Why Training In a Group Gives You Leverage

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Today’s guest post comes with impeccable timing.

Since I left Cressey Sports Performance a few weeks ago and started arm wrestling tanks working with people out of a small studio space in Boston (Run Strong Studio), I’ve switched gears a bit professionally reverting back to my roots focusing on semi-private training.

CSP has used the semi-private model from its inception back in 2007, and I’m very familiar with it, but it’s been a while since I’ve attempted to utilize it in a solo fashion.

There are several large commercial gyms in the area where I live (and now work) and none – to my knowledge – offer semi-private training to a high degree. Well, a few offer some low brow “conditioning classes” which, lets be honest, is code speak for “lets see how many burpees we can do in 30 minutes before your spine tells you to go fuck yourself.”

1-2 gyms offer semi-private strength training – one trainer, several clients, glitter paint, shit gets crazy – but because people in this area have been conditioned to think one-on-one training is the only way to do things (and that it’s safer1), it’s a novelty that hasn’t gained much traction.

Which is unfortunate because – while a bit biased – I feel it’s one of the best ways to introduce people into fitness, serving as a metaphorical festoon to improved health and overall sense of badassery.


1. Affordability – not many people can routinely afford paying a personal trainer for one-on-one services. Of course this is contingent on where someone lives. What you pay a trainer in NYC (a metric shit load) is much less to what you pay a trainer in Des Moines, Iowa (less than a metric shit load). I forget where I saw the statistic, but something only like 6-8% of the population can afford paying for personal training. With semi-private training – where rates are often reduced as high as 25% (some more, some less) – that statistic increases by a large margin.

2. Accountability – this comes into play with one-on-one training too. It’s amazing what the threat of losing out on $70-$100 by not showing up will do to someone’s motivation to get their butt to the gym. Moreover, I’ve found that people who gravitate towards semi-private training hold themselves more accountable to their peers whom they train alongside with.

3. Culture – something amazing happens once someone is finally around other like-minded individuals who want to train hard (yet intelligently). It’s as if a switch is flipped and their inner-Wolverine (or Xena) comes out.

Moreover, speaking as a coach, I find the semi-private (group) format has it’s advantages. For starters it allows me to be more efficient and provides better leverage to monetize my time.

It’s simple math2.

Second, and I’d argue most important, it keeps me fresh.

I find I’m more energized and alert as a coach when I’m managing several clients at once compared to working with someone one-on-one. While they’re few and far between, I’ve had some clients in the past where I’d rather wash my face with broken glass than listen to another minute of them whining about doing another set of Goblet squats or how their life sucks because their Lexus is in the garage again.

With the semi-private format I can just feign a little compassion then just turn up the music and coach someone else up. No two days, let alone hours are the same and I love it.

Annnnnnd, I’m getting a bit long winded. Stevan Freeborn – who wrote THIS excellent article on diet vs. habit based nutrition tactics on the site not too long ago – returns with this gem below discussing more advantages the semi-private or group training protocol.


Why Training In a Group Gives You Leverage

Change is sucks!”

 -Anyone who has ever given up ice cream

Anyone who has tried to change a behavior can probably agree with the quote above. Trying to change a long standing habit that has become part of your daily routine takes a lot of discipline, concentration, and preparation.

As a trainer I see my job not about counting reps and screaming a lot (okay sometimes it is about screaming, but just a little bit), but rather my job is to help my clients in any way shape or form so that their transition to a healthier way of life is as manageable and sustainable as possible.

Sometimes this means I spend a little extra time after class talking about meal planning and food preparation. Sometimes it means I make a short video of me performing a bodyweight circuit that they can do at home. Either way the purpose is to take a bit of the work off of them.

Like this “quickie” by Neghar Fonooni from Lift Weights Faster.



Over the last couple years I have come to believe that a group of people working towards similar goals can use each other in a similar capacity. The nature of the group allows each group member to share their difficulties and challenges with the group.

This is why I think people will always have more success working in a small group atmosphere when it comes to training and trying to eat better.

I believe this is largely due to three main effects that small groups have.

I want to talk about each one a bit today in hopes of persuading you to find a gym that will allow you to create a small group of training partners.

1. Power of “Peer Pressure”

The term “peer pressure” is something we have all heard before typically in the context of a don’t-do-drugs lecture from our parents or in a public service announcement involving the shaving of a young boy’s head to demonstrate how others can push you into doing drugs.

Both scenarios provide a context where the idea of “peer pressure” is one where there’s a negative connotation; as something that should be avoided or fought at any cost.

