Message to Affiliates: If You’re Only Offering Group Classes, You are Basically Zumba

January 31, 2020 by
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“How much is your monthly membership?” asks the new prospect, referring to the cost of joining group classes at your gym.

Your answer is probably somewhere between US$120 and $250.

Group classes and CrossFit have become like peas and carrots: Synonymous with one another.

Have you ever considered why? And whether the group class model is the best system for clients, coaches and the business?

Believe it or not, CrossFit did not begin with group classes. When CrossFit Inc. Founder Greg Glassman started coaching, he started as a personal trainer and developed close connections with his clients. And, when he got busier, he started pooling clients into small groups, but at that point, he had already built relationships with them.

Yet today, most affiliates rely almost entirely on group fitness, even for new clients they know nothing about.

“Why is this a problem?” you ask.

It’s a problem for the business. It’s a problem for the coach. And it’s a massive problem for the client.

(But before I get into it, I must add that I’m am not suggesting group classes aren’t valuable and that we should abandon them entirely. I’m simply suggesting they are not enough for the client, the coach or the business and should be treated as just one small piece of the membership puzzle).

The client

In short, there’s little opportunity to address individual needs in a group.

But CrossFit is scalable, so we can all train together seamlessly, right?

While this is a topic for a whole other article, if you have coached for any period of time, you have probably realized this a fallacy. It’s absurd to think a generic group class program is what’s best for anyone, let alone everyone. Period.

However, beyond just the workout itself, the greater problem is an inability to help clients with the other 23 hours of the day amidst a group of 15 people. It’s impossible to help them fix their nutrition habits, their emotional relationship with food, their stress levels, lifestyle choices or sleep habits in a group. As I sometimes say: Nobody is going to tell you they have genital herpes in a group class.

If all you’re selling is a group class membership, then you’re selling a hard workout. Nothing more. But, what most people need is a real, trusting relationship with a coach who can help them navigate what’s really going on in their lives. In other words, it’s the difference between a group class client you barely know telling you she wants to lose weight, and a client you have a real relationship with admitting she wants to lose weight because she’s terrified of following in her parents’ footsteps and dying young of complications from diabetes.

Photo courtesy of Emily Beers

The business

In the group class model, you can’t charge clients what you could if you were offering a higher value service. For example, you could potentially charge $350 a month for a package that included two group classes per week, as well as an individual program to tackle their weaknesses, and one 60-minute lifestyle consultation each month. Instead, you’re in the Orange Theory, Zumba, Bootcamp market, charging $150 per month for unlimited group workouts.

As a result, clients don’t stick around. They leave as fast as they come in, a constant revolving door, and you’re left searching for new clients month after month.

This has led to all sorts of failed attempts to attract new members at affiliates all around the world, such as Groupons in the days gone by, and six-week challenges today. (I have spoken to 25-plus gyms who have tried six-week challenges, and they all have had the same experience: They do bring in clients at first, but at the end of the year you’re lucky if 10 percent of those clients are still at the gym).

The coach 

It’s next to impossible for a coach to earn a professional wage and pursue a lifelong career as a full-time coach when they’re coaching 20-plus group classes a week, earning $20 to $30 an hour.

Thus, coaches also don’t stick around. Or they keep coaching a few classes a month in exchange for their membership, or they leave to open their own gym and soon realize how hard it is to run a gym.

Secondly, there’s very little fulfillment in coaching five group classes a day. It might be fun for a few months, but the coach soon feels more like a cheerleader, a babysitter for adults, or a time-keeper, than someone who can actually dig into their clients’ lives and make a real difference.

At the end of the day, I am not anti-CrossFit. CrossFit, both as a lifestyle and a sport, continue to have a hugely positive impact on my life today, 11 years in. The problem isn’t CrossFit, per se. The problem is—possibly because thousands of people started businesses with zero business knowledge—how we have morphed into a pure group class culture.

The reasons for this are twofold and actually make a lot of sense.

Firstly, gym owners didn’t think they had enough time to do one-on-one assessments, personal training, individual program design, or lifestyle consultations, so it was easier to throw everyone into a group, even the most inexperienced athletes.

Secondly, gym owners and coaches didn’t have the confidence to charge $300 to $500 a month for higher-end services, like those mentioned above, so they reduced themselves to $150 a month to be competitive with the drop-in Yoga studio down the street.

So, here we are today in a less than ideal situation. Twenty years ago, Glassman was developing real relationships with clients while getting them fitter than they had ever dreamed.

Today, most affiliates are hosting eight to 10 group classes each day and find themselves with a client retention problem, a coach retention problem, a business profitability problem, and an inability for coaches to earn a professional wage.


  1. http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/41_06_Scaling_Prof_Training.pdf

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