Semi-Private Training

Group_Personal_Training_at_a_GymLast week, we did a lot of talk about online training and coaching. If you missed those posts simply click here, here, and here.

When I decided to open a gym, I chose semi-private training because I think it blends the best of both worlds.

In a semi-private environment, you provide awesome training for your clients and athletes, while allowing you to leverage your time as a trainer.

And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? A win-win for both parties?

But if I left the post at that, it wouldn’t be very compelling!

Let’s dig a bit deeper as to why Bill and I chose to employ a semi-private training model at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST), and why it may be a great fit for you as well.

WHY Semi-Private Training

There are at least four reasons we chose to use a semi-private training model at IFAST, or why you might chose to use a semi-private model when opening your own gym:

  1. Better results for the client,
  2. Help more people and make more money,
  3. Attract more affluent/recession-proof customers and Build a more stable business model, and possibly
  4. Develop an additional revenue stream.

Let’s look at each in a bit more depth.

Better Results for the Client

Any time that a client starts getting coaching, you can expect an immediate improvement in results.

The simple fact that someone is holding them accountable and coaching them on a regular basis is going to make a huge impact on their performance.

It would be similar to someone that never works out starting a new training regimen. They should really expect massive progress, especially early on!

This is also true if someone upgrades from a large group to small group environment. The bottom line is if you’re one of 2-4 you’re going to get more time and attention than if you’re one of 10, 15 or 20!

Help More People AND Make More Money

I got started in this industry because I wanted to help people get leaner, stronger and more athletic. But once you open a business, you realize that if you don’t make money and turn a profit, you’re not going to be helping people for long!

So this idea of semi-private training was really attractive to me. It not only allowed me to help more people, but to make more money as a business as well.

When I worked in a 1-on-1 in-home environment, I was really limited in both capacities. A typical workday could look something like this:

Yes, I really got up at 4:45 EVERY day…

4:45 am – Wake up, shower, and eat

5:40 am – Leave for first client

6:00 am – First client, drive to second client

7:10 am – Second client, drive to third client

8:30 – Third client, drive to fourth client

10:00 – Fourth client, and then break for lunch, coffee, whatever

1:00 pm – Fifth client, and then 1-hour break

3:00 pm – Work at high school for 2 hours

5:30 – Final client, drive home

As you can see, not only was my earning power tied to the amount of hours I could physically work, but I also lost time while driving to boot!

(Side note: If you ever do this listen to audiotapes/audiobooks. I promise I got a ridiculous education by making my drive time “learning time.”)

In a semi-private environment, the clients are sharing the cost of the coaches hour. In turn they pay a fraction of the cost of a 1-on-1 session, with negligble decreases in the level of coaching they actually receive.

So this is a big win for the client, as they are getting a high-level service without the high-level price tag.

Let’s have fun with math here…

If you currently charge $100/hour for a 1-on-1, you can receive a maximum of $100 for that hour.

But let’s say you run semi-private and want to crush it, so you charge what amounts to $40 per hour.

If you have three clients in that hour, you’ve already increased your earning capacity 20%. And if you can add a fourth, you’ve now gone from $100/hour (your “max” 1-on-1 rate) to $160/hour (your “max” semi-private rate)!

Not a bad bump in pay, if you ask me 😉

Quite simply, you can increase your earning potential to a huge degree by switching to a semi-private model.

Not to mention the fact that unless you work in a very wealthy area of the world (or have an amazing network of wealthy people in your local area), there are a lot more potential clients willing to pay $40 per hour for your service than $100.

Attract More Affluent Customers and Build a More Stable Business Model

If your primary business model is based around bootcamps or large group training, you know there can be massive swings in your revenues on a month-to-month basis.

When you move to a higher-tier service such as semi-private training, you immediately plug yourself into a more affluent customer base.

Doing this allows you to have a more predictable business on a month-to-month basis, and you don’t have to worry about your customers defecting in droves if there’s a downturn in the economy.

Quite simply, people that are plugged into a semi-private training environment are typically more stable financially then those in a bootcamp environment, and thus a better long-term client for your fitness business.

Develop an Additional Revenue Stream

Last but not least, whether you’re currently offering 1-on-1 personal training or large group training in your business, throwing in a semi-private offering can really help you diversify your offering and client base.

If you offer bootcamp, there are always clients who want a higher-end service. They want more time, attention, customization, etc.

On the other hand, if you offer exclusively 1-on-1, that’s going to price you out of a large section of the market. A lower-end offering (via semi-private training) will allow you to net more customers and expose yourself to a different demographic.

So we’ve covered a lot of the reasons I like semi-private training. Now let’s talk about some of the business lessons I’ve learned over the years while running IFAST.

The Business of Semi-Private Training

Hire an Admin ASAP

This is a tip I took from Alwyn Cosgrove, and it makes perfect sense.

Let’s say you’re on the floor and crushing it with clients. You’ve filled a lot of your busy time slots (6, 7, 8 am; 5, 6, 7 pm) and you’re really rocking and rolling.

The downside to this? Who is answering your phone to talk to new leads?

