PT Collective: Survival of The Fittest

Looking at the rear-view mirror and observing the last two years, the easiest thing would be to get lost in the blur of negativity. That negativity focuses on the predictable assumption that the impact COVID and lockdowns had on the fitness industry is undeniably detrimental.

The CEO of the London-based company Personal Trainer Collective, Luke Johnson, offers us a contrasting reflection. COVID ‘fast-tracked the industry’, Johnson points out. ‘The only thing that’s undeniable is that lockdowns played a role of a natural selection. It gave bricks-and-mortar businesses a massive nudge in the back to adapt or go under.

The Evolution of Online Fitness Industry

From the general public’s point of view, adaptability was never the attribute that first came to one’s mind when thinking about the business aspect of the fitness industry. The industry always heavily relied on predictable variables of sales revenue such as gym memberships, supplements, personal trainer sessions, and group classes.

In recent years, online coaching has slowly been evolving, but the general public still perceived personal training in an online format as a paradox, personal training without personal interaction.

Social media platforms, online marketing, and the growth of technology that made online communication seamless, instantaneous, and practical completely changed that narrative.

Online personal coaching at a time seemed like an oxymoron, but it took the formula from email-counselling and telephone-based life coaching and pushed it through a monstrous metamorphosis. This created nutrition and fitness training coaching models that aren’t just feasible approaches in guiding and helping clients succeed – they are optimal. In many aspects, this makes disproportionately more sense than in-person 1-on-1 coaching.

Today, we have numerous business models predicated on specific technologies of coaching delivery.

To that, Luke Johnson adds: “What once was technology tailored explicitly for the tech-savvy (or what the outsiders perceived as nerdy youth) today is intuitive, practical, simple, and user-friendly tech that anyone can master without any effort.

The aspect of user-friendly simplicity in today’s urgency-driven way of communicating isn’t a perk. It’s an imperative criterion upon which the technology is built.

The entire situation in recent years brought a lot of grief. Still, lockdowns played a role of natural selection, which fast-tracked the execution and demand of online coaching probably a decade ahead of what anyone would initially project.

For example, the emphasis on intuitive and easy-to-use platforms and apps has helped the older generation adopting technology because they had no other choice. I feel confident in projecting this implosion of the popularity of online coaching and educational services such as we provide will transcend in other aspects of the industry. We’ll start seeing an aggressive increase of the older demographic spending more money online and investing in their fitness, health, and longevity in a post COVID world.”

Personal Training at its Core – Compassion in its Heart

Despite being in his mid-thirties, Luke Johnson has been immersed in the fitness industry for over 17 years now, starting as PT himself, when PTs were known as fitness instructors. Luke’s been at the helm of the Personal Trainer Collective since its original iteration under the name Shredded by Science (SBS).

‘We always embraced technology and social media marketing,’ Luke said. ‘We started as an online academy first and foremost, and then moved into more traditional personal trainer qualifications that require in-person assessments for those starting and becoming Level 3-qualified.’

SBS was ahead of its time. Even though he rarely admits it, its success predicated on evidence-based delivery of education and integration of online technology served as a template that the rest of the industry wisely followed.

But what separates the PTC above everyone else is the honed skill of adaptability. Driven by the CEO’s masterful vision and sense of urgency to manoeuvre within the industry’s environment, that initially, during the first lockdown in 2020, started to crumble.

There was no panic at PTC, and numbers speak for themselves.

Personal Trainer Collective doubled its revenue in March 2020 and maintained that revenue each month. They managed to do this by launching the Become a Personal Trainer course during the lockdown. The company took the relationship with their social media following a completely different, more personal level; they increased paid ads when most of the industry was panicking, and they went beyond expected. Luke Johnson, on behalf of the PTC, started adopting private and group Zoom sessions with breakout rooms to provide much-needed support to old, current, and upcoming students who were fearful of losing their clientele and businesses.

‘We only had one mission in mind: to provide even better educational and business support than our students experienced before COVID.’ The mission was nobler and more heart-warming than it implies. At the core of the company’s mission statement lies the care for the well-being of its students.  Every educational program, every course produced by the Personal Trainer Collective, urges students never to neglect the mental health of their clients.

That element is an integral part of education that revolves around nutrition, physiology, biology, and exercise science. PTC education is also based on developing understanding, empathy, and promoting compassion.

