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Small Group Training: The New Bread and Butter


In 2006, when small group training (SGT) wasn’t as mainstream, Don Allen saw the offering as a safety net for health clubs, similar to the nylon netting used by circus performers.

“It’s like when someone in the circus falls and then they bounce back up in the air,” explained Allen. “At the time, we saw small group training as the thing that would catch them between personal training and not paying for training at all, should the economic crash hurt personal training.” 

SGT did just that and more. In fact, the offering surpassed personal training in participation and enhanced personal training revenue, leading Allen to eventually shift his career focus to SGT entirely.

Today, Allen is the CEO of Tampa Fitness Partners, which owns and operates six Orangetheory Fitness Clubs along the West Coast of Florida with 15 additional franchise locations, as well as license rights in the San Francisco area. As a result, SGT is no longer a safety net for Allen’s business — it’s the bread and butter.

And that’s the case for many health clubs in the U.S. Over the past five or six years, SGT has become a valuable offering to not only drive revenue. Its other merits include lowering the barrier to personalized fitness and fostering community.

However, in order to see these benefits, there are a few things health clubs must do right that encourage their SGT program’s success.


According to Todd Durkin, the owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California, their SGT program is successful because it’s treated as its own, unique offering completely separate from group fitness and personal training.

Fitness Quest 10’s SGT program consists of a systematic approach encompassing goal setting, workout logs, nutritional guidance and quarterly fitness assessments conducted through InBody body composition analyzers to track members’ progress.

“There has to be a value in SGT so people understand they’re going to receive something different,” said Durkin. “You want to systemize the small group program — you can’t just put people together in small groups.”

At Urban Iron Fitness Studio in Woodbury, Minnesota, differentiation also applies to the SGT workouts themselves. According to Dena Smith, the gym’s owner, providing members with fresh workouts daily is essential to staving off member boredom.

With this in mind, Smith structures her SGT programs around versatile pieces of equipment such as TRX and kettlebells. “We really try to pride ourselves on mixing things up,” said Smith. “When you get into SGT, keeping it interesting for the learner is critical in retaining their membership.”


In addition to having a systematized and engaging SGT program, Durkin explained it is also essential to have a SGT champion — someone who owns the program’s success and ensures feedback with clients is prioritized.

At Fitness Quest 10, the SGT program is led by Janet Bertrand, the director of fitness and SGT. And for Bertrand, a top priority is fostering community between members in the SGT program.

“We have such a unique community at Fitness Quest 10 — it’s very much a friendly, family-oriented place, where everyone knows each other’s names,” explained Bertrand. “SGT creates even more of that feeling, where they come to see each other just as much as they come to workout. At the end of all my group sessions I always give them homework, and they do it as a team, so when I review it, not only am I holding them accountable, but they’re holding each other accountable with the things I asked them to work on over the weekend or throughout the week. Before, they may not have even talked to each other.”

Similar to Fitness Quest 10, community is also essential at Urban Iron Fitness. For Smith, that starts and ends with the trainer and their leadership of the class. “Whether they’re working with kettlebells or TRX, I want somebody who is going to coach in a fun way to make it a fun place for people to be able to learn, grow, develop and achieve their goals,” said Smith. “I also want someone who is going to have the knowledge and experience to be able to kind of bring people along the journey and help them improve.”

Build Value

At the end of the day, in order for SGT to be the bread and butter of your gym, it must be treated as such. According to Allen, a common mistake he sees health clubs make with SGT is unwittingly undervaluing it.

“Do not give away free time in your SGT program,” said Allen. “Clubs have a tendency to want to do that to build up the program, and they give it away for free. Then it loses value and they can’t sell it anymore.”

This goes for your dedicated SGT space and tools as well. Allen explained that although it may not feel good to let these go unused during non-class hours, it’s necessary to build value in the program.

“Do not let your member base touch the SGT space or tools if they’re not in SGT,” continued Allen. “One of the worst things I’ve seen happen is that clubs will buy a beautiful rack and it just looks amazing, and then they stick it out in the middle of the club allowing regular dues members to use it, and you just completely devalued your SGT program.”

In today’s world, SGT no longer has to be second fiddle when it comes to your great revenue source. Follow these do’s and don’ts guidelines, and SGT will be well on its way to being your main bread and butter.

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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