Make Small Group Training Your Health Club’s Revenue Superstar

Small group training is a surging fitness trend. Learn how to maximize opportunities—and revenue—for your business.

If you own a health club, you’re in the small group training (SGT) business—or at least you should be. With the right program in place, SGT can be a revenue engine and a prime retention tool—especially for younger members.

SGT is the innovative fitness movement that helped create the boutique studio phenomenon and powers the growth of specialty studios like OrangeTheory Fitness. But SGT is easily adaptable for all types of facilities, including high-traffic, multipurpose clubs.

According to the 2017 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, “over the past decade, personal training and, more recently, small group training have evolved into the primary sources of non-dues revenue for many health clubs.” Fitness-only clubs earned an average of 8.7% of total revenue from small group training. And the numbers for participation are growing. IHRSA’s Profiles of Success reports that 18 million health club consumers signed up for SGT in 2016, accounting for 26.6% of the total consumer base.

The reason is simple: club members love SGT. It’s social, high energy, and, when done effectively, works wonders for helping them reach their fitness goals. Clubs learn they not only improve their bottom line with SGT, they provide a productive and enriching experience for club members.

Putting Together Your SGT Program

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Defining SGT isn’t as straightforward as you may think. The term is attached to such disparate disciplines as hip-hop cardio, bootcamp, HIIT, functional fitness, core training, and many others. Some SGT classes utilize resistance training, cardio machines, or a combination of both. There’s outcome-based SGT, skills-based training, and wellness-based instruction. With so many options, you should be able to find an SGT program that fits your culture and budget.

Creating a successful SGT program takes multiple considerations into account, from club space to member demographics. And you need to make sure that your trainers are up to the task. SGT is different from one-on-one personal training, and some professionals don’t make the transition smoothly or are mismatched with the type of session they’re leading.

To get it right, first you need to understand who’s likely to participate. The IHRSA Fitness Training Report notes three key insights from SGT clients.

  1. SGT participants are more likely to be female. In 2016, 54% of small group training clients were female.
  2. Nearly half of Generation Z members use SGT. Generation Z had the highest participation rate for SGT. Roughly 4.8 million Generation Z consumers engage in SGT, accounting for 26.9% of total participants.
  3. More than one quarter of fitness-only club consumers engage in SGT.

Among full-service fitness centers, fitness-only clubs had the highest participation rate of small group training, as 26.4% of fitness-only users engaged in SGT in 2016.

Older members are also attracted to SGT.  While Baby Boomers and other seniors may not want to engage in functional fitness or HIIT protocols, they are attracted to low-impact cardio and wellness-based protocols. IHRSA statistics reveal that among age groups over 35 years old, the 65-plus segment had the highest penetration rate for SGT at 25%.

Also encouraging participation is the affordability of group training. As you would expect, the price point for SGT is lower than it is for one-on-one personal training. In 2016, members paid an average of $34 to participate in a small group training session, nearly half of the average fee paid for a one-on-one session.

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The practical aspects of setting up an SGT program begin with clearly defining the training “application,” says Greg Niederlander, senior application specialist for group training at Life Fitness. “You may have great products that fit well into a space, but if the applications don’t match the facility vision, the member needs, and the instructor capabilities, then the chances for success are significantly reduced,” he says.

Niederlander stresses that the visibility of your SGT space is also a factor. “If your members don't frequent that area of the club and don't know what's going on, you have less of a chance to market the class to them,” he says. “There appears to be more of trend toward offering small group training in open exercise areas that are used for group training at dedicated times, with the equipment in the space being utilized by the general members when SGT sessions are not being conducted.”

You also need to maintain a marketing and sales perspective. “Think about what you want to say about your small group training programming,” he says. “How is your sales team going to sell it during member walk-throughs, for instance?”

Be sure to clearly define why you are offering SGT, who it’s for, and how the member will benefit from participating.

You Need Strong SGT Instructors

Niederlander states that you can have the best programming in the nicest space with the best equipment, but the real key to SGT success comes down to strong instruction.

It is imperative that the training session content, the configuration of the training space, and equipment selection not only align with participant needs, but also with the instructor’s capability, training style, and personality.

“You may have a great personal trainer who’s just not the type to handle a group setting,” he says. “Or a revved-up instructor may not align with your member demographics.”

SGT Session Organization & Structure

“Many facilities struggle with the implementation of their small group training when taught in a circuit style manner with participants rotating through 8-12 training stations, each performing a different exercise at each station. That is very difficult training model to instruct and manage,” Niederlander says.

To ensure instructional success, Life Fitness designs SGT spaces using product “modules,” which are groupings of themed products.  No matter what SGT format you choose, Niederlander says that using modules is the most efficient way to run a session.

More popular group training studio classes, like Barry’s Bootcamp and Orangetheory, utilize the modules concept. It simply means dividing the participants into groups, usually three. While one group is performing at a HIIT cardio module, another group may be at a performance strength-training module, with a third group engaged at a functional-training module. Niederlander explains that training in groups within dedicated modules makes managing the classes much easier.

Niederlander believes 12 participants in a group is the sweet spot for SGT sessions. This way, each participant gets the proper amount of instruction and motivation throughout the training session.

The Easy Way to Start SGT for Your Club

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what SGT program would work best for your club, you have an easy solution: contact Life Fitness. Though well-known as an equipment and fitness technology company, Life Fitness has developed a comprehensive SGT offering versatile enough for clubs of every size.

Niederlander understands the issues club operator’s face. That’s why Life Fitness offers three approaches to setting up an SGT program. After profiling the customer, member, and coach needs, one of three training space solutions is recommended:

  1. Turnkey. Fully predesigned training space solutions.
  2. Modules. Groupings of products that can be placed into any size training space and into many different training configurations.
  3. Custom. Start from the ground floor with the selection of individual products that best align with the desired application within a dedicated training space.

Life Fitness offers a wide range of group training options, including performance training, functional training, fat burning, core conditioning, recover and restore, and more gentler options for populations desiring more of a health/wellness session experience. Life Fitness also offers web, digital, and on-site SGT coach support. Niederlander and his team will work with you to find your best solution.

To find out more about SGT options for your club, visit Life Fitness' website or send them an email.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org