The future of the fitness industry is specialist: why your gym’s fitness instructors need more than just the standard qualifications.

The future of the fitness industry is specialist: why your gym’s fitness instructors need more than just the standard qualifications

With the number of UK fitness members exceeding 9 million for the first time last year, as well as there being a 5.3% rise in total memberships, and the total market value for the industry being estimated at around £4.4 billion (source: 2016 State of the UK Fitness Industry report), it should come as no surprise that the fitness industry has become more demanding than ever.

Attracting and keeping fitness enthusiasts can be hard work in what is a very competitive market, but for those that do it right, there’s some big money at stake!

Put simply, the new wave of gym bunnies is no longer happy with a few running machines and a bench press; they want exciting workouts which are focused on new skills, team work, martial arts, or dance.

Some of these workouts are branded, like CrossFit or Zumba; others have developed from trends, such as Spinning, HIIT, Circuit Training and Boxercise (to name just a few). But despite their differences, one thing remains constant; gymgoers now expect a range of classes taught at the highest standard, and this brings with it the need for your instructors to be qualified in their chosen specialisms.

So, why has the trend for more variation and more specialist workouts developed so rapidly? It’s clear that Instagram and other popular social media networks have been a key driver, and this is due to the increase in fitness influencers using these platforms to share their tips and progress.

As a result, the knowledge of your typical gymgoer is a lot higher than it used to be, and your trainers’ qualifications really need to reflect this.

Tommy Wilkes, a Senior Trainer at Matt Roberts London, says: “There is an increasing prevalence of individuals exercising with specific requirements. These may vary from structural or mechanical issues, to pregnancy or medical requirements. We have seen a growth in the appreciation within society of the benefits that exercise can deliver to these specific needs.”

“With more access to information through online platforms, clients are aware that they should be doing particular training and not ‘cookie cut’ workouts. This creates opportunities in the industry for anyone with a unique specialisation who can offer a personalised approach tailored to each individual and their needs.”

Amanda Sterczyk of Amanda Sterczyk Fitness, feels that life experience as just as important as qualifications when it comes to offering a personalised service to your gym members. She says “I’m a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, though this is my third career. I have many class participants and private clients who tell me they appreciate that I understand what it’s like to be injured. As I’m also nearing 50 years old, they also like that I’m older and can adjust the class or workout based on how individuals are responding.

“In my opinion, this has to do with life experience. Younger instructors are just as qualified from a technical perspective, but they may not take the time to explain modifications or have the in-depth knowledge to adjust a class based on people’s pre-existing conditions, muscular imbalances, or injuries. How you work out at 20 is different than how you work out at 50 or 70 years of age.”

Josh Douglas-Walton, Content Marketing Executive at HFE, adds: “With regards to key areas that PTs can specialise in, serving special populations is really top of the list. So those with disabilities, pre and postnatal women, and older adults are three groups that all could be better served by the fitness industry as a whole. It’s something we focus on with our qualifications, empowering PTs to work with a wider client base and really help those who need it. Every week there are studies published extolling the virtues and health benefits of exercise so it makes sense that trainers, who are often see as experts in their field, should be at the forefront of helping more people exercise.”

However, it’s also important to remember that certain trainers may require personal liability insurance when leading specialist classes, as well as being covered by your club’s basic insurance. Therefore, you should make sure you check this before widening your scope!

So, what do the qualification boards say when it comes to specialist fitness qualifications?

Paul Swainson, Head of Personal Training at Future Fit, says: “With more and more trainers to choose from, gym members can afford to be more selective with who they work with and will seek those that offer a solution to their specific goal backed by expert experience, knowledge and skills.”

“A key advantage it will offer PTs to be specialist trainers is that they will stand out to potential clients that are looking for a solution to a specific ‘problem’; for example, how to reduce body fat, run faster, or build muscle. They could specialise in a specific method of training, but it will be more effective to focus on a particular type of client with a specific goal.”

“So, qualifications such as Exercise Referral, Level 4 Low Back Pain, or Sports Conditioning will better prepare you to work with your target market.”

