Is Group or One-on-One Training Better for You?

Everyone wants to do CrossFit in a group, right?


For years, as both an athlete and a coach, I just assumed everyone wanted to do CrossFit in a large class. And I wasn’t alone. Many others made the same incorrect assumption.

As a gym owner, that was a huge mistake—I missed out on opportunities to serve clients better and I missed out on revenue. As an athlete, I didn’t realise that a personal coach would have kept me on track, helped me improve faster and made my training more enjoyable.

Now, more and more gyms are using CrossFit for group classes and one-on-one coaching. According to stats from the top 15 gyms working with Two-Brain Business, 12-15 percent of gross revenue comes from personal training, and some facilities even offer online group or personal coaching.

People who want to do CrossFit today definitely have more options than they did 10 years ago.

Here’s how to determine which one is perfect for you.

CrossFit Training: Is One-on-One Coaching Best for You?

Personal training is more expensive—that should be stated right off the top. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $100 an hour for personal coaching.

But health is priceless, and you’re going to get results faster in a one-on-one setting.

That’s not to say group training doesn’t work. It does. But there is no substitute for personalized coaching and one-on-one attention.

A personal coach will find out everything about you and put together a plan that will help you accomplish your goals. That plan will include specific workouts that account for your age, injury status, training history and so on. But the best personal coaches also help you address nutrition, sleep, stress management, mindset and other key elements of health.

You just won’t get that level of attention in a group setting even if talented coaches can quickly customize general group workouts for each client. But customization isn’t personalization.

Expect true personalization, constant attention and the “white glove treatment” from a personal coach. In a group class, members can expect to be led through elements of the class with their peers and then receive two or three quick intervals of personal attention sprinkled throughout. If you’re in a class of 10, you can expect to receive about five to 10 percent of a coach’s attention, not 100. One on one, you’re paying for every second of time, and you are the trainer’s sole focus. Some people love that; others don’t.

group class vs pt crossfitSource: Stevie D Photography

Starting Is Easier With a Personal Coach

It should also be noted that personal training makes it much easier to start CrossFit.

Some gyms run group “on-ramps” or “fundamentals” classes for newcomers, and that process can work for confident people who are very comfortable in gyms and new settings in general.

Other new exercisers find these classes—and gyms in general—very intimidating. They do much better with a smiling personal coach who can answer every question, allay fears and ensure the new client has a spectacular experience.

Imagine the person who’s never been in a gym and is scared to ask an important question in front of others. He or she might quit training simply because of a lack of comfort in a group. Or think about the older client who feels intimidated in an on-ramp full of tattooed soldiers and competitive athletes.

If you’re nervous about starting a fitness program or have a lot of questions, one-on-one training will most definitely be better for you.

As a coach, I’d suggest every client should start with one-on-one training. I firmly believe it’s the best way to help a client start a program and continue training long term. We stopped offering group on-ramps at CrossFit 204 many years ago and never looked back.

Choose PT if:

  • You want to make progress faster.
  • You’re doing CrossFit or exercising for the first time.
  • You need more accountability.
  • You don’t like feeling “lost in a group.”
  • You’re shy or simply not interested in training in a group setting.
  • Attention is more important than atmosphere.
  • You don’t want to “figure things out” and prefer to leave everything to a professional.
  • Your schedule doesn’t match up with group-training options.
  • You’re training for a specific event or sport.
  • You’ve hit a sticking point or plateau.
  • You want a strong long-term relationship with a personal coach.
  • You want more access to your coach.
  • You prefer short- and long-term plans tailored to your exact needs.
  • You might want to add nutrition, sleep and mindset coaching to your plan.
  • You might want to book sessions that aren’t exactly one hour.
  • You might want to book sessions in your home or another location.
  • Your budget will allow it.

Gym Owners: Free Trials Are No Longer The Best Way to Start CrossFit

CrossFit: Are Group Classes Right for You?

Group CrossFit classes are amazing. The atmosphere and camaraderie can’t be beat. But a trade must be made: You will not receive as much direct attention in a group.

For many, that’s just fine. They need a little coaching but not a lot, and they like nothing more than bantering with or chasing their friends as they push through a workout together. For these people, the energy of the group and the competition trump everything else.

Working out begins to feel like a fun game, which is great for keeping clients on track. The whiteboard offers motivation, incentives and daily proof of success. Energetic trainers help clients thrive. A well-run group class is a magical experience.

Further, the price of group training is always lower than the price of personal training. Many gym owners don’t realize it, but group training is their discount option even if they don’t offer discounts on services. One-on-one training is the premium option.

Great coaches also build relationships with clients in a group setting, and top gyms have accountability systems that ensure group-training clients don’t slip through the cracks.

In the group setting at most gyms, you’ll also get the benefit of various coaches so you’re exposed to new cues and coaching tips. It’s not uncommon for a client to finally have something “click” just because a different coach tried a new approach to something.

crossfit group classesSource: Stevie D Photography

CrossFit Groups: Are Your Needs General or Specific?

