The Future of Personal Training

Written by Dr. Lee Burton FMS

Is the fitness industry recession proof? Some industry leaders suggest that it is, but I tend to disagree. Statistics may bely my sentiment, but I strongly believe that fitness providers need to continue to develop new strategies for delivering services to the general population.

The industry’s numbers are overwhelmingly positive. IRHSA reports that American health clubs have added 10 million members since the start of the recession in 2007. There are now 54 millions Americans who belong to gyms. According to the Labor Department, the number of personal trainers grew by 44 percent, to 231,500 from 2001 to 2011, while the overall number of workers fell by 1 percent.

However, like any industry, the introduction of technology, trends, and market conditions have forced providers to become more adaptable and creative. More trainers means more competition. Innovations like ClassPass or Fitmob have made it easy for gym-goers to hand-pick classes from their favorite gyms, robbing gyms of the idle membership dues which have long supported some facilities.

I believe this is a good thing. It requires us to evolve. To reconsider. To improve.

One change that many industry experts expect is that small group classes and semi private training sessions will surpass revenue generated by one-on-one personal training sessions. Currently, only about 12.5% of gym-goers are taking advantage of training sessions.

Pete McCall told ACE that he believes small group training will replace one-on-one personal training as the primary method of how the club will deliver fitness services because group training is generally more economical, more social, more engaging and offers more options than one on one personal training.

Trainers shouldn’t view that as a threat, but as an opportunity. After all, if the market needs to correct so that training is more economically viable for clients that is a good thing. A training program that is economically unsustainable for the client is an unsustainable business strategy for the trainer.

In a recent post on, Gray Cook made a comment about the future of training:

"I think the trainer of the future won’t be so much counting repetitions or reminding people to book three appointments a week. They’ll be managing hundreds of people—some with only three visits a year, some with three visits a month and some with three visits a week—depending on what their financial ability, goals, needs and lifestyle."

This is not only realistic, it is aspirational. Even with hundreds of thousands of fitness professionals, we’ve barely made a dent in the growing obesity epidemic. What if, instead of relying on a client roll of 50, you were able to serve a group of 250?  Wouldn’t that make a huge difference in the health of your practice, your community and your country?

One product that has exploded in popularity are group fitness classes like boot camps. Studies suggest that the social component of group exercise programs increase the perceived value of the gym and aid in retention.

However, as FMS and SFMA providers know, increased activity without pre-participation screening can introduce new risks. FMS Certified trainer and instructor Mark Snow owns CrossFit Solaria in Omaha, NE and specializes in group fitness offerings.

“One issue with the explosion in popularity of boot camps is that so many people who are moving poorly are diving in and exacerbating injuries,” Snow says. ”You have one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas at the same time. That’s not good for the engine.”

One of the reasons that we developed the FMS was to provide a scalable platform to manage large populations responsibly.

Steve Long, proprietor of the Smart Group Training System, has found a way to incorporate the FMS in his group workouts. The focus is twofold: eliminating harmful movements and programming corrective work into active rest periods.

Related: Learn more about the Smart Group Training System

“The biggest thing is to make sure that people stop doing exercises or actions that could make it worse,” says Long, “Then we give them a corrective exercise strategy to correct the pattern. We find the weakest link on the FMS Hierarchy and attack that pattern with corrective exercise. We have the client do 1 or 2 exercises. Those exercises should be done pre workout, during the workout, and 1-2 times per day outside of training sessions."

According to Long, the results are significant.

“They blast through plateaus. Clearing movement dysfunctions allows the clients to do things they couldn’t do before, it keeps them injury free, and a lot of times takes people out of a “high threshold life” which lowers cortisol and helps with fat loss. Moving good and feeling good are huge for general population, and the FMS helps us with that.”

The future of fitness looks bright. Increasing public awareness about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle will continue to bolster the industry as the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 31% growth in jobs by 2020. Opportunities will abound, but they will be especially kind to those who innovate and adapt.

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  • author

    Brian L. Schwager 8/14/2015 2:44:00 PM

    I couldn't agree more, I have been saying this for the past 10 years. The difference between the fitness industry now and 5 years from now will based on an increase of both knowledge and hands on application to various evaluations, assessment and screens. Based on the changing needs of the consumer, the current challenge the fitness industry faces are working with those people who unknowingly have mechanical dysfunction. Not to mention a host of biological dysfunction which are a by product of the musculoskeletal imbalances they present. So what is the fitness industry going to have to do, start implementing FMS and/or SFMA strategies into the equations. In my facility 95% of the people coming in just for fitness training have demonstrated not only movement restrictions and imbalances, but all of them have had sensory motor amnesia to the inner unit (deep core musculature) and were displaying prime mover compensation. Both the FMS and SFMA have provided me with key elements that have greatly improved my strategies to assist my all my clients. I have been in the health and fitness industry for over 33 years and the time has come to enhance the trainers education and hands on knowledge with assessment and screening tools. Functional Movement Systems have these tools are are leading the way into the future of fitness!

  • author

    Jess Mather 8/19/2015 8:24:03 PM

    So, so excited to be a fitness professional during this monumental growth in the industry! Great article!

  • author

    Lovisa Karlsson 6/20/2016 2:45:14 PM

    Personal training is evolving to reflect new client expectations. It is easy to think that personal training can make for a stable and long-lasting career. Great Article.