Small Group Personal Training has been a growing trend within the fitness industry for the past few years, and these days everyone is trying to crack the code – including the big box gyms such as Fitness First, Virgin Active, and Goodlife, as well as the smaller specialised studios such as F45 and 38X. After all, it is one of the industries top 10 Fitness Trends for 2018.


You don’t have to be a genius to work out why this is the case. Small Group Personal Training offers affordability, accountability and results. Most importantly it cultivates the sense of ‘belonging to the tribe’, something that is genetically coded into all of us. In a small group training session, you can feed off the energy, the passion, the intensity of the group and somehow you can achieve so much more than you would on your own.


The greatest challenge is that most trainers who work with groups are missing the mark due to their ‘‘one size fits all’ approach. The ‘build it, and they will come’ model simply doesn’t stack work any longer. Clients today have many fitness choices. Successful trainers need to adapt to savvy clients who expect more out of their group training. Engaging with the individuals in the group as well as bringing the people in the group together creates the ultimate small group personal training experience.


In successful groups, the trainer’s role shifts from trainer to coach and clients gradually become empowered to modify their effort, intensity and range of motion based on energy and fitness levels. Giving clients ownership of their experience will encourage motivation (autonomy), which will ultimately lead to retention (mastery) and results (purpose). 

Dr Roy Sugarman’s book, Client Centred Training: A trainer and coach’s guide to motivating clients, Level 7 Psychology, 2014,  highlights the key to behaviour change is following this principle of Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose.


So how can you make your small group session more personalised?


One simple way is to understand and cater your clients’ different Movement styles. This philosophy and information are adapted from PTA Global’s world-class education and their proven Systems, Science and Tools ™.


Understanding your client’s Movement Style?


It is clear that not all people like to ‘move’ or ‘exercise’ in the same way. We each have likes and dislikes, and this is particularly true when exercising. Think about it for a minute, some people despise washing dishes, while other people don’t mind it at all.  Some people downright like washing dishes and will get some sick enjoyment from it (who are these people anyway??).  Carry this concept over the fitness arena and telling a client who despises washing dishes, that they have to wash dishes three times a week.  What if we told them they need to wash dishes at a moderate to high intensity (to see any benefits). It becomes clear why we have such high attrition rates in our industry. People will just stop coming and find any excuse under the sun not to have to wash dishes anymore.

If on the other hand you can deliver or serve up movement or exercise in a manner they like it, then they will keep coming back for more and more.

Let me help break this further down for you – quite simply people fit into one of three main Movement Styles. In order to work out someone’s Movement Style, you could take them through the full PTA Global Program Design Questionnaire (PDQ ™) or you could simply ask them the following questions:


If they answered with Structure, Routine and Practical – then they would be considered to have more of a TRADITIONAL movement style.

If on the other hand, they answered with Challenge, Variety and Adventure – then they would be considered to have a PROGRESSIVE movement style.

If they answered with a combination of both (i.e. sometimes they like Structure and other times they like Challenge or they like Routine and Adventure) then they would be considered to have a HYBRID movement style.

So now let’s take a deeper dive into each movement style:

  • TRADITIONAL clients – they like structure, routine and exercises that are practical and well known. Think of linear movements such as squats, lunges, chest press, push-ups, lat pull downs, rows, etc. They gravitate towards more commonly known fitness equipment like the leg press, lat pulldown, chin-ups and pin loaded chest press. The key here is not getting too fancy with Traditional clients or you will likely lose them. Instead, plan and deliver some ‘traditional’ options within your sessions and programming (I’ll explain how you do this a little later).
  • PROGRESSIVE clients – they like variety, adventure and challenge within their sessions. Think of moving them in many planes of motion and take them on an adventure with their training by including plenty of fun, games and challenges. They generally gravitate towards the newer, more functional equipment such as cables (or bands), TRX Suspension Trainers, ViPR, Sandbells, med balls, etc. The key with them is to keep it exciting and add plenty of variety wherever you can otherwise you risk boring them to death.
  • HYBRID clients – they like a bit of both. They enjoy some component of each of the Traditional client and the Progressive client styles and thus it means you can pretty much do anything with them. Some days they may want a good leg session with some heavy squats and lunges (Traditional). While on other days they’ll want to play and get a little funky with their movement (Progressive). Of course, Hybrids can sit at different places along the movement spectrum so it is critical to gather feedback from them to work out if they sit more on the Traditional side or Progressive side? Simply ask them what they like and don’t like and then tweak your programming accordingly.


Now a few important things to remember when programming for your different client styles in a group is that there are a number of variables you can tweak or change to make a movement or exercise more Traditional or Progressive. You can change:


  • Your environment – In a gym if you used the pin loaded area your Traditional client would most probably feel more comfortable, whereas taking your Progressive client into the free weights area or functional training zone would be better aligned to their style. If you are training in a park, then using an open space with your Traditional client could work well, whereas hitting the stairs or hills will likely work well for Progressive clients.
  • Your equipment – as mentioned above, using typical gym equipment like dumbbells, barbells, pin loaded equipment, etc is considered more Traditional because they are known, whereas using some of the newer or more functional training equipment such as ViPRs, TRX Suspension Trainers, Sandbells, etc make the experience more Progressive.
  • Planes of motion – For this example, let’s use a simple lunge. Most Traditional movement is conducted on the sagittal plane, think of (forward and back version of a lunge, whereas a Progressive clients will enjoy the challenge of moving in some of the other planes of motion such as the frontal plane, (side to side lunge) or the transverse plane (a lunge with rotation). Hopefully, you get the idea.

By asking your clients how they like their movement/exercise served up and by asking them the simple questions mentioned above you will then be able to find out their preferred movement style. Once you know this you can then begin to tweak and alter your exercise selection and programming to deliver a more personalised small group personal training session and service. As trainers begin to understand their role in a group, which in my opinion is not to merely instruct but to also facilitate the best possible fitness experience for individuals and the group, then their clients will bond and hold each other accountable, resulting in incredible connections, motivation and ultimately retention.

One thought on “Small Group Personal Training – Are You Getting Personal?

  1. If you have been training a while, but you’ve hit a wall, I would recommend with Stu. I found the site extremely helpful.

    I actually took the e-class Stu does and it was killer. I got so many new ideas for getting new clients. And how to do a fitness evaluation so that clients sign up with you. The class was a bit of an investment, but I got 2 new clients the first month and made it back. The guy who does the class, Stu was really helpful and super nice. If you have a question, just email him and he’ll get back to you pretty fast.

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