6 Reasons to Consider the Semi-Private Training Model

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I started my career as a personal trainer back in 2002.

To give a little perspective on how long ago that was:

  • Joe Millionaire was one of the top-rated television shows that year.
  • The standard reaction to anyone requesting almond milk was one of two things: 1) a cold, blank stare into the abyss or 2) a cold, blank stare into the abyss followed by a definitive “the fuck outta here. Making milk out of almonds? What’s next…making pizza crust out of cauliflower?”
  • MTv still played music videos.
  • Smart phones and social media didn’t exist.

More to the point…the concept of semi-private training didn’t really exist either.

Copyright: ramain / 123RF Stock Photo

What Is Semi-Private Training?

There are a few iterations of semi-private training, so I think it behooves the conversation to make a clarification first:

Example #1 = One program for a small group, generally in the ballpark of 10+ people.

Example #2 = Individual programs with a group of people (usually 2-4) training at the same time.

Example #3 = One program, one chain saw, 14 ninjas, last person standing wins.

For this article I’m referring to option #2.1

As I mentioned above I started my career as a personal trainer working almost exclusively with clients in a one-on-one fashion.

I can’t stress this enough:

“You need to be good at training ONE person before you start training a group.”

I have zero doubts the five years I spent working with people one-on-one helped to dampen the shock when I eventually started working with several people at once.

To that end, it wasn’t until 2007, when I co-founded Cressey Sports Performance with Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis, that I got first-hand experience with the semi-private training model.

Up until then there weren’t many fitness professionals, let alone commercial or privately owned facilities, utilizing this model…and full credit has to go to Alwyn Cosgrove for serving as the nudger and architect for us adopting it.

He and Eric had many, many conversations on the matter, and considering Alwyn had built one of the most successful training studios in the country – Results Fitness located in Newhall, CA – utilizing this approach, who were we to question it?

That would have been like telling Gandalf “nah, I think we’re good. We can handle Mordor on our own”


Compound that with the fact Eric, Pete, and myself knew we’d be catering to the athletic population and that we very much wanted to emulate more of a collegiate strength & conditioning vibe it seemed like a no-brainer.

Long Story Short: The model worked (for us) and today more and more facilities (and individual coaches) are seeing the merits of the semi-private training approach.

Long Story Short (Part II): I left CSP in 2015 to start my own small studio in Boston. And even though I now work predominately with gen’ pop’ clients I still use this model and see many benefits.

Long Story Short (Part III): I am not implying CSP is responsible for the semi-private explosion. But I’d like to think we – along with other facilities such as I-FAST (Mike Robertson & Bill Hartman), Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, Mark Fisher Fitness, and many others – have helped to promote its popularity over the years.



Tony, For the Love of God, Shut up, and Tell Me WHY I Should Adopt the Semi-Private Training Model?

1. Yes, It’s Safe

The most prominent argument I’ve seen against semi-private training is that it’s dangerous. The rationale being that people aren’t getting the attention they need and, as a result, things inevitably deteriorate to the point where everyone’s running around with scissors in their hands.

Well, if that’s the case then CrossFit, Bootcamps, and Aerobic and Spin classes are the fitness industry’s equivalent of getting into a hugging match with a grizzly bear while wearing a steak vest.

I think it was Alwyn Cosgrove, fittingly enough, who made the best rebuttal of date to this train of thought:

People learn to swim and shoot guns in a group setting.”

I think we can pump the brakes on the whole “danger wagon” scenario.

2. People Stay Motivated

I think most people have an inherently competitive side and to that end tend to work harder and (are more motivated) when they’re surrounded by like-minded individuals getting after it in the gym.

total body workout group training

Most humans feed off the energy of others. On many occasions I can think of instances where clients end up getting competitive and try to push each other’s envelope.

Of course, it’s important to reiterate to clients not to compare themselves to others and that it’s no big deal if “so and so” can perform seven chin-ups or squat a house and they can’t.

I often use the term “progress, not perfection” when certain clients get too caught up the comparison game. So long as they see improvements (even small, incremental ones) over the course of time that’s all that matters.

That said, it’s uncanny how a group environment will often bring out people’s competitive side and nudge them to work a little harder.

