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Group Exercise versus Personal Training

School Of Personal Training Posted Jan 24, 2017 Future Fit Training

Comparing group exercise classes and personal training is a difficult endeavour for a whole host of reasons. The main reason it's so difficult is the difference in quality that you can get with both personal trainers and group exercise class instructors.

Group Exercise versus Personal Training

There is a belief that personal trainers are more knowledgeable because the barrier for entry is higher, in the UK you need to be REPs Level 3 to become a personal trainer but only Level 2 to become a group exercise instructor.

This means that on the surface a personal trainer would be better at their job, and that they would get better results for their clients. Sadly, a lot of personal training courses last less than 2 months. A brand new trainer could walk out of one of those courses knowing next to nothing about how to train clients properly. Whereas a group exercise instructor might have 20 years experience in the industry and be a qualified nutritionist.

But, that does not mean that we can't have a fair and balanced argument about which form of exercise instruction is superior, whilst taking an in-depth look at the pros and cons of each.

Group Exercise Pros

One of the biggest benefits that a well-run group exercise class has is that it can create a community feel. You'll often find classes that have had the same 10 members for years on end, and that the members form friendships outside of the class. This can happen in personal training too, but it is rare and much harder to achieve. Small group personal training places a large emphasis on community building and this is becoming a much more common.

Building a community is both beneficial to the instructor and to the members, it's the reason why gym members drop out after 4 weeks every February whilst sports clubs have lifetime members. People like the social side of training and it helps keep people attending long after they would have if on their own.

An obvious bonus is also cost, most personal training sessions cost between £30-50 per hour whilst an exercise class usually costs £5 or comes free with a gym membership. This means that for £50 you could receive 10 hours of exercise class compared to between 1 and 2 hours of personal training.

A well run exercise class can also have a higher intensity than personal training sessions, there tends to be 5 minutes of talk at the beginning of the class followed by 55 minutes of exercise with no fluff. Compared to a personal training session, where the client (or trainer) has a lot more opportunity to interact with each other - which can lead to gossiping away 15 minutes of the hour.

Possibly one of the best benefits that nobody ever mentions is that if you get a class that you don't enjoy (maybe because you don't like the instructor, or the type of exercise) you can usually leave very easily. Compare this to personal training where you are sometimes stuck with a trainer you don't like for weeks at a time thanks to block booking sessions.

Group Exercise Cons

Sadly there are also a lot of downsides to group exercise, usually related to the fact that classes are by necessity quite large. This means that you will get no special treatment from a trainer, if your squat form is poor it is unlikely that an instructor is going to be able to spend the time correcting you. This can lead to injuries down the line, and many a personal trainer has had to completely re-teach certain exercises once their client has transferred over from a class.

Another issue is with the programmes themselves, some are designed to be high intensity circuits. But this doesn't suit many people, it also takes emphasis away from strength training and places it on cardio conditioning. This means that most would not get the physique they want from the class.

Group exercise can also alienate the very fit and the very unfit. Of course an instructor can progress and regress most exercises, but there comes a time where someone who has been doing the class for a year is going to find it difficult to stay challenged.

This can be even worse for the very unfit, people who don't know how to perform exercises at all and would really benefit from a one-to-one session. They're also unlikely to last an hour, but might feel self-conscious about leaving early.

Then there is the fact that a lot of the instructors just aren't as knowledgeable as personal trainers (again though, this is not the case for all). Group exercise is a highly specialised field, but none of the instructors will be given proper nutrition advice. So a group exercise member won't be learning what to eat for weight loss, or any of the other factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

At best you can expect a printed out sheet of A4 that lists some pretty obvious rules to follow, and will not be in any way specific to the clients' unique goals.

Personal Training Pros

The main benefit to having a personal trainer is that each hours session is completely specific to the client. A good trainer will be able to give them a long term plan, and help them follow it. The client will learn how to exercise properly on their own, whilst also getting a high intensity session with their coach.

Personal training is about quality not quantity, and the goal of most good trainers is to give their clients independence. Technique can be evaluated properly, and the trainer has time to teach the client where they are going wrong and how they can fix it. If a client cannot perform an exercise, the trainer can simply swap it for another exercise or regress it until the client can manage it.

Good trainers will also build an excellent relationship with their clients, something that a group exercise instructor may never manage. This means that they will be able to change a program to fit into a client's lifestyle, will also find unique ways to motivate their clients, and build a fantastic working relationship with them.

Personal Training Cons

The main downside to personal training is the gulf in standards between the top 10% of trainers and the bottom 30-40%. The average personal trainer will only be in the industry for a year or so before quitting, which means that a lot of trainers out there will have less than a year's experience. No matter how smart the trainer is having less than a year's experience means that they won't be a master of their craft.

This means that the client might be spending £30-50 on a trainer that doesn't really know what they are doing. In which case all the benefits mentioned above might not exist. The trainer might not know how to help their client properly, as they only started the job yesterday.

The number one problem with personal training though, has very little to do with the trainers. It's to do with the clients. If a client does not have the motivation or the discipline to train week-in, week-out, eat correctly, and be patient then the best trainer in the world cannot help them. Sadly there are some clients there who feel that throwing money at the problem will solve it for them, but are then surprised that the act of hiring a trainer alone didn't get them the weight loss they desired. Our Behaviour Change Coaching course is a solution to this problem,


In a head to head battle where money is not a factor personal training is a better choice. But if money really isn't an issue then clients might consider combining both! You could have 2 strength sessions with a personal trainer and then add in a cardio class with a group exercise instructor. Perfect.

If you are getting a personal trainer then do your research, see what qualifications the trainer has, what experience, you should be able to try a taster session to see if you work well with the PT. Same with group classes.

The main point to take home though is this: If you are not prepared to work hard, make changes to your lifestyle, and stay motivated for 6-12 months at least, then you won't get results from either. However if you can do this, then you will find amazing results whichever option you pick. 

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