Well, you are finally ready to do it. You are going to open your very own personal training studio.
I know how you must feel; I was there myself two years ago. I was excited and very nervous at the same time. Money was tight, and I could only afford to rent a 500-square-foot office space. The good news is that if you plan well, you can do any exercise that you can do in a full-size fitness center. Think beyond single-use machines, and get back in touch with your creative side.
Recent trends in fitness have benefited small studio owners immensely. Functional training has been shown time and time again to be effective in getting results for clients. The best part about functional training is that its main requirement is space. If you add in some basic functional accessories you can provide great workouts for your clients without ever using a single machine. Of course, this does not eliminate the need for traditional training methods; you simply need equipment that can multitask.
When you are trying to determine what to outfit your studio with, start with the most basic and most versatile. In my opinion, the two things that you have to have in a training studio are stability balls and adjustable dumbbells. With these two pieces of equipment, there are literally thousands of exercises that you can do. As a gym trainer, we forget that stability balls can be used for more than just abdominal exercises. They can be used in place of a bench, as a pivot for pushups, as a light medicine ball and countless other uses. Dumbbells are fairly self-explanatory, but in a small studio, space is of utmost importance. Do not buy 20 pairs of dumbbells that take up an entire wall; get a system that nests within itself. There are several of these on the market, and any of them will save you tons of space.
While those two pieces are essential, I consider a bench, Olympic weight set and resistance bands to be almost as important. While a ball and some weights will provide good workouts, you do need to have some variety. As I mentioned earlier, functional training is your best friend in a small studio. Using exercise bands, you can recreate any cable movement that you would want. I actually prefer bands to cables for a few reasons. Mainly, the resistance can be changed mid-set by having the client step toward or away from the anchor point. The other reason is psychological. We have all had clients that told us they could not do an exercise because it was “too much weight,” yet all they had done was look at the weight stack. With a band, there is no weight for the client to see. It completely eliminates the “too heavy” factor while providing just as much resistance. If you are reluctant to incorporate band training because they do not provide enough resistance, you are buying the wrong bands. I have seen guys that bench 250 pounds get demolished with bands. They work.
Then Get Equipment that Multitasks
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s talk a little bit about optional equipment that does a great job of multitasking. Probably the first piece of weight equipment that I would consider buying is a cable machine. There are many on the market, but I prefer the models that have articulating arms and dual weight stacks. This will allow you to change angles and create many different exercises from a lat pulldown to a cable bicep curl. While these are great, I do not have one in my studio because of one main defect: They can only be used by one client at a time. I may not have much space, but I like to be able to have a few people training at the same time. Due to this, I have a piece of equipment that is located in the middle of my studio and uses resistance bands. It has anchor points all over it so that I can create any angle I want, but it can be used by multiple people around the different sides. As an added benefit, using bands instead of weights significantly reduces the cost of the unit.
Another piece of equipment that I have recently acquired and enjoy using very much is of rather simple design. It is simply a long nylon strap with handles attached to it. You anchor it to a squat rack, pull-up bar, or you can buy a wall anchor for it. You can work just about any part of the body with this. It is phenomenal for working the core, and clients just think that it is fun to use. Other than its versatility, I love that it takes up no additional space. I simply leave it attached to my pull-up bar and never need to move it.
Cardio Machines Are Optional
Of all the different pieces of exercise equipment that you could put in a studio, cardiovascular equipment is the most optional. I know that you are probably shocked by that statement, but think about it: How often do you have your clients do cardio while you monitor them? I would imagine that it is not very much. A treadmill or elliptical machine also takes up way too much space if you are dealing with a 500-square-foot studio. If you have over 1,000 square feet to work with, go for it, otherwise you need to think smaller.
While I do not think that aerobic equipment is a necessity, I do have a spinning bike that I keep tucked in a corner when not in use. This is easy to move, has a relatively small footprint and does not require an electrical cord. Sure, it may be boring for clients to always use a spinning bike when they are at my studio, but as I stated earlier, they do not use it often. If you are looking for another cardio option that saves space, look into stepper machines. There is one in particular that I want to check out that is a portable unit. It has no handles, collapses to save space and allows clients to sprint. I have heard very good things about it, and it will probably be the next addition to my studio.
When deciding what equipment you will put in your studio, remember one thing: It is not as big as you think it is. Five hundred square feet looks like a lot of room when you first move in, but you will quickly find that it fills up fast. Choose equipment that will give you versatility yet also allows you to use your own training style. If you typically use a lot of barbell exercises, do not abandon them completely for bands and medicine balls. Never abandon what has made you successful; simply start to look at what equipment will allow you to do the most things. For me, it is using a lot of bands and dumbbells. For you, it may just be getting a specific type of power rack and incorporating some new body weight exercises. Just remember, your clients are training with you because of your expertise, not the equipment that you have.
Jared Carter, CSCS, is the owner of Move Forward Fitness Personal Training, located in the heart of Philadelphia. Jared started with a 500-square-foot studio two years ago and is currently moving into a 1,300-square-foot facility. He can be reached through his website, www.moveforwardfitness.com, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.