One way to expand your career options in the fitness industry is to become a certified Group Fitness Instructor. The more certifications you acquire, the more earning potential you will have in the field.
With one foot in the personal training department and the other as a group instructor, you will become irreplaceable at any gym. People will get to know your training style by taking your classes and may become interested in training with you one-on-one. Similarly, as a personal trainer you can encourage your clients to take the classes you teach.
When getting certified you have a choice of several national group exercise certification programs. We’ve found the best three to be ACE, AFAA, and NETA. All three offer fantastic programs so you will need to determine which one is the most convenient, cost effective and overall fit for you.
Let’s review them, one by one.
American Council of Exercise (ACE)
Because of the explosion in popularity of group fitness in the past decade, it is even more important than ever to get nationally certified in group fitness. There are so many choreographed group fitness programs out there that do not require much more than a teacher in front of a class memorizing a DVD of material. Unfortunately, this is performing, not teaching. By having an ACE certification, you have proof that you can create, design, and instruct your own program while helping your class stay safe.
As an ACE certified group fitness instructor you will have the skills, knowledge and professional training to stand out among other instructors. While many instructors are only trained to teach a certain level or certain type of class, with an ACE group fitness certification you will be able to teach all levels. By creating unique classes, you will engage your class and encourage a higher level of repeat participants. ACE is a non-profit organization with the goal of making people stronger and healthier.
When getting ACE certified, you will have the choice of a standard (approximately $299) or a premium (approximately $499) option. Both types will prepare you for the exam and cover the cost of the exam, but the premium will give you practice tests, flash cards and access to further online exam preparation. Because there is not a workshop to prepare you for the exam, going premium would be a good choice.
When you are ready to take the exam you register online and take the test at a local testing center.
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)
The AFAA certification is for individuals to knowledgeably and creatively design group exercise certification programs for a wide variety of healthy individuals of all fitness levels. The purpose of obtaining a certification is to be nationally registered as someone who has gone through the practical and written exam to prove their aptitude in creating such programs. AFAA allows both an online and onsite certification program.
Whether the program is done online or onsite, AFAA recommends no less than one month of pre-study before taking the exam. For those taking the test onsite, there is an all-day review prior to the written and practical test at the end. The cost is $299 (there is a 10% discount for AFAA members). Prior to taking the test, there are a number of books and study guides that will need to be purchased. These can be bought on the AFAAtrainer.com website and should be studied months before the review workshop and exam.
The following are covered in the workshop but should be reviewed using the exam preparation textbooks and study guides:
- Basic anatomy and kinesiology
- Nutrition and weight management
- Group exercise design planning
- Essentials of teaching (exercise guidelines, motivation, cueing, chorography, etc.)
- Exercise selection and injury prevention
- Business skills and legal responsibilities
For those taking the test online, the price is also $299, but frequently discounted to $199. You will get access to streaming videos to help you prepare for the test. Just like the onsite workshop covers basic test questions and review, the streaming videos will provide an overview of the exam. The online practice and exam should be taken by a self-starter who can handle a lot of studying on their own. If not, then the hands-on workshop is best. During the online exam, the test-taker will be monitored using their webcam by a third party. This is to avoid any dishonest or immoral activity during the test.
To become AFAA certified you must be at least 18 years of age and possess a valid CPR certification. Prior group exercise experience is strongly encouraged. If there is no previous experience then the one day intensive workshop is highly recommended. Once an individual has taken and passed the test they will be awarded a certification and AFAA card.
National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA)
A third option for those interested in teaching in a group setting is the NETA certification. Going the extra step to get nationally certified proves to potential employees that you are dedicated to teaching and devoted to the entire fitness profession. Similar to other national certification exams it is crucial to use the textbooks, study guides and practice exams to prepare for the test.
NETA offers two options for taking the test. Option 1 is to attend a one-day workshop with hands-on exam preparation and insight into the teaching experience, with the test being administered at the end. Option 2, if you feel studying on your own, you can choose the “test only” option and test at a number of registered test centers nation-wide.
If you can spare the time, it is in your best interest to learn basics from professionals by participating in a workshop. Besides the price difference the “test only” option can be taken pretty much any time or any day, whereas if you are waiting for a workshop you would have to sign up for that particular day. If you are on a time crunch then the “test only” option may be for you.
The standard price is $299 if you register online. If you register 30 days early you can get the early bird special of $249. If you pay onsite you will pay $309. Registering early also ensures that you will get a spot in the workshop as these exams can fill up fast. The cost of a just taking the test is $199.
While the primary focus is on safety, the following are covered in the workshop: anatomy, nutrition, cueing, choreography and safe exercise evaluation. Unlike the AFAA certification you do not need a CPR certification to pass the test. Although, keep in mind that you may need it for whatever potential gym hires you.
By choosing a national certification like AFAA, NETA or ACE you will have the knowledge and the ability to train anywhere in the world. You will also be able to teach anywhere–it does not have to be in a gym. Note, if you choose to train a boot camp of some sort outside, you will need to learn the legalities of training in the parks and open lots in your area.
Some gyms do not make their group fitness instructors sign non-Compete agreements which means you can teach at more than one gym. You will need to check with each individual gym to comply with their rules. Overall, the more group classes you are certified to teach, the more money you will make and the more invaluable you will be to the club.