“The need and desire to be in a group is stronger than ever.”
These words from Kate Golden, the director of people and fitness operations at Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pennsylvania, encapsulate why small group training (SGT) has been steadily growing in popularity.
SGT is one of the most engaging programs you can offer, since it brings the accountability and drive of a group dynamic mixed with the personalized attention of one-on-one training. “One of the main benefits of SGT is the community built within the group,” said Golden.
The community created — or tribe mentality — is SGT’s greatest strength, and serves as a significant boost to your club’s culture and retention.
“The idea [members are] working together as a team creates more accountability and connection, and keeps them showing up to each and every session,” said Kim Lavender, the vice president of group experience at GoodLife Fitness, with over 250 locations in Canada. “That consistency is what leads to the best results.”
However, as a program format that’s constantly evolving, new SGT trends are emerging regularly, including new technology, best practices for executing the program, and engaging formats. In order to fully leverage the effectiveness of SGT and grow your club, it’s imperative to stay on top of these developing trends.
“The latest innovations are definitely centered on wearable technology — heart rate devices that are integrated into workouts via screens and apps,” said Lavender. “Participants are craving and tracking information like never before.”
As consumer technology solutions — cellphones, smart devices, etc. — continue to evolve and deliver more information, so does fitness technology. Workout progress in particular has been getting increasingly granular, with members able to see minute details on their exercise performance. This level of in-depth evaluation serves as a good motivating tool for instructors.
“Heart rate monitoring and wearable devices are still trending and continuing to change the way we train our clients,” said Golden. “With companies like Myzone implementing new ways to create workouts that are demonstrated via digital displays, it allows a coach to provide more one-on-one form correction and keep the workout flowing.”
Virtual fitness is another trend that has rapidly developed in recent years, growing popular due to the fact more consumers want the option to workout at their own convenience. Now that video technology allows people to be connected even when they’re not in the same room, SGT classes are able to go virtual.
“We’ve been working on a strategy to deliver group workouts live on the internet and while we’re live in the club,” shared Golden. “Our team has learned how to use technology to offer group workouts through programs like Zoom and Google Hangouts.”
For Newtown, virtual offerings have also served as a value add for existing memberships. “We will be launching an upgraded membership package that includes personal training and one group virtual class a week as a perk for being a loyal client,” said Golden.
Trial and error is an inevitable part of running a fitness business, but there are some best practices you can implement in your SGT program, whether it’s brand new or needs a refresh.
“The key to a successful program is to treat SGT as if you are opening up your own studio,” said Golden. “You need to have a champion, sales process, retention system, designated space with a purposeful design, frictionless way to book a session and community focus.”
Arguably the most important step for getting an SGT class off the ground is finding a champion who has bought into the format and emphasizes the community aspect of the program.
“If you are launching a heart rate-based program, for example, you need a champion who is 100% bought in, who wears the heart rate monitor themselves, engages with members naturally on the app and believes in the concept,” said Golden.
In fact, the right instructor can really carry an SGT program, according to Lavender. “An amazing coach is always a key selling point,” she said. “SGT programs are best when the coach is engaged, focused and inclusive.”
Putting a good infrastructure in place for SGT booking and payments will also make a positive impression on members. But these processes should be as painless as possible.
“Having a sales process that allows members to be booked into a group as part of their onboarding, and regular call campaigns asking clients how their experience is going, will help retain clients — but it needs to be a system and not a one-time event,” said Golden. “Having an app or online system to easily book into and pay for a session, similar to the studio model, is important for any SGT offering.”
Additionally, intentional thought surrounding your SGT space is critical. “Have a designated space that allows for maximum space utilization, and a system to start a program and keep it moving throughout the day,” said Golden.
Once you get past all the logistics, the true focal point of these classes is also the key to success: your members.
According to Golden, taking extra steps to acknowledge successes and build connections will result in tighter-knit, more engaged participants. “Focusing on milestones like the amount of times members attend class or their consistency each week, improvements in their workouts, birthdays, anniversaries, client referrals or hosting social gatherings, all play a major role in connecting with clients to ensure a successful program,” she said.
As with any fitness program, it’s important to keep your classes fresh. Popular SGT class styles are changing frequently, so the number of people per class or workouts in each session could be a revolving door, depending on your members.
For example, Newtown has over 300 hours per week of group classes on its fitness schedule, with an emphasis on strength training. “All of our group training is focused on strength training in smaller groups with classes no larger than six to eight people,” explained Golden. “This allows our trainers to provide more personal attention, focusing on form correction, individual modifications and programs designed for members’ goals.”
At GoodLife, any program that offers a strong sense of camaraderie is oftentimes a hit with the membership.
“Members are typically drawn to group training experiences that have a team feel with a limited capacity, so there can be some individualized connection and coaching,” said Lavender. “The industry is focusing more on creating community and connection within the actual exercises. Partner-style exercises, relays and teamwork drills are a great way to integrate these into small group workouts.”
According to Lavender, efficiency also plays a big role in whether people sign up for SGT classes. “People are often pressed for time, so many are drawn to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes because of their effectiveness and higher calorie burn,” she said. “A lot of the components of fitness — strength, endurance, agility and mobility — are being included in a standalone session. This gives participants the best bang for their buck in a time-limited workout.”
When in doubt about adding, dropping or adjusting a program format, listen to your members. They’ll tell you — directly or through their attendance — which class types resonate with them, so be intentional about the options you’re providing. Make sure a beginner or seasoned exerciser can find their community at your club.
“Offer inclusive options within the program that allow for participants at different skill and experience levels to get the benefits,” said Lavender. “The most important thing is to deliver programming that gets results.”