Semi-Private Training: The Business Sweet Spot
A Post On Semi-Private Training by Pat Rigsby
Back in 2006 we created a product with industry expert Alwyn Cosgrove called ‘The Ultimate Fitness Professionals Business Success System.’ At the time this product was revolutionary as there had been nothing like it released to the industry before.
One of the components of this resource was introducing how to deliver Semi-Private Training, which at that time was a very new concept to the industry which Alwyn was leading the charge on.
Well, as you know, right about the time this product came out the industry shift to bootcamps began.
While bootcamps were a tremendously valuable addition to the profession, they stole much of the attention from the upside that Semi-Private Training could offer.
Semi-Private Training vs One-on-One Training
Back in 2006 when we developed the product the bulk of all personal training was being delivered in a one-on-one setting. Fitness professionals had no real leverage… they traded one hour of their time for money from one client.
Clients were handcuffed. They could only get coaching to reach their fitness goals if they were willing to pay a premium, which limited the number of people who could benefit from training significantly.
Semi-private training was and is the perfect solution for overcoming these challenges while still delivering a high end, high quality service.
Rather than go into all the details about why again… I’ll just share part of an piece of content Alwyn Cosgrove and I put together a few years back about that very topic:
PR – Alwyn, for those people who will be reading this, did you initially start out doing more of the one-on-one approach.
AC – Of course. When I think about it – I was in a Martial Arts group and went to the world championships. We were a national team, we trained as a group. When I got out of school, I worked for a physical therapist. You saw 10 people at once with his assistance.
Then when I went into personal training, I did one-on-one – it doesn’t make any sense, right? But that is what everybody did, so that’s what I did too.
It’s just a flawed model, there is nothing I can say to defend that. And I’ve done it, so when people defend it, I say “you know what, I’ve been there, I’ve had these clients.” But I’m telling you – I think I’ve lost maybe one ever who didn’t like the small group approach in the course of my personal training career, but I’ve picked up thousands.
Then I realized that one-on-one training was a flawed concept to begin with. If you look at training from the entire spectrum of training, if you look at rehabilitation, the physical therapy model, you are not one-on-one when you are in physical therapy. There are usually a couple of you. There is usually one physical therapist that designs the program, and bunch of assistants who are supervising, but it is never one-one one, there are usually a couple of people.
Even when you go to a chiropractor and it is technically one-on-one when he is there. He is seeing three people at once sometimes and jumping around.
So I became aware that at the rehabilitation level there was no one-on-one training. Then I started to work with a lot of athletes and worked with a lot of strength coaches – and at the elite level of the sport, it wasn’t one-on-one either.
When the Lakers had a strength coach, everybody trained. The Oakland Raiders have a strength coach, the Dallas Cowboys have a strength coach, everybody trained. Not one-on-one training.
So I started to question why at the serious injury level and the elite performance, supervision wasn’t one-on-one, why in middle – which is where we technically are as trainers, why is it one-on-one? That’s when I realized that the model was flawed. Could I as a trainer equally supervise two people at once? I think I could.
If you are taking Martial Arts classes, you are not taught one-on-one, and each generation of fighters gets better so the system works. So at that point we started to allow more than one person at once.
Two things happened.
The first thing was that now training became more about the client and less about the trainer because the client came along and somebody else would be in with them and they would be talking – “how did you do this week, did you stay on your diet, how was your competition this weekend and the supportive relationship between them and they trained harder, so it is no longer about the trainer.
The second thing that happened is it allowed me to charge a little bit less so more people could come into the gym and see me. The third thing, which is the most important thing for everyone reading this – is that instead of charging $75.00 a session, I was charging $55.00 a session and getting three people at once so my fee more than doubled.
I don’t care what you are charging. If you are charging $250.00 a session and you can get it, you can get three people in that group at $150.00 a session so the client pays less, the trainer gets paid more, yet the system takes over and the client’s program remains the same.
