Sheldon McBee talks about COVID's impact on personal training and three tips for moving forward.

COVID’s Impact on Personal Training & Tips for Moving Forward [VIDEO]

Sheldon McBee is no stranger to change, even before the pandemic hit. McBee, the personal training director at Universal Athletic Club, shares insights on how he's been tackling these unique challenges.

  • October 22, 2020

Change has been a theme in Sheldon McBee’s career as a personal trainer, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Being a part of changing someone’s quality of life for the better is actually what made him decide to change his career path in the first place. And now change— which has been evolving the way he is conducting business, providing services, and communicating to members—is what is keeping his clients going stronger than ever, even during these unprecedented times.

McBee was working toward a master’s degree in human nutrition and sports science when he decided to take a personal training job to earn some extra money while studying. His first client, an elderly woman who now at age 84 is still his client, was his inspiration to change course and become a full-time personal trainer.

Back then, he recalls personal training as being a very one-on-one experience with the main focus of simply changing a client’s look. Over time, he noticed branded, team-type workouts began popping up in the industry. He discovered one of the biggest differences in these methods of training was the camaraderie and accountability that developed within the small group, which turned out to be a key component to his clients’ success. Taking this newfound knowledge, he decided to change directions and try out group training with his clients for himself.

Now, once again, McBee has taken stock of the current COVID-19 situation and has developed new methods to provide his clients with the best experiences possible. As the personal training director at Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA, he and his trainers have had to pivot their strategy to accommodate those who are unable to train in-person, reimagine their studio space to maintain social distancing guidelines, and properly communicate these changes to their members and clients.

Watch the video above or keep reading for an at-a-glance look at the changes McBee has made to his strategy and the lessons you can learn from his successes thus far.

Personal training dumbbells gym equipment Unsplash stock column

How much will personal and small group training change when clubs reopen?

SM: Oh, it changes significantly because you will have to consider doing a hybrid model and if you do that you're gonna get more people to be with you. So let's go—let's be progressive!

How are you alerting members of your changes?

SM: We alert our members of our changes through drip campaigns. We have email campaigns that pump out constantly to our member base. Our trainers are quite good at person-to-person contact. I say get on the phone and call your client—let them know what's going on. A lot of it is old school grassroots, but we have a full-on marketing team that focuses on communicating the message from the top down.

With the changes that your club has had to implement because of COVID-19, what is the biggest challenge that has come with those changes?

SM: I can name two. Number one was just embracing the idea of using technology to drive communication and workouts. That was a bit of a learning curve. The second one was shifting our protocols because our current small group trainers and [personal] trainers have completely changed the way they actually do their workouts. We have a very tight ship on how we conduct sessions. Everything is now just in a pod. There's no sharing of equipment, everything is in a designated space. So we had to really talk it through, practice and strategize.

Are there any opportunities that your club capitalized on or that other clubs could capitalize on?

SM: The big opportunity for us was to rebrand ourselves as the cleanest place in the [area]. We are cleaner than the grocery store. We are cleaner than everywhere, [locally]. Our marketing, our positioning focuses on how clean and safe it is. So it has been an opportunity for us to rebrand. I think it's a great time for any facility to reset and rebrand yourself for what will be considered the new normal. Big, big opportunity there.

And as far as personal training, the big opportunity that exists with small group training will certainly be, as I mentioned before, highlighting the hybrid model of being online and live simultaneously. That's a cool way.

How do staff need to be trained in order to be in line with the new restrictions?

SM: Staff has to be trained in a couple different ways. Just like anything, there needs to be a sort of a curriculum, for lack of better words. So it does require a lot of steps that are actually written out clearly so it's reviewable. Secondly, it does require some live meetings to actually talk through the protocols because some people can't just read it, they have to hear it. And then there needs to be some live physical demonstrations of what these protocols are going to end up looking like. They need to read it, hear it, and physically do it and see it. If you are going to go through the effort of training staff, you do have to make sure that you have the resources in order to have it happen. If you say, ‘hey, look, everything gets disinfected before, during, and after; between sets, workouts, sessions, and if you don't have enough wipes, spray, hand sanitizer, or you don't have enough equipment to have people in pods, well, then you cannot execute your plan.’ Whatever plan you have, you have to make sure that you have the resources for the team to then execute. Write your protocol, talk through it through a live meeting, execute by practice, and make sure that you have the actual physical resources in your facility to execute it.

Want more insight into how you can reimagine, reinvigorate, and rebuild your business? Relive the IHRSA Innovation Summit—on demand! The Summit brought together the best minds in the industry to innovate, connect, and thrive in the new economy. On-demand access is available for $99 through 2020.

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Katie Willis

Katie Willis previously served as IHRSA's Senior Marketing Operations Manager—a position that created and executed marketing campaigns to grow IHRSA and promote its events.