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Midtown Athletic Club's Richard Earney Talks About The Changing Face Of Small Group Training


Richard Earney is the National Program Director for Midtown Athletic Clubs. Midtown began as a tennis club in Chicago and has grown to eight premium fitness clubs in the United States and Canada. We asked Richard about Midtown’s approach to small group training and programming.

Where do you see the fitness industry headed?

The future of fitness is programming. We’ve been through some monumental changes over the last five years, particularly from what we call “DIY fitness”—jumping on a treadmill, an elliptical, weight machines, do it yourself fitness.

We firmly feel that the future of fitness is programming and that’s why we’ve put a ton of energy into programming these spaces.

What spaces are you referring to?

We’ve worked with Life Fitness on two incredible spaces, The Arena in Palatine (Illinois) and The Pit in Atlanta. We’ve created real environments in these spaces. So it’s not a matter of just sticking pieces of equipment in and saying “off you go.” Each of these rooms feels like you’re walking into its own space.

How does Midtown inject energy into these spaces?

The Pit and The Arena have their own identity. Each studio is brought to life by creating three or four distinct programs that are aligned with the theme of the studio, each with their own vernacular, ingredients and elements.  The Arena has a military feel, with “Basic Training” a program for newbies to the studio and this style of training. We’ve got a team-based program called “Drill” which incorporates challenges and gamifies the space, and “Special Ops”, which is a super tough program. The Pit on the other hand is more raw in nature. This is the place to lift. We have created bespoke programs like “The Warrior”, “Diesel”, “Ladies that Lift” with workshops and events such as “Olympic Lifting”, “Learn to Lift”, “Beers & Barbells”, etc.

How do trainers fit into the equation?

Talent is everything, and we learned early on that the top personal trainers we have may not be the most engaging and exciting in a group setting. We looked at our top group ex teachers, we looked at coaches that could command and own a group setting. Experience and delivery is everything.

In addition, for the teachers to buy in, we ensured all programs had structured freedom. They have the ingredients, the elements and they can program the exercise, music, etc. to those elements. Hence, sticking to the program, but having some freedom to create. Giving your top trainers the ingredients to build a program that fits within the framework is very important.

There is a movement happening in the industry, I call it the rise of the instructors. We are seeing it clearly in the boutique setting and it’s imperative this translates into the clubs. These instructors are engaging a ton of members. They are that important.

Fitness centers have been hitting the ball to the wrong side of the park for far too long, the boutiques are showing that.

What’s the biggest roadblock for traditional clubs?

Changing culture, being adaptable and accountable, that’s the biggest challenge.

How have you created demand for group training?

We decided from January this year after experimenting with paid small group training in The Arena that we are going to include it on the group exercise schedule. I want to pack it out, create demand and scarcity, so people say, “I can’t get into that class it’s too busy.” Then we put a scattering of paid small group training around the busy classes. So we run free classes and paid small group training. So far it’s a massive success, we are getting more people into programing and it’s a great message to members and prospects.

What are the ingredients required to create successful small group training?

Paid small group training is a hot topic, members must see value. More often than not it’s coach driven as opposed to program driven, which is fine, but that’s something that clubs need to be aware of when creating and launching programs, if they want them to succeed. Also, the location, it’s difficult to get away with fitting a SGT program in an empty racquet ball court and charge for it, historically this is what clubs have done. Members now expect more, this has been driven by the boutique experience, think about audio, visual, incorporating technology, special tools, toys, verbiage, vernacular, programming and of course top talent.

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