• Jay Trisko

The Commercial Market of Personal Training is Changing

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Personal training is a continuously evolving program offering. Many surveys indicate one-on-one, in-person personal training is on the decline, while virtual training and small group training are rapidly rising. The commercial market is progressing to meet the needs of clients and so should campus recreation. Let’s explore what’s changing and how we can adapt to meet our community where they are and when they want it.

Steven Trotter


A Revolution in Training

Let’s face it: the 90’s fitness industry was dominated by personal training, partly because it was a status symbol – it meant you were someone of importance. Just like all trends in life, fitness industry trends change, too.

Over the last few years, we witnessed a boom in the boutique fitness studio and after a recent visit, it raised a few questions. While waiting for a class to start, I carefully watched as members came in to get ready for the workout. I noticed one participant in particular. She had an employee badge of a headquarter office building that has a large fitness center with classes onsite. In addition, she had unlimited access to the training studio, a key tag for a hot yoga studio and a key tag for a large franchise club. Adding those up, the participant was electing to spend almost $400 per month on fitness services, even though her employer offered a corporate fitness facility and program at no charge.

This experience, along with many others, made me wonder: Are people starting to prioritize wellness? Does having multiple high-end studio memberships bring the status that having a personal trainer once did? 

Whether the answers to those questions are simple or complex, the important part is the demands of fitness services are changing. If we want to continue personal training as a viable program offering, we need to make changes, too. 

One Client to All Trainers

The phrase “it takes a village” applies to personal training clients as well. Since the beginning, a trainer’s responsibility has been to recruit the client, take time to build rapport, write and deliver programs, and hang onto the client as long as possible.

However, are we actually keeping the client’s best interest in mind if we aren’t doing what’s best for them? For example, integrative wellbeing models are successful because the client gets access to nutrition, exercise, sleep, mental wellness and preventative health care from providers specialized in each area. We should take this approach to our personal training clients, too. A classic example of how this can work in your campus recreation center is as follows:

Potential lead comes in via the appropriate channel – referral or self-enrolled.Lead is scheduled a consultation to determine an appropriate plan of action.Lead becomes a client and wishes to train three times per week with a goal of losing body fat and improving endurance to run long distance races.Client is scheduled with the following training schedule: 12 p.m. Mondays with Personal Trainer A – with a skill in running; 8 a.m. Wednesday with Personal Trainer B – with a skill in endurance resistance; 12 p.m. Fridays with Personal Trainer C – with a skill in flexibility.

For this model to work, you will need to have open communication among trainers and a secure system to share information to deliver the appropriate and consistent training program. Jackie Lebeau, the assistant director for fitness at Johns Hopkins University, utilizes this model and is experiencing great results. She states clients are able to keep their consistent training schedule because they are not limited by one specific trainer’s availability. 

Creating Sustainability with a Membership Model

Although campus recreation’s primary goal is not revenue generation, it is our responsibility to create sustainable business models to keep our departments financially healthy.

Selling packs of eight, 10, 12, 24, etc. sessions is becoming less ideal in the personal training market. A client may spread eight sessions over the course of a semester which can cause negative effects to both the client and the personal trainer. Client adherence is most likely going to be low, causing goals not to be met and the personal trainer not being able to keep a consistent work schedule.

If personal trainers and program managers do not plan far enough in advance to predict the client’s renewal, then there could be a lapse in the program. All of these effects could add up and then potentially elicit a negative review or poor Net Promoter Score on the personal training program. 

You can set yourself up for success by creating a membership model that benefits the clients, personal trainers and department. Create a menu of options that offer a monthly, semesterly/term or yearly models that allow for training sessions to be anywhere from two to six times per week. Determine what your true cost to run the program is and build the pricing for each from there. Lindsey Brookey, the assistant director for fitness at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offers a semester personal training package, which is the most popular of all the program’s offerings. 

Take it Online

Meeting clients where they are has taken on a new meaning in today’s world. More and more people are engaging in online platforms; almost half of the U.S. population is working remotely at least part of the time, and the list of colleges that offer online education continues to grow. If our purpose is really to positively impact our students and faculty well-being, then we will need to continuously change the way we deliver programs. Offering online or hybrid personal training can be a way to make physical activity more accessible to those that are unable to meet one-on-one. Here are three ways to make online training an option for you.

Turnkey Online Programs: For the most cost-effective method, your team can create a variety of training programs with different goals such as strength, endurance, or hypertrophy that last for four, six or eight weeks. Participants can purchase the program for a nominal cost and complete the workouts on their own. Online Boot Camps: You can also scale these programs up by offering more one-on-one customization, virtual coaching and other value add-ons. This model could be very similar to a small group training program but in a virtual setting. Online Training: You can reach more participants by offering fully online personal training. The client still receives personalized designed programs, but conducts the workout on their own and receives coaching and instruction through online resources. 

Keep it Personal

As the fitness industry continues to evolve, the most important part is to keep the personal in personal training. We can still continue to deliver world-class movement experiences regardless of whether we actually ever see the client in person. Use technology to your benefit to keep up with industry trends and consumer demands. After all, if we truly pride ourselves in preparing our personal trainers for success after college, let’s keep in mind they will be most likely not working in a health club in a one-on-one setting. 

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