Semi-private: Are you doing it wrong?

November 3, 2015

Semi-private training is growing in popularity in the fitness industry, with more personal trainers moving towards this model.  And it’s easy to see why, as there a several pros to the model, a few headline ones being…

>> Better results for the client.

With 1-2-1 coaching, the relationship eventually crushes the training.  1-2-1 can be invaluable for beginners or injured folk, but most of the rest of us simply don’t need it.  (We might want it, that’s different.)

>> More fun, for both the client and trainer

We’ve always trained in groups.  At school, in teams and at clubs.  The only time that there has been the exception is when we have been injured or been naughty.

>> More flexibility, for both trainer and client.

The best trainers are fully booked with clients.  Fully booked trainers can’t offer flexibility.  Having two or three slots open per hour means that people can move around if they need to.

>> A more sustainable business model for the trainer.

You’ll charge less than you would for 1-2-1, but the fact that you can train more clients in the same hour, means that you’ll earn more.  Cheaper and more flexible for the client, more profitable for the trainer; everybody is happy.

>> Opportunity to attract a broader range of clients.

If you’ve been doing 1-2-1, you can continue to offer this.  Adding semi-private training options just means that you can appeal to different people and budgets.

There are more, but that should be enough to make the case for shifting to a semi-private model.

That said, semi-private is a whole different animal to 1-2-1 training and the vast majority of personal trainers are, in all honesty, making a bit of a hash out of it.  It just isn’t being delivered well on the whole.

Here’s the five biggest mistakes I see personal trainers making with semi-private training.

1. They treat it like small group training.

Semi-private training isn’t simply more expensive small group training.  I get the appeal of picking four ‘idiot proof’ exercises and beasting people, chucking in some fist pumps and the odd woo-whoo, but thats not what it’s about.  Semi-Private training is personalised programmes, delivered in a group setting.  It’s still personal training.  This means that your two, three or four people are all following individualised programmes, but you coach them in the same hour.  Too many trainers are not doing this and are trying to mask the fact that the training is shit by turning the session into a circus act, and trying to justify this citing it as an example of culture or community.

2. They didn’t first get good at training one person at a time.

Semi-private, done properly, is undoubtedly better for both trainer and client, but it is a lot tougher to deliver than 1-2-1 training.  It’s not the easy ride that many ‘fitness business’ folk will have you believe.  It’s pretty obvious, but training two or three people at once is much tougher than looking after one.  You need to know you shit from a training perspective, you need to be a solid communicator and you need to be seriously organised.  All of our W10 trainers have been trainers in bigger gyms, delivering hundreds of 1-2-1 training sessions before they come to work for us.  This is why they are now good semi-private coaches.  Too many coaches are going the semi-private route too early, which is a mistake in my view.  Semi-private is a fantastic model done well, but it is the quickest way to fuck up your business if you get it wrong.

3. Their systems are shite.

Systems are everything if you want to scale.  I’ve learned this the hard way over the last couple of years and I’ve worked my arse off to get the ‘off the floor’ side of our business up to par.  A successful semi-private model will bring more people through your door each week, at a pace that is relentless compared with a 1-2-1.  If I use W10 as an example, it is not uncommon for one of our coaches to be back to back with clients from 6am to 1pm, with two or three people in each hour, which means they’ll typically see 15-20 people in a training block (shift) – as many as some personal trainers see each week.  And we typically have three coaches on the floor at any one time, so you need to be organised.  (Hence we are gyms are designed specifically around our particular programming and set up).  In order for us to make this work, we have to have solid systems to make sure that we don’t drop the ball.  This includes things like the booking system, financial admin, client updates, team meetings, daily/weekly/monthly checklists, nutritional coaching, monthly check-ins, health and safety and so on.  Solid systems allow you to focus on training.

4. They think its all about the training.

People want good training – and the results that come with it – but they also expect the overall experience to be ‘user-friendly’.  It’s a given that your training product will be good, thats what you do, right?  Right?  Thats the minimum expectation.  But it’s also about the systems and and the overall training environment.  As a client, I want the place to be clean.  I want to be able to book easily.  I want to be surrounded by like-minded members.  I wan’t the trainers to be knowledgeable, but equally to have some banter and a sense of humour.  I don’t want any cock-ups with my monthly payments.  And  I want the music to be half-decent.  It’s a bit like going to a restaurant with a reputation for good food.  You expect the food to be good, but you also expect the service to be in keeping, the washrooms to be clean and tidy and the general ambiance to be right.  The quality of training is obviously huge, but so are all of the other things that need to go with it.  Overflowing towel bins, stinking training shoe shelves, dirty sinks and stale environments simply won’t cut it.  You should leave all of that to the CrossFit crowd [insert emoji wink face].

5. They’re too purist.

Not sure where the quote came from – Thom Plummer, I think – but it basically says something along the lines of, ‘purists are designed to be broke and lonely’.  I can vouch for that.  It’s a complete waste of time and energy and only serves to get in your way.  I also always recall an interview I read with Dave Tate of Elite FTS, where he said, ‘the bigger you get, the more you sell out’.  And the  Jay-Z song Moment of Clarity, where he goes on about dumbing down his lyrics to make it more mainstream and appealing to the masses, as opposed to worrying about what the other ‘cooler kids’ in the industry might think.  Hence why he’s sold a shit-load of records.  Now I appreciate that this is three people, but based on our sample data of three, I’d roll with thee message, as they’re all hugely successful in the fields.  The point is that our job as trainers is to reach and help as many people as possible, and our often purist approach to fitness it what gets in the (our) way.  I’m not suggesting that we all ditch our principles and start adopting the latest quick selling fad – the three previously mentioned certainly haven’t – but we have to meet people were they’re at.  Which is rarely our perfect vision of training and programming.  Ignore what the onlookers and casual observers might say, and just concentrate on what’s best for you and for serving your fitness tribe.