PT on the Net Research

Large Group Training Programs Part III – FINAL BLOOD

Part I in this series on group personal training focused on building the framework and systems for your program:

Part II in this series focused on the internal structure for the program:

Below are some key takeaways from parts I and II of this series:

Part III of this series will focus on creating quality workouts, building a supportive environment and driving client results.

Questions to be answered include:

  1. How many participants per session?
    1. Small groups (typically 3-6 clients)
    2. Large groups (typically 7-15 clients)
  2. How many coaches per session?
  3. What equipment will be utilized?
  4. What is the goal of the session?
  5. How does the session fit in to the training plan?


Coaching is a critical element of a successful group personal training program. Below are some key tips for good coaching:

  1. ABC – Always be coaching: This seems simple enough, yet many coaches provide instructions, then sit back as a spectator. To be frank, the instruction is the easiest part. Communicating what you want and why you want it with the individual member is vital. This helps to build the relationship on trust and communication.
  2. Engage constantly: Between each segment of the training session, you should be singling out 1-2 members to praise or to give individual guidance to, whether it be having them challenge themselves by increasing their load or a simple food tip.
  3. Praise in public, critique in private: Nothing is as invigorating as calling out someone for something special or impressive that they just accomplished (more weight lifted, improved form from previous workouts, better focus) and NOTHING is as damaging to the psyche as critiquing someone in public.
  4. Inspect what you expect: This statement goes for everything involved in you GPT program. Inspect the coach’s coaching and inspect the member’s understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it. Inspect the program’s design and its effectiveness.
  5. Change is good, unless it’s not: After inspection or identification comes modification. Never be afraid to make a change to something if it improves the result. Programming, people, coaches, session templates, etc. - everything should be measured and altered if needed. Never change for the sake of change itself. Change for the sake of growth and improvement.

Teaching and Cueing

A valuable lesson I was taught and continue to pass on to my coaches is to learn how your clients learn and teach them how they learn, not how you learn. As an example, I am primarily and auditory learner. I need to listen. If I am in a class of any kind, I cannot take notes or I’ll lose everything. So a suggestion would be to figure out how you learn and then figure out how your individual members learn so you can provide better, more effective feedback. Different methods of learning styles include:

  1. Auditory – learn through hearing. These people learn by listening to instructions and verbal cues. “Lift your arm above your head and extend your elbow”, “Reach for the sky”
  2. Visual – learn through seeing. These individuals learn through visual tactics and seeing physical movements demonstrated. Take the above cues and visually demonstrate the exercise.
  3. Kinesthetic – learn by doing. These people learn by executing and practicing the movement with manual adjustments. “What do you feel when you do that”, “Can you feel the difference between A & B...”?

I revisit the style of teaching I was taught many years ago through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. They taught a simple and effective system that enabled me to learn my clients’ learning style quickly and utilize all style of teaching

  1. Tell the client what you are doing (Auditory).
  2. Show them what they are doing (Visual).
  3. Have the client demonstrate the motion unloaded (Kinesthetic).
  4. Have the client perform the motion loaded (Kinesthetic).

Your Coaches – The Most Important Piece of a Successful GPT Program.

The role of the coach includes:

There are essential skills a coach must possess. These skills include:

Interpersonal Communication

Be able to understand people and what moves them! Move them physically, mentally and emotionally.

Quality/ Integrity

Do what you say you are going to do! Do what you KNOW is the RIGHT THING! Accept the outcome.
Strive to improve your skills in all facets of life and strive to be the best coach that you can be.

Ability – Motivational Passion

Be able to inspire and motivate. Challenge yourself to do better every day and bring that mindset in to your client’s life.

Education – Pedagogy

Be a teacher. Always focus on HOW the client can utilize the lesson.

Methodology – Education Vehicle

Understand the components of wellness and focus lessons on physical education and movement, nutrition, mental fortitude and on always doing better. Deliver these lessons with lightheartedness and care.

Now, The Sessions Themselves

In the next session, we’ll review the training session breakdown and how each component of a session can be implemented.

Session Intro: 2-5 minutes

General Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes

Dynamic in nature - cardio apparatus or dynamic stretches.

Specific Warm-Up / Lower Intensity: 5-10 minutes

S.A.M. - Stretch, Activate, Motivate. Use movements such as Kettlebell Plank Pull-throughs, Hip Bridges, Suspension Trainer Squat + Rows, Cable Rotations. This is where we wake the body and the mind up. I like to add transverse plane exercises and full-body movements in here.

Full Body Movement Preparation / Moderate Intensity: 10-12 minutes

A full body strength circuit of complimentary movements. These are challenging exercises that invigorate the member.

Example – Kettlebell Turkish-Get Ups, Kettlebell Swings, Dumbbell Rows, Rear-Foot elevated Split Squats

Strength Training / Higher Intensity: 30 – 40 minutes

This is where you will find your Deadlifts, Squats, Pushups, Chin-ups, Kettlebell or Barbell Cleans

Cool-Down: Static stretches and gentle cardiovascular training

By beginning with low-intensity and building in intensity as you move through the session, you give typically sedentary individuals time to prepare for intense training and injury prevention.

Workout Formats

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) does a nice job listing out different training systems. As many of you are familiar with, their Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model is a periodization scheme based on specific physical outcomes such as Stabilization, Strength and Power. I think this is a great model for athletes. However, in a typical group training studio where you are training adults, adding all 3 of these phases into a week or even into each session is great too. Adults typically have different goals than athletes and as such, will require different systems. As previously discussed, for our example, we are using fat loss (BURN) , increasing strength and improving learning (PERFORM) and a metabolism boosting or (BUILD) phase.

Fundamentally, most training systems are a form of circuit training, and most of what we all do in training is some form of circuit.

Here is how I would set-up the different training structures to match the designed training block:

Strength Building

Goal: Increase strength and metabolism

Training block focus: Primarily use a slower tempo to maximize time under tension plus utilize heavier weights than other training blocks.

1. Straight sets or Supersets.

Supersets: Pairs of exercises that are done back-to-back before moving on to the next pair of exercises. I may only do one pair of exercises that I will repeat with a rest time in between (60-90 seconds) each set.

  1. Upper body movement + lower body movement
  2. Upper body push + upper body pull
  3. Upper body push + upper body push in different plane (horizontal / vertical)
  4. Lower body squat + lower body hinge

I am sure you get the idea. You can make as many combinations as you see fit. I have provided a sheet from our training manual to provide a bit more guidance.

Tri-sets are also very effective because you can add more training volume.

2. Pyramid.

A repetition scheme that allows trainees to alter loads during a given exercise.

  1. Ascending pyramid: Start with low reps then increase the number of reps each set (Note: I sometimes also increase weights or resistance along with this)
  2. Descending pyramid: Start with high reps then decrease the number of reps each set.
  3. Triangle pyramid: A combination of both. Increase the number of reps for each exercise up to a set number then decrease the number of reps back down.

Here is an example of a superset workout with descending repetitions on the 2nd exercise:

3. 5 x 5 Strength training. (alternatively, any set / rep / load / tempo combination)

Choose 4-6 simple exercises using heavy weights or high resistance. Do 5 sets of 5 reps with as heavy a weight (resistance) as you can handle for that exercise and rest for 60-90 seconds after each set before moving onto the next exercise.


ABACAD is one of my favorite concepts that I have ever personally created. An ABACAD is a sequence of 3 different supersets linked by the same primary (A) exercise. It allows for intense training with a bit of novelty and just enough recovery, so the trainee does not feel overwhelmed. ABACADs work best with a compound movement as A and complimentary or separate motions as B, C & D. Here is an example.

In this example, you would perform 8 Deadlifts (A) followed 8 Dumbbell Rows (B). Recover. Then back to (A) for 8 more Deadlifts followed by 8 Pushups (C). Recover, then back to (A), 8 more Deadlifts and finally (D) 8 Alternating Reverse Lunges. That makes 1 ABACAD.

Strength – PERFORM

Goal: Improve technique, learn new movements, improve work capacity.

  1. Strength PERFORM is a combination of Build and Burn with two important differences.
  2. Replacing one of the blocks with a 15-20-minute section dedicated to learning a new movement.

Replacing another section with 15 minutes of increasing work capacity.

An important distinction with the cardiovascular training in PERFORM vs that in BURN is in PERFORM you will utilize longer duration cardiovascular training. IN BURN you are mainly using high intensity, shorter duration bouts (ie - HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training).

The training systems that work best in PERFORM are:

  1. Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM). Choose an exercise and complete a specific number of reps every minute on the minute for a predetermined number of sets. So, if you are able to complete your set within the first 10 seconds of the minute, you have 50 seconds to rest. This gets harder as the sets go on.
  2. As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP). To do this workout, I choose 4-6 exercises with a set number of reps that I will do as a circuit. I set my timer for 20-30 minutes, then complete as many circuits as I can in that amount of time.
    This can also be performed for 1 exercise - See "Beat the Clock"
  3. Challenge. For this type of workout, choose one or more exercises where the goal is to complete a very high number of reps in no fixed time.

Strength – BURN

Goal: Maximize calorie burn during sessions and improve cardiovascular fitness. BURN training has higher repetition counts per set, slightly reduced recovery times and keeps you “huffy puffy” throughout. This training block is more like your typical bootcamp-style training that is popular now. You may decide to utilize different tools in this format, such as sledgehammers, agility ladders and more jumping or plyometric exercises.

The training systems that work best in BURN are:

  1. Beat the Clock - Similar to Challenge, but with a time limit.
  2. Stations - With this type of workout, do 15-20 reps at a moderately fast tempo of 4-6 full body exercises. Do each, one after the other, with little rest in between (20-30 seconds). I will typically do 3-6 circuits, then move to another circuit set-up elsewhere in the gym. Each group of 2-3 participants is at a different station until the time limit expires and everyone moves to their next station.
  3. HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training. To do this type of workout, I choose a number of exercises (I usually do 3-4) that are completed by doing as many reps as possible in a set time followed by a short rest before moving on to the next exercise. The work/rest ratios I typically us are 50/10 (50 seconds of work/10 seconds of rest), 45/15 or 30/30.
  4. Tabata - traditional or modified. Like HIIT, this type of workout is done by time. The difference is that the exercise is done for a very short amount of time followed by an even shorter rest then repeated for another 7 sets using the same format before moving onto the next exercise. The amount of time is 20 seconds of work; 10 seconds of rest for 8 total sets.
    A traditional Tabata utilizes one exercise for all 8 sets. A modified Tabata would have you switch between exercises (2 seems to minimize confusion). I have been successful with 4 separate exercises, but transitions become tough.
  5. Ladder - After completing your initial 1 exercise set, add on another exercise to the one that has just been done. For instance, set 1 is exercise A; set 2 is exercise A+B; set 3 is exercise A+B+C; etc. I do up to 6 exercises. Once all exercises are done, recover and repeat.

As always, you can alter the acute training variables within the program to meet the needs of the client and the training block.

Progressions / Regressions

Great training programs will have exercise progressions and regressions prepared so you can coach simply, quickly and effectively.