Group Training Program Design

Group Training Program Design: Setting Up your Clients for Success (Part 1)

This is a 3-part series on Group Training to help ensure your (and your clients) long-term success.

Hi my name is Ryan and I am a programming addict…VPS-ETW-headshots-v1-1-300x288

If there was a group for program jumpers and people that are willing to try just about anything at the drop of a hat then I would not only be a member, but the President as well.

There’s something about writing training programs and testing out new ideas that gets me really excited. It’s always been that way for me, and I fight it in my own training day in and day out – because there’s always a better program out there for me!

I learn something each time I write a program or review a program from another coach. Usually I don’t recognize it until I have been through the program myself or seen a few people go through it but there is always something to learn and find ways to make it better.

Good news though…

…most of your clients only need to get the basics in for them to get good results, and honestly they can get amazing results if you get their program 80% right.

Because, let’s face it, if they were on their own they wouldn’t be doing the important stuff like squats, hinging, rowing or core work.   It would be a lot of treadmill running, elliptical using, pressing and sit ups.

But, before I get off on a tangent I want to give you a complete break down of group training program design. I’ve been thinking about how to organize this article for about a month now and it’s consumed my thoughts.

It was time to put it all together or let it fade away…I couldn’t let it fade away.

Group Training Program Design

I could give you a boatload of workouts to use in your group training programs, but they would be designed around what I thought your clients need and the equipment that I thought you had in your gym.

Doesn’t do you much good if all the pieces don’t fit, right?

That’s why in this article I am going to cover the principles of group training program design that will allow you to set up your own system or modify any programs that I give you in the future.

First let’s look at what we need to consider:

  • The size of your groups
  • The space you have
  • The equipment you have
  • The goal of your ideal client

If you can identify those things you will start to build the foundation of how you can design your group training workouts.

Now, let’s look at how you define group training…

What size group are you working with?

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Personally I think you can run group training with any number of people, but the thing that separates group training from personal training is the personalization of the programs. If you are writing unique programs for each of your clients in the group it’s personal training. If you are putting clients through a workout with the same sets, reps, rest, etc with some progressions to accommodate individual needs it is a group workout.

I have run personal training with up to 8 people at one time with me as the only coach. It wasn’t optimal but it also wasn’t group training. I have also run group workouts with just 4 people in them, which also wasn’t optimal and I needed to do a better job of marketing J

The size of your group will determine how you break the each of the workouts up to accommodate all of your clients. If you have a smaller number you may be able to have them all working on the same exercises/movements at one time, but if you have a large group set up with 20+ people it may be necessary to split them up into stations.

Identifying your group training numbers will help you determine how to structure your group training programs.

How big is it?

Do you have 1000 square feet or 4000 square feet.   The two programs I would write might look dramatically different in those two spaces, it might also dictate the size of my group.

You can run group workouts in just about any size space but knowing your limitations and the capacity of your group training program will help you determine the best training program set up for your clients.

What equipment do you have?

FR-Assets- (22)You can get by with anything, even a band and bodyweight set up, but knowing what you have to work with will help you structure your programs. When we get into the actual programming portion of this we will want to ensure that we are getting at least a 1:1 if not a 2:1 ration of pulling to pushing movements in your programs. Knowing what equipment allows you to perform those movements the easiest will help you determine how to layout the program.

The other often, missed factor in this is also the layout of your gym. I spent hours looking at and optimizing our group training area of the gym at Force Fitness. Figuring out where the ropes would be positioned, how to place our band anchors on the walls, where the suspension trainers would go, the area best suited for kettlebell training, how to flow of the program would work, where we could do our core movements and keeping an open space set up were all factors that I had to consider.

One of the best tips I could give a trainer looking to set up a training space is make sure it’s open and has some flexibility. You need to be able to have the option for people to move and do locomotion drills while also having some flexibility to change your set up as your training adapts and improves.

I learned that lesson the hard way!

The most important consideration…your client’s goals!

