How the University of Illinois at Chicago Meets the Challenges of Small Group Training

Lynne Thompson PhotoLynne Thompson has to be clever when it comes to drawing exercisers to the functional training room at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Sport & Fitness Center. Thompson, the associate director of programs and services at UIC, has a large dedicated space for small group training, but it’s on the bottom floor of the rec center in an area that doesn’t see a lot of foot traffic.

She’s made incremental changes to drum up excitement—painting a large white wall a vibrant red, making sure the room is always open and available, and bringing other equipment like dumbbells and kettlebells down from the main gym on the second floor.

“I inherited the space and you never turn down space when you get it,” said Thompson. “So I took it, and what I’m trying to do is bring the fitness floor to the functional training room. I’m adding dumbbells, kettlebells, and other things they’re looking for on the fitness floor. I’m adding those to create traffic in that room. We’ve opened up the room and we staff it. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a staff person so there’s someone in there to answer questions and promote it.”

Less-than-ideal logistics are just one challenge that Thompson faces when creating robust small group training.

High Trainer Turnover

Training staff is an ongoing process for Thompson. Because the majority of personal trainers in the fitness center are students, they are at UIC for a limited time. It’s not always easy in a limited time frame to develop the personality to effectively guide energetic small group training classes.

“Campus rec always deals with transition of student staff,” said Thompson. “We had a pretty good turnover of those who were skilled at leading small group training. We have to rebuild and retrain that type of training. We’re lucky to have a trainer for two years and then they’re gone. It’s a continual process. Sometimes gyms have rock star trainers, and we have those too. But we’re always educating, teaching and training.”

Getting the Word Out

Effective marketing is essential to drum up excitement at any fitness facility. The marketing team for student affairs at UIC recently underwent a transition and ramped up its staff. “Now, we’re working with them to create some video segments and to create more marketing that I think will be beneficial,” explained Thompson. “We just didn’t have resources to do that in the past. That was a challenge that’s better now. Clearly you can’t run a program and not let people know about it.”

Competition

UIC isn’t immune to an abundance of other exercise options. The boutique gym experience is one that appeals even to college students.

“The thing that’s difficult for us since we’re an urban school, is that students have a lot of options,” added Thompson. “Even if they have a membership here they’re still paying to go to a (boutique gym). It’s tapping into those students that are paying extra money for that service to transfer some of that into our small group training. They have a lot of options, so there’s a lot of competition.”

The small group training offering at UIC is an ever-improving work in progress. Thompson knows what needs to be done to create energy and excitement.

“The focus this year is to look at how we can change up our marketing to attract that energy. It’s tapping into that resource and letting our university population know about it. It’s functional, it’s fun, it’s high energy. It’s all of those things people are looking for. In a perfect world if I was building a facility I’d put SYNRGY right on the main fitness floor and then I’d run programming right on that floor. I guarantee it’d be popular.”