In today’s world, few endeavors can improve the quality of life the way strength training can, yet despite a large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of strength training, participation remains low.
A 15-year cohort study of older adults in the United States was feature in the Preventive Medicine article “Is Strength Training Associated with Mortality Benefits?” The report found that fewer than 20 percent of adults strength-train. This is not surprising given that most simply don’t know how to implement a safe and effective strength program.
For decades, the medical community has been largely unsuccessful at getting people with chronic disease to strength train. One example is the Arthritis Foundation’s Exercise Program, which has proven to be effective at improving mobility and pain management in people with arthritis — yet fewer than one percent of people with arthritis participate in it.
Given what’s at stake, scientists are calling for a new approach. In a 2014 article “Strength Gains as a Result of Brief, Infrequent Resistance Exercise in Older Adults," which appeared in the Journal of Sports Medicine, James Fischer demonstrated significant gains in strength with an efficient (less than 15 minutes per exercise session) and infrequent (two times per week) strength program. Fischer stated that, despite improvements in strength, the financial expense and practicality of a one-to-one client to trainer session may be a barrier to participation. He goes on to say that future research might consider the efficacy of small group resistance exercise sessions of two to five participants with one trainer.
In 2009, five years prior to Fischer’s research, MEDFITNESS, a strength-training studio, implemented a small group strength-training program that models Fischer’s recommendation. The strength training program averages four participants to one trainer and does not require an appointment, which is why we call it on-demand strength training. A review of 240 program participants in the program from 2009-2016 showed an average change in training load (progression) of 51 percent for leg press and 67.8 percent for chest press. MEDFITNESS' year-at-a-glance data from January-June 2016 shows an average weekly attendance of 80 percent; that is, 80 percent of program participants complete at least one 25-minute strength workout every week. Program cost is approximately 60 percent less than one-to-one client-to-trainer rates. This program is generating attendance and progression rates that have never been demonstrated in a nonappointment-based program.
During the past seven years MEDFITNESS has continued to refine the program and improve outcomes. A major part of the program's effectiveness can be attributed to a supervision system and coaching formula that allows a single trainer to effectively coach four or more clients at one time. Within a limited studio space (approximately 1,200 square feet), this program generates approximately 1,100 supervised workouts per month.
This new type of program may be just what Fischer was talking about: a supervised strength-training program that is efficient and affordable. With health agencies around the globe recommending strength training, fitness professionals stand to gain new clients by adding on-demand small group strength training to their services.
Offering this type of training can help attract and retain customers by creating a unique value proposition. Here are six things we do that support the execution and management of the on-demand strength training program:
- Simple workouts: We have several workouts that clients rotate between, making it simple to move clients from exercise to exercise. This model allows the trainer to focus on what matters most—coaching.
- Standardized training: We use a standard repetition cadence and range. This makes it easier for one trainer to move between clients and provide relevant coaching.
- Scheduled shifts: This type of training can be offered within a limited time range and on certain days of the week. For example, you could begin by offering on-demand training on Monday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., then add more shifts as enrollment increases.
- Coaching formula: We have created a formula that combines one-on-one and group coaching to effectively coach every client on every exercise.
- Weekly accountability: At the end of each workout, we verbally confirm the next workout date and make phone calls to clients who drop below attendance standards every 14 days.
- Progress reports: We provide clients with printed reports that measure progression against goals set at the beginning of the program.
Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN, is the president of MEDFITNESS, a company specializing in efficient, evidence-based strength training. He is an adjunct faculty at the graduate school at Northern Illinois University and serves on its Health and Wellness Advisory Board. His articles have been featured in Weightlifting USA, Nautilus Americas Fitness magazine, Personal Fitness Professional and Club Industry magazines. Wolff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.