Simplifying SGT

WEB-PICK-(4)Whipping your small group training program into shape.

When Scott Lewandowski, the vice president of fitness for Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago, began thinking about how to implement small group training (SGT) throughout Fitness Formula’s nine locations, he knew that simplicity was the best route.

For Lewandowski, simplicity meant standardization. Prior to 2011, most Fitness Formula Clubs had been running unique small group classes based on the skill sets of each club’s trainers. For example, if a trainer had a Pilates certification, then small group Pilates classes might be held at the trainer’s primary location.

However, doing things this way had its limitations. “If a program is designed around a trainer and that trainer leaves, you don’t have the program anymore,” explained Lewandowski.

As a result, Lewandowski decided each club should offer three types of small group classes: “Show the Ropes” for beginners, “Whip into Shape” for intermediate exercisers and “Master Your Skills” for advanced athletes. Because the classes are taught in a way that most trainers can accommodate, it’s much easier to find trainers to teach each class. “With this model, if a trainer leaves the company, we’re easily able to plug in another trainer,” he explained.

Standardization is a great way to offer SGT to members because it gets rid of the headache that can accompany finding different trainers to teach different class formats. Lawrence Chavez kept this in mind when he brought TRX TEAM, TRX’s SGT format, to Defined Fitness in Riverside and Juan Tabo, New Mexico.

TRX TEAM provides clubs with a fully formatted SGT program. At Defined Fitness, Chavez’s personal trainers were trained in TRX TEAM, the club was provided marketing materials and TRX helped promote and grow the program where possible. Having that extra support has made the implementation of SGT go much more smoothly.

For example, Chavez recalled a time in which he needed support from TRX. “A few months back, I Google searched ‘TRX’ in our area to see if Defined Fitness would come up, and it didn’t,” he said. “So I contacted TRX and they helped me adjust that.” Now, when TRX is searched on Google in Juan Tabo or Riverside, Defined Fitness is the first result that pops up.

According to Lewandowski, simplifying or streamlining SGT not only allows clubs to better execute programs, but it’s simpler for the consumer as well. “It’s similar to the analogy of cardio equipment — the majority just want to hit the go button and walk,” he said. “If you give members a bunch of options, you’ll lose their attention. Keep it simple.”

WEB-PICK-iiHowever, it is possible to offer a great variety of successful small group classes. Tilton Fitness & Wellness, for example, has offered more than 10 different small group formats at each of its six locations over the past seven years.

“The ability to offer such a wide variety of small group training options — and have them all meet our high standards — would be a significant challenge for most clubs,” said Paul Brones, the regional training director for Tilton Fitness. “Our ability to do so is directly attributable to the skill and experience of our personal training staff. We are very selective about finding and hiring the best trainers. They are what enable us to have so many small group training offerings.”

Despite challenges that come with launching and sustaining any program, offering SGT at your club is beneficial to members, trainers and the club as a whole. “The members are loving it and the trainers are too, especially because the trainers are bringing in more money,” explained Chavez.

According to Lewandowski, SGT has allowed Fitness Formula to reach clients during times ancillary spending is low. “When the economy started to crumble in ’08 or ’09, small group training allowed us to give members an opportunity to continue working with their trainer at a lower cost,” he recalled. “It’s an opportunity to keep clients when they’re tightening their wallets.”

SGT also allows clubs to create avenues for members to connect and bond with one another. For example, at Fitness Formula’s performance center at its Lincoln Park location, each SGT class has its own Facebook page. “The key is retention,” said Lewandowski. “We need our members to feel as if they belong to something. If they do, they’ll spread the word about our facility like wildfire. Through social media, if you can connect [members], it’s going to drive them into the club.”

Brones agreed that fostering community amongst SGT programs has been key. “The variety of group classes offered, the variety of trainers and training styles [members are] able to take advantage of are both important,” he said. “But probably the most important element is the community aspect. Many of our members and trainers have made lifelong friends as a result of small group training. From group fun-runs to celebrating birthdays and other milestones, they have taken their relationships far beyond the walls of our clubs.”

At Tilton, SGT has become a necessary offering. “As full-service, medically affiliated clubs, small group training gives us a competitive edge,” said Brones. “What our members get, in effect, is the best of both worlds. We provide everything niche studios offer but with a host of other added features, programs and amenities that niche clubs can’t provide.”

By Rachel Zabonick

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