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Qualifications Needed to Become a Fitness Instructor

Growing public interest in health and wellness is giving fitness careers a big boost. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for fitness instructors through 2026 is expected to be faster than the average for all occupations. If you love health, fitness and teaching, a career or second job as a fitness instructor could be a great investment in your future.

Education and Certification

Most employers hiring fitness instructors require a high school degree or equivalent. Some employers may expect, or favor those candidates with, an associate's or bachelor's degree in a health and fitness field, such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education.

In addition, certification as a fitness instructor is often expected, if not at the start of employment, soon thereafter. There are many organizations offering these certifications, but those from agencies accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies are the best known and respected in the field. Organizations such as the American Council on Exercise and the Athletics and Fitness Association of America are examples of these accredited programs.

Certification involves studying for and passing an exam which will include a written portion; some may also include a practical exam. According to ACE, candidates typically require three to four months and 80 to 100 hours of study before taking the exam.

Fitness instructors will also be required to obtain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and automated external defibrillators, or AED, through a certifying agency such as the Red Cross.

Read more: 10 Free Workouts to Get You Fitter and Stronger

Specialized Training

Depending on the type of classes you would like to teach, you may need specialized training in addition to, or instead of, a general fitness instructor certification. As an example, Balanced Body offers certification programs for Pilates trainers, and YogaWorks offers certifications for yoga teachers. Group fitness classes such as Zumba, TRX and indoor cycling have their own certifications. If you are interested in working with special populations, such as children, pregnant women or the elderly, you may also need additional training.

Skills and Personality Traits

Fitness instructors must have the skills and personality traits to effectively lead and motivate students. Instructors should be confident, enthusiastic and positive. They should be articulate and comfortable being in front of a class. Depending on the type of class they are teaching, fitness instructors will need to have a good grasp of music and rhythm in order to choose the right songs for choreography. Many fitness centers require instructors to audition before being approved to teach classes.

Client Expectations

Personal trainers and fitness instructors should be at a healthy weight and able to engage in the same exercises they ask of their clients. People are less likely to be motivated by fitness instructors who do not appear to follow their own advice. Instructors should be in good shape so that they can be positive role models. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that clients expect more emphasis on overall wellness from instructors in addition to exercise training.

Read more: YMCA National Fitness Certification

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About the Author

Holly Case has written professionally since 2000. She is a former contributing editor for "ePregnancy" magazine and a current editor for a natural food magazine. She has extensive experience writing about nutrition, pregnancy, infertility, alternative medicine, children's health and women's health issues. Case holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and professional writing from Saginaw Valley State University.

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