BIG PROBLEM WITH SMALL GROUP TRAINING – Part 1

Until about 10-15 years ago, as a person who just joined a gym looking to get in shape, you had only three different options:

1. Do it yourself

2. Hire a personal trainer or

3. Join a big group exercise class.

Most of us do not know how to do it ourselves at the gym or do not have motivation to keep coming in on our own. Hiring a personal trainer always seems too pricey and joining a big group exercise class just seems too uncomfortable and/or too intimidating.

Enter the Small Group Training (SGT). In the last decade, or so, SGT has exploded in the fitness industry. Unlike big Group Exercise Classes (Step class, Body Pump, Cardio Kickboxing, Zumba, etc) where you have upwards of 30-40 people participating in one single class, SGT is capped at 6-8 people most of the time. SGT seemed to be a “perfect solution” for everyone. It is a lot more affordable than personal training, classes are small and not intimidating, and trainers can earn a lot more by training 6-8 clients in one hour than they could do from One-on-One training.

However, the more I observe the current state of SGT, the more problems I see with it. Here are some observations I have made over the years teaching  SGT classes ,as well as observing others teach, and whether you are a participant in SGT or an instructor, I hope you’ll find them useful. Full disclosure – I have made some of these mistakes myself. Nope, I am not perfect.

Your typical SGT class looks something like this: There are 6 or more stations (I have seen 10 stations for 4 participants) set up all over the room. Most of the time the stations are set up way before the class even starts. There may be a dry erase board with a workout written on it, again, before the class even starts. Just before the class officially starts the instructor may assign people to their station and explain in which order they are going to execute the exercises. The work and rest may be assigned as well. You also may find out that TODAY you are doing HIIT (High intensity interval training) or Tabata (this may require another article to explain) type of workouts and these type of workouts deliver huge benefits. The music gets cranked up and class starts. For the next 45-60 min you are going from station to station and exercising.

Sounds familiar? Probably. “Where’s the problem” you may ask? Well… Everywhere!

Let’s start with the “Set up”. Here are only a few of the issues (there are more) with the “Set Up”.

First of all, how can you, as a trainer, set up stations before the class even start without knowing who is going to show up, how many people are going to show up and how are the people, who do show up, going to feel that day?

Second of all, you are going to have different people with different fitness backgrounds, with different fitness goals, with different medical issues, who will spend different amount of time exercising in a week, so can you explain it to me why are they all doing the exact same workout?

The next big issue I have with an early set up of multiple different stations is in teaching the exercises. Or lack thereof. How is it possible to teach multiple people different exercises at the same exact time?

Can someone explain to me how, you (the trainer), observe 6 or more people doing 6 or more different things at the same time and give any useful feedback to all of them in 20-30 sec (the length of a set)?

By setting up early, you are only making your job as a trainer easier, but that is not the point nor is it fair to all of your clients. Each and every one of your clients will need a unique workout, based on his/her unique situation in order to achieve his/her unique goals.  As a personal trainer your job is to help each and every person to achieve his/her best, regardless on how difficult that may be for you. That may require a lot of more planing than 10 min before the class starts.

The issue with an early set up and lack of teaching snowballs into a safety issue. SGT classes are often advertised as the safer alternative to big group exercise classes (since there are fewer participants you may get more personal attention). This is only partially true. Since it is impossible to teach different people, with different backgrounds (fitness/medical), 6 or more different exercises at the exact same time, and give any constructive feedback to all of them, we all may see how this could potentially be hazardous to an individual in the long run.

In order to to make the class as Safe as possible, trainers may select easier exercises (less intense) and/or use light weight (less intense) which brings up the next issue. How can your class be a HIIT class if the exercises and/or weight is too light? Just because you are sweating heavily and constantly doing something it does not mean you are actually working at a high intensity and/or getting benefits of a true HIIT workout. Also, why does everyone need to be doing a HIIT workout in the first place? Is everyone physically and psychologically ready for a true HIIT?

So, if we are not actually doing HIIT workouts, will we actually get the benefits of the HIIT workout? Something tells me that we do not have to be geniuses to answer that question. Now, if we are not getting the benefits of HIIT workouts (and if they were advertised), are we entitled to ask for our money back? Just a side question.

On top of all that, crank up the tunes of the week. Make sure the tunes are so loud  that clients cannot hear you in case you do give any feedback. Make them so loud that they can not even hear their own thoughts. Just in case they think any of these questions (I hope you read sarcasm here).