3 ways to fix your group sessions

I do a lot of group and semi-private training, and it’s come to my attention that a few tweaks go a long way. In an industry that’s increasingly leaving the “personal” out of personal training, good coaches are doing the opposite. Injecting individual attention back into group sessions fosters accelerated results. You’re happier, the clients are happier, and the entire team benefits off of that success. 

Some of these tricks are so simple, they take almost no time at all. To get started, here are three quick tips to fix your group sessions right now.

Tip #1: Don’t let other members become the personal trainer

In every group class, there’s that well-intentioned veteran who wants to help out. They’ve been around this class for years, and see a first-timer struggling. While it’s great to encourage camaraderie, don’t let your members step in to the role of a personal trainer. If they have to, you’re probably overlooking something. 

As the coach, you need command of the room. Not only for safety and efficiency, but to send a consistent message. You give the tips you give for a reason. If John or Susan steps in with their two (or fifty) cents every time, that poor first-timer becomes overwhelmed. They’re too busy thinking about avoiding embarrassment than actually working out. 

As a trainer, you know whether or not that slight shift in toe angle will really affect their session. Encourage community, but talk to your vets ahead of time about limiting the noise. Let them know a streamlined message from you is the best way to get everyone working hard, and they’re welcome to encourage all they want.

Tip #2: Adopt multiple coaching styles

One coach serving multiple people means you’re going to need a few hats. Not only will experience across the room vary, but so will personality type. A loud energetic approach might turn some people off, but others feed off of that vibe. So how do you know? During the session, pick up on body language and have a grasp of which times are more intense. You can also actually talk to them. Ask them how they feel. Do they want more of a drill sergeant approach? Or do they need reassurance and a soft hand? Work on your emotional and energetic agility to rotate from instructor to cheerleader, and back again. You’ll get more out of your clients, and you’ll become a better coach.

Tip #3: Ask more questions

I don’t know why this imaginary veil exists between the front of the room and group classes. Plenty of group sessions operate with one-way communication. It’s instruction, not conversation, and members just get on with it. Which means they probably aren’t telling you if something hurts. 

If you don’t ask them “does this bother you?”, they’ll remain silent. Both due to that imaginary wall and a desire to seem tough amongst their peers. No one wants to offer up the fact that they’re struggling. But it’s your duty to keep them safe, so ask! Chances are, there’s more than one person going through the same thing. You’ll help them avoid injury and get a better workout at the same time. And that’s a win-win for all. 


Detric Smith, NSCA CSCS, ACSM EP-C, Pn-1 is the owner of Results Performance Training (www.resultsperformancetraining.com) in Williamsburg, VA. He has a BS in Kinesiology from Virginia Commonwealth University and specializes in Sports Performance Training and Fat Loss Transformations. For over 15 years he has gained experience at various sports performance centers and personal training studios, as well as coaching and teaching physical education from elementary school to high school.