Nearly every day, on my walks, jogs, or bike rides through Central Park, I see them: handfuls of people using benches for leg dips or tricep drills, doing pushups in the pathways, or swinging kettlebells in unison. These are the small group training classes, growing in popularity across the industry seemingly day by day. With each group is an instructor, carefully watching and giving tips and critiques as the exercisers push themselves toward whatever goals they separately and collectively have. That “collectively” aspect is significant, I think, because I also see lone exercisers — joggers, yogis, stretchers — and, on the whole, the ones in groups look happier. They laugh with each other, they chat while they’re mid-squat, they exchange eye-rolls when their trainer asks for ten more burpees.
Consisting usually of three to five students, small group training sessions hold benefits for everyone. Trainers get to take on more clients and increase their incomes; members get individualized attention at lower costs plus a ready-made, intimate community working toward similar goals; and fitness facilities get a new revenue stream, possibly new members, and very likely increased retention. Ultimately, small group training combines the most attractive aspects of a gym workout: They’re fun, they’re social, and they produce results.
Is it any wonder, then, that the phenomenon is continuingly increasing in popularity? In 2007, it was 19 on the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual list of trends driving the fitness industry. By 2013, it was 10; last year, it was 9. Health and fitness expert Pete McCall, at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), wrote in a blog at the end of last year, “ may be the year we see revenue from small-group programming surpass revenue generated by one-on-one personal training.” Everyone seems to agree: It’s a trend that’s here to stay, and it’s only going to grow.
What does its popularity mean for your facility? If you haven’t already incorporated small group training into your offerings, it’s time to consider doing so. Getting started requires little to no upfront investment. Everything you need is already there: equipment, trainers, members. It’s just a question of programming and getting the word out. For the programming aspect, focus on designing classes that last at least four to six weeks — that gives participants a chance to bond with one another and see some results. Sessions should take place during set times, and often it is useful to design them around specific topics: in one class lower back health, for example, in another, leg strength. Put groups together either by advertising the start of a small group class that will focus on a particular topic and inviting participants, or by asking members to coordinate their own groups; trainers can then tailor the topics to the group’s needs and wants.
As for getting the word out, one great way to do this is to hold sessions in a central, visible location in your club. This will drum up interest from other members and also create an energy and can infuse the whole facility. Also, of course, advertise heavily on social media, through email blasts, and via flyers and posters in your facility. And rely on word of mouth. One of the best aspects of small group training is that it naturally encourages members to pull their friends in for workouts; let them spread the word about your exciting new offerings. Some of those friends could turn into new members, and with the intense bonds that small group training encourages among participants, those members are likely to want to stay.