An important aspect of training in the outdoor fitness market is the division of members into ability group levels; and this concept is adopted by the majority of training providers.

The purpose, and advantage, of placing members into groups according to fitness/ability is to bring those of similar fitness levels together to provide cohesion, support and motivation whilst exercising at a level that is more likely to be appropriate to their needs.

Although there is some variation between training providers, in general, the ability group levels are roughly similar as highlighted in Table 1.

Table 1: Ability group levels

Bib Colour

Group Level

Level of Intensity of Physical Activity



Low intensity (typically trial and newer members)



Low to moderate intensity



Moderate to high intensity

Ability Group Training: Advantages and Disadvantages

When planning and conducting a training programme, fitness professionals should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of mixed ability groups or grouping by ability.

Whichever approach is selected, achievement of maximum participation is highly desirable.

Mixed Ability Group Training

All working groups will contain individuals possessing a mixture of physical and mental capacities. Points to note include:

  1. When a group train together, group cohesion will increase (unless the training causes conflict within the group).
  2. It may, however, be detrimental to the overall fitness gains of the group.  For example, a running session that should be 30 minutes steady state pace will only be steady state for a given percentage of the group.  The variations of effort within the group could be 20% receive no training effect, 40% gain aerobic endurance benefit and 40% train at high intensity to maximum effort.
  3. Some weaker individuals will constantly train at high intensity risking breakdown, injury and reduced morale.
  4. Other individuals will have limited or no fitness gains, which, again, could lead to frustration and a lack of motivation.

Ability Group Training

Training sessions carried out within an ability group will enable optimal training loads to be applied. Points to note include:

  1. If the group unites in their effort, team spirit and cohesion should be enhanced.
  2. The major disadvantage is the normal working group will have to be split into several sub-groups to gain an even balance of ability and this will detract from a total group bonding.
  3. There is also the possibility that group elitism could create conflict within the group.
  4. On the other hand, it may motivate the weaker members to try harder and gain transfer into a higher ability group.

British Army’s Perspective

Due to the advantages and disadvantages to the two systems described above the Army School of Physical Training (ASPT, 2001) suggests that a mixture of both could possibly be the answer.

The ASPT (2001) also argues that there are many types of training sessions that can be conducted to allow all abilities to train at the correct individual intensity and the importance of group cohesion should be carefully considered in the planning of training.


ASPT (Army School of Physical Training) (2001) Fight to Fight, Pamphlet Two: Test Protocols and Administrative Instructions for Individual Training Directive (Army) 2 Fitness Tests. Aldershot: ASPT.


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