The best training program in the world doesn’t do you any good if it’s for the wrong type of client.

Make sure you know what your ideal client wants out of their training and build your program around it. This is where having an avatar is extremely useful.

You can ask yourself these questions to get you started:

  • If I could only work with one type of client for the rest of my career what is their goal?
  • What am I the absolute best at helping my clients achieve?
  • What gets me most excited when I talk to new clients about their goals?

Once you start getting some answers to those questions start thinking about getting into the details of your avatar. Give them a name, an age, an income, a job and write down the things they do for fun, talk about their family.

We have a profile of our avatar for VPS. I really hope it is has a lot in common with you J

Once you have your avatar everything else becomes easier.   Most of your clients will have similar goals and you will be able to structure your group training programs around those goals.

It allows you to be clear on who you are best at helping and if someone is a good fit for the program.

Are you a fat loss expert? If so then someone looking to get SWOLE probably isn’t a good fit for your group training programs.

This is incredibly important for group training since you need to be able to structure the program to help someone accomplish a goal and you can’t effectively help people with two extremely different goals.

Group Training Program Variable

Now that you have a solid idea of the foundation for your group training program let’s talk about the variables that go into a great group training program.

Frequency of Training

This is a variable that you only have a moderate amount of control over and that’s why I wanted to cover it first.

Many of these variables and how you program your group training workouts will be determined by the culture of your program.

    • Do you feel that your clients need 3+ days of training to get results?
    • Are you going to ask them to do training/exercise on their own?
  • What time do they have to commit to the program?

In an ideal situation would be able to deliver big results for a majority of people with 3 days of consistent training per week.   You can get good results with 2 days of training but 3 is optimal. Any more is just a bonus and is only required if you are an advanced trainee or have very specific goals. Consistency is key when it comes to your programming.

When structuring your group training programs you need to determine how many days you will be offering your group training and how your business model impacts the days available to train.

    • Do you allow for flexibility in scheduling?
  • Do you require set days of the week?

Again, in an ideal situation I would have clients pick the number of days and set a schedule for those days each week. There would be flexibility in your schedule to make up sessions if they needed to cancel based on availability in the other sessions.

For example, if I had a client that was scheduled to train 3 times per week on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings but needed to reschedule their Thursday session due to a meeting. I know I have 15 spots in each workout I offer through the week for group training. My Friday morning 6am is booked full but 7am has 5 spots available. I can let that individual move to the 7am Friday workout for this week to get in their 3 sessions.

This accomplishes a few things…

…first you can hold people accountable because you know when to expect them, second it allows you to be flexible and accommodate your clients without disrupting the service you provide to other clients, finally it’s just a good business move to make fitness easy for busy people.

Writing workouts for 5-6 days per week can be a challenge. It also isn’t needed unless you really like variety and that’s something your clients appreciate. However, the benefits from a progressive program can overcome any of the benefits that variety might bring to the table.

An ideal group training set up would be the following:

    • Workout A – Monday
    • Workout B – Tuesday/Wednesday
    • Workout B – Thursday/Friday
  • Workout D –Saturday

This is based on a group training program that had a majority of clients on an AM schedule of MWF or TRS, and evening schedule of MTR and a Saturday morning was treated as an open workout for anyone that missed or PT clients to get in some extra work.

This ensured that clients weren’t repeating workouts if they stuck to their schedule and if they needed to make up a workout the following day would be the same workout as the one they missed.

It’s not perfect but it worked.

Eventually we started preparing different workouts for each day to keep things fresh but it was more work for the coaches programming the group training workouts.

The other issue that would be presented in this set up would be those looking to train 4+ days per week, but those individuals were rare in my experience and if we did get them in our program we encouraged them to do personal training.


Intensity of your workouts can be managed through the work sets, recovery periods, density of the workout, time under tension, and total volume.

Some of those variables have cross over.

In the Group Training Cheat  Sheets you can find all the various group metabolic training program templates that I have used in the past.

