Putting the Personal in Group Personal Training

Posted: October 26, 2015 by dannytwoguns in Articles

I’ve always loved the individualization, progression and depth of writing client’s customized programs. The depth and the individualization you could give a client always fascinates me. I always describe it as “adamantly attacking weaknesses and asymmetries while maintaining and utilizing strengths.” This is the beauty of a customized program, everything can be addressed.

But that usually led me to having a harder time when it came to large group personal training programs because it was hard to create that individualization for each person and I wasnt content with just throwing exercises together in a group like we so often see.

That was because it was important to me that it is still personal training, just done in a motivating group. I had a client literally describe our group personal training as this – “It amazes me how you can give me more personal attention and workout customization with 15 people in the session with me than my old 1 on 1 personal trainer gave in a 1 on 1 session.”

The “group fitness” and “group personal training” landscape has changed a lot over the past few years. The problem with group fitness as it was (and sometimes still is), that the Zumbas, the BodyPumps – the model where the aerobic instructor is in front of the room cheerleading while the group performs whatever they can in a sink or swim type fashion was okay for motivation and getting people into the gym, but it didnt actually get them results and was often discouraging because if you couldnt do something or something was easy, your only option was “go slower or faster” or simply add or decrease weight.

There has to be more to your training than simply adding or decreasing weight to make things easier or harder.

Now group has evolved into the “functional training space” and doing things and modalities that are more effective came to the forefront – kettlebells, TRX, medicine balls etc. But just because you have all the “functional” or fancy equipment didnt help the fact that these exercises get programmed and the user is left to well do it if you can and if you cant, it either looks horrible and you do it anyway or you simply cant do it. The “problem” with the functional training type equipment is that they usually involve more coaching to be performed correctly and in the average “group” model – there isnt much actual coaching, just pump up and motivation.

So we have to put the personal in group personal training. I hate seeing videos of other gyms in the area posting their group sessions and their push ups look terrible, their kettlebell swings make certified kettlebell professionals wince and it simply looks like no one is doing anything right even though the music is load and the person leading the session is chanting motivational sayings. Also all of their groups tend to be high intensity or metabolic based – which neglects the most important aspect of fat loss and move better/feel better and perform better training – strength training.

That isnt how you change the way fitness is done.

DVRT (along with Ultimate Sandbag Training) with its depth, built-in progressions, regressions and complexity has revolutionized the individualization aspect for the client but still in the group model of training 15-25 people at once. We are also honored to be the ONLY DVRT Certified facility in Erie and northwest Pennsylvania.

DVRT Certified Facility

Our large group personal training program is broken down into what we call “Superhero Strength” sessions (because we are superheros, duh 🙂 ) where we emphasize strength which could include a density model, where we do certain exercises in supersets or in tri-sets for a specific amount of reps and get in as many sets as we can do in a given amount of time or we do a 6-8 exercise circuit/rotation with a timed interval of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off or a strength based complex. Strength training (whatever that means to your ability level) is king.

We also have Metabolic sessions where the goal is a high intensity interval based approach where the goal isn’t necessarily to go up in weight and get stronger, it is the cardiovascular or metabolic effect. These are usually done in circuits and not a density model with the same approach with say a 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off approach or varying the work to rest ratios (which is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about in this article) and is a perfect addition to your program for your goals, not the foundation of it.

The beauty of DVRT and Ultimate Sandbag Training is that it has complete application in both Superhero Strength sessions (and all its types) and the Metabolic sessions as well.

The key that we’ve found when it comes to programming for large groups is that you need it to be simple enough so that everyone remembers and knows what they should or shouldn’t be doing but still have ability to progress, regress and program efficiently.

We’ve found that one “regression” and one or two progressions are usually the sweet spot. More than three and people tend to get confused and since the goal isnt simply to do a progression because its there, we have goals that we hit.

And as always, doing a “regression” doesnt mean you suck and you are a bad person, it simply means that your training is meeting your current ability level and the best exercise for you is always the one that meets you at your ability level, not above it.

So let’s get into some details and examples of how we are integrating it into our programming…

Say if a program calls for an Ultimate Sandbag (USB) Overhead Press, the progressions could look like this…

Regression / Shoulder Contraindication – Shoulder Mobility Corrective
Progressions – Stagger Stance USB Overhead Press –> USB Rotational Overhead Press.
— Which progression we would use depends on the client as well as other exercises in the circuit or workout. If there is a core stability difficulty, we would progress to the stagger stance and if there wasn’t, we could manipulate the plane of the movement and the difficulty with a Rotational Overhead Press.

The beauty of this progression is we didnt even have to increase the weight yet.

Now let’s look at a couple of ways we are incorporating some of the more popular DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training and USB exercises while keeping it safe, individual and at everyone’s ability level all at the same time… (These apply to a portion of the density workout as well as a station in a strength circuit…)

USB High Pull

Active Straight Leg Raise / Toe Touch Contraindication – USB CE Active Leg Lowering
Regression / Shoulder Contraindication – USB Deadlift
Progression – USB Clean to Fist or USB Inside-Out Clean.
Advanced – USB Rotational Clean to Rotational Press.


USB Clean (emphasizing USB Clean progressions)

Active Straight Leg Raise / Toe Touch Contraindication – USB CE Active Leg Lowering
Shoulder Contraindication – USB Deadlift
Regression – USB Deadlift, USB High Pull
Progression – Rear Step USB Clean
Advanced – Rear Step USB Clean w/ Slide (- this one is crazy hard)


USB MAX (Multiple Axis) Lunge

Regression/Lunge Contraindication – Split Squat or TRX Assisted Split Squat
USB MAX Lunge – First one side at a time, then progress to alternating.
Progressions – USB MAX Lunge w/ High Pull. USB MAX Lunge w/ Swing.
– Which progression we choose depends on other exercises in the workout. If there is a KB Swing in the workout, we’d choose the High Pull variation and if there was a High Pull or Clean in the rotation, we’d use the Swing variation.


Once you understand the principles and foundation behind DVRT, the possibilities are endless and once incorporated, clients progress and results will absolutely increase because they not only get better more frequently but now you’ve added an aspect of individualization so everyone can train at their level and progress accordingly.

Remember, just because you are training in a group, doesnt mean form has to be bad or you have to be doing something that is way above (or even below) your ability level.

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