gym owner

Gym Owner Debate: Start With Personal Training Or Direct-To-Class?

As a gym owner, where do you stand on onboarding members with personal training versus direct-to-class? Today, we're looking at pros and cons on both sides!

Emily Beers
May 2, 2023
Gym Owner Debate: Start With Personal Training Or Direct-To-Class?
As a gym owner, where do you stand on onboarding members with personal training versus direct-to-class? Today, we're looking at pros and cons on both sides!

This month on the PushPress blog, it’s the great gym owner debate! We’re having some fun discussing topics where fitness business owners traditionally vary in viewpoints. We invite you to check out each days’ topic, then join the conversation in the PushPress Facebook community!

When someone joins your gym, the first 90 days are a critical time. You want to build a strong foundation and lay the groundwork for an unforgettable member experience.

So when it comes to an onboarding process, what’s the best route? Some gym owners send new clients directly to class. Others start with personal training. And then there’s the group onramp approach.

Gym owner options for best onboarding method

Oftentimes, each gym owner will have data or strong reasoning to back up their choice. Today, we’re using that information to show you the most popular options. That way, you can choose the method that’s right for your unique gym.

The Top Three Onboarding Options:

1. Personal Training First.

Personal training with a coach is arguably the most personalized option for a new client. With this approach, a coach can truly take the time to connect with, and help, each member. This can mean analyzing strengths and weaknesses, injury history, movement limitations, nutrition and more.

Not only is this great for accountability, it’s especially comforting for a new client that’s intimidated or hesitant about the gym environment. Personal training prepares them for the class setting and builds a great connection.

For the gym owner, this creates loyal clients for the long term, increasing gym retention and ARM (average revenue per member).

Although there are quite a few pros to the PT-first model, there are some cons as well. First, price can be a prohibitive factor, especially for someone who’s price-shopping. Without fully knowing the difference between what your gym and a globo-gym offer, the starting price could be limiting.

Second, without the right scheduling tools, organizing the personal training calendar can be tough. As a result, your client may not get into a great rhythm like they would with specific class times.

Pro Tip: Use PushPress Appointments to schedule personal training and other appointments quickly and seamlessly! Book a demo with our team today to find out more!

Third, PT-first can sometimes lead to trainer-dependent clients who simply don’t want to go to group classes. When it’s time to graduate into classes, they’re resistant to the new lack of personalization and accountability.

Finally, personal training can sometimes be tough to scale. More clients means more time commitment from you and coaches. This can sometimes lead to gym owner burnout, and prevent you from working on the business, versus in it.

Personal training helps new gym members get acclimated comfortably
Personal training helps new gym members get acclimated comfortably.

2. Group Fundamentals.

Group fundamentals takes the PT-first mentality and applies it to a small group. So one coach is leading several clients through the onboarding process at once.

It’s a great option to introduce new members to the vibe of working out in a smaller group. Then, “graduating” into the full class setting doesn’t seem as intimidating.

Organizing gym onboarding for small groups can also help coaches to avoid scheduling overwhelm. In addition, it’s the “happy medium” for increasing ARM while not requiring clients to pay personal training fees to get started.

Looking at the cons of group fundamentals, timing can be a limiting factor. Generally, there’s a start and end date for the program. So you can end up with a bottleneck of new enrollments who have to wait for the next session to begin. The last thing you want is for someone to join the gym down the road because yours doesn’t offer an option to start for three more weeks.

Another timing-related struggle is choosing a specific day and time that works for multiple people. This is compared to personal training, where only the coach and client are comparing schedules.

Another potential con for group training is that participants may not get as much individualized, one-on-one coaching. Especially for beginners, the group setting is simply less personal and possibly more intimidating.

Finally, as a result of living in an instant-gratification society, clients often have unrealistic expectations. A four- to six-week foundations course may not be enough time for significant physical changes. As the gym owner, set expectations early. This helps clients’ confidence and makes them want to transition to classes after onboarding.

3. Direct-To-Class.

Even though sending a new person directly into class is likely the most cost-effective option for them, that doesn’t always mean it’s best for the gym.

For those with experience, and maybe coming from another gym, it’s an easy transition into your classes. For example, a new CrossFit member who’s already completed onboarding at another gym is probably good to go. In this instance, a gym owner could essentially add quite a few members to the gym community without the extra front-end work.

Direct to class is a good option for experienced members
Direct to class is a good option for experienced gym members.

On the other hadn't, many people need a lot more attention than a direct-to-class method will provide. So for this group, getting them to show up or stick around might be more difficult than for others.

Ultimately, churn is an important gym metric, and will correlate to the onboarding method you choose. Statistically, sending inexperienced people straight to class can lead to higher churn rates. So even though it might be the easiest way to get them in the door, if you lose them out the other end, is it worth it?

Further, clients who haven’t been properly prepared for group classes can be more prone to injury. Which could, in turn, mean even higher churn numbers.

In Summary: The Best Onramp Route For A Gym Owner

When it comes to onboarding a new member at your gym, each gym owner should choose an option that lays the best foundation. From personal training to direct-to-class, focus on what’s best for your members and your business.

Each option has pros and cons, for both parties. Consider things like cost, scheduling and overall member experience as you choose the best method at your gym.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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