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What is the Best Group Fitness Instructor Certification?

by becomingatrainer

Those in the fitness field have several options open to them if they want to move up in their careers. Group Fitness Instructor certification is amongst the most powerful career boosters. Not only will you have your training as a personal instructor to fall back on, but a group fitness certification means that you can take on more tasks.

Better yet, hosting classes is a great way to get people interested in you. If somebody likes your group fitness sessions, they’ll be more likely to ask you for one-to-one sessions. This works both ways. You can encourage your personal fitness clients to also take your group fitness classes. Over time, you can develop a client list that makes you valuable to your gym, or opens the door to going into business for yourself.

This means a higher income for you, and more career options. Furthermore, a good course can also help you to understand how to market your services.

However, it’s not easy to find the right certification. Several organizations offer courses, all of which take a different approach.

We’ve examined some of the leading Group Fitness Instructor certifications for the purposes of this guide. Read on to find out which the best course is for you.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certification

An ACE Certification shows that you can do more than memorize a class and perform. As part of the program, you will develop a better understanding of how different activities affect different parts of the body as well as become equipped with the skills and knowledge to create classes of your own.

The study program comes in three flavors – Pro Essentials, Pro Plus and Pro Advantage. Each offer quality, though the most advanced packages offer more educational materials.

The Essentials program currently costs $299 and gives you access to ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor Handbook in either physical or eBook form. This provides in-depth information about fitness and demonstrates how it impacts overall wellness. You’ll also enroll in the ACE Digital Classroom, which offers access to chapter reviews and quizzes so you can track your progress against the handbook. You also receive access to the ACE Resource Center, and a practice test that you can use to prepare yourself for the final exam. This exam is also included as part of the package.

The Plus program adds to this by offering an additional practice exam. You also receive both physical and eBook versions of the handbook. This comes at a cost of $349.

Finally, the Advantage package comes with everything in the Plus package. However, you now have unlimited access to practice exams. Furthermore, ACE offers its Enhanced Digital Resource Package, which goes into more detail on becoming a quality group fitness instructor. Typically, the Advantage package costs $499, but ACE runs regular offers so you may get it cheaper.

Whichever you choose, you’ll have access to a ton of resources to help you understand group fitness. Furthermore, their certification carries accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).


  • Focus on applying theoretical knowledge to creating new classes.
  • Access to the ACE Resource Center, which offers one-on-one help with a study coach
  • Dedicated Facebook Group
  • NCCA-accredited
  • Three program options.
  • Detailed study materials included as part of the package.
  • Practice tests included.
  • Final test included.


  • No physical teaching component.

National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) Certification

The NETA certification also carries NCCA accreditation, plus it takes a more physical approach to learning. The most expensive version of the course places more of a focus on practical learning than theoretical. While experienced personal trainers may not need these, they go a long way to teaching the fundamentals to beginners. As part of the package, you’ll take part in workshops where you review your progress with a trained professional.

All told, NETA offer three routes to earning its certification. There’s the previously described practical course. However, you can also choose courses that focus on self-study using the NETA materials, or a course based on live webinars. The latter courses reinforce the theory behind the physical aspect of teaching group fitness.

Importantly, you may need to purchase one of these two theoretical courses if you take the workshop-based course. This is because the workshop course doesn’t provide you with any study materials as part of the package.

However, all three do include a final test, which you must take at one of NETA’s 500 testing centers in the United States.

Course prices range from $239 to $299. While this may seem cheaper than the ACE course, there is a catch. You have to purchase the related course books and practice exams separately. When totaled up, the courses have a comparable price. The courses also focus more teaching group fitness classes than they do on creating your own.


  • A choice of three courses.
  • The most expensive course has a physical teaching component.
  • Courses carry NCCA accreditations.
  • Can control your own schedule if you take the self-study course.


  • Course materials aren’t included in the package.
  • You receive no practice tests.
  • Physical course offers less control over your own schedule.
  • Less focus on developing your own group fitness sessions.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Group Exercise Instructor Certification

The ACSM differs from the other courses on this list because of its focus on camaraderie. Through this course, you’ll understand the importance of bonding with your students, as well as teaching them. We mentioned previously that this bond is crucial to improving personal training businesses. If this is a route you’re interested in, the ACSM course may be the right choice for you.

ACSM has a different pricing structure too. You pay for the exam separately, meaning you can choose which course materials you invest in. The exam typically costs $299, though ACSM members receive it at a reduced price of $239. You can also buy a retest for $155, should you not succeed on your first attempt.

While this may seem lower than the ACE certification at first glance, the prices go up depending on which study materials you buy. For example, the basic resources package costs an additional $75.99, while ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription costs a further $47.99.

ACSM also offers physical workshops at locations throughout the United States. However, each of these carries a separate cost of their own.

One the one hand, this pricing structure gives you more control over how much the course costs you. If you already have a solid knowledge of group fitness, you could take the exam without studying. However, those who need extra tuition soon experience mounting costs. Attending multiple workshops could easily lead to the certification costing more than any other on this list.

However, there’s no denying the ACSM’s quality either. The organization has over 50,000 members making it the largest sports science organization on the planet. Studying through them gives you access to well-researched materials. Furthermore, taking out a membership lowers the cost of the exam, and may provide you access to other professionals so you can build your professional network.


  • Course is backed by a global professional organization.
  • You receive greater control over how you study.
  • Offers the option of attending workshops across the country.
  • Puts a greater focus on developing bonds with class members than other courses.


  • You must buy all of the course materials separately to the exam.
  • Every workshop costs a little extra on top.
  • Does not have NCCA accreditation.

Overall cost of the course may be higher for beginners due to their need for study materials.

The Final Word

In choosing the best of these three Group Fitness Instructor certifications, we have looked at several factors. The quality and methods of tuition play a huge role. So too does the focus of the course. The best certification should help you to build on your existing skills, and develop new skills that help you to teach classes better.

Price is also a factor, as this is especially important for beginners who need study materials. Any additional accreditation has also factored into our decision.

With all of those factors taken into account, we believe that the ACE certification is the best choice for both beginners and experienced practitioners. It is the only one to provide all of the program materials and the exam as part of a package deal, which simplifies the cost.
Furthermore, its focus on helping students learn how to develop their own classes stands out. This skill will prove advantageous to you as you try to set yourself apart from other group fitness professionals. The ACE program also carries NCCA accreditation, and includes practice tests. The only thing missing is a practical component, such as a workshop.

That’s not to say that the other two courses don’t have plenty to offer. NETA’s practical approach offers a different take on training, plus their course also has NCCA accreditation. The ACSM course could be either the most costly, or least expensive of the three, depending on your current skill level. However, it also comes with the backing of an established organization with tens of thousands of members.

Still, if we are to choose one, we select the ACE certification. It’s the most comprehensive of the three choices. Plus, you receive access to an extensive library of resources to help you pass.

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