One of the most important characteristics that separate the great trainers from just the good ones is the ability to understand what's really working and to project the fitness trends to come in the months and year ahead. To remain competitive in an industry where there is no shortage of competition, it is essential to position yourself in your customers' minds by staying ahead of market trends. Therefore, paying attention to the approaches that are being reinvented, the trends that are still popular and the latest ideas and methods in personal training, group fitness classes and with special populations can put you ahead of the curve, indeed placing you in the same class as other great trainers.


Following the Trends

            For the most educated projections, it is logical to look to industry leaders who work hands-on training their trainers as well as their own clients. The common threads throughout are a focus on small group personal training, aging and kids fitness. Private attention given in a small group setting is something everyone enjoys, regardless of age or ability. Our clients want privacy, but yet, they enjoy the support from a group of people like them. In addition, people are also giving more consideration to real goals as they integrate fitness into their lives. Setting a purpose and creating a focus has led our success-oriented, competitive society to seek team sports, fun runs and other competitions as a finish line for their conditioning. Furthermore, more and more clients see fitness as a way to express themselves. As fitness professionals, we have our adult clients participating in activities they may not have done in 20 years, such as jumping rope or running an obstacle course. Our clients, in fact, enjoy the nostalgia as well as the way it makes them feel engaging once again in such activities.
            According to Jay Blahnik, spokesperson and education consultant for Nautilus, he foresees a bigger emphasis on coaching for sports and events and finds that personal trainers and group fitness instructors are conducting more goal-oriented training. Today, there is more focus on running programs, classes and sessions geared toward learning how to jog, play soccer or ride a bike. Rather than simply training people for fitness, clients now want to prepare for a 100-mile charity bike ride or a community three-mile fun run.
            However, this trend of goal-orientated and activity-based training is not just a US trend; it is also quite apparent to our Canadian friends up north. In fact, Peter Twist, former strength and conditioning coach for the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, reports that an emphasis on appropriate exercise selections for sport-specific performance is of great interest to both personal trainers and group exercisers alike. Personal trainers, around the ' globe, desperately want more information on usable and innovative drills and unique exercise prescription techniques to enhance their clients' programs and lives. Furthermore, he also observes that people are interested in focusing on some of the secondary characteristics of fitness like "agility and balance" as well.
            Even as new and exciting fitness trends overtake our clients' and the industry's attention, according to Keli Roberts, IDEA International Fitness Instructor of the Year, the role of personal training is only just beginning to evolve. "Personal training is definitely growing and will continue to do so based on demand and the aging demographic. As our population ages, we will see more elderly people with the means to live a long and active life who will demand the best personal training has to offer!" In fact, this population wants to be able to golf, play with their grandchildren and age slowly, and it is the personal trainer that can help this population maintain a quality life, for longer. Furthermore, Keli also believes "the customization trend we see in so many consumer goods, from cars to computers, drives personal training. Personal training allows the client to have a customized program." And from a trainer's point of view, this customization is driving the trend towards functional training with tools such as medicine balls, agility ladders, Kettlebells, BOSU Ballast Balls and Gliding discs. This wide range of tools provides trainers the options to customize, progress and vary their clients' programs, and as a result, trainers will see a growth in their business, especially by targeting older populations. In fact, this very trend of customization, according to Peter Twist, is driving the use of reasonably priced equipment, in a variety of fashions, eliminating the need for access to a gym.

Setting Up Camp

            As you can see, the industry, as observed previously in the article by fitness experts Jay, Peter and Keli, is beginning to lean toward programs that involve all ages and levels of exercisers as well as those that can work in both small personal training studio settings and expansive multi-function facility environments. As a result, boot camp programs are springing up at every club and at every fitness level to meet these increasing needs. In fact, coaches are sending entire teams to boot camp programs, and local area gyms are booming with their boot camp programs — with the 9:30 AM sessions packed with soccer moms and the 4:00 PM sessions filled with pee-wee hockey players and mite-level soccer kids. The boot camp paradigm is based upon a set of drills that motivate clients to move from machine to machine and exercise to exercise. The equipment varies from barbells, tubing and stability balls to balance boards, BOSUs and vibration machines. Sometimes, circuits on machines are created, while in other programs, outdoor running, jumping and sprinting routines are incorporated. However, the use of a variety of equipment in formats that provide diversity and a focus on athletic performance remains the same.

The Small Group Phenomenon

            Additionally, small group training — in pairs or groups of no more than eight — is also on the rise. Training in groups of four allows a better usage of a personal trainer's time while accommodating tighter budgets. Furthermore, individuals use small group personal training as a way to bond with close friends and loved ones, therefore, saving clients money and bringing them closer together. In essence, kids can exercise along with their parents; best buds can challenge each other to achieve greater workout rewards; and rather than each client having to pay $80 per session, now, each client pays only $45 — the client saves, and the trainer earns. Additionally, the spirit of competition between clients can encourage better performance, which can increase fat loss, improve athletic performance and enhance muscle development.
            Tricia Murphy, founder and CEO of Urban Striptease Aerobics and educational manager for SCW Fitness Education, agrees that small group personal training is the way to go. And in addition to these traditional small group programs, she has also observed the emergence of dance-style classes and programs, like Urban Striptease, Zumba and Pole Dancing. Just as people clamor for small group training in private settings, they also enjoy public displays of sensuality and fun. These types of workouts typically attract clients that want to express themselves but don't have a dance outlet available to do so. This new aerobic-style trend is crossing all age barriers, proving that people are not only looking for fitness but also to be sexy while doing it as well.

Capitalizing on Specialty Training

            Small group training programs can, in fact, span all age groups. According to Cammy Dennis, who specializes in youth fitness, kids are very much like seniors in that these two distinct age groups are the most appreciative and responsive clients that she has ever found. These two groups love to attend their class, whether in a private or large group setting, and are committed to the activity, regardless of weather, club environment or time of day. And more importantly, they are willing to try new equipment and experiment with new programming. So, if you are excited about testing an exercise apparatus or a special class, these are the groups to try it out on as they are willing and able. If it works for them, it can usually be evolved into a "mass" program for the general public.
            The number of health club members has increased by 63% since 2003 (according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)), indicating that fitness centers are a vital source of external motivation and social interaction. Looking into the fitness crystal ball for 2008, I would say that it is full of opposites: train kids and seniors alike; focus on personal training in small groups; and look into programs that let the inner you out!
            Sara Kooperman, JD, is the owner of SCW Fitness Education, the founder of the MANIA Fitness Instructor training conventions and the CEO of Les Mills Midwest. Sara appears frequently on CNN as a health and fitness expert and is a former lecturer for the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. For more information,