There is no doubt that group fitness has exploded as the method of choice for many people looking to get in great shape.

It enables them to get a tough workout for a lower price per session whilst also offering a fun and encouraging social environment.

The most obvious problem with group fitness is that it’s much harder to ensure appropriate training parameters.

It’s hard to know how stressed and tired every individual is in a big class.

What about movement difficulties or injury issues?

Some group fitness facilities have got as far as using movement screening before allowing people to join a group program.

This allows more accurate progression and regression of exercises.

For instance, if someone has an existing low back problem and weak core muscles, it may be wise for that person to perform dumbbell goblet squats instead of loaded barbell back squats.

However, there are two methods that are rarely used but can make programming and individual coaching much more accurate in real time.

In other words, you can tailor the session to the ‘version’ of the member that shows up on any given today.

When Jane has slept well and had a great day at work she will perform certain types of training much more effectively than on the morning after she lost her job and her dog died during the night.

When Jane is highly stressed, 5 sets of 3 heavy back squats are unlikely to be productive and may even be dangerous, pushing her further into a rut.

Knowing the current status of all thirty members in a class is virtually impossible without some assistance but there are two simple ways to make it happen.

Auto-regulated Progressive Resistance Exercise (APRE)

APRE is one of my favourite training systems, with the load use in a set determined by your maximal performance in the previous one.

This allows the day’s session to better match the neurological status of the individual and importantly in a group setting, it doesn’t require your expert knowledge for it to operate smoothly.

The beauty of this system is that it takes account daily stress, fatigue and niggles.

It doesn’t try to force reps that aren’t in the tank but similarly it pushes you to take advantage of those days where you feel invincible.

APRE has variations for 10RM, 6RM and 3RM rep ranges, depending on the goal of the session.

You will perform five sets with the weight used for the fifth set, based on how you perform in the fourth set.


Set 1: 12 rep warm up, light

Set 2: 12 reps @ 50% of 10RM

Set 3: 10 reps @ 75% of 10RM

Set 4: Reps to failure at 10RM

Set 5: Reps to failure at adjusted weight

The weight used for the final set is adjusted according to how you perform in Set 4.

4-6 reps = Decrease 2.5-5kg

7-8 reps = Decrease 0-2.5kg

9-11 reps = Same weight

12-16 reps = Increase 2.5 – 5kg

17+ reps = Increase 5-7.5kg


Set 1: 10 rep warm up, light

Set 2: 10 reps @ 50% of 6RM

Set 3: 6 reps @ 75% of 6RM

Set 4: Reps to failure at 6RM

Set 5: Reps to failure at adjusted weight

The weight used for the final set is adjusted according to how you perform in Set 4.

0-2 reps = Decrease 2.5-5kg

3-4 reps = Decrease 0-2.5kg

5-7 reps = Same weight

8-12 reps = Increase 2.5 – 5kg

13+ reps = Increase 5-7.5kg


Set 1: 6 rep warm up, light

Set 2: 6 reps @ 50% of 3RM

Set 3: 3 reps @ 75% of 3RM

Set 4: Reps to failure at 3RM

Set 5: Reps to failure at adjusted weight

The weight used for the final set is adjusted according to how you perform in Set 4.

1-2 reps = Decrease 2.5-5kg

3-4 reps = Same weight

5-6 reps = Increase 2.5 – 5kg

7 reps = Increase 5-7.5kg

For personal trainers who rarely know what version of their client is going to walk in to the gym that day, the APRE system is a great self-management/feedback system.

For trainers teaching group strength training classes, it can be used to regulate individual progression within the group when you can’t be watching every individual after every set.

Instead they can manage their own workouts for safe, effective progression by using the tables above.

Heart Rate Variability

APRE is a great system but not much use if you are offering HIIT sessions.

The use of Heart Rate Variability monitoring gives you a good indication of the overall status of an individual’s nervous system and can be an excellent way to make sure members are training at the right intensity on any given day.

Heart Rate Variability is the difference between the peaks you would see on an ECG monitor and indicates fluctuations around an average heart rate.

HRV is affected by the pre-dominance of either the Sympathetic Nervous System or the Para Sympathetic Nervous System.

Generally, the greater the HRV score the more active the PSNS.

This means the individual is in a more rested and relaxed state and therefore able to tolerate a higher training load.

A lower score typically indicates incomplete recovery and a system under stress in which case a lower training load is recommended.

Having an insight into the current status of the nervous system and changes over the course of a few days, gives a coach a better idea what load and type of training their client is able to tolerate.

Unfortunately, reliance on typical symptoms of overreaching such as stalled progress in the gym, constant fatigue, mood changes etc means waiting it is often too late to avoid prolonged periods of recovery and time out of the gym.

Whilst stress is a necessary part of training and adaptation, it is important to manage recovery so that we avoid slippery slopes in which an individual’s training and competitive performances can deteriorate quickly.

Personal experience with HRV has shown that often you will feel okay to train despite the HRV monitor indicating otherwise.

However, two or three days later, something more ‘obvious’ will occur such as a sudden drop in energy or the onset of a cold or flu.

Think of your HRV monitor as your own personal fortune-teller.

Training must be challenging, but in some corners of the fitness industry it has become about pushing to the limit as often as possible, and then wondering why a ‘crash’ of some kind occurs.

Using HRV, we can push in training when it is likely to be ‘accepted’ by the brain and body, and pull back when it is likely to cause further fatigue and symptoms of stress.

In this way we can move through cycles of ‘gains’.

HRV is affected by many personal factors such as anxiety, fitness levels, exercise mode, body composition, temperature, humidity, altitude, mood, hormonal status, drugs, stimulants, gender and age.

As we coach an individual through all elements of their health and training, we can monitor the affects of implicating both training and lifestyle changes and tweak on a daily or weekly basis as required.

Whilst there is considerable science working in the background, it is simple for any individual to monitor on a daily basis and feedback to their coach via various software options.

The client simply uses an adapted heart rate strap each morning and logs the results on the software or app.

In terms of group fitness, the coach could log in to the list of clients and see who is in the ‘Green’, ‘Amber’ and ‘Red’ zones.

Those in the green zone are in a good place and can complete the full workout as planned.

Those in the amber zone are okay to train but showing signs of incomplete recovery. They should back off a little on today’s session, using lower weights or only completing 50% of the planned volume.

Those in the red zone are showing strong signs of fatigue and systemic stress so should not be completing an intense session.

A group fitness coach could have a list of five active recovery workouts for these people to choose from such as breathing work, mobility, foam rolling, light Turkish get ups, easier cardio based sessions and so on.

This ensures that the client doesn’t waste precious exercise time but also don’t fall further into a physical rut with inappropriate training load.

Be a Smart Coach

These are just two systems that can be used to adapt different types of training often used by group fitness facilities.

The best part is that they require very little time or energy to be used effectively.

Others are available and will become available, but as always, I like to talk from experience of what has worked with ease for me in the real world!

Remember, despite advances in technology, you can never get things exactly right or rely solely on technology and should stay open and aware of signs of stress and imbalance in your clients.

Learn more about implementing systems that improve customer service and profitability..