3. Be Part of a Community

I’m biased, but my clients are the shit.

They’re cool.

They’re jacked.

And they’re just overall a bunch of amazing human beings with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences.

It’s not uncommon for clients to want to schedule sessions at the same time or to hang out outside of the gym to hit up a concert together, go out to dinner, or, I suspect, sit around and write about how poetic my deadlift looks:


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A post shared by Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore)

The sense of being part of a community and the camaraderie it yields is an underrated if not unparalleled advantage to the semi-private model, and why so many people tend to stick around for the long haul.

4. See More Clients – Leverage Your Time – Make More Money

This past Monday I coached from 4 pm to 8 pm.

I saw ten clients during that time

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a four-hour “work day” compared to ten hours.2

Not only that, on a per hour basis, all someone has to do is basic math to see why the semi-private model works well from a money-making standpoint.

Lets say the average trainer makes $75 per session working with clients one-on-one.

That’s not too shabby.

The same trainer, however, could charge $50-$60/person in the semi-private format and make 2x (if not 3x) that much depending on the numbers:

Two People = $100-$120

Three People = $150-$180

Four People = $200-$240


No doubt these numbers will need to be adjusted to take into account varying cost of living in different regions, but math is math.

As far as leveraging one’s time, the semi-private model is a strong candidate for most fitness professionals.

5. More Cost Effective For Clients

Pigging back on the above, the semi-private model is financially prudent for the client as well; it lowers the financial barrier.

Generally speaking this approach is 10-15% (maybe a smidge higher) cheaper compared to one-on-one training.

That may be the lone incentive someone needs to get them over the hump to seek out coaching services.

6. A Godsend For Introverts

This last point takes a bit of personal angle and may not resonate with some of you reading, but as a self-proclaimed introvert, I can say the semi-private format has helped me a ton as a coach.

It sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

I can turn on the charm and be extroverted when I need to. The common misconception about introvertedness and extrovertedness is that they’re both on a spectrum; neither is a stagnant, set-in-stone thing. What’s more, those who identify as introverted are (usually) not socially awkward or a recluse.

A person deprived of communication with society. Difficulties in integrating into society

Sure, they may like to spend more time with cats than the average person, but they can turn it on or otherwise be the center of attention if need be

However, what “being introverted” really refers to is how a certain individual prefers to re-charge. After marinating in social circles yhey tend to re-charge by being in their own thoughts, at a bookstore, watching a movie alone, or, I don’t know, looking out the window contemplating when season 2 of Squid Game will finally come out.

Now, it’s not lost on me that part of why some people hire a coach is so that the coach can serve as the spark or center of energy.

I find this latter point infinitely more challenging when working strictly one-on-one with clients (especially with fellow introverts) and the impetus falls on me to be the curator of conversation.

Me: “Soooo, you watch Game of Thrones?”

Client: “Yeah.”

Me: “Dragons are cool.”

Client: “Yeah.”

Me: “Okie dokie, ready for your next set of deadlifts?”

Client: “Yeah.”

Me: “Excuse me while I go throw an ax into my face.”

When on the gym floor with a group of people, and the music’s blaring, and everyone’s moving around doing their thing, I typically don’t have to generate any gab.

It just happens organically amongst the group.


Some Cons to Semi-Private Training

Semi-private training isn’t all butterfly kisses and rainbows.

1. Some Clients Get Less Attention

Semi-private training is akin to hosting a party, and every client is a guest. The last thing I want to do is socialize with one lone person the entire night (unless it’s Kate Beckinsale) while everyone else is left twiddling their thumbs in the foyer.

Some clients may get irritated and feel they’re not getting enough coaching, and that’s a very valid point to bring up.

I do feel if you take the time to do your due diligence and structure things accordingly – maybe offer a few “ramping” or introductory classes so people can learn some basics, cueing, etc – this is a non-issue.

However, some people just won’t be a good fit for the semi-private model and it’s important to have referrals (or systems) set in place to accommodate them.

2. I Wouldn’t Jump In Right Away

After reading this post the last thing you need to do is contact all your clients and tell them you’re revamping your entire business model and that everyone’s going to be training BFF’s moving forward.

