A new fitness era, where trainers call the shots?

New apps and websites are helping instructors without studios or business degrees own their own destinies. And making it easier for you to hit their classes.
Daphnie Yang is one of the many independent trainers trying out YourGuru this fall. (Photo: Daphnie Yang)

Natalia Petrzela, a popular IntenSati instructor who teaches at Equinox, has taught her own classes outside of the gym environment on and off for the past few years, but she’s found that the logistical challenges—like marketing and collecting payments—often distracted from the fitness mission she was trying to accomplish.

“Teaching independently is kind of like the Wild West of fitness right now—very exciting, but also risky and full of the kinds of practical challenges we instructors don’t deal with when teaching at established clubs,” she says.

This fall, she’s hoping that will change, as she hosts her first seven-week outdoor series via the new KiwiSweat app, a platform that promises to help independent trainers own their own destinies, without the help of a big-box gym, or even a boutique studio. It’s one of a few companies, like YourGuru and Fitist, putting the emphasis on instructors as the brands that deserve to be showcased—and helping them figure out how to do that.

A shot of the KiwiSweat booking app, where you can sign up for class with Petrzela.

“They want to be their own brand, take it out of the gym, and they want to own the content,” says Alicia Thomas, the co-founder of KiwiSweat with Pam Graf. “The instructor is the center of our equation. They are the true influencers in this case.”

While KiwiSweat started as a pop-up workout event company, the new app, in beta until September 20, is a booking platform for instructors hosting classes outside of traditional fitness environments. Instructors post their classes and set their own prices, while KiwiSweat covers liability insurance and drives consumers their way. “We just want to be the support for the instructor,” Graf says.

Nt Etuk had a similar mission in creating his new site, YourGuru (also in beta), which connects consumers to trainers and other independent health professionals. “A lot of instructors, trainers, therapists, etc., are really great at what they do. But because they’re not trained in business, they can’t translate that into an ongoing revenue stream,” he says. “I thought, ‘How do I give these gurus the ability to create and manage their businesses? To just do what they do well and take the business logistics out of it?'”

YourGuru focuses on booking privates but also allows instructors to list group classes, and it works as a calendar and client management system for “gurus,” too.

HIIT IT! creator and private trainer Daphnie Yang says she originally joined the site to connect with like-minded people in the industry, but she found that the calendar and payment options might actually help her streamline her business. “This is such a professional way to keep everything managed. I’ve kind of been running a cash business, and [YourGuru] adds a level of professionalism to the transaction, instead of just handing over $100 bills like you’re doing a drug deal,” she laughs.

Popular trainer Gregg Cook’s profile page on YourGuru, where you can see his calendar, book a session, and more.

And money is important, since many trainers strike out on their own in order to increase their income. KiwiSweat allows trainers to keep 85 percent of the class fee. YourGuru trainers keep their entire class fee and the site then charges the user a small booking fee.

Of course, all of this requires real estate, especially once the weather gets colder and the city’s parks and piers become less desirable for outdoor lunging (and your crunches become snow angels). Fitist’s new “collective,” a space that will serve as a base for “homeless” fitness brands that’s expected to open in early 2015, may help with that. Or maybe New Yorkers will just have to go to the gym once in a while, too.

“I don’t think it has to be either-or! I love teaching at Equinox and the support of a brand that big for me continues to be wonderful,” Petrzela says. “At the same time, I love doing outside special events/series because you get a different crowd, you can play with the venue and format, the experience is more of a ‘special event,’ and there’s often a financial upside, too. I think there is room for both, in the field and in individual instructors’ repertoires as well.” —Lisa Elaine Held

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