PR – That is very simple to understand. I think the main objection I have heard with trainers is “how do you group people together?” Do you group them by fitness level, do you group them by time or do you group them in the social groups they are comfortable with?
AC – Let’s think of it in two extremes.
I’ve got a grandma and I’ve got an elite athlete. This is as extreme as it gets, so this doesn’t happen. But let’s think about it.
The athlete is doing power cleans and, the grandma is doing bridges with her feet on a box. The athlete does the power cleans and rests; the grandma does her bridges and rests.
They don’t need to do the same program and I don’t really think I need to watch him during his rest period. I’ll watch her and if he is really skilled, I actually need to watch him less than her. So people are so concerned with the grouping – but that’s minor.
Like if you go a Martial Arts class, you’ll see different belts in the same class – which is to signify that some guys have been there for a year, some guys have been there for three months and still the instructor manages to get all these guys better.
Some of my staff, I’m pretty sure could supervise five and six at a time and still be good. We cap it at three. If you honestly feel that three is overwhelming – then you can stay with two. One-on-one is just a waste of time. You don’t need to supervise someone’s rest period.
PR – Everything you’ve said makes great sense from a business standpoint and a training standpoint. You can impact more clients, you’re leveraging your time and more people are getting results – every reason a trainer would be in business.
AC – It hinges on having that program design method to start with. If you are the kind of trainer that kind of wings every session, this model will not work for you. You have to have a planned program that you can execute.
What I tell people it is a better model – not an easier one – you are going to work harder, but you are going to get double to triple the money you were getting. That is a huge increase in profit, but it is not an easier method of training – it is just better.
So the having three clients at once will not be easier, no – you are going to work and you are going to be moving around. But it is a financially more successful business model and it is far more effective for training clients.
That pretty much sums up the upside that Semi-Private Training offers over One-On-One Training, so let’s move on to bootcamps…
Semi-Private Training vs Bootcamps
Right when the industry was primed to shift from one-on-one personal training to semi-private training, bootcamp emerged.
In many ways they were as good of a solution or an even better one for fitness pros who wanted to have a more successful business.
- Bootcamps offered even more leverage for a trainer’s time. Instead of training 3-4 people at once you could train 20.
- Bootcamps were even more affordable to the client. Clients could pay as little as $10-15 per session and get coaching.
- Bootcamps didn’t require individual program design from the fitness professional, so they were far less labor intensive to deliver programming.
- Bootcamps are easier to coach in many ways as everyone does the same thing and usually the difficulty of the movements is limited so that they’re easier to coach and perform.
But those last couple benefits actually started leading to problems.
Because bootcamps are easier to program and deliver, almost anyone can do it.
And now almost everyone does.
I’m 100% certain that bootcamps as we’ve known them for the past 5 years are dying a slow death. 5 years ago, when a trainer opened up a bootcamp, they we’re often the first mover and automatically had a decent amount of success. It didn’t really matter whether they were any good at what they did, whether they ran an efficient business or got their clients results.
Many were just successful due to a lack of competition. They were cheaper than 1 on 1 training, there was a bit of a novelty to camps and that was enough to get some traction.
But once people started to recognize the upside to camps, the market started filling up fast.
What wasn’t to like? The barrier to entry to get started was incredibly low. No need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to open up your own place and lock into a long-term lease when you could open up in a park or pay a few bucks and rent a gymnastics or martial arts studio during their downtime.
Personal trainers that never would have considered opening up their own business were flocking to open up camps. Before you knew it there were literally thousands of bootcamps flooding a market that had been virtually non-existent just a few years prior.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough – health clubs started simply repackaging their group fitness classes and calling them bootcamps, so now people could start getting unlimited bootcamps for the cost of a gym membership.
So what happens when any market gets flooded because something that seems to good to be true?
There is a crash.
That’s what is beginning to happen right now in our industry.
