“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
– Charles Darwin
- Identify 2 group training models that can be adapted by a Hybrid Fitness Trainer.
- Understand how to communicate the benefits of hybrid training to your clients.
- Become aware of 4 items to consider while creating a program design for hybrid training.
- Learn 2 tasks to complete prior to implementing the hybrid training model.
Over the last several years, much of the fitness industry has undergone a change necessitated by less than optimal financial circumstances. This, of course, is a society-wide problem not limited to the four walls of our local fitness center. Consumers from every walk of life re-assessed their expenditures and became understandably stricter with how they spent their discretionary income. In early 2008, it was estimated that consumers were spending approximately $135 per week on items excluding their home, vehicle, or normal household bills. As of October 2012, it is estimated that weekly consumer spending was reduced by 50%, to $68 (Gallup Economy, 2012). At one point earlier in this millennium, the industry was littered with exercisers who were OK with purchasing personal training with the high price tag normally associated with it.
Gyms and health clubs have broadened their markets and are offering value to gym-goers in a bid to retain membership numbers throughout the recession's aftermath (PR Web, 2012). Businesses whose concern was to increase, or at least maintain, membership totals responded by simply lowering the price to access their facility. However, personal trainers were in a different set of circumstances. Trainers were, and still are, in the training and results business, not primarily the membership business. Serving as the professionals enlisted with the duty of helping the exercisers get results, not just access to the treadmills and machines, trainers needed to adjust their focus and business models to accommodate those who wanted and/or needed guidance, while offering a price point that was feasible for both the exerciser and the trainer.
The adaptation that occurred was the emergence of the hybrid trainer. The hybrid trainer can be defined as a personal trainer who implements a group training model, as well as the one-on-one training model. This article will detail the following two group training options adapted by a hybrid trainer:
- Semi-private training: Personal training conducted in a hybrid or “semi-private” setting where there may be 2-3* clients performing their workout concurrently, while being supervised by the one trainer.
- Small group training: Group training involving 4-12* clients working out simultaneously on the same workout template and program.
*The attendance numbers may vary slightly depending on a few circumstances, such as facility size and/or logistics.
In Option 1, the client can opt for personal training in a hybrid or “semi-private” situation in which they will be trained on their program while one or two other clients are being trained on their programs and supervised by the same trainer. In this instance, the client still receives a personal, individualized program based on their goals and needs, but because there are multiple clients present at once, the price can be reduced to a lower price point than the traditional one-on-one arrangement.
In Option 2, the client can train in a small group setting with the same workout and program as the rest of the group. The groups are small enough that the client receives plenty of guidance and attention. Much like semi-private training programs, small group training can also can be part of a modifiable programming system, which may yield greater results as compared to the repetitive and/or randomized training generally witnessed in commercial gyms when members exercise on their own.
In offering these two new options for the client, the hybrid trainer creates a win/win situation: Instead of the consumer having only one service price point – higher priced one-on-one training – now the consumer has two more choices, both in the middle of the pricing spectrum, therefore significantly increasing the size of the available market.
Although switching from traditional training models to a hybrid system is sound in theory, the application thereof has its challenges.
Transition to the Hybrid Model
The following are three actions to consider and implement before switching to a hybrid model: (For the sake of brevity, this article will focus on Option 1, the “semi-private” personal training model).
Action #1: Explaining the switch to your clients
As a fitness professional, you may have only performed personal training under the one-on-one model, therefore, you may be hesitant to switch. Changing things with which you’ve had some success is never comfortable. Much like you, your client may have only performed one-on-one training and they may be satisfied with it. However, they may not have the knowledge of the training systems, exercises, and the business of fitness the way you do, which will allow the transition to hybrid training to be as successful for them as one-on-one training. It is possible that you may experience some hesitancy from your client when explaining that you’re changing your business model and training system.
The best way to do this is to avoid explaining the aspects of why you are doing it. Despite knowing your clients for a long time and being friendly with them on a personal level, ultimately even the best, most loyal clients may not sign off on a new agreement to help you. They may want you to do well, but the question in their mind is a fundamental one, What’s in it for me? The client may not use those words, but ultimately that’s the question you’ll have to answer.
