Monday, January 16, 2012

Is Personal Training Really Dead?

A few months ago, a webinar was released with the provocative title that "Personal Training was Dead." It was hyped and marketed by the massess and I was intrigued to listen to it. I agreed and nodded my head several times during the audio session. There were some points that made sense and some points that I found were negotiable.

I went back to work the next day with my clients. My business is 90% one on one personal training--old school style. I instruct a Group Strength Class at my facility, but most of my income is dervied from one on one private sessions.

I am a big time reader. I read the news everyday. I read editorials from reporters, bloggers, and other professional fields. I am intrigued by the changing tide of society. I am the type of guy that listens to what others have to say about a subject and then voice my own. So when it comes to the present day condition of society and the way people act, I am usually intrigued. I am not sure if the poor economy is to blame for the downshift in society's behavior; or possibly the advances in technology; or simply poor parenting---but there is a definite increase in social awkwardness today in the US.

Believe it or not, society's behavior impacts a personal training business. But doesn't kill it.

Social media has definitively changed the way we communicate with each other. Chances are you are reading this post that was featured on Facebook or Twitter and it made you click on the link to get here. Face to face contact has diminished among the younger generation and technology has enabled us to simply text each other. Texting is the pedigree of our social awkwardness

What was once the epitome of socialization, going out to dinner with friends or family has become nothing more than a plethora of social awkwardness. You may have seen it at restaurants yourselves. A table for 4 or 6 and there is little to no socializing. Cell phones are in hand and texting or social networking are the dominate communicative force. 

Back to my topic of personal training. As a fitness professional, one of the aspects of my job is analyzing the behavior of a new client. Their behavior is greatly influenced by society. I have seen drastic changes in the behavior of my clients over the years. When I first started training, over 12 years ago, behavior was more challenging to "figure out". Sure, people were lazy then and not making enough time to exercise, but overall, socialization was not a profound red-flag. Twelve years ago, texting was non-existent and Facebook was figment of imagination. However, today is a different story. 

Today, society has 'classifications' for our awkwardness. We label each other or medical professionals easily diagnose us as depressed, anxious, bi-polar, and attention deficit. Society wants to be 'connected' to a disorder, disease, or injury. I have talked to many clients that can never stop reminding me every 5 minutes of their injury or disorder. 

They are afraid to lengthen the chain around their neck of a particular label! 

Working together in groups used to be a societal triumph. Today, working in groups is a novelty. Sad, but true. When you see a group of people interacting together or working towards a goal---it is a sight to see. Think about it...when you watch the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and witness the surmounting work--you are taken back emotionally at the sight of volunteerism. Seeing a large group of people participating in a single task or activity is a great feat of organization. 

However,  this is not the norm anymore. This is the exception of society. Sure, there are some instances where a bunch of people can be rounded up for a fundraiser, competition, or activity. But it is becoming increasingly difficult as society is changing. Today, individuals want to be left alone mostly. They want to figure things out themselves. People want to speak only when they have to. 

You either can see this shift happening, or you can't because you are contributing to it. This is why I don't believe personal training is dead. Based on the conversations I have had with past and current clients, and the ever-changing dynamics of society, we can probably expect private personal training to be around for at least a few more years. Why? Here are some examples:

1.) Social awkwardness is becoming more and more mainstream. Especially among youngsters, you will find that there is a lost component of communicating with others.

2.) Society doesn't like taking 'orders' in groups. Coaching one on one enables a trainer to connect with a client on a more intimate basis.

3.) Some clients are uncomfortable working out among others. This has been around for ages. Group exercise instructors have had a keen eye to identify who they will see or not see again in their classes. 

4.) People prefer making small connections rather than larger connections due to inhibited communicating through social networking. Businesses will email workers, friends and family connect through Facebook, and texting is used more than phone calls. There is a lack of skill development among the 20-40 year old crowds; and although they know they should exercise for better health, private coaching is preferred.

5.) Large groups overwhelm people. Again, the older one becomes, the less intrigued they are at working in groups. 

This is not to say that group strength classes or bootcamps will not prevail in fitness. They have a vital place in any business, as well as helping society get back to its basics. However, creating a provocative title simply to get your attention is not well though out. Before making such a statement,  there should be an awareness of direction that society is going. You cannot scream fire in a packed movie theater. Therefore, you have to understand the dynamics of society to understand where your clients come from. If you understand how society is evolving (positively or negatively); you will be able to curtail your business, niche, or market to accommodate these changes. In conclusion, personal training is not dead. If marketed correctly and results are delivered, it will thrive as well as it did in the early 2000s.


  1. Interesting post. The webinar that you mention was created and marketed to sell their Group Training System.
    My business is split 60Group/40Individual/partner.

    Two distinct client bases. Our Therapy patients transition to Post-Rehab and "Fitness". With 60+ y.o. also thriving in one on one. While our Group Training "classes" (4-10 people) have people from their 20' through 55 y.o.

    I think the point is that you ned to know your strengths and the capabilities of your team and cater to that AND the clients best interest.

    Developing a system that allows people to interact is vital for IFS's success. We call it the "Circle of Influence".

    I wll write a post about it and tag you in it (awkwardly). :)

  2. @Rob: Thanks for reading. I really believe one on one will never die. I am finding with my GPC, that I am coaching them to be "strong" mentally--which beckons me to think they are coming in with a weak sense of placement in this world.

    @jonesy: thanks brotha!!

  3. Excellent post john! Despite the rise of group training, quality one to one coaching will never go away. People and athletes alike need training that is tailored to their unique needs some people understand this better than others or take a long time to come to this realisation.

  4. Department of Labor. Future in fitness looks good, 29% growth through 2118.

  5. Good points all around John. I agree with you that 1:1 will never die- there are other reasons for it too: the social awkwardness of being in the gym when you have no idea what you are doing, when you are overweight and don't want people looking at you, if you have health problems and want to get healthy, but you have (for example) rods in your back, arthritis and XYZitis, group fitness and group training classes just might not cut it for you. These groups need more personalized service and attention, as they should. People like myself train people in their homes, and there IS a market for that; lots of people don't want a group setting or to feel intimidated by a gym, and that social awkwardness plays a role there. As you stated - people CRAVE social interaction and with today's lack of face to face interaction, situations that used to be slightly intimidating for some can now seem downright threatening.

    Great post, will be happy to share!

  6. Awesome response Angela!! I didn't even touch upon in--home training. That is still a thriving practice!

  7. Hi John your article is very timely as i am contemplating making switch to group transformation arena after giving it a lot of thought. i would still ask my clients to do one on one with me for a limited period before i ask them to make the switch over to the mini group format so everyone is on the same page in terms of technique, execution timing etc. training is a touch business & elite coaches like you are needed to probe & steer this industry in the right direction. cheers sham

  8. Thansk Sham! I am doing my best to steer young minds!

  9. Hi John,

    Great points throughout!

    One can’t beat a personal training in a private or one-on-one session! One has 100% of the focus & accountability of their trainer and a program that is specifically designed for oneself.

    I always look forward to reading through your blog posts. Keep sharing :)

    - Rick Kaselj
    Exercises For Injuries


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