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Five essential skills to become a master group trainer
There’s a real buzz around group training at the moment. Look at the trend for ‘boutique’ studios and boot camp events and it’s clear that people love the social aspect of working out together. It’s great for clubs and trainers too, bringing opportunities for extra income.
We asked Tommy Matthews – Escape’s Head of Education – to share some of the techniques that he has found to work best in group training. As someone who has led group workouts around the world for more than a decade, there’s no-one better placed to provide some advice.
Tommy’s article includes the following:
Why you should become a competent group trainer.
Tips for preparing for group training sessions
How to get each session off to a great start.
Ten tips for being a superb communicator at group workouts.
Over to Tommy…
Why NOW is the time to become a great group trainer
There’s probably never been a better time to deliver group training. Sure, in the 1980s there was the big boom in aerobic classes, but I’d argue that today’s group training is much more exciting and much more effective.
The sheer variety of group training on offer is amazing. There are all kinds of new brands emerging, and many clubs are developing their own programming too.
If you haven’t developed your group training skills yet – or if this is an entirely new format for you – it’s time to take action. For personal trainers, the opportunities gained from becoming a master at group training are significant, from adding an extra revenue stream to bringing you into contact with more potential clients for your one-to-one sessions.
So here are some of the essential skills and processes that every group trainer should know about.
It starts with preparation
When you are fully prepared for the session it is much more likely to run smoothly. The preparation takes two main forms.
- The physical logistics. This includes things like being completely comfortable with the exercises that the workout will incorporate, and preparing the equipment, floor space and other facilities that will be needed. It also means knowing who will be participating, right down to their profile: strengths, weaknesses, abilities, previous or current injuries and work capacities
- Mental preparation. This should never be undervalued. Always make sure you schedule some time – even if it’s just a few minutes – to visualise how the session will go, and especially how you will interact with the class.
If you really want to be the best group trainer you can be, the amount of mental preparation you do could be the biggest single contributor. Many trainers turn up and hope that things go well: the great ones have already visualised things going well, and so they are more confident, relaxed and motivated. And that’s a state of mind that transfers over to their clients.
Open up the session with three amazing minutes
Once again, the key here is to put yourself in the participants’ shoes. They may be nervous and unsure about what’s ahead, and they will almost certainly be forming an opinion of you. The first three minutes or so are when you should address people’s worries and reassure them that they are in safe hands.
The preparation you’ve already done kicks in here. If you have rehearsed what you want to say to open up the session you will be better able to get the group’s full attention.
Shape your introduction to the group. If your clients are training for the first time let them know what is in store for them. Look out for their reactions, which will typically be a mixed response - excitement, trepidation and even fear wrapped into one - but you are aiming for a sense that they are looking forward to what’s ahead.
Once you have worked with the same group a couple of times you can get really personal and targeted with the introduction to each session. Think about their mental, emotional, psychological and physical conditions. Address these head-on with carefully chosen words.
At every session, welcome each client with a friendly ‘hello’ and their name. Be enthusiastic and give them a smile. Always ask them how they are and mean it; be interested in how they are feeling.
Keep things simple
As a qualified, experienced trainer you have a huge amount of knowledge stored away. You probably know ten or more tips for maintaining good form during a squat or kettlebell deadlift. In one-to-one sessions you have the luxury of time and the client’s full attention, so it is possible to get into technique in detail. But that isn’t the case in group sessions.
Let's imagine you have a new group in a room and are half-way through a HIIT session. Put yourself in the participants’ shoes: they will be tired, wondering if they can finish the workout and maybe having doubts about their ability.
Now let’s imagine you try to teach them how to squat, and you say something like: ‘Now I want you to squat with your feet turned out slightly and placed just a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Sit down to the floor, keeping your knees in line with your toes. Go to a full range of motion but don’t lose your lumbar spine, keep your spine in neutral, and squeeze your glutes as you stand up.’
That’s eight pieces of information for people to take in, understand and try to put together in a sequence. It’s too much for most people and is only going to lead to failure and frustration.
Of course, if your session is part of a programme in which you have already taught everyone how to squat properly things are different. But generally, a group workout itself is not the place to teach new skills – unless those skills are very simple to learn.
Be a great communicator
No matter how competent you are from a technical point of view, communication is what makes or breaks every group session. The way that you communicate with people on an individual level is crucial.
Ten great universal communication tips are:
- Make eye contact.
- Use a variety of expressions.
- Vary the tone and volume of your voice, but make sure everyone hears every word.
- Be a great listener.
- Show empathy.
- Cut out the ‘um’s and ah’s’.
- Be brief, but clear.
- If you don’t know an answer to a question don’t guess.
- Make sure your body language and facial expressions match what you say.
Have you ever filmed yourself leading a training session? If not, give it a go. It’s a great way to see yourself as others do and identify areas for improvement.
Do the follow-up
The end of a session is the ideal time to follow-up and get to know what your clients thought of the session. As a trainer you may have sessions back-to-back so a follow-up phone call, email or social media message will do the job nicely.
Remember too that group exercise is social and this extends online. Congratulate your clients and tell them they’ve done really well. Make sure you let them know when the next session is. You want to grow a group of clients that will keep coming back, so making them feel like a team is really important.
Now it’s over to you!
Ultimately, to become a respected and successful leader of group training sessions you need to bring your ‘A’ game: there is nowhere to hide, and you need to be committed and ready for anything!
Another important piece of the jigsaw is to have superb knowledge about the training tools you are using. Escape can help here: check out the large range of Product Training Workshops we offer, all of which are available on an in-club or online basis.