Getting Certified Q&A

How do group fitness certifications work? Do I have to be certified individually for each class type?

I decided to use AFAA for my certifications due to its national recognition and affordable price, and completed them on an APEX weekend (where AFAA discounts the price to $99). They have two APEX sessions per year: one in the fall and one in the spring.  There are a number of certification choices for each type of class, but I chose to stick with Primary Group Fitness, because it was the most general. I also had a special interest in kickboxing, and felt I could learn additional skills above and beyond what I would from primary alone, so I got this one as well. You can take additional workshops to become certified in classes such as Pilates, Pump, and Zumba (note: many of these “Branch” certifications are trademarked and are therefore not offered through AFAA- not all require the general certification). Depending on the gym, you may be required to have the appropriate certifications to teach the class. Some gyms are more relaxed about this while others are stricter (in the end, it’s mostly a liability thing). With the general group fitness certification, you should be able to teach most cardio and toning classes like bootcamp and sculpt.

You can visit their website at

I want to get certified. What do I have to do?

At some point before the date of your workshop, you need to get CPR and AED certified. Most hospitals offer these workshops and charge you less than AFAA does (but I believe the AFAA CPR/AED workshop is available online).

You are also required to study and memorize most of the material in advance of the session you are registered for (this involves buying a large book from the organization testing you). The first part of your exam will consist of a physical practical, where you are asked to demonstrate exercises appropriate for each muscle group requested. The second part is a written exam with 100 multiple-choice questions. You are required to score 80% or higher to receive a certification.  The entire session usually lasts about 8 hours or so, and much of it is dedicated to review and physical conditioning- the exam is at the end of the day. (And, yes, you do get a lunch break!).

Once I’m certified, is there anything else I have to do?

Once you have been certified, you are required to update every two years. You can do this either through CEU’s or a re-test. You need to have 15 CEU’s per certification over the course of the two years to qualify for a re-certification (so, for example, if I wanted to renew both kickboxing and primary group fitness, I’d need to take 30 CEU’s). You will also have to update your CPR/AED certification every two years.

Additionally, most gyms (the ones that hire you as an independent contractor) will require that you get your own insurance. This costs around $100-150 per year, which you earn back quickly provided you are teaching somewhere.

What other organizations offer group fitness certifications? 

Other group fitness certifications include ACE, AFPA, and ASFA. You’ll want to make sure that the certification you get is acceptable at most facilities- typically this excludes certifications obtained online.


10 thoughts on “Getting Certified Q&A

  1. I want to try to go to the AFAA APEX weekend in Sept. How far in advanced should I allow myself to study and review the necessary material before attending? Thanks for all the information, you’ve really cleared up a lot of questions I had!

    • Glad I could help! I think the amount of time you take will really depend on your baseline. I think I started prep about 2 months out but never really spent too much time on a given day studying. I spent the most time studying the weekend before- but I was pretty comfortable with most of the material. It may help for you to glance through the book to get a sense of what you’ll need to know to help you evaluate the amount of time you think you’ll need. The tests aren’t meant to trick you so don’t stress about it!

  2. I have wanted to get my fitness instructor certification for awhile, but due to cost I am planning on getting my Group, kickboxing and personal trainer certs at the APEX weekend in September. Do you think that would be too much to try to do all in that weekend? I also want to start studying now, but don’t have the money to buy the book from AFAA, or to register yet. Does anyone have any recs for where I can get these items cheaper or for things I can do to start preparing now? What are the tests like? Sorry for all the questions, I’m just really excited! 🙂

