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The Fitness Zone

Group Personal Training Vs Group Exercise
April 3, 2012 | by Robin Glass

What's the difference between group personal training and group exercise? And why are Personal Trainers allowed to train small groups without a group exercise qualification? Robin Glass, Group Exercise Coach from WA answers your questions.

What is a Personal Trainer?

A qualified Personal Trainer hold the knowledge to prescribe exercise to their clients (one on one, or groups) to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. A part of the Master Trainer ProgramTM (CERT IV in FItness) actually covers a group fitness module.

What is a Group Exercise Instructor?

A Group Exercise Instructors depending on their qualification are trained specifically to get a group of people moving in a safe and effective way, often to music. The most common qualifications include a Cert III in fitness, which qualifies an instructor to teach groups INSIDE only (as you need a Cert IV to train groups outside), or a Group Exercise Leader course (GEL), this qualification allows the instructor to teach groups, but ONLY pre-choreographed, such as Les Mills, you cannot ‘design’ your own classes with this qualification.

What constitutes a group?

Two or more people, which suddenly turns small group personal training into group exercise. Therefore it makes a lot of sense for Personal Trainers who wish to train groups to learn more about how to do so safely.

So what's different between training 1,6, 16, or 26 people?

The basic difference is what you know about your client(s). As a Personal Trainer you should know EVERYTHING about your clients, whereas a Group Exercise Instructor doesn't have that luxury, so must be able to adapt very quickly to a variety of needs.

How can I do that?

Firstly you should start with the lowest common denominator. It is safest to assume that everyone in the group has an injury, has low or high blood pressure, is inexperienced with exercise, and is unfit. Start low to aim high until you know more.

It's important to closely monitor your group; that means constantly looking at them and taking in and analysing what you see. Are they performing the exercises correctly? Has fatigue affected their performance? Are they struggling to keep up? Should they really be running or should they be walking?

You then need to adapt and offer options to those who need them. Your session plan needs to have a plan B, and sometimes a plan C, for everything you prescribe and that requires forethought, knowledge, flexibility, and the skill to implement and change, ON THE SPOT. Is 10 jacks in a row ok for one person, but not another? And what can a person do instead of jacks, or instead of push ups on their toes?

Anything else?

Yes! Do you know the difference between a high impact move and a low impact move? Some people shouldn't do, or are uncomfortable, doing a high impact move.A light jog is a high impact move.

Evaluating exercises is a great way for a Fitness Instructor to be safe and eliminate risk.Ask yourself these questions when prescribing exercises for your sessions.

  • Can the exercise go beyond a safe range of motion?

  • Is the exercise executed at a safe speed or is it too rapid losing control?

  • Can the exercise create too much loading to a joint or muscle group?

  • Can the exercise place a muscle group or joint under sustained stress?

  • Is the exercise too repetitive?

  • Does the exercise or routine work one muscle group without working the opposing?

  • Does the exercise work a muscle group other than the one intended?

If every exercise you prescribe is executed perfectly by every member of your group then you will never have a problem, but what is the reality?

Want to know more?

The safest Group Exercise Instructors are those who have qualifications in both Personal Training and Group Exercise. Contact your closest campus to find out when they are holding their next Master Trainer ProgramTM.


Robin began as a Group Exercise Instructor in 1992, and was one of the first people in WA to receive a personal training certificate. Now, she has an admin role at the Australian Institute of Fitness as Q Branch Leader.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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