Luke and his team went far beyond the industry standard. They offered face-to-face support via Zoom, private and group calls, and Social Media content. They provided help, business strategies and cared about the mental health of Personal Trainers who rightfully felt fear due to the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the pandemic—predominantly the potentially dreadful effect on their businesses and livelihood.

When the company started reaching out to their PTC trainers during the first lockdown – specifically those who had online personal training as their core service pre-covid – they noticed no dip in their businesses. Interestingly, that was the worst-case scenario. Most PTs with the PTC certification started to see an increase in business even during the first lockdown.

PTC embraced the future, and the future is bright.

PTC’s first online course delivery platform, then known as Shredded by Science Academy – started with a WordPress website and multiple plugins mashed together to provide protected content.

Luke Johnson stated they now use Learnworlds, which takes care of the website’s front-end and the backend. Hosting all content, creating quizzes, assessments, learner data, and seamless integrations via API with third-party apps, like Zoom and Active Campaign. It has enabled them to deliver a seamless teaching experience using the power of data and automation.

The brightest example is already here. PTC just released their flagship course – PT Core.

Even at first glance, the PT Core course departs from the standard of the current e-learning process and the user experience of the typical video-based educational presentation. PTC’s CEO confidently states: “We have a mix of students that will need to have in-person practical weekends that include assessments. The industry standard is your typical buy-it-and-DIY courses. These can be as bad as screen-recording ugly unbranded PowerPoint slides using no mic and sold on one of the thousands of online learning platforms.

Our courses take months to develop and combine high-end video lessons, teaching resources, quizzes, and practical assessments. The unique learning experience we provide is that we will run supportive learning programs throughout the year, where new students can enrol and join, and our current students can opt into.”

What Luke talks about is a hybrid-blended learning approach. For example – an 8-week course with a weekly timetable showing what lessons to watch, pages in their manual to read, and coursework/assessment to complete. Each week they will hold a live group Zoom tutoring session where the company provides quick-fire rounds to check the learning and understanding of their students.

They will undergo challenges and activities, which they have to complete in small groups in the form of breakout rooms. Luke believes this approach makes the students part of the collective community.

‘A community is when there are interactions between the staff, students, and peer to peer. Students form lasting friendships and even start businesses together.’

The courses PTC develops are the fitness equivalent of the Masterclass system.

You can witness it yourself at Personal Trainer Collective, where you can find the entire catalogue of courses, regardless if you’re a well-established PT, a beginner in the industry, or someone who is contemplating a lucrative career change.

Thriving in a Hostile Environment

‘Gyms are seeing an all-time high in memberships,’ Johnson explains and elaborates: ‘Unfortunately, a lot of small and independent gyms couldn’t survive even the first lockdown, and they had to close. However, the big chain gyms sought additional financial backing.’

Recently, in May 2021, gym chain Virgin Active won UK court backing in a rent dispute, where Judge Richard Snowden ruled the restructuring plan that eliminated Virgin Active’s unpaid debt to rent, which will allow them to grow further.

‘Gyms now have future-proofed their business,’ the CEO of PTC continues. ‘Building apps or developing live training sessions, delivering and selling pre-recorded classes for their members during the lockdown. This didn’t merely supply them with an alternative to their regular services offer, but they were able to expand it due to the flexibility and availability of online content.’

According to CIMSPA, the online platforms include live and pre-recorded workouts, masterclasses, workouts that include Les Mills on demand, yoga, pregnancy workouts, cross-training exercises for swimmers, exercise-referral classes, chair-based activities, and more.

‘This will enable them to have additional revenue streams or provide more support to their members outside of the gym,’ said Luke Johnson, and added Gymbox and their Out of the Box service as an example.

Luke mentions that Gymbox has 11 gyms located in London. That service now enables them to expand their market online, and since launching it, they have formed a partnership citizen, where their hotel guests can now experience Out of the Box in their hotel rooms.

From a Personal Trainers standpoint, creativity shined through, and those who were open-minded and ready to adapt won big time.

‘All of a sudden, we’re starting to see a surge of Personal Trainers evolving into PT Social Media Influencers. Even those who previously had seemingly no Online presence’, Luke said. ‘Some of our students are becoming masters of video editing, their personalities coming into a spotlight, the quality of content consistently increasing, and as a result, they’re rapidly gaining popularity on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other platforms.’

Desperate times called for unique measures, and thanks to the quality and depth of PTC’s courses, their students stood tall, utilised the tools and education, adapted, and emerged victoriously.