It is valuable to categorize workouts into the training effect you want it to have:

    • Power
    • Strength
    • Hypertrophy
  • Endurance

These cover your four primary aspects of fitness you might want to train. It’s not all inclusive and there is some cross over into these as well. For fat loss clients, which just so happen to make up a majority of the clients, I wanted them spending most of their training time in the Strength and Hypertrophy areas.

Typically you would use rep ranges or total volume to dictate these training variables. However, in group training you often times see time being used which makes it a bit more challenging.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet:

    • Power = 10s or less of work time or 2-5 reps with a lighter load (60-70% 1RM or less)
    • Strength = 10-30s of work time or 1-5 reps with a heavier load (70%+ 1RM)
    • Hypertrophy = 20-40s of work time or 6-12 reps
  • Endurance = 40s+ work time or 12+ reps

That’s the quick and dirty look at it and it doesn’t consider your work time or any modifications to the program such as super setting or contrast training.

There are typically two types of hypertrophy training, functional and structural. Functional hypertrophy training (FHT) is on the lower end of the rep ranges, so say 6-8 reps. Structural hypertrophy training (SHT) is on the higher end of that rep range, so say from 8-12 reps.

If I was using time I would use FHT times of 20-30s and SHT times of 30-40s.

This is the sweet spot for timed group training programs in most cases. It allows you to focus on strength and hypertrophy which will lead to a higher caloric expenditure, you can perform these rep/time ranges with moderate weights and bodyweight movements that are typically used in group training, you can keep the rest periods shorter to keep clients moving and clients will feel like they are working.

When you get into the power phases or lower end of strength it can be challenging to get your clients to rest as much as needed to keep the workout effective and safe. Clients don’t like sitting around and often times they aren’t willing to push themselves to the level it takes to get the most out of power training.

That doesn’t mean you don’t train it, it just means that you can train it less frequently.

I have a solution for that as well 🙂

Endurance work is where people spend too much time already and often times your metabolic group training workouts, even in the shorter rep/time ranges end up being encourage or aerobic work due to short or negative rest periods.

Using rep ranges in your group training workouts is a bit more challenging but it can be done. I would use the same parameters but you need to focus on the total volume during the workout as well.

For instance a total volume for each training effect may be:

    • Power- less than 10 reps
    • Strength- 10-25reps
    • Hypertrophy- 30-60 reps
  • Endurance – 60+ reps

The 40-60 rep range is what I believe research has shown to be most effective for muscle gain. However, it’s tough to argue the results “tried and true” programs like 5×5 and other lower volume, higher intensity programs have produced in terms of hypertrophy.

Again, your sweet spot is program a balance of time spent in the 15-25 and 40-50 reps ranges to hit FHT and SHT.


There are two ways to look at time…

  • total time for the session
  • total time for the week.

You need to consider both, but only have full control over one, total for the session. If you know the number of days for optimal results you can set up your sessions based on the time you need with them over the course of the week to get those results. Typically I recommend 45-60 minute sessions. This ensures that you can get in soft tissue, mobility and some corrective work if needed as well as a solid training session, a possible finisher and some recovery work in at the end. It’s a lot to pack into a session, but it can be done.   Anything less than 45 minutes means you have to remove something from that list.

Longer than 60 minutes isn’t doable for most of your clients and it’s tough to structure your business model around 75 minutes sessions.

Not being able to fully control the number of days per week someone can or will attend your sessions gives you limited control over the total time per week, but you can suggest the recommended amount based on the goal for each client. Giving them the power to choose and decide if the sacrifices they need to make are worth the results they could get.

That being said, I will take a solid 90 minutes of productive training time each week from a client over 180 minutes of half-assed training time. It’s the quality that really matters not just the quantity. Giving your clients the opportunity to get in the training time needed to produce their desired outcome is what is important. I don’t think that’s an issue for most of you.

In Part 2 of this 3-Part Series we will cover the layout of your group training sessions and also the structure of your programming system so that you can start piecing this all together.

Keep Reading–> Part 2: Group Training Program Layout

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