Debating how to run your fundamentals program? Debate no more…

One thing I have learned from 10 years of coaching is that many people don’t have an amazing Training IQ. Even after three years, there are folks who don’t understand the concepts some of the movements we teach, and some still struggle to figure out how much each bar weighs.

And I know this isn’t just the case in weed-smoking Vancouver. I have visited more than 40 gyms around North America and beyond in the last handful of years while on vacation or on work trips, where I have joined in on group classes. Everywhere I go, there are confused people lifting too heavy or too light, and who get that deer in headlights look when workouts are getting explained. And everywhere I go, these confused people cripple the group class, as the coach must cater to their confusion first and foremost.

Though we may never totally win the Training IQ battle, we can at least mitigate the damage it does on the group classes environment if we prepare our clients as best as possible. And I just don’t think this is possible unless we put out clients through one-on-one personal training for fundamentals.

Though we have long pushed personal training for fundamentals at MadLab School of Fitness, I did used to try some other methods over the years to save people money. I dabbled with 3-on-1s and 2-on-1s here and there, and was known to rush people to classes before they were ready to save them money.

To learn more about what the top 1 percent of gyms do to maximize revenue, keep clients for life and pay coaches a professional wage, DM MadLab Group on Facebook the code BEERS for a completely free video training series. ( 

Here’s what I noticed:

  1. 3-on-1s: Whenever I tried to save people money with small group personal training sessions, the same thing always happened: I would generally lose one of the three clients before even graduating them to classes (often due to scheduling. It’s pretty tough to coordinate three people’s schedules with your own). A second one of the three would usually start group classes but wouldn’t last even two months, while the third person often stuck around for a while. That being said, I never was able to build a relationship with any of the three, so even if one person lasted a year or more in class, there was no rapport between us.
  1. 2-on-1s: Same deal. One usually fell off before getting to group classes, while the other made it to classes, but never became a loyal client like my one-on-one clients.
  1. Rushing people to classes: When I rushed the process to save people money, they were always intimidated and scared in class, and ultimately stopped showing up pretty quickly. These people never stuck around! I managed to save one or two over the years by bringing them back to personal training (one in particular has become a solid one-on-one client, but he was so scarred from being ill-prepared in his first three months of group class that even now after 4 years he continues to pay for personal training and won’t touch a class. I love having him as a personal training client, but I lost way too many others due to rushing them to classes to save money).

What you can do in personal training that you can never do in a group:

  1. True Individual Assessment:

By nature of the beast, it’s hard to adequately assess people’s strengths and weaknesses in a group setting, let alone prescribe fixes for them. I think at this point we can all agree that some amount of individual prescription is necessary for our clients to see real fitness gains, stay injury-free and ultimately keep showing up to the gym, and it’s just not possible in a group. 

2. Physically prepare them for classes:

Our goal is for every single person who graduates to group classes to be aware of various numbers we use frequently in class, such as their 3RM back squat, 1RM deadlift, 1RM clean, 2 km row, 10-minute bike, to name a few. They’re also responsible to be aware of their limitations (for example, whether or not they have been cleared to lift a DB or barbell overhead), as well as the movements they should select in class. They also need to know what the “pre-requisites” are before they’re allowed to try the “next level” movement.

When everyone knows exactly what movements they’re going to select on any given day, and are hyper aware of their lifting numbers so they know what to do when we tell them to do 5 x 5 at 75% of their 3RM, classes can then run much more smoothly, and the coach is freed up to provide higher level coaching to the group. Everyone wins.

Again, I just don’t think achieving the latter is possible in a group fundamentals session with 6 to 8 people. It takes WAY too much time to drill these concepts and numbers into people’s heads—as well as a certain number of training sessions to establish these numbers—than you could ever get through in 8 fundamentals sessions with 8 people.

3. Emotionally Prepare them for Classes:

As I mentioned, the main reason I have noticed people fear group classes is because they’re unprepared physically. Now that they have been prepped physically to have success in class, they enter group classes confidently knowing they are ready to keep up. As a result, retention increases dramatically.

4. Rapport, rapport, rapport

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. People don’t BUY the workouts you’re giving them. They buy a SOLUTION to their PROBLEM. And how do you truly get to know people, in all of their struggles and pain, in a group setting? You don’t. It’s kind of like why dating is usually done in a one-on-one environment. Personal training is the best way to build a relationship—ideally a lasting, trusting one where you can actually help the person based on their needs, wants and goals, as opposed to offering a generic fitness plan in a group.

To learn more about what the top 1 percent of gyms do to maximize revenue, keep clients for life and pay coaches a professional wage, DM MadLab Group on Facebook the code BEERS for a completely free video training series. ( 

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment