Changing the Face of Group Exercise with True Strength Training


You can increase revenue, interest and attendance in your group exercise classes just by marketing them and thinking of them a bit differently. After all, group exercise no longer means ladies in leg warmers. It also no longer means strictly cardio classes. Today’s group exercise classes that focus on strength training are making big gains for members and clubs.

A lot of people want to drop fat from their midsection, which is why many of the group exercise classes offered by health clubs these days focus on the abdominals for most of the session. However, the best way to lose body fat with exercise is to use heavy resistance (remember, heavy is relative to the individual) with compound, multi-joint movements such as squats, dead lifts, pull-ups and presses. These exercises increase the amount of muscle mass being utilized and, thus, help to expend more calories and tip the scales of energy balance (calories in vs. out) in your clients’ favor. Make sure that your classes focus on this and that you explain to your members that this type of training will help lead to a flatter stomach.

Group exercise classes that focus on strength can help members who want to be stronger, more powerful or gain more muscular endurance. The easiest principle to follow is that of progressive overload, which as you know is increasing one or more of the basic training parameters (FITT—frequency, intensity, type, time or volume) that will move clients closer to that goal. As long as you manipulate at least one of these in an adequate manner and your clients maintain their caloric intake (which often is the most difficult challenge), clients will see increases in the physical qualities they are working toward.

Some facility owners and trainers are hesitant to make the necessary changes to accommodate a purely strength-based group session. However, it is not as hard as it may appear and could be beneficial to the business to offer something that is not often available in the group setting. Strength and/or power sessions just require more rest time and a little more weight than normally used. Some of the same exercises, such as step-ups, can still be used, just in a different set and repetition range. If you normally have your clients do sets of 20 each leg, the repetitions can be dropped to six to eight for each leg with added resistance to cater more to strength gains, or three to five for power gains. Implementation is not hard, and with a little change to the program, new adaptations to the body can be initiated.

Make sure these classes include relatively heavy, multi-joint movements that cause clients to have to take longer breaks than the normal group exercise class. Although these classes may not move as fast as the usual group class, they are focused on different achievements. If members want to gain strength and/or power, they must rest a little longer than they would when working toward endurance qualities.

You may need to purchase new equipment before starting new programs based on strength and power. This is an upfront cost that will lead to greater appreciation from your clients and greater revenue in the future, once the program becomes successful.

Setting up the program can be more of a challenge, especially because people tend to just drop in from time to time, limiting the potential growth in their technique and overall fitness gains. And the challenge continues if you do not have enough trainers to help everyone in a large class. A standard recommendation for solving these two issues would be to limit class sizes. You could offer classes that cater to different ability levels and limit how many people can be in each class. Doing so creates a better atmosphere, as the classes will not be filled to the brim and will help to keep the classes consistently full because people will want to keep their spot.

A good place to start would be offering a beginner, intermediate and advanced class with respective trainer-to-attendee ratios. For example, beginners will need more attention, so the ratio would be smaller. A 1:4 to 1:5 ratio would be sufficient, meaning one trainer for every four or five attendees per class. Intermediates would have a little more experience, so their level of monitoring would be less, perhaps 1:6 to 1:7. Advanced athletes need even less monitoring, so 1:8 to 1:10 would be sufficient.

Once the new program is set, it is off to the races. Offering strength and power group exercise classes provides an opportunity to increase attendance and revenue. Group exercise classes allow for a social aspect to workouts, and by encouraging clients to help each other, you can create an even better workout environment, as this helps improve the camaraderie and enjoyment of the class. All of this helps to increase adherence to the program while working on physical qualities other than the standard endurance, muscular endurance or “toning” offered in many similar group classes.


Doug Berninger is the coaching performance coordinator/assistant strength and conditioning coach for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He received his master’s degree in kinesiology from Bowling Green State University in 2011. He has worked with athletes in many settings, including Athletes’ Performance, Bowling Green State University, NSCA, the U.S. Olympic Training Center (Colorado Springs, CO) and, most recently, the University of Michigan. Along with his passion for coaching athletes to excellence, he enjoys the education aspect of the strength and conditioning profession. He has written articles for publication on, published two personal blogs on strength and conditioning, and plans to write several books in the future. Berninger’s personal athletic background includes competing in weightlifting and powerlifting for the past five years. He can be reached at [email protected].

Suggested Articles:

Four steps to on-board and retain the 65-plus demographic at your health club.

Health club operators need to follow these pool reopening protocols to have a safe and successful path forward.

The fitness industry must take action to prevent liability risks that video training presents.