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Matrix: Steve Barrett

Small group training is popular for its energy, but must evolve to retain popularity, says the director of training at Matrix Fitness

Sprint 8 GX brings sprint-intensity training to the gym floor MATRIX
Small Group Training has become a retention-driver MATRIX
Matrix equipment helps members get the most from exercise Matrix

Three key factors have impacted how small group training has evolved,” says Steve Barrett, director of global education and training at Matrix Fitness. “Firstly, innovation in functional training equipment has increased programming options – historically, intensity was the primary goal, but today, protocols can be far more sophisticated.

“Secondly, the role of the trainer in motivating, educating and inspiring has become a driver in boosting engagement and retention,” he says. “Finally, the personalisation of programming to target specific outcomes has become vital – a random set of exercises will no longer suffice and effective programming has to accommodate differing goals and demographics; from sport- or skill-specific sessions, through to training for health and longevity”.

“Cardio training has been going through an identity crisis recently, mainly because the full spectrum of benefits it delivers is misunderstood or overlooked” Barrett adds. “Strength training is experiencing a welcomed boom and for many, weight training has become their primary activity, but training on cardio equipment can also develop lean muscle tissue when used in specific ways.

“Matrix Fitness realised this over 20 years ago resulting in the development of the Sprint 8, and more recently Sprint 8 GX (SGT) programming. Both utilise cardio equipment to train all types of muscle fibres through sprint intensity.

SGT has historically been installed in functional spaces and paradoxically – despite the level of investment in cardio – it’s also the area where the least coaching and interactions occurs. I’d like to see that change,” he says

Matrix Fitness has worked with Phil Campbell, the creator and lead researcher of Sprint 8 programming, for over 20 years. “At a time when even the term HIIT wasn’t well known and most were prescribing long-duration, medium-intensity exercise, Phil was a visionary, promoting 20-min sprint-intensity sessions to not only burn fat, but also to enhance power,” says Barrett.

“We want to help people get the most from the time they invest in exercise and that means resisting the temptation of just hitting ‘quick-start’ on cardio and instead selecting one of the 20-progressive levels of the Sprint 8 protocol,” he adds.

Sprint 8 GX combines 20-minute sprint cardio with 25-minute explosive lifts. This combination simulates fast-twitch muscle fibres and triggers chemical reactions in the body.

Unlike HIIT, where heart rate is a measure of success, in Sprint 8 GX the physical sensations you experience which confirm sprint intensity are muscle burn, forced breathing, increased body temperature and mild adrenal stress response. These may sound dramatic, but they signal success.

Barrett concludes, “Until the development of Sprint 8 GX it was rare for instructor-led SGT to take place on cardio equipment. The Sprint 8 GX sessions quickly become self-promoting because unlike classes which occur behind closed studio doors, Sprint 8 GX is highly visible, as it’s split between cardio and functional zones on the gym floor, so it creates a ‘crowd effect’, drawing people in and normalising the concept of working out at sprint intensities.”

“SGT is social and we’re seeing more instances where it’s merging into other aspects of our life.” Barrett continues. “We’ve already seen Ministry of Sound introduce London’s first fitness night club, but it won’t stop there.

Pear Ring is being called the world’s biggest social experiment – could the next step in the development of the sector be specific SGT sessions for Pear Ring wearers, merging the world of modern day dating with exercise, for example?”

“I also think science-backed programming and data will play an even bigger role in SGT, as members want proven outcomes from their training, with real-time data allowing them to make immediate adjustments to intensity and the structure of the sessions based on feedback from wearables and technology built into equipment,” he concludes.

photo: MATRIX

"Strength training is experiencing a welcomed boom, but training on cardio equipment can also develop lean muscle" – Steve Barrett, Director of global education and training, Matrix Fitness

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 11
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