Who is scheduling your clients for their next session?

All of these little things are important. A rock-star admin can literally help you grow our business overnight.

At IFAST, we’re lucky to have the one and only Kirsten. I feel it’s no coincidence that since we brought Kirsten on here at IFAST, we’ve had not one of our best months but several in succession.

The experience is everything
The experience is everything

So much of what we do as trainers and coaches isn’t even about training – it’s about the experience we provide to our clients. How we make them feel.

Having an admin that smiles to greet your clients, knows what’s going on in their life, and tells them to have a great day on their way out the door is worth their weight in gold.

The bottom line? Do what you do best. If you’re a trainer, train and coach people up. And find a rock star admin that believes in what you do to help you grow your business.

Use EFT from the Start

I talked about this in the online training posts last week as well, but using electronic funds transfer (or EFT) is a must for most fitness businesses.

Now I know some people don’t use this, but I think they’re the exception versus the rule.

And I will tell you this – any time we’ve made an exception (letting someone pay by cash or check on a month-to-month basis), is when we’ve had issues.

At this point, new member at IFAST really have two choices:

  1. Pay on a month-to-month basis via EFT, or
  2. Pay in full via cash or check for your contract.

I’m sure it sounds harsh, but four years into this journey I know that we have rules for a reason. When I break those rules, I always end up wishing I hadn’t.

Think Like a Business

This is a big one, especially when you’re getting started. But I want you to do this little exercise.

Imagine you are 5, 10 or 15 years down the line and you’ve totally removed yourself from the business. How will you ensure that it’s running the way you want?

That it’s an accurate reflection of how it would look if you were there every day?

And there’s only one right answer here: You build systems for everything.

In our case, we have a written procedure manual for everything we do, from cleaning the bathrooms to answering the phone.

We’ve done much the same with our coaching as well. Every employee at IFAST has gone through our internship process (16-weeks in full) to learn our training and coaching system.

The bottom line is if you want a scalable business, you have to develop systems and procedures for everything you do.

And trust me, it’s better to do it earlier than later. Once you’re busy, the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is write up a procedure manual!

Go Guerilla with Your Marketing

Marketing may be the biggest issue when it comes to small fitness businesses. After all, we got into this industry to help train and coach people.

GUERILLA marketing – not GORILLA!

Who wants to talk about marketing campaigns?

QR codes?

Or autoresponder sequences?

Unfortunatley, the second we open our doors as a fitness business, we’re also in charge of marketing our fitness business.

And as much as I love word of mouth referrals, that doesn’t constitute a marketing strategy!

When you’re getting started, don’t feel as though you have to break the bank with your marketing plan. When we started IFAST, Bill and I did a lot of little things but blogging was actually one of our best friends.

Another simple tactic is social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter. This is a great “soft” marketing strategy, especially if you’re providing content via a blog, newsletter, etc.

Last but not least, if you’re totally uncomfortable marketing yourself, pair up with an expert. Find someone local who you can barter training sessions with, and have them develop your marketing program/system for you.

This is another way you can leverage your time and services, while getting an expert in their respective field to help you build your business.

So there are some big takeaways from the business side of semi-private training. Now let’s finish with the part that I’m most passionate about, which is the programming and coaching side of the equation!

Programming and Coaching in Semi-Private

Get good at coaching ONE person first

As great a model as semi-private training is from a business perspective, no one ever said it was easy from a coaching perspective.

Is it more profitable for you? Absolutely.

Is it more affordable for the client? Absolutely.

But is it easier on you as a coach? HELL NO!

When you’re working with two, three or four clients at a time, you’re going to work hard. It’s a better, more effective model, but you still have to work.

Former IFAST intern Sean Griffin coaching

With that being said, before you jump head first into a semi-private model, get good at coaching one person first. In fact, I tell a lot of my interns when they’re done at IFAST to go out and work in a 1-on-1 environment at a big box gym.

“But Mike, you hate big box gyms. Why would you do that to your poor interns?”

It’s a great question, and there’s two reasons I recommend this option:

  1. To develop their own philosophy, and get time working with their own clients, and
  2. To develop their sales skills.

When I was doing in-home training, I worked with an incredibly successful businessman. This guy probably owned at least 20 (or more) apartment complexes in Indiana and Texas.

He gave me one really sound piece of advice:

“Make your mistakes on somebody else’s nickel whenever you can.”

Don’t open a semi-private gym Day 1, only to realize you don’t have the coaching or selling chops to make it work.

Instead, work in an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. Hone your skills, and then when you outgrow that situation, take the plunge and open your own space.

I’m a little off track here, but just realize if you want to be good at coaching a small group of people, it pays dividends to be great at coaching one person first.

Create templates for EVERYTHING

This is a huge game changer. People always want to know how custom our “custom” programs are at IFAST.

And they are absolutely customized – to an extent.

Let me explain…

While every client you encounter wants to think they are this special and unique flower, the fact of the matter is we human beings have a tendency to fall into predictable patterns.

So while there are absolutely different programs and templates for different people, that doesn’t mean each client or athlete’s program is a Mona Lisa.

