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Striking the Perfect Balance


Small group training (SGT) classes can be tricky to master, with sizes that can approach that of group exercise programs, but with the engagement level of personal training. How can you strike the perfect balance and create a program that’s both engaging and profitable?

Below, Don Suarez, the manager at The HitFit Gym, shares five tips for building the perfect small group training program.

1. Design the Right Atmosphere

Atmosphere is important,” said Suarez. “You have to create an exciting atmosphere for people, something fun and energetic. If it’s boring, it’s dull, you’re not going to have a good draw. Create a good environment people want to come and be part of.”

2. Make Your Classes the Right Size

According to Suarez, around 10 participants is a good size for SGT. “That way the trainer isn’t so overwhelmed — you go over 10 and you start to feel like a group fitness class,” he said. “I think people are wanting a lot more personal attention, hence why they’re going to a SGT class. If you have 15, 20 or 30 people in a room all working out together, people tend to get lost in the shuffle. It’s almost impossible to try to assist everybody and give them each the individual attention they need.”

3. Find the Right Instructors

Just as is the case with any program at your club, ensuring your SGT classes are staffed with the right talent can be the difference maker between a successful or failing program.

“The struggle we’ve had in the past is trying to find good, solid personal trainers,” said Suarez. “Solid personal trainers aren’t necessarily good group trainers. With SGT, you have to bring a different element to teaching — you have to be exciting and have that draw that makes people want to come back. We found there were people who might have been really good trainers, who were very educated on the human body and could write fantastic programs, but had a hard time functioning in a group setting. On the other side of the equation, we tried to find a group fitness instructor, someone who’s used to being around groups of people, and what we found is they’re more like cheerleaders and don’t necessarily know how to help people one-on-one. You have to find a nice blend of each — that’s super difficult to find.”

4. Lay Out the Fitness Floor Effectively

“In our facility, we have a very open workout floor,” explained Suarez. “We have dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes and heavy bags — we like to use a variety of equipment when we do our training programs. What you’re not going to see in our facility is a bench press by itself, or a giant squat rack or leg machine. You need to have something that’s quickly adjustable for everybody, so you can transition people from one piece to the other. Having a trainer who knows how to quickly shuffle people around and get someone quickly set up on a piece of equipment is really important.”

5. Be Purposeful in Your Expectations

According to Suarez, when starting a SGT program from scratch, fitness directors should take a hands-on approach to setting the expectations for how classes should be run.

“As a fitness manager or director, hopefully you can be the example,” he said. “If you can get the classes started yourself, the interview — as you go through the hiring process — should be about how the trainer is going to come in and help you run the program. You should be able to physically show them what you expect, then step back and let them take over the class for a few minutes and watch them. That will tell you right then and there if they can do it. Ultimately, everything comes down to the personnel. That’s what I tell my staff — at the end of the day, it’s just a box. What’s the difference between this gym and the others? It’s the people who make up your gym that set you apart. That’s how you have to be the difference.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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