Both group fitness and personal training are great things, right?  But have you considered how different they are?


Growing up I was a dancer.  In fact, my dance company competed a lot at competitions with other dance companies.  What I loved about dance was not learning the technique, or learning the steps, or memorizing the choreography.  I loved performing on stage.

And you know what?  I won.  All. The. Time.  Best facial expressions.  Best costume.  Best role playing.  All this, and I still often forgot the ‘real’ dance stuff.  I was awful at choreography, memorization, and technique.  BUT, I could perform.  And that ALWAYS stole the judges’ hearts.

Ok, moving on (now that I have bragged a bit, that is not the point of this blog).

Flash forward.  I was in college at the University of Florida.  I loved to exercise and my major was Applied Physiology and Kinesiology with a specialization in Exercise Physiology.  Of course, I started attending group fitness class — high energy, loud music, excitement, and often, dancing!  It was great!

Naturally,  I decided to become a certified group fitness instructor.  We learned things like how to cue people, how to keep them engaged, how to give general guidelines on how exercises should be done, and how to keep people moving at the same pace and on the same rhythm.  All these things I loved.  But you know what I loved the most?  Getting on that group fitness stage and performing.  Putting on that big smile, pretending to not be Julie for an hour, and forgetting about all the challenges I faced that day.  It was amazing.  And the attendees?  They loved it.  They were my “judges” and it reminded me of when I was a girl dancing on stage.  Often, it was encouraged to ‘be creative’ and make up new exercises.  As a good performer, I performed those exercises and everyone believed them to be GREAT and great for their bodies!  

At the time, a lot of my friends were personal trainers. I hung out with personal trainers.  I thought they were cool, so by process of let’s-hang-out, and also, we were in the same major and classes together, I became cool.  I realized that personal trainers knew pretty much the same stuff that I knew.  Many even often took my group fitness classes for ideas (‘what an honor,’ I would think)!  So in my perspective at the time, being a group fitness instructor was the best thing ever.

I was providing the same, if not better, service to my people than personal trainers…. Plus entertaining them, having off-the-wall-fantastic music, and always looking and performing in a first-place-award manner.  So I thought, If you like group fitness it’s because you are social, like groups, and like music, and if you like personal training then you prefer to be alone and maybe you like exercise machines a little more.  BUT, you were getting the SAME result and same exercises(-ish).

Get the gist so far?

At the end of my college career, I was introduced to MAT™ and RTS™.  After taking both company’s introductory courses I began to realize — what a trainer is able to instruct a client to do one-on-one is completely different that what a group teacher is able to instruct a group to do with music, with a rhythm, while being entertaining, and while giving general cues.

I began to realize the HUGE opportunity personal trainers had when they got 100% (or close to it) of their client’s attention to contract a muscle a certain way, or move their body a certain way.  These things are important.  This kind of specific of instruction cannot even be given if training two people.

Why is is SO important to have specific instruction when you exercise?  Because exercise is NOT just about “doing it.”  The change we seek with exercise is an adaptation (change of the body) from a stimulus (a stress, like a weight, or challenge from a weight stack or movement or force).  This means the more specific the stimulus (the exercise or the challenge) the more specific the adaptation (the change).

As a personal trainer, we are able to deliver very specific instruction to elicit a very specific stimulation of the body that can lead to a very specific adaptation or change.  We need to take advantage of this opportunity!  In a group exercise class, any amount of specificity is not able to be delivered.  This simple fact has changed my idea of who should go to group fitness and who should go to personal training (remember before I thought one was for social people and one was for people that didn’t like to be social).  The difference in the two lies in what you may get out of the experiences.

Please do not take this blog post as a bash on group fitness class.  Please take it as simply some of the DIFFERENCES between the two (personal training and group fitness) being highlighted and addressed.

– Julie

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Julie Cates

Julie Cates is an experienced, certified, and insured National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Personal Trainer and mastery level Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) Rx Specialist (MATRx). She is one of 88 certified mastery level Resistance Training Specialists® (RTSm) in the world. This combination makes her style of training impactful and still preventative and restorative of joint and muscle issues and pain that are common with exercise. Julie specializes working with women 50 and over. Specifically, her main focus is working with women with bone density loss, muscle loss, Osteopenia, and Osteoporosis. Julie has incredible experience working with brand new exercisers. Very specific types and styles of exercises are needed for restoring and maintaining bone density, and Julie guides her clients through these in a pain-free way. She is also well experienced in helping women exercise even with various joint, bone, systemic, and neurological diagnoses. Julie is definitely your go-to personal trainer for women with Osteoporosis! Julie graduated cum laude from the University of Florida. She earned her degree in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology with a specialization in Exercise Physiology. Julie is the co-owner of Muscle Activation Schaumburg in Schaumburg, IL. She is a wife and mother of two. Julie can be reached via e-mail at Follow her on Instagram at @julcates!