In fact, I’d say the lower or more entry-level the client is, the more generic the program needs to be!

So many of our clients have the same needs now that they had 10 years ago.

They need mobility and stability in the right areas.

They need more anterior core, glute, hamstring, and upper back strength.

They need to develop their energy systems in an appropriate manner.

It drives me nuts a little bit, because we spend so much time arguing about tedious bullshit, that we miss the fact that most people just need to hammer the basics.

So develop a handful of templates and use those time and again. From that template, simply customize and tweak it to the individual client or athlete.

Don’t make things harder than they need to be. There’s a time and place for that, but for 80-90% of your training population, develop a strong movement foundation and master the basics first.

Until then, don’t pass go and do not collect $200.

Progressions and Regressions, Blah, Blah, Blah

You know how I know when you’re tired of hearing me talk about something?

When I’M tired of hearing myself talk about it!

Here’s the jist of this, though: Just like you shouldn’t treat every program like a Van Gogh or Monet painting, you shouldn’t make every progression and regression an exercise in creative thinking.

Five years ago I sat down and developed all of my progressions and regressions for all of the big movement patterns (quad dominant, hip dominant, vertical pull, etc.).

This way, if someone is absolutely crushing it on a particular experience, I know exactly what exercise is next in the progression.

And if someone is struggling to make it happen, we can simply bump them back a notch or two to put them in a more successful environment.

This is really critical in fast-paced semi-private environment. If you have to stop and think about every progression and regression you use while coaching a handful of clients or athletes you’re really going to struggle.

And keep in mind, these things aren’t set in stone, either. In fact, I’ve recently gone back to tweak and refine my progressions and regressions based on new things I’ve learned over the past 2-3 years.

This is a never-ending practice, but one that will be incredibly valuable for the entirety of your coaching career.

Find the Easy Exercises

As a powerlifter, I love the back squat.

Seriously, I love it. I wish everyone could squat below parallel with perfect technique.

And my early programs reflected that.

Oh you’re an athlete? Let’s back squat.

You want to build muscle? Sweet, let’s back squat.

Oh you don’t like to squat? No worries – now shut up and squat.

I think some would refer to this as fitting the round peg into the square hole!

When I moved into a semi-private environment, I learned really quickly this didn’t work. You have to fit the exercise to the person, not vice versa.

In a small group setting, you have to be able to coach numerous people at once. To do this, you need to pick exercises that not only help build patterns, but that are also easy to coach and intuitive to a new client.

goblet squat
The goblet squat

Even if you’re a rock star at coaching the back squat, it’s going to take some time.

On the other hand, I can teach someone a goblet squat or plate squat in a fraction of the time. They’re just easier movements to grasp, and a heckuva lot harder to screw up!

Furthermore, I’m an even bigger believer and proponent in movement quality now than ever before. If I can give someone an exercise that they can learn quickly, perform with proficiency, and it’s going to help build a solid movement foundation going forward, I’m all for it.

I could go on and on about how to program and coach more effectively in a semi-private setting, but hopefully the tips above help you streamline your approach. After all, the more streamlined and efficient you are, the better results both you and your clients will get.


So there you have it – why I opened a semi-private facility, along with some business and coaching tips to help you grow your business.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, so hopefully this post will help you avoid some of them!

The PT Amplified System

And if you want a detailed system for how to build a semi-private business, I can’t recommend highly enough the PT Amplified program brought to you by Pat Rigsby and his crew.

This program will take you step-by-step through the process of building your semi-private training business, and it’s something I wish I would’ve had when I started.

Last but not least, if you enjoyed this post, please help me out by sharing it with your friends on Facebook, letting your people on Twitter know it’s here, or simply passing the link along to a friend who may open a fitness business in the future.

All the best


P.S. – The PT Amplified system is only sale for $100 off through this Friday, so make sure you pick up your copy ASAP!


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    • Thanks Shannan! I’ve been through the ringer and made a lot of mistakes. Hopefully others will learn from my mistakes and be even more successful as a result!

  1. Mike, any chance you would be willing to share your progressions/regressions of each movement pattern. you know what they say about reinventing the wheel…I have the ultimate program builder but feel like it has very limited choices in several exercises. most of them too advanced for the elderly and deconditioned population I work with

  2. Thank you for this post Mike. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read, anywhere, for a long time because you’ve really shared what you’ve learned. I’ve been a little on the fence re. Semi-private but this has convinced me to go for it. That and the fact that I’ve been using bootcamp in a box for the last 4 months and it is just amazing.

    Stacia, if you want regressions and progressions, then I can’t recommend Bootcamp In A Box highly enough. It’s awesome and my early morning group clients are all absolutely crushing it! Totally revolutionised my coaching and forced me to simplify and drill the movement basics.

  3. Hi Mike, I am finding it hard to connect to the PT Amplified link on your page. Could you please send me another avenue? I have also googled it as well and cannot find it through there either

    • I honestly don’t know – certain products that I’ve created for other companies/businesses have been removed over the years 🙁

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