Can Group Ex skills help your PT business?

What is the difference between group exercise and group personal training? And, asks Robin Glass, what can personal trainers learn from group exercise instructors?

Why are personal trainers allowed to train small groups without a group exercise qualification, when group exercise instructors cannot train individual clients?

Qualified personal trainers have been trained to work closely with, predominantly, individuals. Their Certificate IV qualification provides them with a more extensive training knowledge than the group exercise instructors, whose Certificate III in Fitness (specialising in group fitness) qualifications have taught them more specifically how to get groups of people moving safely and effectively, often to music.

A key word here is ‘safely’. While personal trainers possess a great range of skills, there is no denying that their specialty is in training one or two people at a time. For those trainers who wish to train groups of clients, would it not be advantageous for them to learn how to do so in a safe manner, akin to that practiced by group exercise instructors?

The difference between training one person and multiple people

The basic difference between training one person and training 6, 16 or 26 people, is what you know about your clients.

As a personal trainer you should know everything about your client’s health and fitness history, and their nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits. A group exercise instructor does not have this luxury, so must be able to adapt their class instruction to quickly meet a variety of needs.

Consider the following points when training small groups, in a personal training setting, or even when delivering a boot camp format.

  • Start with the lowest common denominator (LCD). Until you know more, it is safest to assume that everyone in the group has an injury, has low or high blood pressure, is inexperienced with exercise and is unfit. Start low to aim high.
  • Monitor your group closely. Constantly look at every individual in the group, and analyse what you see. Are they performing the exercises correctly? Has fatigue affected their performance? Are they struggling to keep up? Should they really be running, or would walking be more appropriate?
  • Adapt your instruction, and offer options to those who need them. Your session plan needs to have a Plan B and sometimes a Plan C for everything you prescribe – and that requires forethought, knowledge, flexibility and the skill to implement and change on the spot. For some clients performing 10 jacks in a row will be fine, whereas for others a lower number of repetitions will be more suitable. And for some, such moves would be inadvisable, prompting the need to offer an alternative exercise.

Evaluating exercise safety

Do you know the difference between a high impact move and a low impact move? You may think you do, but some movements that appear relatively low impact may not be. A ‘light jog’, for example, is a high impact move. Some people should not do – or are uncomfortable doing – high impact moves, which have greater risk associated with them.

Evaluating exercises is a great way for a fitness instructor to be safe and eliminate risk. Ask yourself these questions when prescribing exercises for your sessions:

  • Can the exercise cause joints to go beyond a safe range of motion?
  • Is the exercise executed at a safe speed or is it overly rapid, leading to loss of control?
  • Can the exercise create too much loading on a joint or muscle group?
  • Can the exercise place a muscle group or joint under sustained stress?
  • Is the exercise too repetitive?
  • Does the exercise or routine work one muscle group without working the opposing group?
  • Does the exercise work a muscle group other than the one intended?

Now evaluate the burpee using these questions and make a judgement as to whether it is an LCD exercise. Given how you answered, is the burpee an exercise you would ask every client in a group training session to perform?

Of course, if every exercise you prescribe is executed perfectly by every member of your group then you will never have a problem – but how likely is that to happen?

It is my belief that the safest group trainers are those who have qualifications in both personal training and group exercise. By undertaking some formal group exercise training, you can increase safety and enhance the effectiveness of your small group training sessions.


Robin Glass
Robin started her career in the fitness industry in 1992 when ‘aerobics’ was packing group exercise studios to the rafters. Gaining qualifications in gym instruction and personal training, she started working as a group exercise coach with Australian Institute of Fitness, WA, in 2000, and has since taught Certificate III and IV in Fitness. Robin is currently group exercise freestyle coach, and is on the Institute’s National Training Team Committee.