If you do I guarantee you’ll be receiving a few emails with the title:

“Fuck this shit, I’m out.”

Ease your way into things.

Maybe block out a few set hours per week to give the semi-private approach a test drive and to allow an opportunity for a few of your clients to get their feet wet with the concept.

3. It Can Be Draining

Working with several people at once isn’t everyone’s bag.

It can be very draining.

I get it.

Some people prefer working with people one-on-one and that’s totally cool. Many fitness pros still do it, do it very well, and are very successful with it.

There’s no real right or wrong here.

Except, you know, you should do it….;o)

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Although, option #3 would make for a sick limited series. You’re welcome Hulu.

  2. I put “work day” in quotations because that doesn’t take into account the hours spent beforehand writing programs, writing content for this site, answering emails, working on other side projects, etc. So it’s not like I ONLY worked for four hours. Okay, I also watched an episode of Welcome to Wrexham. Okay, it was two. Okay, it was three. Whatever. DON’T JUDGE ME!!!

Comments for This Entry

  • PJ Striet

    Great post Tony. Having gone from one-on-one for 13 years, to semi-private for 4, to now all online, there are definitely different strokes for different folks on both the client and coach end.

    September 5, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shauna

    Perfect timing for me for this article and your writing always makes me laugh. Thanks Tony!

    September 6, 2018 at 12:17 am | Reply to this comment

  • Erica Suter

    Tony, your opening line killed me. "fuck outta here" and almond milk. I can't. LOL

    September 6, 2018 at 10:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • Josh

    I don't think the present progressive of "piggy back" is "pigging back," but I believe it to be "piggsy backsesing." Source: Smeagol.

    September 6, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sarah Carr

    very timely post, as i'm currently working on setting up a small semi-private training studio after doing 1 on 1 training exclusively, and want to use the semi-private model. i just have a few questions: where can i find out more information about the actual nuts and bolts of semi-private training? what i mean is that i have questions about how the group session is run: does each client have their own workout written down? when is a client ready to join semi-private training? i know you talk about introductory classes in your post, but i had one client in the past who had real problems with hip hinging as well as scapula winging. she needed a lot of personal attention and i'm not sure at what point she would have been ready for group training. i also wanted to know how much space you think is reasonably needed to safely train 4 clients? the space i'm opening is around 100m2. thanks for reading and keep up the great work!

    September 7, 2018 at 5:10 am | Reply to this comment

    • Tony Author

      Hi Sarah - I'd encourage you to look into material written by Pat Rigsby, Alwyn Cosgrove, and/or Thomas Plummer on the topic. As far as your particular questions, for the sake of brevity I'll keep them short: 1. How does each client have their workout written down? I print them out and they're responsible to write down what they do as they do it. 2. When is a client ready for semi-private? Well, my business model is ONLY semi-private and I tend to attract individuals who have more experience in the weight room. That said, if I feel someone isn't ready or needs more one-on-one time I'll refer them to someone else who can provide that service for them. 3. I work out of a small space (800 sq feet) and get comfortably train four people at a time.

      September 10, 2018 at 5:03 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brian Lenzen

    The timing of your post is amazing. I am a High School PE, Strength and Conditioning Coach as well as a Personal Trainer. Retirement is 2 years out as I am slowly developing a small group training business. Going to Seattle for a workshop with Joel Jamieson and Mike Robertson to learn more about the business side of fitness. Thanks for your irreverent slant on things.

    September 9, 2018 at 10:26 am | Reply to this comment

    • Tony Author

      Not sure if the "irreverent" slant was a compliment or constructive criticism......;o) Either way, you'll be on great hands learning from the likes of Mike and Joel. Two great coaches and businessmen to say the least.

      September 10, 2018 at 5:06 pm | Reply to this comment

  • James Canning

    Tony, Great post. It was a fun read. Keep up the good work

    December 24, 2018 at 6:49 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steve Feeney

    Great post Tony! With a typical semi-private model like at CSP do clients get open gym time with their membership? Say they choose 1 or 2 coaching sessions/week do they still get to come in and complete the other 1-2 training days on their own? Thanks.

    February 2, 2019 at 4:10 pm | Reply to this comment

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