If you enjoy the energy of a group fitness class, you may be considering a career as a primary group fitness instructor. A group exercise certification qualifies you to teach step, aerobics, muscle conditioning, flexibility classes and more at gyms, community centers, universities and corporate facilities. Becoming certified is simple and involves studying for and passing an exam. You must then maintain your certification to keep it current.
Choosing a Program
There are many options out there for earning your primary group fitness certification, and they can vary greatly in quality and reputation. It is highly recommended that you choose a program that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, or NCCA. An accredited program must meet standards of excellence for performing a specific job. You can choose from several nationally recognized and accredited certification programs from the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the American College of Sports Medicine and others.
Prerequisites vary with each certification, but most require you to be at least 18 years old, have a high school degree or equivalent and hold a current CPR/AED -- cardio pulmonary resuscitation and automatic external defibrillator -- certification. Some certifications allow you to enroll prior to getting CPR/AED-certified, but you won’t be issued your exam results or instructor certification until you show proof that you're certified.
Primary group fitness instructors study the basics of human anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, injury prevention, sports nutrition, emergency procedures and the exercise needs of special populations, such as seniors. Group fitness certifications also include detailed information on class design, music selection, instructional approach and how to properly cue exercise technique to a group comprising a variety of fitness levels. Equipment, various class formats and proper form are also reviewed.
All general group exercise instructor certifications require you to study the provided materials on your own, which you often must purchase in addition to paying the certification and exam fees. After self-paced study, which may have a six-month time limit for completion, you can go to a local testing facility and take the exam.
Many certifications offer one- to three-day hands-on seminars for an additional fee, which further prepares you for the final exam. Although seminar attendance isn’t always required for you to sit for the exam, it’s usually recommended.
Once you have passed your exam, you will receive a certificate digitally and/or by mail that you can present to potential employers as proof of your credentials.
Certifications in the fitness industry are industry-regulated, meaning that no governmental agency oversees them. Consequently, the fitness industry has implemented a system of continuing education credits, or CECs, that certified trainers and instructors must earn to maintain valid certifications.
The number of CECs and the amount of time in which you must earn them varies from organization to organization, but you typically must earn between 15 and 20 CECs every two or three years. Getting certified in a specialized area, such as pre/postnatal fitness, is one way to earn credits.
If you have a personal training certification, you may not need a primary group fitness certification to teach classes. Many fitness facilities will hire certified personal trainers to teach group classes, especially group personal training and conditioning classes.
To teach specialized populations and classes other than step, muscle conditioning, aerobics and basic flexibility, you will often need to acquire additional certifications. Examples include indoor cycling, pre/postnatal group exercise, senior group exercise, water aerobics, boxing, yoga and Pilates.