The digital future of personal training in the budget gym sector

Andy Tee is the Managing Director of Simply Gym, a rapidly expanding chain of premium budget gyms. With 9 profitable sites active and plans for another 4 over the next 12 months, Simply Gym have developed a highly effective budget model but believe that there is still another huge opportunity on the horizon: virtual personal training.

In this interview Andy reveals what he believes the future of personal training will look like and how it will benefit gym owners, personal trainers and clients.


The budget model is clearly working well for many brands but do you feel there is any room for improvement?

Absolutely. The budget gym model has been proven and there is now a land grab to pick up the remaining locations but there are certain things that the market is continuing to get wrong:

  • Retention – there is far too much emphasis is placed on customer acquisition and not enough on retention. You can’t just keep cold calling the same people so the gyms that focus purely on sales are going to eventually come unstuck.
  • Personal training – with the current budget model, personal training is only used by a very small proportion of members. Not only does this result in significant lost revenue but it also means that you’re less able to influence a person’s behaviour, which further exacerbates the problem of retention.
  • Digital – there is so much more that can be done to build your relationship with your customers via digital. Right now, gyms are only scratching the surface.

In short, gyms need to make far better use of digital technology to build personal training into a more central part of the budget gym experience. This, I believe, is absolutely pivotal to member experience and retention.


What do you think this shift towards digital personal training might look like?

It’s impossible to know how the model will evolve but I would imagine it will begin with a simple upgrade option when members sign up to pay an additional monthly fee for a personal trainer. For those that select the upgrade, they will then be booked in to see their personal trainer as part of a group session, after which the PT will take a template style set of plans and tweak them to the exact requirements of the client.These plans will be sent to the client digitally, probably via an app, and will include:

  • A personalised training program
  • Meal plans
  • Targets

The app will also record their gym attendance and progress as they work towards their goals, giving them clear focus and motivation with each and every gym session.


What will the benefits be to the club?

There will be various benefits but highest on the list will be:

  • Additional revenue – personal training revenue has taken a hit in many gyms since the move towards the budget model began. I see no reason why this wouldn’t reverse that trend.
  • A USP to both both clients and PTs – I think in five years virtual personal training will be the industry standard, but over the next two years those that move fastest will undoubtedly hold a significant USP over their competitors.
  • Someone who has a PT is far more likely to stay at the gym – it’s all about maximising member lifetime value and I see virtual PT as absolutely pivotal to retention rates. The more motivated a member is the more likely they are to get value out of their membership and the less likely they are to cancel it.


Will trainers see this as a good or bad development?

The ones that embrace the trend will see it as a good thing. The benefits will include:

  • More commercially scalable – unlike traditional personal training, there is no cap on how many clients a trainer could have if employing a digital model.
  • Far greater insight – as the client information is all recorded automatically it means that the trainer could stroll round the gym and approach clients knowing precisely how they’re progressing in relation to their targets. This will be a great way to engage with clients and potentially upsell additional training sessions in a highly automated and efficient way.


And what about the client?

For any client interested in personal training it’s going to be a no brainer:

  • Unlimited training program for just a fraction of the cost – whatever the monthly fee is – £10, £20, £30 – it’s going to be exponentially better value than traditional personal training.
  • It will build a sense of community – one of the big things missing in the budget gym model is a sense of belonging. The whole experience is so impersonal. At Simply Gym we have tried to counter this through a variety of measures including a fully staffed reception area rather than the password security doors that most budget gyms now use, but this could be an amazing opportunity to build on that philosophy. Not only would you know your personal trainer, but you’d also meet others during your initial group training session. I’m convinced that this sense of community is going to be absolutely critical to member retention.


Posted in Fit-tech, Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.