But I think this is a flawed understanding of “peer pressure.”

I prefer to term this phenomenon social reinforcement because I think it better identifies the actually process a bit more accurately.

Simply put social reinforcement is the positive or negative regard you receive from others by performing or not performing a particular behavior or taking on a specific set of beliefs and values.

In the context discussed earlier regarding drugs this would be the sudden coolness and likability you gain in the eyes of those who do drugs when you yourself start doing drugs.

But you see social reinforcement or “peer pressure” is nothing more than that…it is reinforcement either positive or negative in relation to a behavior or cognitive process.

This means that it is not “peer pressure” or the social reinforcement that is a bad thing…it is the behavior that it is reinforcing that is negative in the context of doing drugs.

Which logically means that if we can use social reinforcement to get people to engage in rather destructive and negative behaviors we can use this same powerful force to engage people in healthy and productive behaviors.

This is one of the benefits of training in a small group of people whom you know and trust.

If this small group is all about exercise chances are you will feel the need to exercise as well in order to receive that positive regard that we humans crave so much.

Social reinforcement gives you leverage over yourself.

It means that instead of going to the gym or being trained by yourself – which is typically the same environment you find yourself quitting time and time again – you will be in a group of people who believe exercise is important and necessary, and thus more than likely you will feel the need to take on this point of view as well.

This allows the change from being sedentary to being active much easier and sustainable.

2. The Gift of Social Support

Having a small group who you train with means that this small group cannot only play the role of training partners, but also the role of support group.

These people in your group are going through or have been through the same challenges and hardships you are facing or will face.

This means they make the perfect people to share your journey with.

 They can provide you reassurance in times of doubt, motivation when feelings of despair creep up, and advice when trying to solve a problem.

This is an extremely important part of making change long lasting.

Some people get this support system from their family and friends which is great, but I have seen many clients who constantly struggle through their change process because everyone else in their life does not see their healthy lifestyle change as a priority and because of social reinforcement (which we talked about earlier) this means my client often compromise their own priorities for others around them.

But by training in a small group you ensure that this role is fulfilled and that you are going to be more likely to be successful. Plus if you get social support from both people in the gym and outside of it I will bet changing your habits feels that much easier.

People need other people.

It is that simple.

Training in a small group gives you those people who you can lean on and who can lean on you.

Having a group that both plays the role of training partners and support group gives you leverage over your elephant which would much rather drag your rider to the local ice cream pallor.

3. Being Part of an “In-Group”

If you have ever taken a class in psychology or sociology then the term “in-group” is probably familiar to you.

But for those of you wondering: an in-group refers to a group that an individual psychologically identifies with.

The idea was popularized by Henri Tajfel while developing his Theory of Social Identity.

The idea here is that by having a group of people who share the same interest and priorities as you do, allows you to find a sense of identity in training and eating well.

It in essence becomes a part of you. You join and help create a culture specific to your group that will help hold you to your change process without even thinking about it.

You will find eating well and exercising regularly less demanding and chore-like. Rather you will begin seeing it as part of your daily routine and life.

I am not trying to promote the formation of a cult or anything here (; D), but I am encouraging you to get involved with a gym that has a culture to which you can assimilate with because it will make being consistent with training and eating well so much easier.

An added benefit you’ll also find is that your training will take off when you find a great group of people to train with because their habits will rub off on you.

If they use perfect technique, lots of intensity, and smile a lot while working out then you will soon be doing the same both because you identify yourself as part of the group and also because you want the positive regard of the people around you.

The Final Say

As you can see small group training offers a great number of benefits, but most importantly it gives you better leverage over any change your are trying to make. It allows you to save energy for other things in life than trying to force yourself to get to the gym or not purchase that carton of cookies you get every week at the grocery store.

Plus there is nothing more exciting and enjoyable than sharing in the victory of others and having people excited for you when you yourself succeed!

I hope this persuades you to seek out a group of people to train alongside!

About the Author

Stevan Freeborn B.Sc. ACSM-CPT is a trainer from Joplin, MO. He trains clients both in person and online. When he isn’t, he enjoys picking up heavy things, crushing trail mix, and being a coffee snob. He would love it if you would connect with him onInstagramFacebook, or Twitter and spend a few minutes getting inside his head at Freeborn Training Systems.

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  1. Alwyn Cosgrove has the best response to this absurdity. People are taught how to swim and how to handle firearms in a group setting – both of which, when taught poorly, can kill someone. How, then, is it any more “dangerous” for a trainer/coach to work with 2-5 people at a time?

  2. Citation: 3rd grade

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