Group Fitness for Personal Trainers

For the longest time, personal trainers have always looked down on group fitness (GF) instructors. Maybe because the certification process (if they even bothered to get certified) was much less rigorous than that of personal training certifications. Or, maybe, the trainers didn’t believe that the “aerobics” classes were as demanding, or as technique driven, or as… personal and therefore less effective. I’m writing this as someone who has been teaching GF as long as I’ve been a personal trainer (38 years) with the hopes that I might change your mind about group fitness and even convince you of becoming a GF instructor.

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Me teaching MOSSA‘s Group Power.

Let’s start with the benefits of GF.

 

  1. Variety – GF classes come in all shapes and sizes. Participants can choose the type that they like the most, which will also keep them coming the longest.
  2. Social – One of the greatest draws to GF is that participants can meet new people and make new friends.
  3. Motivation – Participants will work harder when those around them are working hard.
  4. Accountability – Not only will the instructor keep you accountable for showing up to class and working appropriately hard, so will the other participants.
  5. Misery loves company – Well, not misery exactly, but when working hard, sweating, maybe a little grunting (or a lot), it always seems a little better when there are others, working just as hard, right there beside you.
  6. Correct form demonstration and coaching – GF classes have instructors there to show you how to perform movements, correct your form, and offer regressions and progressions.
  7. More affordable than personal training – This is one reason that some people will choose GF over PT (It’s one of the reasons that small group training draws people too).
  8. Great results – Beyond all of the previously listed benefits, GF can also deliver the results the participants are looking for. This is another reason they will keep coming back.

So, you can see from this partial list of participant benefits that group fitness is an important piece of the health and fitness solution. What about the benefits to a personal trainer who choses to teach GF?

  1. Benefiting others – You get to help impact the health, fitness, and lives of more people when you teach GF.
  2. Better verbal cueing – You learn multiple ways of verbally cueing the same exercise (to accommodate a diverse group ) as well as becoming more verbally descriptive. This can carry over as a benefit to your personal training.
  3. Better public speaking skills – Public speaking is a great way to build your business and GF is a great way to start to hone those skills.
  4. Gain personal training clients from the class – Many times you may notice participants that need extra help and you can suggest adding personal training to their program or, they may decide they need extra help and come to you for personal training on their own.
  5. Referrals – If your people love you, they will refer you. They will refer others to your class and to you for personal training (as long as they know you’re a personal trainer… make sure they know you’re a personal trainer!).

I know that many trainers are adding small group training as one of their services. Small group training is actually more like GF than one on one training and you’ll need those GF skills to succeed with small groups. Also, personal trainers don’t typically hesitate when it comes to teaching a boot camp. Guess what? That’s group fitness!

The point is, group fitness is good for participants, good for personal trainers, and it’s time to jump on the proverbial band wagon and start teaching classes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Become a “Conference Commando”

I just came back from attending the National Strength and Conditioning Association‘s annual conference. On my return, people ask, “How was the conference?” Hmmn? Let’s talk about what I actually get out of attending a live conference or clinic (Live offers so much more than online).

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Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has written about being a “Conference Commando” or, going into a conference with a definite battle plan to get the most out of the conference.

So, what should you get out of a live conference or clinic?

Learn from the sessions. Naturally, the conference sessions are what most people think of when attending an event. This is where a lot of up-to-date information can be found and you should absolutely make sure that the program fits your learning needs.

Choose your presenters. The speakers are another thing to consider. A bad presenter can make it challenging to learn even if the material they are presenting is good. (Attending a session by Tudor Bompa, “the father of sports periodization” comes to mind. I’m sure it was great information, but he put me to sleep and I honestly missed most of what he said.)

Connect with your presenters. Now, beyond those first couple obvious reasons, you should also attend live events to connect with presenters that you liked and that inspired you. Stay after the session to ask further questions or just introduce yourself and thank them for what they just shared. Most presenters really appreciate hearing that and may strike up a conversation with you. Ask if you could email them an additional question or two and if they agree, you now have a new, trusted resource for information. If you nurture that relationship, you may also find yourself with a mentor who can help guide you in your career.

