Free training session: New member perk or waste of time?

by Ryan Wagner

A couple months back I joined a new gym. It’s a big place, it qualifies as a “big box” gym.

I’m pretty sure the membership employee liked me because I made my decision to join in about 5 minutes flat. All I needed to do was walk the floor enough that I could see the condition of the equipment and locate a power rack. I told her that I didn’t need to see the locker rooms, the yoga room, the pool, the group exercise studio, etc.

“Where do I sign?” I asked.

While filling out the application I came across a very familiar line item. If you’ve ever been a member at a gym before, I’m sure you’ve seen it, if not some variation.

Free training session.

It’s the go-to new client onboarding tool for a gym to sell training packages. Gyms have been employing this method for a very long time now. On paper, it makes a lot of sense. After all, new members may not know what they are missing, right? Many are joining the gym to “get healthy” or “become a fitness person.” And it’s easy to think that One Free Session will help.

Also, it’s an opportunity to ask questions and learn how to use specific equipment, isn’t it?

A friend of mine summed it up nicely when I asked her about her recent experience during one of these free sessions. She told me that she felt like the trainer spent the whole hour trying to sell her on only more personal training sessions.

This is a problem.

And it’s not that I don’t think trainers should be out selling their services – they should. It can be difficult to make a living as a personal trainer and those training sessions are like gold (albeit a reduced nugget after the gym takes its cut).

But the problem is that most trainers aren’t salespeople. They are trainers.

They know how bodies move and how to get them into better shape. Their skill in closing deals and establishing an emotional connection to prospective clients is usually pretty thin. And in my experience, most trainers don’t even want to be selling. They want to be training, helping their clients change their bodies and lives and earning a fair income while doing so.

What happens more often than not is that the client feels pressured to buy additional training sessions versus being educated or inspired and the trainer feels out of place in “sales mode.”


Here’s what I suggest to the big gyms of the world:

Create a new role. Call it the Sales Trainer.

It’s the person whose job it is to guide a prospective trainee (new or existing) to the right trainer. Not ‘a’ trainer, but ‘the’ trainer. The one who is right for them.

Let’s go back to my experience in the membership office and I’ll give you an example.

Imagine that instead of a simple check box on the application as to whether or not I wanted a free session, there was a prompt for me to enter my specific fitness goal. Or, better yet, the Sales Trainer was right there in the room, asking me about what I wanted to achieve. Why was I joining the gym in the first place?!

I would have explained to her that I wanted to finally get my legs to grow. That my ectomorph body type seems to do everything it can to fight me putting on any more mass.

“Oh, absolutely, I completely understand. I’d like to introduce you to John, he’s our resident squat specialist and no one knows better than he how to build some tree-trunk thighs in a safe and effective way.”

A dialogue like this would have even won me over for a free session.

After all, it’s free.

In summation, I believe trainers should be selling via over delivering on what they do best – training. Whereas, a Sales Trainer should be the one closing the deal and helping, really helping, a client find what is best for them. 

We all come out on top this way.

By Ryan Wagner

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