Personal Training: Explode through the 4% penetration barrier

The view of Personal Training has always been of great interest to me, from listening to friends and family tell me what they think it is, to being on the receiving end as a trainer, and listening to potential clients tell me why they don’t want to work with one!

Amongst these stories, sadly, are people for whom a past experience hasn’t been all that great, and who consequently have a tarnished view of Personal Training. Equally, I’ve heard some real tear-jerking stories of how life-changing events have been triggered by a really effective Personal Training journey.

So Personal Training can become much more than just a £40-an-hour transaction. If you believe in it!

Clearly, there are members who ARE enjoying the benefits of really effective coaching from some of the best, the most knowledgeable, and the most gifted trainers, but it is going largely unnoticed.

By learning from these success stories, maybe, just maybe, we can influence the members who ARE on the fence to give it a try and maybe go on to become loyal, regular, revenue-generating members!

In this blog we’ll look at some of the factors that we need to be more aware of – from the member’s perspective that is: what are the excuses we’ve heard that are preventing them from using your personal training services?

Why Do I Need It?

This is the biggest hurdle for many members and their typical thought process goes something like this – “I’ve been to a couple of gyms over the years, I know all the equipment and how to use it, I also attend some classes and so why do I even need a PT?”

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the truth is that these members are largely self-taught and probably applying what they know incorrectly or ineffectively. This kind of question stems from an uncertainty or an ignorance of what a PT can actually help with.

There’s no single, magic bullet for the “Why do I need it” brigade, but it IS one of the most frequently cited reasons for not choosing to use a personal trainer.

The task is to overcome this lack of awareness – how would, or could, you motivate these members to understand the wider, more holistic benefits of having a guided, personalised fitness experience?

What if I’m not fit enough?

This one is surprising! It sounds crazy at first, and of course we expect to work with members who want to get fitter, regardless of how fit they are when they start with us. But the truth is that a lot of members expect to be in great shape to begin with – it’s been said too many times for it not to be true!

So who’s fault is this? It might be something specific they have witnessed, understood, or experienced at some point for them to form this belief, but it’s also a widely-held stereotype caused by many years of sales and marketing that have somehow given an elitist nature to the types of people who even have a PT.

This has maybe even been fuelled by PTs themselves; showcasing their best, most advanced clients, and maybe demonstrating more advanced techniques, which in turn magnifies the belief that you need to have a good level of fitness to use a personal trainer.

Again the task here is to overcome this lack of awareness!

Which trainer would suit me and my training?

Training can be so different; the needs of a client can vary quite considerably. Physically, Mentally, Sociably, Emotionally…

One size does definitely not fit all, and no one trainer can be a perfect fit for all members. There has to be a match – not like a dating match, but more on the side of personality. If you work with someone that understands your approach, it’s a much smoother ride for both parties.

There’s a philosophy angle too; if you pair a client and trainer with the same types of interest, training for the client can be enjoyable (crazy, right!?). This will shape a much better relationship between trainer and client for sure.

Why should I spend all that money?

It can be expensive to have a trainer but, as with everything, perspective is key to this one. 

Just one session with a PT opens up the bigger, more important opportunity to talk and influence aspects of the client’s lifestyle. Everything that was discussed or taught during that short time can influence client habits 24/7 from then on.

Now, that sounds more like a better return on their investment…

PT penetration has barely moved over the past 20 years, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of reasons why.

In some environments it’s very different; now we have different fitness sectors including private, boutiques, startups, and many more, but we do know that the overall state of PT take-up is low.

So how can we move that needle:

Less is sometimes more – let’s look at 3 key areas which need to be addressed and can be actioned quickly:


I bet you’ll have a member referral scheme going, or you have had one at some point. They work when done right, and they’re probably the most attractive return on investment for new members!

Clients who refer other members to you might receive a certain benefit, but consider an even greater reward if they refer a non-member for membership and PT!

Competition between trainers

This one needs to be carefully managed and controlled. However, it’ll be worth it, as the most competitive people who step through your gym doors are your PTs. Get the balance right and set a fun, challenging, rewarding scheme and you’ll unlock some magical powers in 25% of your PT team overnight!

Make it the norm

We’ve seen that members wrongly tell themselves PT is only for already fit, elite individuals. Change that narrative, make it all about the normal members who are seeing transformational results both physically and mentally, and SHOUT about them.

Likewise, get your most frequent clients to quote on one of the key barriers mentioned above and let that message resonate with non-PT members!


Running a successful fitness business is demanding; everyday challenges mean that focus gets quickly diverted and this is a common theme when personal training services are seen as an add-on or luxury.

Add it into your strategies (yes, plural!): there needs to be a strong current throughout your retention, secondary revenue, customer journey, and personal training strategies.

It has an impact on all of these independently and collectively.

Craig McNeill 👋


Starting his journey back in 2001, Craig’s knowledge of the leisure sector is varied and he has held numerous roles within the industry, including those of Fitness instructor, Club Manager, PT, PT Tutor and Assessor. Today Craig supports our clients in 20+ countries and blends his passion for fitness and technology as the host of our podcast mPowered where he chats with global health and tech experts.