Connect with manufacturers. Most conferences and many clinics will have an exhibit hall or trade show. Here you can see and try new equipment, sample supplements (I often live on trade show protein bars. LOL), and connect with the manufacturers or distributors. Ask them questions about their products. See if they are right for you and/or your business. They will often have conference discounts too, if you’re interested.

Connect with other attendees. I find networking with peers one of my favorite things about attending live events. Discussions between the scheduled sessions about the topics presented, training modalities, business issues, and just getting to know other like-minded people can be so rewarding. Take contact information, connect on social media, stay in touch. Fellow attendees can also turn out to be mentors, general sounding boards, and, as I’ve found to be often the case, lifelong friends.

The key to becoming a “conference commando”, however, is to plan ahead. Go to the conference with a plan. What sessions will you take? What presenters do you want to meet? What products do you want to check out. Finally, plan on where and when you can connect with your peers. Then, execute that plan and come home with far more than just what can be learned online.

Your Career Ladder

Through the almost four decades that I’ve been a personal trainer and health club  manager, I’ve seen a lot of personal trainers come and go. Only a small portion create a sustainable career as a personal trainer. In my opinion, this is because, for some reason, entry level trainers are not thinking about it like other careers. They think that they can jump in, get some clients, and life is good just doing the same old, same old. To really succeed in this industry (well, in fact, any industry) you need to plan long-term. You need to map out the steps your ideal career.

56AD03F9-86C5-4115-9B56-525AAB3F5A65If you look at other careers, what do you see? Someone planning to be a lawyer, maybe they plan to go to a top school, pass the bar exam, get hired by a top company, and make partner by age forty. How about and architect? Go to a top school, work for a top agency, and their own firm by fifty. What these have in common is that they have the end game in mind and steps to take them there. With a specific vision in mind of where you want your career to go, you can break it down to those steps necessary to carry you to that goal.

What is your career end game? Let’s say you want to own your own health club or studio as an example. What things do you have to accomplish to get you there? Start with the major steps and then you can break each major step into smaller (not unlike periodizing a client’s program).

  • Start saving money for your facility (oh, yeah. You better start as soon as you can. It could be $10/week, but start now. This is something that I wish I had known when I began my career.)
  • Get a degree or accredited certification.
  • Intern or get hired by a fitness club to get hands-on experience
  • Seek out opportunities in management (assistant fitness director, manager on duty, assistant manager)
  • Become a general manager
  • Open your own facility

Simplistic? Definitely! It may take 10-20 years to achieve, too. That depends on how ambitious you are. (Shortly after college, I started as a personal trainer at a fairly large health club in Boston and became general manager within two years. Granted, there weren’t as many fitness professionals back in those days, but I was still very career focused.)

The key to reaching your career goal once you have mapped out your ladder is to look for the opportunities to learn and utilize the skills that will take you to that next step. Learn more about training, behavior modification, business, interpersonal communication, professional writing, public speaking, and any other thing that could make you a better rounded professional.

Make the most of your career in health and fitness. There’s nothing more rewarding.

 

Why I Became a Personal Trainer

When choosing what you hope to be your life’s work, there is often that moment, something that makes you have an epiphany that tells you that this is your mission. What was the tipping point for you that made you choose your career? This was my story.

A long time ago, in a university far, far away, (the University of Maine, to be precise), I worked in a human performance center. There we performed maximal stress tests, blood chemistry, body composition assessments, lung function tests and many other measures to get a complete health and fitness profile on individuals that came through our various programs.

Among these programs was a cardiac rehabilitation class. Leading that class was one of my responsibilities. Susan was a class participant. Susan was 75 years old, about 5’2″, frail, and was recovering from a heart attack. At first she was challenged to simply walk around. By taking this class regularly, she was finding herself able to do more and more.

Six months after starting the program, Susan came up to me and said, “Mark, I’ve been thinking about doing more in my off days. Do you think it would be okay if I got a stationary bicycle?” Of course, I was thrilled to hear that she wanted to get more active.