Results are critically important when you join a gym, and you can get very, very fit in a group led by a talented coach who quickly adjusts and modifies movements and workouts for each athlete. Well-balanced general CrossFit programming is incredibly effective for overall fitness. But in a group setting, it can be less effective for very specific goals.

For example, if a client who only wants to improve endurance always seems to show up on strength days just by coincidence, he or she will not get the perfect workout on those days. A personal coach could use CrossFit to build endurance faster with a tailored program.

On the other hand, a recreational football player could absolutely use group classes to improve general physical preparedness and create a broad base of fitness that would support sport-specific training. And someone who just wants to “be fitter” will greatly benefit from a program that very effectively improves strength, conditioning, flexibility, coordination and a host of other physical attributes.

But there might come a day when you just don’t feel like running and the workout involves running and squats. Maybe you’ll fumble with double-unders for 20 minutes straight on your own because a coach hasn’t circled back to you yet. What if you sign up for a powerlifting meet and want to focus just on strength training? Or perhaps you have an injury and feel like a burden in a group setting.

Each scenario above highlights the main drawback of group classes: Lack of personalization. That disappears in a one-on-one setting.

But for many people, that drawback is overwhelmed by the energy they get when they hear “3, 2, 1 … go!” followed by loud music, a host of clanging barbells, and occasional cues from a very talented trainer.

Let’s be clear: Excellent coaches definitely produce impressive results in a group setting that can be more economical for clients, and many people prefer group training to individual sessions.

Choose Group Classes if:

  • You learn quickly.
  • You’re very comfortable walking into a gym.
  • You don’t require large amounts of personal attention.
  • You find groups provide the accountability you need.
  • You have mindset, sleep, stress and nutrition under control without a personal coach.
  • You have or want to acquire training partners and “frenemies”/rivals.
  • You thrive on competition and want to see how you rank daily.
  • Atmosphere is more important than attention.
  • You draw energy from groups.
  • Your fitness goals are more general.
  • You can improve movements with quick cues and don’t need much extra coaching.
  • Your personal schedule works with the group class schedule.
  • You regularly enjoy working with a number of different coaches.
  • You don’t mind sharing space and equipment and attention.
  • Your budget won’t allow personal training.

A Note About COVID-19

In the current pandemic, governments are imposing restrictions on the fitness industry. These usually involve capacity limitations, spacing guidelines and cleaning protocols.

If you’re worried about COVID but want to keep training, one-on-one sessions will offer more flexibility. Personal training can usually be booked in slower hours in the gym, which will make social distancing much easier than it is when 10 clients perform workouts—even if the gym follows all government protocols. You’re simply less likely to accidentally bump into someone when there are two people in any space instead of 20.

In other cases, personal trainers can work outside the gym in private or open spaces, which offers additional options. For example, a client might bring her own dumbbell to a park, where a trainer can coach a workout from 10 feet away. Or a coach might travel to a client’s home gym to run a personal session with reduced risk.

Finally, online coaching is another option that reduces transmission risk to zero. Many gyms now offer this option and tailor online programs to client needs. You can find both group and personal options.

Whatever you do, don’t stop or delay starting training if you’re concerned about COVID. Talk to a coach about how you can improve fitness during the pandemic.

The CrossFit Coach’s Role on Either Path

CrossFit is an incredibly effective program, and it’s evolved over the years to actually return to its roots in some ways. For about 10-12 years, group classes were the sole focus of many CrossFit affiliates. But now gyms are offering the same great program in a one-on-one setting with increased coaching.

That’s actually how CrossFit started in Santa Cruz, California: one coach working with one athlete. You can read all about that in CrossFit’s “Level 1 Training Guide” in the section “Scaling Professional Training” (Page 164).

The path you choose is up to you. Each has significant benefits.

But regardless of your choice, your coach or coaches should talk to you about your goals at least every three months. Many gyms now offer goal review sessions to personal and group clients as part of their service package, and if yours doesn’t, ask to talk to a coach for 15 minutes every 90 days. Tell your expert coach exactly what you want to accomplish and why, then ask how he or she can make it happen.

(Coaches: For step-by-step instructions on how to help your clients with goal review sessions, read “How to Increase Your Value” by Chris Cooper.)

Make sure your CrossFit coach knows all about your goals so you can cross them off the list sooner rather than later.

A coach’s duty is to get results for clients in any setting—group or one on one.

Mike Warkentin is the founder of CrossFit 204 and 204 Lifestyle. He’s been a coach since 2009 and spent 10 years as the managing editor of the CrossFit Journal. He’s currently the operating partner of Two-Brain Media, which manages the output of the worldwide mentorship company Two-Brain Business. He lives in Ontario, Canada, with his wife Crystal and two English mastiffs.

Find out more under Two-Brain Media.

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