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Small, But Mighty

small group training

Small group training (SGT), an increasingly popular programming option in the fitness industry, could be the perfect addition to your class schedule. Maximizing on SGT will help you engage current members by diversifying your class options.

“The beauty in small group training is making training affordable for those who would not pay for an individual session, but having them appreciate the extra attention they get in a small group,” said Michele Melkerson-Granryd, the general manager of Castle Hill Fitness in Austin, Texas.

In fact, SGT gives members the best of both worlds. “SGT is definitely a great hybrid between group fitness and one-on-one personal training,” said Michael Kennedy, the vice president of sales and fitness at EOS Fitness.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of SGT, it’s important to be purposeful in the launch of any new programs, position the programs properly within your club’s framework, and perhaps most importantly, carefully evaluate and choose your instructors.

The Launch

Whether you’re launching your first SGT program or adding new classes to an existing slate of programming, the initial launch is critical. While you likely won’t perfect the first go-around, a poorly executed launch of any new class can be detrimental, so it’s important to determine the best way to introduce it to your club setting.

“There are several ways to identify the right business plans and run a successful SGT program,” said Kennedy. “Identifying the right price point for the program and community you are serving is essential. This is important — if you miss big at the beginning and have to adjust, you can potentially damage future launches.”

From his experience launching SGT programs at EOS, Kennedy has determined three effective options for incorporating such classes into any club setting. “First, sell SGT a la carte as an add-on,” he advised. “The second option would be to include the classes in a premium type of membership. The third option would be making it inclusive with either a group fitness program or personal training program.”

Marketing and education early in the launch are imperative — members won’t go to classes they don’t know about. And your staff should be able to provide insightful information and direction once they’re asking questions about your SGT classes.

“Make sure you have a consistent marketing campaign toward your member base, informing them of the benefits of SGT,” said Kennedy. “And when onboarding members, it’s key that in every new member presentation, the small group option is being presented and asked for, and members are given the opportunity, at the very least, to do a trial class or group fitness short-term membership.”

Free trials are a great strategy for turning general curiosity in a fitness class into genuine interest, and the same rings true for SGT programming.

“Offer the opportunity to ‘try before you buy,’” said Melkerson-Granryd. “If the trainer is dynamic, connects the newbie with the veterans and makes that workout fun, it will be tough for the participant not to come back. Making the first session free — per type of SGT class — is a great way to introduce a new program.”


After the launch, the logistics of your SGT program will begin to shake out. Once you’ve generated some interest, you’ll be able to determine which new programs garner the best attendance and make adjustments concerning which demographics inside and outside the club you want to reach.

“How you position SGT is critical,” said Melkerson-Granryd. “You want to market to the Group X folks who are driven by the social aspect, but value the benefit of some personalized attention.”

At Castle Hill Fitness, Melkerson-Granryd has found success gaining new participants by making her SGT programs feel like Group X classes in small ways. “For example, we play music in our small group room and I think this makes it more appealing to the typical Group X participant,” she said.

There may also be opportunities to get higher attendance out of current members who tend to stick with their preferred classes or individual workouts. 

“In addition, don’t forget your personal training clients — this won’t cannibalize those individual sessions, but may allow that one-on-one client to add another session or two of guided training,” said Melkerson-Granryd.

Four elements of any fitness programming — equipment, space, program variety and specialty offerings — are difference-makers in the makeup and general appeal of SGT programs, according to Melkerson-Granryd, as she describes in her own words:

Equipment. Try building small groups around equipment that is new or using/combining equipment in a new way — this can be effective and fun.

Space. A dedicated space, if possible, is great so you can create an environment with equipment that is only used in those small groups. It also helps set the vibe if you can play music geared toward that group.

Program variety. Offer ongoing groups that run like classes where people can drop in and schedule online classes, or groups that have designated starting and ending dates and times. These types of groups should have a specific theme or goal to accomplish.

Specialty offerings. Make sure to differentiate SGT from Group X by using specialized equipment or calling them “sessions” instead of “classes.”


For all the marketing and schedule adjusting you do to make your SGT programs integrate smoothly into your club, the wheels can fall off if you don’t have the right instructors in place. 

“You want to carefully identify who will be teaching your program,” said Kennedy. “The personal trainer needs to be a performer and the group fitness instructor needs to be able to program design, and of course, audit and watch movement of these participants.”

Melkerson-Granryd agreed. “The trainer needs to be able to multitask — observing and making modifications along with technical cues for many individuals, not the whole — and this takes practice,” she said. “When we started doing SGT many years ago, we practiced with each other every week for months, and figured out which trainers were good at SGT and enjoyed it.”

According to Kennedy, selecting the right trainer can come down to identifying the right personality — an individual with personal skills who also doesn’t mind crowds. “Look for personal trainers who like to be in front of people and are performers,” he said.

This is a point Melkerson-Granryd also places special emphasis on. If a trainer can’t command attention, his or her class is almost guaranteed to go poorly. “It’s critical that the trainer enjoy working with groups,” she said. “It also requires enough self confidence and leadership to keep everyone on task and minimize the talking or corralling folks who tend to monopolize the environment.”

Some trainers can play both roles — creating meaningful, one-on-one scenarios while also entertaining whole groups — and some cannot. Sorting out those with potential can be difficult, but well worth your time.

“Sometimes Group X instructors make the transition to group training very well, but unlike a Group X class, this is less about a ‘performance’ and is not typically a place where the trainer works out with the whole group,” said Melkerson-Granryd. “Some group instructors will balk at that part.”

According to Melkerson-Granryd, the key to the transition is being personable. “Trainers who are good at connecting folks with each other — who like doing partner training — transition to small groups easily,” she said.

At the end of the day, fitness staff who can deliver the best experience are the most qualified for the job. And if you have successfully integrated and positioned your SGT programs, great experiences are all your participants will remember. 

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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