Why Your Health Club Needs Small Group Training

Small group training is essential in building non-dues revenue and member engagement. Here’s how you can build your program.

If your health club doesn’t have small group training (SGT), you’re missing out on one of the most powerful engagement and retention tools in the industry.

The statistics on the SGT phenomenon tell the story. According to the IHRSA Fitness Training Report, nearly 18 million health club members engaged in SGT in 2016, which includes more than 26% of members in fitness-only facilities. Among multipurpose club, almost 20% of members engage in SGT. For studios, that number jumps to 36% of members.

What’s more important than those totals, which continue to climb, is the demographic being drawn to these classes. The IHRSA Fitness Training Report found that almost half of all Generation Z members (ages 6-17 years old) signed up for SGT classes, and Millennials account for 37.4% of all SGT participation. SGT classes are predominantly female, with 61% of attendees being women. IHRSA’s report also found that SGT penetrates into every ethnic category.

Many studios base their entire programing on SGT and larger group X classes. This includes the enormously successful Orangetheory chain. Recently, it was reported that Orangetheory global revenues had surpassed $1 billion in 2018. Considering that those who belong to studios spend more money on their clubs than those in multipurpose facilities, you begin to understand how SGT can be a revenue engine for clubs of all types.

It’s also important for recruitment and retention. With younger demographics choosing SGT options, your future could depend on providing these workouts on a regular basis.

What Makes a Successful Small Group Training Program?

In an IHRSA video called "Beating Back Boutiques,” Chris Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Fitness, and Marisa Hoff, general manager of Stevenson Fitness, explain how they benefitted from their investment in SGT.

“One thing we noticed industry trend-wise was that one-on-one training was starting to decline and there was an emergence of small group training,” says Stevenson. “So as soon as we caught on to that trend, we made sure to put it into our program because we knew that was a big part of where the industry was headed.”

They found that after introducing SGT into their schedule that the social interaction encouraged by the classes increased member retention, engagement, and referrals.

“Group exercise is absolutely huge for member retention,” says Stevenson. “It’s a great way for people to interact with each other, to get instruction, and it’s often more cost-effective.”

While some owners worry about the investment into SGT, especially if they have limited space, Stevenson and Hoff found that it’s a revenue engine for their club.

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“One of the great things about having the boutique studios in our marketplace is that it made it OK to charge for additional services,” says Hoff. “Before it used to be one price, you get everything. But now members are used to paying for Orangetheory, SoulCycle, and additional services. So, it made it OK for us to start doing that, and that really helps to build revenue.”

Stevenson also believes that you can learn a lot from your local community’s boutique clubs.

“You have to do a lot to stay relevant, and I think incorporating things like small group training and taking some of the best practices of these more successful studios are key for you to continue to be successful,” he says.

Instead of being at a disadvantage when competing against studios, you’re actually in a better position because you can give your members the best of both fitness worlds.

“The one thing that boutiques don’t have to offer are those things that you as a bigger club can offer,” says Stevenson. That means locker rooms, showers, numerous equipment options, and a greater diversity of large group X and SGT programming.

The Easy Way to Bring Studio-quality SGT to Your Club

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The formula for creating a thriving SGT program can feel challenging considering the extraordinary range of concepts available. Carrie Kepple, an IHRSA board member and owner of Styles Studios, recently wrote an update on some of the group trends currently taking hold in studio clubs. These workouts all had an interesting twist, including classes using electric muscle stimulation and aquatic barre sessions. One new concept, KOBOX, is a high-tempo boxing class with the tagline: “Where Fight Club Meets Nightclub.”

Innovation is important in the industry, but studio startups are the place for experimenting with unusual trends. Your investment in SGT needs to fit with your membership. You need to choose wisely.

So how do you build an SGT program if you don’t have one, or if you need better SGT services than what you already have?

A brand-new initiative by Life Fitness is ideal for clubs looking for an SGT solution with multiple programming options. Life Fitness offers 13 different modules using a variety of its products, including HIIT Cardio, Synrgy, Hammer Strength, and accessories. These carefully designed and comprehensive product modules can be organized to meet your facility’s needs while optimizing your floor space.

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There are four different programming categories:

  1. Cardio modules focusing on HIIT cardio training
  2. Accessory modules featuring variable movement training options
  3. Synrgy modules, an optimal blend of station, accessory product, and bodyweight exercise for more of a functional training experience
  4. Hammer Strength modules for power and strength

All 13 modules offer three difficulty levels, which is important for multipurpose facilities that have a varied membership with a wide range of ages and abilities.

Life Fitness knows it can be a daunting task to create a comprehensive and effective SGT program. Their space-saving wall system, Synrgy 180, is one example of how their experts can help you seamlessly blend a thriving SGT program into your facility without an expensive redesign. And to satisfy the tech features that help make SGT successful, Life Fitness has partnered with Functional Solutions, a custom content platform that provides visual instruction to help guide both instructors and participants.

You’ll not only have an SGT offering that fits your club’s space limitations and member demographics, you’ll be using durable, top-of-the-line equipment from Life Fitness and Hammer Strength, two of the most trusted names in the industry.

SGT is the type of workout experience people want today. It’s social, technology-based, led by coaches/trainers, and focused on results. Ask Life Fitness how they can help bring the revenue-generating power of SGT to your club.

To learn more about the SGT options from Life Fitness, visit Life Fitness' website or send them an email.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org