over time. Another study by the University of
Pittsburgh on how wearables affect long-term weight loss showed that if simply
given a device and asked to meet an exercise quota, there was no noticeable
difference between two random sample groups, one of which was given fitness

Notable from these two studies is
the importance of both the fitness trainer and education when incorporating
wearable devices into group training. To facilitate that connection, the fitness
trainer needs to know how to interpret the information, explain what the data
means and apply it to adjust a participant’s workout to achieve desired results.

When small group training programs
incorporate wearable fitness technology, and use it to benefit their members by
capitalizing on the ability to interpret data and prescribe individualized
workouts, it can improve a club’s revenue, member retention, and deliver new
levels in the small group training experience.

Small Group Training Program Models

The structure of small group training programs varies in purpose, format,
and the type of fitness training. SGT consists of from two to four
people which differs from group training that can have from 5 upwards of 30
people. Small
group training programs center around three general areas: equipment-based,
technique- or skill-based, or outcome-based.

Equipment-based small group training appeals
to exercisers who prefer a certain style of training or equipment type, such as
kettlebells or suspension training devices.

Technique- or skill-based small group training
allows for a targeted approach to individuals preparing for an activity or
sport, such as a marathon, CrossFit® championship, or triathlon.

Outcome-based small group training is for
those clients who are looking for a specific physical result or change from the
program, with weight loss typically being the primary goal. 

Often, group
personal training is modeled around a progressive structure of workouts over a
given period, typically 8-10 weeks or with a seasonal focus. Yet, small group
training can also take on a structure that resembles group fitness classes in
which members attend either an unlimited or a set-number-per-month of small
group training sessions offered on a perpetual basis.

Many boutique studios offer regularly scheduled, optional drop-in
small group training sessions, such as training slots at 9 AM, 5 PM, and 6 PM,
every day. Anyone with a small group training membership or short-term package
can attend, with or without pre-registration, allowing for more scheduling
flexibility for clients.

A Progressive Model

Progressive small group training programs have
fixed start and end dates, and typically meet for less than two months, at
specified times (e.g., every Monday at Wednesday at 6 PM). Progressive small
group training programs will have the same personal fitness trainer and the
same participants each session. A club or studio may include pre- and
post-assessments in an eight- or ten-week progressive small group training
fitness program. As the title “progressive” denotes, the activity and workout
load or intensity each week builds upon the previous week’s.

85% of most studios, gyms, and premier clubs dedicate
their personal group training programs to a progressive model. Members see
results. Trainers, as well as management, can more easily forecast income. One key
value in a progressive design is accountability.


Exercisers and athletes
working toward an event—a 5K race, triathlon, or wedding day perhaps—are
committed to a period in which the intensity of each session increases toward a
desired fitness peak or goal. The positive feedback and weekly results maintains
the motivation to stick with it.


Trainers improve their coaching skills and accountability to their
clients. The interpersonal
skills and technical knowledge required to train four to eight people are
different from those needed for personal training or a very large group fitness
class. Specialized, short-term programs permit fitness trainers to develop a
rapport with clients, building confidence in their client’s skills and
abilities to gradually increase workload intensity and introduce more complex
small group training activities.


programs may seem less intimidating to a client than a long-term commitment.
They present a lower barrier to entry
or commitment for members. Plus, clients can experience training at
an affordable price.


Small Group Membership Model: Ongoing and Automated

In this model, a client pays a regular fee to attend either an
unlimited or a set-number-per-month of small group training sessions on a
perpetual basis. These are typically scheduled at preset times, in a manner
like a group fitness class schedule. Whether a participant must come at the
same time each week or can drop in on any SGT session varies by gym or studio.

Offering small group training in an ongoing membership model enables
members who can’t commit to a structured program due to work or other commitments
to participate. It offers the desired flexibility for members who still want to
attend small group training.

Some clubs will have both an ongoing “drop in” model and a progressive
model. This allows flexibility for those members participating in a progressive
small group training program the chance to make up a session or two from the “drop
in” scheduled training. Plus, it is great way to gradually introduce exercisers
into small group training who eventually may sign up for progressive small group

There isn’t one model that is the right way to structure small
group training. Different models and a few different formats may work better
for different member groups, facility types, or locations. Know your members
and understand the dynamics of your location. Offering members, a choice in how
they participate in their own personal fitness program keeps them engaged,
exercising, and coming to the gym. 

Regardless of the direction you choose to create a small group
training program, it is important to remember that success can lie ultimately in
the professionalism and expertise of the trainer.

A Club’s Best Asset: The Professional Fitness Trainer

There is an increasing importance within the fitness industry to
employ educated, professionally trained staff. These fitness professionals are
a critical link in delivering a quality member experience and play an essential
part in member retention. They are the outward expression of your health club. To
this end, the degree of professionalism and level of education for a fitness
trainer who works with clients one-on-one or in a small group is more demanding
than that of an instructor who leads a group exercise class.

Fitness trainers are the epicenter of the shared experience. They
are the natural “leader of the tribe” and should possess the capabilities to create
community within the small group environment. They not only make it personal
for each individual, but can play upon the motivations and human nature to
bring the group together. Fitness trainers are a club’s best asset in
leveraging the successful tribal nature of boutiques for their small group
training program.

Mastering Wearable Fitness Technology

Wearables devices can help fitness trainers easily
incorporate into their small group training program the high-quality expertise sought
after by their clients. In using heart rate sensors with SGT participants, for
example, fitness trainers can measure in real time the functional states of an
individual’s mechanical, neurological, metabolic, and psychological systems. By
gathering and interpreting the data, a fitness trainer has the knowledge to
make recommendations based on each client’s individual baseline, stress loads,
and functional states. The use of wearable group fitness technology elevates the
small group training experience. It’s a tool that provides the fitness trainer the
ability to offer a high-quality educational experience and level of
personalization on par with personal training in an energetically motivated
group experience.

Keeping Small Group Training Innovative, Relevant, and Competitive

Nothing exists in a vacuum nor should our fitness businesses.
Take the complex nature of our bodies for example. The heart, the most
significant muscle in our body, continually adjusts to an information network
of metabolic systems. It’s constantly busy managing and adapting to underlying
physiological functions: food digestion, temperature adjustment, stress,
fright, and yes, physical intensity.

Fitness businesses require these same qualities of surveillance,
interpretation, and response to remain relevant to its membership and
competitive in the market. It’s critical that health clubs recognize the
different movements and trends within the industry to enable innovations in
delivering the fitness lifestyle experience. And, reflect the distinct nature
of their culture and values.

In what ways will fitness facilities integrate these four 2018
fitness trends to influence the design, development, and implementation of
small group training programs? Or, potentially even in other health club
programs and services? What impact on small group training can we envision in