Group Personal Training – The Greatest Oxymoron in Fitness ?

Group Personal Training – The Greatest Oxymoron in Fitness ?
As far back as 2006, I’ve been hearing the phase “Group Personal Training”. I was working as a personal trainer at a local, big box gym at the time and I remember that the concept seemed strange to me. Historically, personal training has always been a one-one-one relationship and I couldn’t see how working with multiple clients could still be considered “personal”. I shrugged it off as just another attempt by my fitness manager to generate even more revenue in an already very profitable stream so he could lay claim to the company’s coveted top sales trophy.

Not much came of this idea at the time and the gym’s focus was redirected towards an emerging trend called boot camps. I found this equally interesting because boot camps originated in the military for the sole purpose of eliminating the weak soldiers by delivering a horrible exercise experience to the individual in the hopes they’d quit. It’s survival of the fittest after all – and war is all about survival. So some genius thought this would be a great tool for regular sedentary folks to get fit and lose weight. Well, at least they were calling it what it was and kept the name boot camp intact

Most boot camp providers promoted low cost options and the masses soon answered the call. These classes were usually run by entry level personal trainers who were great at fulfilling the boot camp promise. That is, they provided a negative exercise experience for most people and, as a result, most of them quit. It’s no wonder that as of today, boot camps have all but died off- or have they? Not really, but they do have a new polished look designed to get you to come back to class.

Now it’s called Group Personal Training. An oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. Group personal training providers are, in many cases, former boot camp instructors who, for marketing reasons, have just dropped the boot camp name. So what’s different? From what I’ve seen (and I go out of my way to find out), it’s the same haphazard service generating the same high rate of attrition.

I have nothing against group exercise classes.

In fact, I have a lot of respect for what they do. What bothers me is attaching the term “personal training” to a service that isn’t actually personal. The reason I find this notion particularly offensive is because of the lengths I go to in order to ensure a unique and customized approach to fitness for all of my clients. Sometimes I think my detailed approach often borders on OCD but it makes me feel like I’m top of things. If I had to do even a fraction of what I do for a group of  3, 5 or more people I think I’d go crazy. In fact, it would be impossible.

Every client is so different with varying tolerances and preferences to both the exercise itself and to the coaching style that they respond best to. The result would be unsystematic chaos and I think the real world reflects this outcome more often than not.

Because most personal trainers operate out of a studio or fitness club, you’re going to run into situations where things get crowded at peak hours of the day.  These are the times when most people want to train.  At these times, it becomes difficult to perform the program as intended, forcing the trainer to adapt with alternative options.  Although this is not ideal, it’s the reality.

To meet these demands, some trainers will design “generic” or “recycled” workouts that don’t require much equipment or space. I’ve seen this first hand – 1 trainer-  4 or 5 clients and 1 workout.  It’s a high pressure situation for the trainer, attempting to service clients quickly in a busy environment.

Many Group Personal Training providers will defend their position for the following reasons:

  1. There are too many clients to service and too few trainers – I understand this but they shouldn’t promise a personal experience that they can’t deliver.
  2. They do assessments for each every one of their clients – It’s unlikely that this is being done on an individual basis. More likely, it’s some kind of group screening. While this is probably better than doing nothing I question the application of a general assessment for all clients.
  3. It’s the same service, just serving more people – I have no doubt that if their idea of personal training is delivering a generic brand that “works for everyone”,  it will carry over nicely to a group setting. Trainers with higher standards won’t likely agree.

For the personal trainers out there, please stop calling your classes Group Personal Training. It’s not and never can be. It’s offensive to the personal trainers who are trying to deliver a truly personalized exercise and coaching experience. In the end, you (the people) will decide what tools you use to manage your weight and get fit. If you want the group experience then, by all means, join an exercise class but if you want your exercise experience to be about YOU, get a personal trainer that puts your needs ahead of their bottom line.

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Craig Simms
Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 11 years and has amassed over 15,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
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