To answer their concerns, there are two major benefits you should explain to the client when switching to the hybrid model: Hybrid training improves training consistency/frequency, and hybrid training is less expensive.
- Hybrid training improves training consistency and training frequency.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the traditional one-on-one training model for a client isn’t the price, but the difficulty of scheduling and attending consistent appointments. When you have client A at 4pm, client B at 5pm, client C at 6pm, etc., you’ve created a system that relies on both the trainer and the client having a mutual available hour. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, getting two busy people to have the same mutually available hours a few times per week can be challenging. The high discretionary income with plenty-of-free-time market is a pretty small one.
Most trainers have had their 5pm appointment call and say, “I’m so sorry, my boss kept me late/my kid was sick/the weather made my train late etc. I can’t be there until 5:40, is that OK?” Under the one-on-one training model, the answer would be “no”, assuming you have a 6pm appointment. The result: Your client just missed a workout through no fault of their own. They weren’t lazy, blowing you off or making excuses. They wanted to train with you and you were unable to accommodate him/her due to the one-on-one training appointment you had scheduled.
With the hybrid model, this situation is no longer an issue. The ability to see multiple clients at once allows more flexibility of scheduling for the client. In the above example, that client could come in at 5:40pm. Your answer may be, “Sure, I have two people starting at 6pm, but I’ll have you up and running as they’re coming in for their warm up.” The result is your client doesn’t miss a session. This makes them happy on an interpersonal level because you accommodated them, and it means they’ll be seeing better results from your program because they are going to miss fewer scheduled sessions.
To further illustrate this point, over a 1 year period in my facility, client attendance rose by 43% after abandoning the one-on-one model and switching to the hybrid model. The clients who trained in the facility (previously one-on-one, then switched to hybrid training) used 43% more training sessions than prior to the switch. Only the increased availability and flexibility of scheduling could accommodate for such an increase. Ask yourself (or your clients), which way will they get better results - training more often with you, or less often with you? Having more options available to train, or less?
- Hybrid training is less expensive.
Initially, a client may perceive training simultaneously with other clients as a slight or mild inconvenience. In time, they may discover this isn’t the case as they go through their training program and receive the exact same workout to which they’ve become accustomed. Initially, they may be hesitant thinking they may not receive as much attention. Explain this is not the case, as you’ll have every client within eyesight at all times to spot and correct anything that needs to be addressed. Equally as important, consider this…
If there are more people paying for training in one particular hour, gross revenue increases without any corresponding increase in your time. Because of this, you can alleviate and/or smooth over the client’s hesitation by reducing their rate slightly.
Say to your client, “Suzy, I really appreciate you being flexible and supportive of me as I change my business model. Although I know ultimately it will benefit all of us, your cost to train with me is going to be reduced as a thank you in advance for your support.”
By just simply being “OK” with having other people around and working out while you provide guidance to all, the client is going to save themselves a significant amount of money over time.
Action #2: Programming
Training multiple people concurrently presents programming challenges as well. Supervising three people simultaneously, who are all performing different workouts, will necessitate some juggling on your part. Here are four things you should consider when programming for your hybrid training clients:
- Plan ahead.
A personal trainer should not “wing it” when supervising two or more clients, each working on a different program and workout simultaneously. When supervising one client, planning the workout on the fly is not very efficient either, but a fitness professional may be able to get around it if they are very experienced and a quick thinker on the move. However, having multiple paying customers staring at you while you hem and haw about what the three of them are doing next, where in the facility they’ll be doing it, and what weights they’ll need etc., is not only awkward, but a disservice to the customers and ultimately makes you look unprofessional.
You should have their programs and individual workouts written down ahead of time to the exact repetition, set, and weight scheme for every exercise, for the entire session, for each client. Blocking off chunks of time for each section of the workout is a good idea as well: i.e., warm up/mobility – 5 minutes, core circuit - 10 minutes, strength circuit - 20 minutes, etc. This makes it easy to take a quick look at your watch and gauge and/or adjust the flow of each client’s session. Although this requires some planning and writing ahead of time, having everyone’s program/workout printed out prior to the sessions makes running three sessions at once a smooth and a simple task.