Because it’s been so easy for people to get into the bootcamp game, a couple of not so good things have happened:
- A LOT of trainers have jumped on the bootcamp bandwagon that are running very low quality camps. They’re running classes that are barely up to the quality of a mediocre health club group ex class and trying to charge $199 a month for it.
- Enough people have jumped into the bootcamp market that the prices are being driven down. Health clubs are offering bootcamp classes as part of their general membership and new competitors in the market are simply competing on price to try to generate some clients.
- Groupon and other deal sites have driven the value of bootcamps so low that the public thinks that all bootcamps are worth $29-39 per month.
This *is* what’s happening. There’s no debating it. And it will KILL a lot of the bootcamps that are out there.
But I think that’s a good thing.
Because in any market there is always room for quality. And that’s your opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive.
If you want to benefit from the shakeout that is now beginning to happen in the bootcamp landscape can focus on a couple different approaches:
Group Personal Training – If you want to separate yourself from the average camp in the market, retool your camps so that they are essentially group personal training. This means assessments for every client, progressions and regressions for every movement, a focus on the clients’ goals and not just simply delivering a workout.
Anyone can deliver a workout. You will win by being the coach that personally ensures that they reach their goals.
We’ve discussed this at length and it’s a great approach. Smart Group Training has led the charge here and we’ve created a great resource about it called Group Training University.
What’s the other answer?
Semi-Private Training is a sweet spot in the market.
- Semi-Private Personal Training allows you to position yourself as the premium service provider in your market.
- You can leverage your time, serving as many as 2-6 clients at a time.
- You can easily differentiate yourself from any and every group based program out there from bootcamps to Crossfit easily. Individualized programming is easy to explain and easy to understand.
- It’s easy to sell. Everyone believes (rightfully so) that they are special and unique. Semi-private training caters specifically to that.
- Semi-Private Personal Training is easier to monetize during non-peak hours. It’s far easier to find 3 people during a non-peak hour than it is to find 15.
- There are a couple barriers to entry that will keep mediocre fitness professionals from doing it:
- It requires individual program design for each client. The mediocre trainer won’t put the work into the details.
- It requires a higher level of coaching as you’re supervising different programs being executed at once. Mediocre trainers won’t put in the effort.
- Semi-Private Training is priced a little higher and mediocre trainers will always default to selling on price (being the cheapest) instead of value.
So Semi-Private Personal Training will ALWAYS be a less competitive market.
- It’s easier to position yourself as a specialist since you can command more from each client… so you don’t have to water things down.
- At this point it’s probably more profitable than bootcamps. Bootcamp pricing has been driven down, so while bootcamps might have been as profitable or more profitable in the past, semi-private training is now going to be more profitable in many cases.
So What Should You Do?
Well, the obvious answer is to quit running regular bootcamps. If you’ve been on that bandwagon, dump it before it goes the way of the dinosaur (or at least the way of Taebo).
If you’re already delivering group personal training with the Smart Group Training Approach, awesome. Here’s what I’d do if that’s the case:
- Keep delivering Group Personal Training, especially at the times that it’s most profitable.
- Integrate Semi-Private Training during your other time slots to maximize your profitability and help you establish your place in the market as the high end provider even more.
If you’re not already delivering group personal training with the Smart Group Training Approach, here’s what I’d do:
- Determine whether you are passionate about group-based training. Not everyone is cut out to work with large groups and not everyone is passionate about it.
- If the answer is no… I’d go all in on Semi-Private Training and make that your primary core offerings. It will be a simple way to position yourself in the market successfully for all the reasons I’ve covered here.
- If you like group-based training, shift to the Smart Group Training Approach for 1-3 time slots each day offer Semi-Private Training during your other time slots.
Hopefully this gives you some insight as to why we believe that Semi-Private Training is a Sweet Spot in the market. If it’s not already playing a significant role in your business, I’d go back and think about integrating it.
Semi-Private Training not for everyone, but if you’re a trainer or coach who really like high quality programming, it probably has a place in your business.
Dedicated to Your Success,
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