What is better, individual design or group class?

11 Feb

The age-old (well at least the last few years) question: What is better, individual design or group class? I (Carl Hardwick) want to be upfront here, I am naturally a bit biased due to the way that myself and other coaches here at Big Dawgs deliver fitness- 100% individual design. But, I’ve coached for just about 15 years in various models, to include: personal training, templated strength and conditioning, individualized strength and conditioning, group classes, on-site individual design and remote individual design. So, I am speaking from multiple lenses when I give my opinion. 

I want to take a look at what individual design and group training are and considerations for deciding which is right for you.

First, what is individual design?

Individual: a single human being as distinct from a group, class, or family.

Design: purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

Individual Design (ID) is programming that is built for a specific person who has specific goals. At Big Dawgs, we view ID as understanding where a client is relative to behavior, exercise, and nutrition/lifestyle. Once this is identified, we create an individualized prescription to get them where they want to be with consistent check-ins. 

Now, what is Group Training?

Group: a number of people or things that are located close together or are considered or classed together.

Training: the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.

Group training is getting multiple people with multiple goals and skill levels together in a class environment and perform the same daily workout, typically ‘scaling’ or adjusting exercises and/or loads as a way to attempt to personalize based on ability, goals, etc.


What is Right For You?

In this section, I am going to lay out some things to consider when deciding what type of fitness coaching is right for you.

How Important is it to Accomplish Your Goals?

I think that we can all agree that having a training, nutrition and lifestyle program designed specifically for you will increase the likelihood of you accomplishing your goals. Can you accomplish your goals of losing 5 pounds and increasing strength by 10% in a group class? Maybe. I would consider your training history and how long you’ve been at this thing. For example, someone coming off the couch and exercising for the first time will experience what we call ‘beginner gains’, no matter what they do, they will get better. Hell, they may get better quicker in a group gym that is bashing them over the head with intensity-filled workouts. Well designed training programs will most likely see a slower ascent in progress, but you will be able get better for longer, as illustrated in the graph below.

If you have goals that are important for you to accomplish, a coach designing a program for you based on your goals is the best route to long-term success.

How Important is Accountability?

Although having your own coach will create more accountability than a group gym would or a personal trainer that you see once or twice a week could, I don’t think that accountability is the reason why someone should choose individual design over group or personal training.

In a perfect world, everyone’s well being would be a priority in their lives. If this was the case getting to the gym, creating and sticking to healthy lifestyle habits, and sticking to a nutrition plan that is effective and sustainable would be easy for everyone to do. But, it is not a perfect world, most people lack the knowledge to even begin to understand why their well being should be a priority in their lives. 

This is where accountability comes into play. I am a firm believer that accountability is important when there is a lack of understanding of how important something is. For example, do we have to be held accountable to eat breakfast on a daily basis? No, we understand the importance of eating so we do not cease to exist. 

This is where the coach comes into play. A coach should teach their clients why they should prioritize their physical well being through exercise, behaviors, and nutrition. Once this is accomplished it is no longer seen as accountability, it now turns into responsibility. We are all responsible for our own health, we just may need a professional to teach us how to action on our responsibility.

If accountability is what you are looking for, individual design will offer this due to your coach designing all of your nutrition, exercise and behavior protocols, but learning how to take responsibility for your health and fitness is the stronger pull here.

Handholding vs Autonomy

Some people love the idea of turning off their brains, going into the gym, standing in front of the group fitness instructor and doing what the other 15 people are doing in the class, wiping the sweat off their brow, not being connected to why they are doing what they are doing and come back to do it again tomorrow. If this is you, group fitness may be the right path forward for you. 

If you want to be connected to what you are doing in the gym, align what you are doing outside of the gym to your goals and understand why you are doing what you are doing and what it is leading to, individual design may be the right path forward for you. Individual design comes with a level of autonomy, your coach consults with you to understand your experiences and goals, assesses you, designs your training program, designs your nutrition and lifestyle program, and consistently checks in to ensure you are moving forward to your goals. In the gym, you are given full autonomy when it comes to your daily training sessions. This pays off in the long term because it teaches you how to take control of your own fitness with the assistance of a professional coach.

If you are looking to be handheld through training sessions, individual design is not the right option for you, if you are looking to take control of your fitness and for autonomy, individual design is the option for you.


There is no “perfect” model of fitness for everyone, but we believe that individual design is the most effective way to get people to their goals in a safe and sustainable way. We believe that having a professional coach is something that every person should experience. Will they need that coach for the rest of their lives? We hope not! Coaches should teach their clients the importance of a healthy lifestyle, great fitness practices and sustainable nutritional protocols. There are things that group training simply cannot offer.


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