Do's and Don'ts of Group Training

Sherri McMillan has worked in the fitness industry for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and the 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year- Runner up. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss," "Fit over Forty" and "The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing," a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at where you can also sign up for her blogs.

At Northwest Personal Training, based in Vancouver, WA, we conduct a variety of group personal training programs. We have had to work hard to ensure our sessions are different enough from a typical group fitness class so that people will pay an additional $120 per month to have access to these programs.

Here is a list of do's and don'ts on which our trainers are evaluated. Feel free to use these at your club:


1. Study your group. All clients complete a client information questionnaire before they enroll in our programs. If you see a new person in your group, ask them if they have any concerns, injuries or medical issues of which you should be aware. Ask them if they mind if you review their client information questionnaire so you can better know their history and goals. They'll appreciate that you care and will be more likely to want to return to your programs because you know who they are and what they want.

2. Be prepared and organized. You cannot "wing" a group training session. Managing a number of people with various goals, fitness levels and needs requires that you have spent some time thinking through the logistics of the entire session from start to finish. Use a lesson plan to help design your programs.

3. Prepare before your session and be early. Be there five to 10 minutes before the start of the session to organize equipment and circuits. Prepare technically by having a goal, purpose, format and educational topics, and having your equipment ready, your music cued and having backup music on hand. Clients like to know you are organized. Prepare your attitude to make sure the next hour is the best part of your clients' day and remembering that they are there for you. Be hospitable by being accessible five minutes before your session and standing at the reception/class entrance to welcome clients. It also means interacting with participants by asking a question, stating a fact or giving an opinion, such as "Jane, this is your fourth time here this week. Congratulations! You've been so consistent lately." Ask yourself who is arriving, whether you know everyone by name and whether you need to introduce yourself to someone new. Determine whether anyone has physical problems requiring modification and whether everyone is wearing the proper clothing and footwear.

4. Introduce yourself and quickly explain the workout focus and format.

5. When using circuits, teach them in a timely fashion. When it is time to teach the group the next exercises in the upcoming circuit, do it quickly and concisely so people aren't waiting around watching for too long. Demonstrate each of the exercises and point out two to three key technique points.

6. Distribute your time equally among all participants. Learn how to politely explain to a client demanding too much of your time that you must help the others. Physically make eye contact and spot each person in your program at least once per session.

7. When using circuits, facilitate and manage the session effectively. The biggest obstacle for a trainer who is only well versed in one-on-one training is how to practically manage sessions with a number of clients. It takes a skilled trainer to ensure that a group training session is not chaotic. Always know what each client is doing at all times. Always know what's going to happen next and what equipment you'll need.

8. Be able to improvise and adjust exercises. You may have designed an exercise within a circuit that is not appropriate for one member of your group. Be ready to think quickly and improvise, so you can make minor adjustments and modifications to any exercise.

9. Give permission. Be sure that your clients know that they can modify an exercise if they do not feel comfortable with it. Instruct them to immediately alert you to any concerns they may have with a particular exercise so you can make an adjustment.

10. Work your clients hard. Clients like to know that you can push them a little harder than they can do on their own. This adds value to your sessions.

11. Use various personal training tools. To make a group training session look different from a group exercise class, use tools that a client couldn't have access to on their own. This will add value to the sessions and will ensure clients continue training for the long-term.

12. Mix it up. If you don't mix it up, clients will get bored quickly and believe that you have nothing new to teach them, which can cause them to discontinue training. However, if you mix up the workouts and introduce them to new exercises, sequences and equipment, they will see the value in continuing. Keep them excited and help them avoid plateaus.

13. Educate. Every week, come prepared with your teaching focus for that session. For example, one week you may teach the group the importance of water, and the following week, you may teach them the concept of momentary muscle fatigue. Regularly refer to the teaching focus during the session so that by the end of the hour, your clients have a strong grasp about the relevance of the topic. Regularly bring client handouts to your sessions.

14. Make clients accountable. All of our group training clients meet with a trainer initially to establish a schedule. They are then scheduled into our group training appointment calendar so we know when they are supposed to be there. If a client does not show up for a scheduled session, call them immediately. Without judging, help your clients commit to their goals. If a client repeatedly misses a session, ask about reassessing their schedule.

15. Start and finish on time. Clients really like to know that sessions will start and finish as scheduled. Watch the clock and stay on schedule.

16. Give homework. Give each client something to practice or think about before the next session. Remind everyone what his or her accountability commitment is for the week.

17. Foster the development of friendships. Introduce all participants to each other. Remind them that they are in this together. Get them to high-five each other or pull them in for a group cheer at the end of a workout.

18. Foster self-esteem. Regularly point out an individual's improvement to the entire group. Ensure that your feedback is quantitative and specific. This will help to develop your clients' confidence and self-esteem.

19. Be committed. The first group training session may not be as smooth as you'd like, but you'll get better with practice. Keeping your clients laughing and working hard will go a long way towards keeping them as ongoing clients.


The don'ts are the opposite of the do's. It's that simple.

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