When people ask me if I am still personal training, I tell them I am not. The connotation of the term personal trainer is that it’s, well, personal, which people typically take to mean one-on-one. What I do is something of a hybrid between personal trainer and group exercise instructor, which is to say, I am a group personal trainer.


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What Is Group Personal Training?

Group personal training has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years as small exercise studios are in and the big box gyms are out. People nowadays want personalized workouts and individual attention without paying the hefty price of one-on-one training. Enter the latest fitness craze - group personal training.


It used to be that doing fitness meant one of three things:

  1. You were a lone wolf gym rat.
  2. You did group exercises classes (jazzercise, aerobics, etc.).
  3. You hired a personal trainer to whip your butt into shape.


Wikipedia defines a personal trainer as “a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction.” But in use, the term has become synonymous with one-on-one training, even though customized exercise prescription and instruction is certainly not limited to a one-on-one construct. In recent years, we in fitness have discovered that you can work in a small group and still receive that personal attention and individualized workout.


While it may be the latest fitness trend, group personal training isn’t going anywhere. Why? Because it works and it’s cost effective, especially when compared with its high priced cousin, personal (or private) training.


How Is Group Personal Training Different From Exercise Class?

An exercise class is a formatted class that the entire group follows. Zumba, step aerobics, and BodyPump are examples of a group exercise classes. You show up and perform the motions that are being demonstrated or cued. A group exercise class is basically choreographed in that the entire group more or less is doing the same thing. In a group exercise setting, the teacher instructs, and the students follow.


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Conversely, group personal training is different because of that operative word, personal. Group personal trainers do one thing differently than an exercise instructor - they coach. In a group personal training setting, students are often doing different things at their own customized level of fitness or ability.


While a group exercise class looks much like a choreographed dance, a group personal training class looks like a group of people doing different exercises together at their own rate of speed, intensity, and ability. Group exercise classes are typically larger and limited only by space available, while group personal training classes tend to be smaller in scale.


The Advantages to Group Personal Training

The obvious advantage of group personal training as compared to one-on-one training is cost. For years while I was a personal trainer, my clients were paying me roughly $1,000 a month for one-on-one training. My clients now pay $100-150 a month for group training. A lot of people will shell out a hundred bucks a month for good instruction, great workouts, and solid results. Not a lot of people can or will pay a thousand bucks a month for the same thing.


In addition to cost savings, with group personal training you get the added benefit of motivation from both your peers and the instructor. There is more energy in a group setting and even a little bit of good, old-fashioned competition. It’s just human nature that if the person next to you is giving an all out effort, you are more likely to do the same.


In a one-on-one session, if you don’t feel like working hard, you don’t. I consider myself a pretty decent motivator, but I have had plenty of one-on-one clients who didn’t feel like putting forth effort, so they didn’t. Pulling out every trick in the book, even the best trainer can’t motivate an unmotivated person. In a group though, people tend to give their best.


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The Disadvantages of Group Personal Training

I studied boxing for years in a group setting. I picked up tidbits here and there from the coach and from the other boxers, but it wasn’t until I hired a personal boxing coach that my skill level dramatically improved. There is nothing that replaces one-to-one coaching when you are trying to learn something.


In a group class, you may get a good intense workout, and you may get some one-on--one time here and there, but don’t expect your craft to improve exponentially A group personal training class, is still a class. Individual attention is hard to come by and if you’re making a mistake on how you move, odds are you will keep repeating the bad habit.


I have never had anyone get injured on my watch in my one-on-one sessions because I am watching their every move. However, with the groups, people move in their own way at their own pace. There simply isn’t time to correct every incorrect movement in a group. People are more apt to get hurt, make mistakes, or repeat bad habits in a group.


The Bottom Line on Group Personal Training

What number of people distinguishes group personal training from a group exercise class? It’s a valid question. Having taught in a group personal training setting for years, there is a point of diminished contact with the instructor when the group gets too large. That is, at a certain point, no matter what the format of a class, a large group becomes in essence simply a group exercise class.


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If you are signing up for group personal training and it is your intention to receive that one-on-one contact, corrected form, and individual focus, then you need to scrutinize when and where you go. Beyond the range of fifteen to twenty people, it’s difficult for the instructor to give much personal attention. When a class gets to that size, it’s simply another exercise class.


So, here’s my bottom line take on group personal training. If you are looking for an intense workout, getting motivated into shape, or simply to lose a few pounds, then go to a group personal training studio or class. You don’t need your own individual personal trainer to get a great workout. Group personal training is a great option at a fraction of the cost of one-to-one personal training.


However, if you are looking for specific skill-based improvement, improved movement functionality, or improved posture and alignment, then spend the money and hire a one-on-one trainer. In the end, there isn’t a replacement for that private coaching, but having it will cost you.


Photos 1&3 by English: Staff Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo 2 by Colby Otero [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo 4 by Crossfit girl (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.