    • No worries, that is exciting! I got my group and kickboxing certs in one weekend, and it was no problem (the main thing is being physically tired because you end up exercising so much- especially in the kickboxing cert!). But I can’t speak to the personal training because I’ve never been certified for it. There is obviously a lot of overlap in material so preparing for one should help with preparing for the others.
      What I did was actually borrowed the book from another fitness instructor I’d taken classes with. She lent it to me for a few months while I studied and then I just returned it after. If you can, I’d try asking around at your gym to see if anyone has them. Otherwise, you can try a quick google search for something cheaper on ebay.
      The tests are 100 questions multiple choice and you need a minimum of 80% correct to pass. It’s very low key and the tests are not very difficult. There is also a practical portion, where they ask you to demonstrate an exercise that works “x” and you have to choose a move to do, but you’re in a room with like 100 other people at the same time and everyone will be testing simultaneously. So basically they say, “show us an exercise for your biceps,” and you can do whatever you’d like as long as it works the biceps.
      If you want to start preparing now the main thing would be learning simple exercises that work targeted muscles. If you already workout a lot this should come pretty easily! I think the personal training certification is more extensive and requires a deeper knowledge of functional anatomy, but I’m not 100% sure. In any case September will give you plenty of time. Let me know if you have other questions and best of luck!

  3. Hey Tori,

    I have my AFAA Primary Group cert, now I’m thinking about getting the AFAA Kickboxing cert at the upcoming APEX conference in February. There are tons of detailed descriptions online of the general group cert, but I haven’t seen any reviews of the kickboxing cert. Could you (or anyone else who happens to see this message) describe what this experience was like for you?

    • Of course! The Kickboxing Cert was a lot like the general except that it was more physical (I was actually very sore the next day!). They don’t spend too much time reviewing the written stuff and emphasize more about proper form and nailing the movements. They also add a bit on putting together choreography. I can’t remember now how the testing was done- I did this about 4 years ago now and for some reason it didn’t stick in my head. But I do remember it being very relaxed and fun. I enjoyed the day! I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoy kickboxing 🙂 Let me know if you have more specific questions!

    • Hm, I’m not sure why that is- I just checked it both in Safari and in Firefox and it was taking me to the right page. What browser were you using? Also, what was the page it redirected you to? When I typed it in directly to search it came up correctly as well- here’s a link to it if it’s still a problem
      Thanks for letting me know of the issue- I’ll keep looking into it, but I’m not sure why it’s doing that for you!

  4. Thanks for sharing all these details! As I have mentioned before, I am obsessed with classes at my gym and love my instructors… So, I decided to get my personal trainer cert. Then I may go back and get my group fitness cert. Just wanted to ask you your overall opion of actually becoming a group fitness instructor. Does it ever get boring and difficult to teach?? Any surprises (pros and cons?) Words of advice/wisdom? Congrats on going back to med school- that is awesome and SO exciting. Major props. You will rock it out, for sure. Love your blog.

    • Thanks so much 🙂

      I absolutely LOVE being a group fitness instructor. It hasn’t ever gotten boring for me because I’m constantly searching for new ideas. I think what I love most about it is the social aspect- you’ll find that you have many “regulars” in your classes that you form relationships with, and teaching them becomes even better. It’s such an amazing feeling to hear that people are “raving” about your class or thanking you afterwards. Plus, you workout with the class the entire time thus getting in your own workout. It has also forced me to push myself harder while simultaneously pushing others. It’s fast paced, upbeat, and very high energy!

      The only “cons” (which really aren’t so bad) for me were: first, when I was a very very new instructor (my first few classes), I was super nervous and think that my inexperience was reflected in my first few classes (i.e- IMO they sucked ha). But I got over that relatively soon. Second, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make my classes really good, new, and interesting. You could really view this as either a pro or a con, but there were times where I’d get frustrated when I was unable to find or come up with new ideas, or when I felt one of my classes just wasn’t up to par in a given week. Towards the end of spring, I started to wonder how it’s even possible to keep things “fresh”….are there infinite possibilities? Also, depending on the gym, sometimes I was limited in what we could do in class based on available equipment.

      But, again, these are really minor in comparison to how much I love it. There were some classes I taught that I thought weren’t great, yet people still told me after they thought it was. Part of it is that things that are old to me are often new to others.

      Also, getting group fitness certified is not very difficult, especially if you’re already a certified personal trainer. The hard part is getting good at it once you are certified! I definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested 🙂

      Sorry for the rant, but hopefully that helps! Let me know if you have other questions.

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