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5 Reasons the Group Class Might not be the Best thing for Fitness

Posted by: Emily Beers

Our founder Greg Glassman started out as a personal trainer.  He was big into personal relationships, getting to know his clients as people, and training them individually to get them as fit as possible.

Somewhere along the way, though, our community moved away from the one-on-one training experience in favour of group classes.

It’s think it’s quite obvious why we did it: First, it’s more affordable for the client to pay $150 to $200 a month than it is to pay $75 to $100 per one-hour session. Second, the coach only has so many hours in the day and grouping people together means he can train more people in one hour.

Don’t get me wrong, group classes are great: They’re fun and social and build a community atmosphere, and allow us to push ourselves against others. I, too, love a good sweat fest with a group of athletes. I do not think we should stop offering group classes.

But I do think not offering, and not pushing clients toward at least some personal training, has its negative consequences.

I have been coaching for six years—both group classes and personal training clients—and some of the issues I see with a purely group class business is as follows:

1. People don’t get as fit as they could

2. Misses out on the personal training market of individuals

3. Relationships suffer

4. Money is left on the table

5. A belief that “CrossFit is so expensive”

1. People don’t get as fit as they could

When a new person comes through our doors, we know they need attention. A lot of it. Many affiliates do personal training for new members, or small groups at the very least, because they know the new athlete will benefit from having eyes on them at all times. 

One the other side of the spectrum are the elite athletes. Regional and Games-level athletes know the value of one-on-one attention, and today many of them work with personal coaches, specialty coaches and programmers, who write them individual training plans, and work with them in a hands-on way on the more technical aspects of their sport. 

But in the middle of these two extremes fall the masses. The majority of CrossFit athletes are lifestyle athletes who have been doing CrossFit for six months to six years. These are the predominantly group class athletes, who are getting lost in the shuffle. Being in the group all the time means they’re not getting enough one-on-one attention, as the coach of the class is often forced to devote most of his energy to the more inexperienced athletes. They’re also not usually the ones hiring an Olympic lifting or gymnastics coach, or following an individualized weakness program on top of the workout of the day, because they haven’t been educated to see the value in one-on-one training; they’ve been educated to believe in the power of the group class.

2. Misses out on the personal training market of individuals

The system at my gym is to put a new athlete through 10-15 personal training sessions and then graduate him/her into group classes. This seems to work seamlessly for 50% to 60% of our athletes. Usually, the most successful ones are the ones who are incredibly motivated and committed. And often these people just can't afford to pay for more personal training. But the other 40% to 50% don’t make the transition as easily. They were committed when they dropped $835 on their initial personal training, but the moment they get to class they start making excuses for their absence. Often they’re scared and intimidated, and other times they just miss the one-on-one attention they received in personal training. 

My strategy used to be to do all I could to convince these clients to show up to the classes. Sometimes it worked for a few weeks, or even a month or two, but usually these clients ended up quitting.  

But in the last year or so, instead of fighting the inevitable, I’ve tried a different approach: I've tried to turn these clients into permanent personal training clients. It has worked well for nearly everyone: Recently, one of my clients expressed to me that he just doesn’t enjoy the group classes. When he was going through personal training, he never missed a session, never cancelled on me. And we had so much fun training him. He gave classes a solid effort for a couple months, but he missed personal training. He said he got more out of it and it helped him stay committed, as he wasn't going to bail from an $85-an-hour appointment. Now, he’s back in personal training, and back to being committed. He comes twice a week, and we’re able to slowly build his strength an skills in a much more individualized way than group classes do.

I look back to all the clients I’ve lost through the years—to all those who simply who didn’t make the successful jump to group classes—and think about how many of them I could have saved.

There is a whole market of people out there who are googling “personal training” and are willing—even eager—to pay $100 an hour to attend a personal training studio. If our community starts capturing this market a little—this market of individuals who feel a sense of pride in hiring a personal training—it will be a win for us all.

3. Relationships suffer

Often what happens when I graduate my clients from personal training to group classes is they start coming to classes that work with their schedule. I coach in the early mornings, and sometimes they decide the 11 am or 6 pm class works better for them. Suddenly, instead of seeing them two or three times a week in a personal one-on-one environment, I run into them once every three weeks. The connection I developed with them during personal training starts to become severed, and so does loyalty. When a client like this quits, their notice often comes in the form of an e-mail telling me to stop their membership the following day (smiley face). I’m embarrassed to admit a client has quit on me like that, but it has happened more than once, and when it does, I always know I let them down as their coach. I know that if I was truly making a difference in their lives, they would show me more respect than an informal e-mail telling me to stop payment. 

This is never the case with my personal training clients.

With these guys, I know what’s going on in their lives, know when their wives become pregnant, know when they quit their job to start their own business. These are the clients who invite me to their 50th birthday parties, the ones who bring me referrals and Christmas presents, the ones I feel are truly benefiting from my coaching; they’re the ones I have the real relationships and friendships with. I’m as interested in them as people as I am in getting them fit. They’re the loyal ones, who never quit, and if they ever did, their notice wouldn’t come in the form of stop payment e-mail. But so far, I have never lost a personal training client. They might take a hiatus from time-to-time for one reason or another, but they always come back. 

4. Money is left on the table

This is an easy one. Group class memberships cost approximately $150 to $200 a month. Personal training usually costs between $75 to $100 an hour. 100 group class clients gets you $20,000 a month. 30 personal training clients at $85 a session for an average of 2.5 sessions a week gets you $25,500. I think most coaches can agree we’d rather have 30 incredibly committed, loyal clients, than 100 flakey ones.

5. A belief that “CrossFit is so expensive

Because our culture as a whole is based on group classes, non-CrossFit athletes often compare a CrossFit membership to a globo gym. And when you compare these two memberships, paying $200 a month for CrossFit is considerably more expensive than $40 a month to go to GoodLife Fitness. Of course, we know that this is comparing apples and oranges, but those who have never done CrossFit don’t know this.

What if, though, a CrossFit membership cost $400-$500 a month and included group classes once or twice a week, and personal training once or twice a week. What if our culture was compared to a personal training studio, as opposed to the local YMCA down the street?

I think we’re closer to a personal training studio than a YMCA, in terms of the value we offer to our clients, don’t you?

When a new member crunched the numbers, he/she would see that CrossFit is a steal at $400 a month, compared to a personal training studio, where clients easily pay $800 to $1,000 a month. Suddenly we’d have a different situation on our hands. Instead of trying to convince people to pay $200 a month to replace their globo gym membership, now we’re more affordable than our personal training studio competition.

Final Words:

I love sweating with others as much as the next CrossFit athlete. After six years of CrossFit, I still hit workouts with a group once or twice a week. But I also believe a system with more individualized coaching and programming would help all parties involved and leads to a community where:  

1. The masses are more fit 

2. Those who google “personal training” join CrossFit instead!

3. Client retention is better

4. Coaches have better relationships with their clients

5. Coach and affiliate revenue is higher 

6. The world doesn’t see CrossFit as too expensive


More lives are changed.



Posted by Emily Beers on

Emily Beers, hailing from Vancouver, crosses bridges by being not only a CrossFit athlete, but also a journalist. She has been a regular contributor to the CrossFit Journal since 2011. She qualified and competed at her first CrossFit Games as an individual athlete in 2014.

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