Elderly Woman Smiling Wearing a Swimming Cap in a Swimming PoolAbout six months after that, still coming to class and with added biking to her program, Susan approached me with some news. “Mark, I’m feeling great and I decided I am going to start taking swimming lessons. I’ve always wanted to learn, but never got around to it.” At 75 years old (actually, then 76) she felt confident enough to do something that she’d never done before. I hugged Susan, kissed her on the top of her silver-haired head and was sold on the idea of how much we, as personal trainers/instructors, could help people live healthier, more active lives.

37 years later, I still get the same thrill seeing the successes of my clients, watching them gain the ability to do things they never thought possible. It keeps me excited about continuing my personal training career for decades to come (and I’m almost 60 now).

What was the moment when you knew what your life’s work would be?

Should You Be Selling Sessions, Packages, Memberships or Programs? 

As you begin your business or as you reevaluate your business model, you may wonder what the best way is to present and sell your personal training. In the old days (I can say that because I’ve been personal training since the dawn of time.) personal training was sold as a single session or in small to medium sized packages that were increasingly discounted the more you bought. The idea behind selling discounted packages was that the client would see the savings in the larger packages, purchase those and would be committed for a longer period of time. Since then, a number of problems and potential solutions have come to light.

pricesProblem #1: Larger packages, even with their discounts, could run thousands of dollars. This could put them out of reach for those that really needed the financial discount.

Solution #1: I know some clubs that sold nothing less than a 24 session package, but they offered a payment plan for the amount. This made it accessible to those who couldn’t afford the larger sum up front and got that commitment for a longer period of time.

Problem #2: Personal trainers saw the discounting of packages as a discounting of the value of their service.

Solution #2: Choose one, consistent session price and offer bigger packages as a convenience and/or a commitment, not a money saver. This is not a very popular model as many feel it can lead to clients paying session by session and the fear is that the more often the client has to make a financial decision, the more opportunities they have to decide it isn’t worth it. We happen to offer the pay-as-you-go/session by session because a) it doesn’t devalue by discounting the sessions, b) is an easy financial commitment for more people, and c) I believe that if the skill, the service, and the results are there, the client would have no reason stop. (i.e. I had one client that paid session by session, 6 times/wk for 12 years)

Problem #3: With any session by session package, clients can be inconsistent. This leaves the personal trainer and/or club with an ever fluctuating, unpredictable income.

Solution #3: Clubs and studios are now offering “memberships” (monthly agreements) that are generally priced with a session/wk assumption. (i.e. Members pay $x/month for 2 personal training sessions/wk) What makes this more predictable is that it is a monthly fee that is most often set up as an automatic charge to the member’s credit card or bank account. There is the potential for a secondary problem in that if a client needs to cancel and you allow them to make it up, you can build a backlog of sessions that the trainer will “owe” the client. I knew one trainer that, because the member had a difficult time making up the sessions, ended up owing her client over 30 sessions. One way to handle this would be to allow the client to make up the session within a week or it would be otherwise be forfeited.

Problem #4: Finally, there are clients that only want to commit for a certain amount of time and want the maximum results for that time. This means they have to know the expected outcome, be held accountable, and maybe need more than just the exercise sessions to get those results.

8-week-fat-loss-program-for-busy-people-lose-weight-tone-up-build-lean-muscleSolution #4: The idea of creating goal specific small group programs (such as a preseason sports prep i.e. golf conditioning, a specific health concern focus i.e. healthy back program, or bundled offerings i.e. 2 small group training sessions + 1 nutritional coaching session each week), that have a defined start and end date can be a great alternative to other offerings. This could be a 4 week, 8 wk, 12 wk, etc. Do pre and post program assessments to gather data and then use that in setting program expectations, “In this program, the average participant achieved ….” This also assures the income, because clients sign up for the program, not individual sessions. I think the addition of various programs will be the biggest change in our industry in the near future.

These are not all of the issues and they are certainly not all of the possible solutions, but they are some of the most prevalent concerns. This post is meant to be food for thought. There is no wrong answer if your choice is working for you.