Incorporating Strength Training into Group Fitness
Many group fitness instructors don’t train their clients in a weight room because they aren’t sure how to organize the workout for multiple people. Others use the weight room, but don’t really have a systemic approach to strength training, so they end up putting their clients through the same circuit every day.
I used to be one of these people. I thought I needed to keep everyone moving the entire time. I didn’t want them feeling like they were standing around not working.
I made a few changes in my training programming and told my clients that two days out of the week we are going to do more of a strength based workout that would be different than our normal metabolic conditioning workouts. Most of my clients come 2-3 days a week, and when I told them about the plan, every one of them starting attending at least one of the strength training days and one of the metabolic conditioning days. They loved it.
My clients are mostly women in their 30’s and 40’s and have typically never really gone through a true strength-training workout. They were used to just going through body weight exercises, using battling ropes, med balls, and going through a circuit on some machines (not just with me but in their past training experiences as well). Needless to say, this was a big change for them.
I found that using tri-sets works best in a group atmosphere. I give them three exercises and explain the rep ranges and how many sets they need to complete. We typically have less than 15 clients per class, so this is easily accomplished.
If you have more, you can still take advantage of tri-sets as long as you’re extremely organized. You’ll also want to progress with your exercise selection slowly from beginner to more complex, so not everyone will be doing the same exact exercises. Some people will be doing more advanced versions and others will be doing less complex variations.
We always start with a warm up consisting of jogging, push-ups, body-weight squats/lunges, shoulder rotations, etc. After that, I break the group into sub-groups of 2-3 (I prefer having partners so it’s a you-go-I-go pace) and break those groups into a lower body group, upper body group, and shoulder/functional group (if necessary). For the number of reps, I give them a range to shoot for such as 10-15 or 8-12. I explain that they need to pick weights that allow them to complete the lowest number but they should not be able to do more than the highest number. If they can’t get to the lowest number, they decrease the weight (this rarely happens if you help them choose the weight). If they hit the highest number they will go up in weight the next set.
Here is an example day of splitting the group into a lower body and upper body group:
Leg Press or Squats 10-15 reps
Leg Curl or Ball Leg Curl 8-12 reps
1-Leg Glute Bridge 10-15 reps
Incline DB Chest Press or Push-Ups 8-12 reps
Pulldown 10-15 reps
Dumbbell Curl & Press 10-15 reps
Some days I will throw in a “conditioner” in with the upper body sets such as battling ropes, burpees, med ball slams, etc. Here is an example of how I would do this:
Trap Bar Squat 3 x 8-10 (last set so as many as possible with great technique)
Good Mornings 3 x 8-10
Reverse Lunges 3 x 8-10 each leg
Bench Press 3 x 8-10 (last set do as many as possible with great technique)
Machine or DB Row 3 x 8-10
Med Ball Slam 3 x 15
Curl and Press 3 x 10-15
Side Raise 3 x 10-15
Burpees 3 x 10
There will be a point where you will have to give different options for some exercises. Some clients may have an injury that doesn’t allow them to perform certain lifts. You may also have clients who are beginners while some others are more advanced. For example, a beginner may not be ready to perform the Trap Bar Squat so you can tell her to perform body weight squats or goblet squats, while the advanced lifters would do Trap Bar Squat.
I hope this helps you incorporate more strength training into your group programs. I have found that my clients really enjoy the different approach and they have made tremendous progress in a short time. As you begin to implement these ideas, you will find ways to make it work for your situation and equipment. There are endless variations and exercises that can be used, so have some fun with the program design and teach your clients the basics of strength training progression in a group atmosphere.
Frank Wozny BS, CSCS – Frank graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Kinesiology, is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and is a co-founder of UltimateStrengthAndConditioning. He has contributed a number of articles and videos online and works with top-level athletes every day. Frank is also responsible for many business-related aspects of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI and is the Director of their Fitness Revolution program. He is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Physical Education.