PT on the Net Research

Programming Large Group Adult Training - Part 1

The current fitness environment commands that most people want personalized workouts and individual attention without paying the price of one-on-one training. People are more interested in achieving results in the most efficient manner possible and minimizing any wasted time or effort, while getting the guidance, education and motivation needed to achieve success. Enter Group Personal Training (GPT). Done well, GPT achieves all these requirements. Done poorly, it is simply a higher cost group fitness class.

This article will assist you in creating your best group training program possible, while eliminating mistakes many programs make and inspiring you to take action towards building a results-driven, member retention machine.

Part 1 of this series deals with the framework for you program. Part 2 will delve into the specific training components themselves.

Defining Your Audience

As tempting as it is to accept everyone into a program that wants to be there, it is imperative to set a criterion for your program based on physical needs and attitudinal characteristics.

If a client is looking for an intense (yet appropriate) workout to get motivated to get into shape, or simply to drop some body fat, then joining the GPT program is a great choice. This person does not need their own individual personal trainer to get a great workout and fantastic results.

However, if a member is looking for specific skill-based improvement (sports, competitive endeavors, etc.), improved movement functionality, or improved posture and alignment, then private training may be a better solution.

Alternatively, a hybrid-model can be appropriate for some of these people as well. Group training can be used for general fitness achievement and 1-2 weekly private training sessions can be utilized for skill development.

A Protected Environment

The single most important litmus test for your group training program is an individual’s attitude. Participants in your GPT program must be positive and happy people. They must be coachable. They must be community driven and hard workers. If potential clients do not possess these traits, they must be steered towards private training sessions. Negativity is the single biggest threat to your entire program. You must protect the environment by creating and maintaining the environment that is conducive to fun, functional fitness.

Program Principles

What foundation is your GPT program based on? An idea might be to adopt something like PACS - Progressive, Appropriate, Challenging, Safe. With foundational principles like these, the likelihood that your GPT business intelligently guides your clients closer to their goals improves dramatically. Conversely, if you do not have a foundation or are working randomly from workout to workout, relying on a “harder is better” mentality, you will find that client retention becomes more challenging. Of course, you could be training all high-level adult athletes and they may require more intensity, but, if you are like most training centers, your clients will fall into the 30+ year old, deconditioned market. Training protocols for this client base needs to be different than that of high-caliber athletes and having a set of foundational training principles will ensure you meet the demands of your client base.

Programming Goals

What are you working towards? On initial evaluation, this question may seem silly. Simply put, you are working towards getting people fitter, stronger, happier and clearly better than they were before. So, here is a different context – HOW are you doing this? What is the plan? Are you bought into high intensity interval training and beating your clients into submission every workout? Are you running a periodization scheme? Are you winging it without a plan at all?

Do your methods match the clients’ reasons for joining? What do they want? What do they need? Their typical response is that they want to lose weight, get toned and get stronger. Three separate, but intertwined goals. Overlaying what we know about adaptation, some sort of periodization protocol might serve well. 6 weeks of Strength Building (efficient movement with progressive overload) followed by 3-4 weeks of fat loss-focused training (minimal recovery, high metabolic output) would certainly give focus to the GPT program.

Leaning on the principles to guide the training program, you can use proper progressions within the periodization scheme to mark improvements in performance and to plan out programming in chunks. If you are running a 6-week strength/hypertrophy block, spend the first week accumulating baseline testing within the workouts. Week by week you can alter the sets/repetition scheme and exercises if you must to provide a bit of novelty, but mainly you are aiming to increase strength. The goal of your program must be to provide the desired results in the safest and most efficient way possible. Progressive overload should be the cornerstone of your strength block. During the final week of the block, accumulate new totals and provide comparisons. This can provide the opportunity for congratulations or a necessary intervention/pep talk about consistency or overcoming a limiting factor in an individual’s training, such as a fear of adding load.

When switching blocks from strength gain to fat loss, it is imperative to provide guidelines on energy intake. The training in a fat loss block looks and feels different than a strength block – but, fat loss will only occur if the client can create an energy deficit.

Periodization goals and explanations might look something like this:

Strength Block

Weightlifting to build metabolism and increase “toning”. You know you are doing this type of workout when you are gritting your teeth and basically feel your entire body shutter under the weight. For the best results, you should choose loads that only allow for 6-12 repetitions. If you are not feeling the load within 10 reps, you will need to increase your effort to experience strength gains and to facilitate body change.

Conditioning for Fat Loss

These types of workouts are faster paced, with short rest periods. Generally, they are performed with lighter weights and higher repetition strength work. The focus is not on lifting heavy things, but rather on maximizing calorie burn DURING the session. You may feel some light exertion in your muscles, but, mainly, these sessions are felt in the lungs.

The blocks look and feel different because they are intended to produce different results. A major mistake many clients make is chasing fat loss constantly and chasing the calorie burn during a workout, never spending the time to build their metabolism. A major mistake many Coaches make is chasing the clients’ immediate satisfaction.

Real results take planning and time.

Systems Win, Every Time

A surefire way to produce outstanding results is to utilize a Chief Programmer. This person would be responsible for creating a consistent experience for each client. Often, training centers allow each Coach to create and run their own workouts. This breeds inconsistency and Coach loyalty rather than system and business loyalty. It also robs the client of a safe, progressive program. Utilizing your Coaches strengths in actual coaching is a great tool to ensure a consistent experience and results. Having them work within a structure of your programming is a key to long term success. Certainly, each Coach has a specialty and their own dynamic personality, and they should feel free to exhibit these traits, but not at the cost of consistently delivering your program. Run a training system, not random and arbitrary workouts.

Benchmarking (AKA Measure) What Matters (to me)

Performance indicators differ from client to client, but some are nearly universal. Bodyweight and bodyfat measurements should be utilized as well as waist circumference so you can show fat loss success. Cardiovascular assessments should be performed as well to show better metabolic output, or simply that the client is getting more fit.

Strength assessments and mobility assessments should be used during the strength block to prove the client is getting stronger.

Utilizing “benchmark” or challenge workouts is a simple way to measure these things. For the cardio assessment, perhaps a 12-minute treadmill test or a 500 – 1000-meter rower time would suffice. For strength increases, a simple challenge workout with pushups, goblet squats, overhead presses, deadlifts and suspension trainer rows comparing the weights lifted and/or repetitions performed would do wonders for an individuals’ confidence.


Summarizing the first part of this series:

These 3 questions can give you all the information to create your principles, provide your training structure and problem solve any issues in your current program. Creating a profitable and productive GTP takes a lot of work. However, once you have set-up your GPT program properly, it can run smoothly, which allows more time to coach and to increase membership.

In Part II of this series, we will break down the individual training sessions.