Adapting One-On-One Content to a Group Setting

Posted by Kymberly Williams-Evans


This originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of American Fitness Magazine

Personal trainers have so many great ideas to choose from when training their one-on-one clients, but you teach group fitness—can you use those same ideas? Maybe you recently attended an inspiring fitness event that offered amazing programming ideas or just read an article or watched a video that included novel moves you’d like to implement, but the source focused on client-trainer workouts.

Whatever the case, even if you were not the intended target, you can still take advantage of one-on-one content. All you need are a few adaptations and some creativity, and you can bring personal training ideas and moves into the group fitness room.

Limiting Factors and Possible Solutions

First, let’s look at some of the obstacles involved in implementing one-on-one workouts in a group setting, along with viable class conversions.


Presenters and online tutorials often incorporate resistance tubing into programming, and typically the trainer anchors the tube to a wall hook for the client. Few classrooms have hooks installed on the walls, especially in the numbers or locations needed for multiple people to get a well-rounded workout. For example, you’re probably not going to find hooks high enough for triceps kickbacks or at chest height for rows, along with space for participants to step back to reduce slack. Tubing is perfect for a group class and is an effective, popular and inexpensive piece of equipment. However, moves like the two examples here require the tubing to be secured farther away than self-anchoring allows. Also, the anchor must be strong enough to withstand the exerciser’s pushing and pulling. Rather than abandon resistance tubing moves, try one (or both!) of the following solutions:

Partner up. Pair participants with someone similar in height and/or fitness level. Partner 1 acts as the “hook,” holding the tubing in place, while Partner 2 holds the handles and performs the move, stepping far enough away from Partner 1 to create the appropriate tension. Partners should then switch places. You must know your group and be confident that each person can safely withstand the resistance that the working person provides. One caveat: If you work with frail, arthritic, high-risk or low-experience groups, partnering is not a safe option.

Use ballet bars, if available. Some group fitness rooms have permanent ballet bars anchored to a wall (portable bars will not work). Wrap the tubes around the bars, spacing class members appropriately. While you can’t change the bars’ height to the proper line of pull, you can change the position of the exercisers. Have participants kneel on the floor for triceps kickbacks. Ask taller people to squat or lunge for alternating rows and have shorter people stand tall so the anchor point is in the same plane as the working muscles.


Trainers need just one of a given piece of equipment to meet a client’s needs. You may have 20 people in your class and more than 100 dumbbells of different weights, but only a few stability balls, yoga blocks, gliders or Pilates rings. Week after week, your only options may seem to be dumbbells and body-weight drills. But let’s say you want to offer moves using stability balls, even though your club has fewer than 20 of them and several are on the floor, being used by trainers and clients. Again, you have a few simple options:

Partner up. As long as you can round up at least 10 balls, partner people up and alternate. Partner 1 uses the ball, while Partner 2 does a free-weight exercise or simply waits her turn. Avoid groups of three because either members will have to wait too long for their turns or the setup will get messy. For instance, if Partner 1 is on the ball, Partner 2 is using free weights and Partner 3 is waiting for a turn, inevitably, when they rotate, they’ll get confused or distracted.

Create a circuit. If you have fewer than 10 balls for 20 people, set up a circuit. Maybe you also have five steps, four weighted balls, a ton of free weights and four bands. Do the math, assess your space, and set up five stations with four people and four pieces of equipment at each station.

Form teams and take turns. If you have at least 10 units of the equipment you want, but not 20, break the class into two teams. Set up 10 stability balls on one side of the room and free weights on the other. For efficiency’s sake, switch out teams after several exercises in a row, instead of sooner. Have Team 1 do three or four exercises with balls, while Team 2 does the same with free weights, and then switch (see “Sample ‘Limited Equipment’ Drill,” left, for more).


One benefit of working with a dedicated trainer is that a client can get specific, immediate, relevant feedback that can then be used to adjust the workout in real time. Trainers consistently check in with their clients and ask questions such as “How does this intensity feel?” or “Compared with last week, how is your energy level today?”

Open-ended questions like these provide the information needed to adjust the workout appropriately. However, can you imagine the cacophony and audial chaos if you were to ask such questions of a group? “What kind of music do you like?” or “Let me know how you’re feeling.” Not only would you have a barrage of responses, but you’d be unable to decipher the individual replies. Instead, try the following approaches:

Ask for hand raises/votes to closed-ended questions. Say, “Put your hand up if this intensity/progression/complexity (whatever you want to establish) is just right/too much/too little” or “Hands up if your energy seems higher/lower/the same today compared with last week.” Craft questions that require a yes or no vote. While you can’t meet each individual’s need, you can go with the majority or offer alternatives based on the responses: “If your hand went up for yes, then do option A; if you voted no, then option B is for you.”

Walk the room and offer personalized attention. If the format lends itself well to this, take a break from the front of the room and walk around to give people personalized attention. Help someone with his form; stand next to a participant who is modeling a modification and cue others to follow that person’s lead; or if you suspect that someone is struggling or needs a change, sidle up to her and quietly ask a question.


Some moves require a lot of space to execute. We’ve all seen clients traversing the gym floor doing lunges, sled pulls or ladder drills. One person might be maneuvering through machines, halls or openings on the gym floor. How do you fit “big space” moves into a group setting?

Save big moves for days with small attendance. Sometimes you simply have to forget creative solutions and save traveling moves for when attendance is low. Everyone has days when few people show up for a class. Whatever the reason (e.g., a holiday, traffic delays or a storm), take advantage of the lower numbers to bring those “big space” moves into the classroom.

Take your class outside. If the weather permits and your facility is located near a wide-open space, consider doing a drill outside. Check with management to ensure this is in line with policy.

While these adaptations can be simple and easy, they are not always obvious. If you see trainers doing cool things with their clients, think a bit “inside the box” of your classroom to bring even more to your group members.

Sample “Limited Equipment” Drill

You have 10 stability balls, plenty of dumbbells, some innovative personal training exercises you learned at a recent conference, and about 20 participants. What do you do? Break the class into two teams and put the balls on one side of the room, the free weights on the other. Teach the following moves and switch out teams after several exercises in a row.

Team 1: Stability Ball
Rotate through the following exercises, then switch sides.

  •  Pike on the ball, 12x.
  •  Sit on the ball and “write” your
    full name in cursive.
  •  Start by sitting on the ball. Do reverse squats, rising only high enough to maintain some contact with ball, 12x.

Team 2: Dumbbells

  •  Lunge and biceps curl, 12x.
  •  Bridge and chest press, 12x.
  •  Squat while weaving a dumbbell around the legs in a figure-eight pattern, transferring weight from your left hand to your right.
    Reverse direction.

Topics: Group Fitness

Kymberly Williams-Evans

About the Author:

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA, PhD (ABD), has taught group fitness on land, at sea and across the airwaves for four decades, in four languages and over four continents. 

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