- Choose easily modifiable exercises
The expression “keep it simple” is important to keep in mind when choosing exercises. An exercise such as a dumbbell contra-lateral stork - standing on a ½ foam roll is not as safe or effective when there are multiple clients training at one time. The exception may be an advanced client who has been coached on this by you for a long time and you are certain the client can pull it off without incident. Most clients will struggle with these advanced exercises, which again, if you’re alone with them it may not be a big deal. In that instance, you have a few seconds to watch and contemplate, Can they do it if I allow them to hold something? Is it the foam roll that’s making it too hard? Would it help if I positioned the member in front of a mirror? Are they not paying attention to their foot/knee/low back/shoulder, etc? This may be too much time to spend on multiple modifications when there are other people around who you will need to be observing as well. In this case, a split stance contra-lateral dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift works just as well as the previous exercise, and requires far less time correcting when there are progressions or regressions necessary.
- Choose easily “cue-able” exercises
Training multiple people obviously cuts into the time for idle chit chat, and in some cases, the amount of time you can spend instructing each member. Therefore, exercises that you can cue and demonstrate quickly and clearly become good choices as well. A standing cable chest press may take some time to set up and explain as an example, and in many cases, a progressed or regressed push-up will generate the same training effect. Always err on the side of the “easy to explain and set up” movements.
- Know your logistics!
The logistics of the facility in which you will be training your clients is a factor in programming and exercise selection. For example, if the facility you are in only has one 16kg kettlebell, this is something you will need to consider. Having three of your clients all needing or using the 16kg bell at the same time obviously won’t work, so have a backup plan if necessary. In the above case, if client A needs the kettlebell but client B, or someone else in the facility is using it already, have an alternate exercise selection that uses different equipment ready to go.
Other times, the equipment you need may not be available. In our facility, the only pull-up bar is attached to the cable cross. So, if client A was supposed to do pull-ups and there are already multiple people using the cable cross, having another vertical pulling option available is recommended.
Action #3: Prepare to Take Action
The most important thing you can do to implement the Hybrid Training model into your business is to get your system in place first, then segue your clients into it. To get your system up and running, you will need to do two things immediately:
- Task 1: Write programs for all clients, if you haven’t done so already. These should be programs, consisting of individual workouts, that will provide the client with approximately one month's worth of training. Included in each program should be a least two options for each exercise , “A” and “B”, with exercises for their warm-ups, core training, strength training and conditioning including weight and reps for every exercise. The approximate amount of time spent in each part of the workout should be delineated as well as any relevant information.
- Task 2: Set your pricing schedule: A good rule of thumb is to offer a semi-private training session at approximately 10-15 % less than the one-on-one session rate. The reality is, you probably should not have to lower the rate as you’re providing the same service while expanding your availability, but it will seem like a nice gesture that will be made up in volume. It may also drop you just below your competitions’ pricing depending on your demographic, which may help as well.
Once you complete those two tasks, you’re ready to implement the hybrid training model, grow your client results and your businesses bottom line along with it.
Much has changed over the last several years in the fitness profession. This is not something to be worried about, but it’s also not something you should ignore if you would like to remain profitable. Instead, embrace the change and adapt to it by allowing your current clients to keep reaping the benefits of your knowledge, while simultaneously attracting new ones. The win-win situation created by the hybrid model is hard to ignore: the client saves money and can schedule appointments with more ease, while the trainer can simultaneously attract and service new customers. It’s an adaptation from which any trainer, regardless of their circumstance, will draw benefits and rewards.
- Gallup Economy. U.S. Consumer Spending Feb. ’08 – Oct. ’12. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/127544/consumer-spending-weekly.aspx
- PRWeb. Gym, Health, & Fitness Clubs Market Research Report. Retrieved from http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/10/prweb8894650.htm
- “Designing Successful Semi-Private Training Programs” DVD. Results Fitness/Alwyn Cosgrove.
- “The Evolution of Personal Training” DVD. Results Fitness/Alwyn Cosgrove.