How to Become a Group Fitness Instructor or Small Group Trainer

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Although one-on-one instruction may come to mind when you think about personal training, personal trainers also often oversee small group personal training sessions or lead large group classes.

You might consider marketing yourself not only as a one-on-one personal trainer, but also as a small group trainer or large group instructor. This could increase your client base while providing your clients with an affordable alternative to traditional personal training programs.

The Difference Between Small Group Personal Training and Group Fitness Instruction

Small group personal training, which is usually recognized as 10 people or less, is an ideal platform on which to base your personal training business, as it affords your clients the opportunity to receive individualized instruction at a fraction of the price. You may arrange small group training sessions, or your clients may form their own group and then hire you to train them in the small group setting.

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For example, a group of friends with similar fitness goals may come together for a weekly training session with a personal trainer. The small group atmosphere allows friends and colleagues to motivate and encourage one another while receiving more attention and more personalized workouts than they would receive in a class atmosphere.

Unlike personal training, which may be too costly for some of your clients, small group training allows your clients to split the cost of an hourly training session. Just like a one-on-one training session, you will be able to provide your clients with customized exercises and instruction. In other words, your small group training clients can still receive the personalized attention and individualized workouts that they have come to expect from one-on-one personal training workouts.

Small group training is fundamentally different from traditional group fitness instruction. Group instruction usually takes the form of an instructor-led class, while small group training is all about leading clients through individualized exercises just like they would experience in a one-on-one session. While small group training involves targeted exercises, feedback and individual coaching, group instruction usually involves following the instructor’s lead through a more general routine. Typical examples of group fitness instruction include Barra, Zumba, Pilates, yoga and aerobics classes.

Advantages/Disadvantages of Working with More than One Client at Once

There are a number of obvious benefits that come with offering your personal training services in a group setting:

  • Allows you to offer your clients individualized training without the high cost of one-on-one personal training sessions
  • Allows you to coach your clients, thus ensuring they are performing the exercises properly and meeting their fitness goals
  • Allows your clients to perform the same type of exercise but at their own customized level of fitness or ability
  • Provides the added benefit of support and motivation for your clients from both you and their peers
  • There is often a high level of energy in a group setting, thus allowing your clients to remain enthusiastic about exercising
  • Allows your clients to put forth more effort than they would in a private training session because they are competing with their peers
  • You can establish interest in group instruction sessions by marketing to specific demographics, thus increasing your business. For example, you may implement a new mom group instruction or senior instruction as a way to bring together people with similar fitness goals, interests, and ability levels.

Small group training and large group instruction, although generally beneficial to both you and your clients, may come with a number of disadvantages:

  • May not be as effective as one-on-one personal training when learning a specific skill or exercise program
  • It is more difficult to oversee group sessions, which means you may not be able to catch every mistake or exercise blunder; therefore, your clients may be more prone to injury than they would under your watchful eye in a one-on-one personal training session
  • You may find it does not provide you with the gratification of training your clients in a one-on-one setting due to the diminished contact and lack of individual focus

You may find success in semi-private personal training over small group training. Semi-private training, which is generally defined as just two or three clients, may allow you to expand your client base while providing the individualized attention of a personal training program.

How to Become a Small Group Personal Trainer or Group Fitness Instructor

If you want to kick start a personal training career that is focused on small group training or large group instruction, you must first get the education necessary to ensure your clients are receiving expert instruction. Many personal trainers choose to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in personal training or a related area of study, such as:

  • Fitness and health
  • Exercise science
  • Exercise physiology
  • Kinesiology

A degree program not only shows your commitment to the profession but also allows you to establish yourself as an expert in the field of health and fitness. An associate or bachelor degree program in personal training or a related field of study is designed to offer students a foundation in the sciences and math, and many programs consist of business and communications courses, as well.

Core coursework in a personal training degree program often includes:

  • Principles of exercise science
  • Cardiovascular and resistance training
  • Nutrition for health
  • Activities for people with special needs
  • Structural kinesiology

In addition to a degree program, your educational path will likely include professional certification in personal training, as certification in the field of personal training has become a requirement among many employers.

Many of the organizations that offer more general personal training certification also offer specialized professional certification for personal trainers interested in working with a group of clients at once.

Group fitness instructors typically hold one of these as their primary certification:

  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Primary Group Exercise Certification
  • American Council on Exercise, Group Fitness Instructor

Additionally, as a group instructor you will also be expected to hold certification in your area of specialty – Pilates, yoga, Zumba, Barre, etc.

Small group personal trainers typically hold one of these certifications denoting expertise in working with more than one client at once:

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine, Group Personal Training Specialist
  • American College of Sports Medicine, Certified Group Exercise Instructor
  • National Exercise and Sports Trainer Association, Group Exercise Instructor
  • The Cooper Institute, Small Group Personal Trainer Certification

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