Michelle Bailey, Director and Internal Quality Assurer at Fit4Training, says: “In our opinion, ‘specialist qualifications’ should no longer be considered ‘specialist’. In today’s UK, it is the norm to work with people who have specific needs. So, gaining knowledge in those specific areas should be ‘a given’ for any PT serious about their occupation.”

“Having good knowledge about subjects ranging from specific medical conditions to mobility, through to learning about different exercise modalities, will help that trainer open up their audience, whilst simultaneously offering them the opportunity to create ‘niches’ within their locality.”

Clubbercise also offers more specialist training for their fitness instructors and personal trainers. Their founder, Claire Burlison Green, says: “Clubbercise essentially provides an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution for PTs and Fitness Instructors. They receive pre-choreographed dance fitness routines, tried and tested music playlists, and ongoing marketing support. They also have an experienced Mentor on call to help them build a successful Clubbercise business.”

“In 3 years since launching, we have trained over 2,000 instructors in the UK alone.”

Mark Moon, of Mark Moon Fitness, adds: “Great instructors and trainers need the full package if they want to last the test of time and survive in this industry for the long term. Having a qualification is one thing, however, the people skills, the personal passion for what you do, and the ability to empathize with your client base is what will keep your clients coming back.”

With that in mind, when it comes to having the edge on your competition, it will all come down to the wants and needs of your customers, and how you go about acknowledging them. For example, with a bad review easily being posted online (which can make or break your club’s reputation), your customer service really needs to be second to none!

This not only involves your trainers being qualified in their specialist disciplines, but realising that most gymgoers don’t want a great body for summer; they want a lifestyle change. Enter the need for variety in their workouts, as well as a personalised service. Basically, try to get to know your customers, and structure their workouts accordingly.

It’s also important to realise that with 9-5 working being the norm for many individuals, your opening hours need to cater to this need. When it comes to incorporating a healthier lifestyle change into an already hectic routine, you’re going to want to maximise what you get from your workouts. Therefore, your gym should offer as much flexibility as possible.

Not only that, but business owners need to justify their costs more than ever; this makes it even more vital that you provide a great service.

Nonetheless, as well as hiring the fitness trainers that have the best experience and qualifications for their area of expertise, it’s also important to get their names out there!

It’s not unheard of for people to choose gyms for their trainers, so ensuring yours have a good social media presence is a good first step. After all, social media profiles can act almost as an online CV that displays their results, and they can even use their accounts to promote your gym or sports club.

Social media also provides a great opportunity for your trainers to get their personalities across while interacting with both current and potential members of your gym. This increases their likability factor, which will give them the potential to bring in new members.

Matt Swierzynski, Personal Trainer at Matt Swaz Fitness, says: “Social media is a great tool for helping PTs and gyms to promote specialist training in many ways, including the use of YouTube videos, and Facebook Live to demonstrate exercises and correct techniques. For instance, on a YouTube video we could demonstrate exercises to help with correct postural rehabilitation.”

Don Bacchi, Owner and Director of Onfit Training College, also adds that passion is important, and this is something that can be conveyed by a Personal Trainer’s attitude in the gym, as well as what they post on social media. He says: “We’ve spoken with hundreds of employers within the fitness industry, and the number one thing they are always looking for is passion. I think it really comes down to the fact that passion shows in everything that a PT does, from their studies when they first get qualified, to their day-to-day client interaction, and then with their development as a trainer in the long term.

“Having that underlying care factor and drive means that a PT with passion isn’t just ticking boxes; they are striving for and doing their very best. It’s particularly important with word of mouth and client referrals being such an important aspect of a Personal Trainer’s business. When a PT is listening to their clients and giving them the attention and care they need in each and every session, that passion shows and is the key to having a successful career and business in the long run.”

So, whether you love social media or not, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon, as well as ensuring your fitness trainers have as many specialist qualifications as possible!

Useful resources

Want to find out more about specialist fitness qualifications? Check out the resources below: