You have made the decision to become a group fitness instructor and your gym is asking for you a “national recognized certification” and the first thought is….what the heck is this?
This was my exact experience. I was fresh off my Zumba training and ready to go! But…when talking to my gym about being able to teach a class, I was asked to for a national group fitness certification and my CPR information.
With my initial Google search, I found that there are multiple options for a group fitness certification and deciding which one was best…well…it seemed daunting.
My biggest tip and take-away if you also experience this is to check back in with the gym/facility you are going to teach and ask which one they prefer. For me, I was told to look at either the ACE or AFAA.
Keep reading for my journey and frequent questions I found answers to along the way (this is a long one but has a ton of information….if you want my specific tips…skip to the bottom).
As many gyms and facilities require a nationally recognized accredited group fitness certification, the need to obtain this is in the top 5 tasks to complete prior to teaching your first class.
Let’s dive right in with the questions that I started to ask and the information that best answered the questions.
What is a group fitness certification?
Even though you may have attended a group fitness training or program, this training only provides information for a specific format and the ability to teach under that brand. A nationally recognized Group Fitness Instructor certification covers a larger scope for the basics of a safe class, class design, cueing, anatomy, exercise physiology and kinesiology.
Although the primary driver for many to get this is that it is a requirement for employment, the greatest takeway is the training to teach a safe and effect class for all kinds of people that may attend. This includes to what to watch for, modifications, and best methods to keep all safe during the exercise class.
The top four certification exams in the United States include:
ACE – American Council on Exercise
ACSM – American Collage of Sports Medicine
AFAA – Athletics and Fitness Association of America
NETA – National Exercise Trainers Association
Choosing the right certification for you? Do I really need this to teach?
I will be honest…I think this was the hardest part. This is a bit of a price tag to add to your already building list of costs to become an instructor and I wanted to ensure that I was picking the best one but also at a reasonable price.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when making this decision.
What are the requirements for the gym/facility you are going to teach?
What is the cost of the cost AND exam?
What is the cost going forward to maintain the certification?
Will I have to get Continuing Education?
What kind of study material do I get?
How long will it take me to study for this test?
When thinking through these questions and going with the feedback from the gym, I narrowed this down to AFAA vs. ACE.
Between these two certifications, this is the difference that I was able to find.
AFAA vs. ACE
After reviewing costs and the study material available, I went with AFAA.
My primary reason for picking AFAA was the upkeep of the certification. This included the cost to renew and the amount of required continuing education was needed. I have found that with many certifications and training, the costs to keep it are the most expensive part and are ongoing.
What is the AFAA Group Fitness Test?
Ok….that took a minute to drill down. This will be the hardest part!
On to the AFAA Group Fitness Test.
Highly recommend checking out their webpage for the overview of the exam and their different packages. Check it out HERE.
At a high level, I found this exam to be very thorough in providing me with information on how to put together a safe class.
What is covered on the AFAA exam?
How to prepare and put together a class. This includes the design, choreo, and how to best lead the class
Different training methods (i.e. strength/resistance, HIIT, interval, boot camp, yoga, dance fitness, spin, etc)
The foundation (or essentials) of exercise and physiology. Learning the “why” behind the moves
Learning different ways to lead classes with different groups. Lots of information for pregnancy and senior class participants.
Music, sound, presence during class
What is the best study material for the AFAA exam?
The really cool thing about AFAA are the multiple options for study material to best meet your needs.
Before deciding on which package, take a step back and think about how you best learn and memorize new information and material. Each package has both pros and cons and picking which one will be an individualized decision.
For me, I went with the basic package which provided access to the online digital study guide, videos, practice exams and quizzes, and the exam itself. Even after completing the exam, I still have access to the study guide/videos to brush up on any material needed.
The basic package includes:
Online video lectures
Group Exercise study guide – downloadable
Sample multiple choice test questions
Open for test to be taking in-person at a testing center or online
And let’s talk about Quizlet. Oh….this is so freaking helpful!!!! Flashcards that are already in place for this exam that you can practice with anywhere that you have access to a computer, phone, tablet…any device.
How much does it cost to take the exam?
The cost of the exam is included in the package that you purchase. For the package that I purchased, I had one exam included. There would have been an additional fee to re-take the exam if necessary.
The premium and all-inclusive plans have the ability to re-take the exam included in the package cost.
Where do you go to take the exam?
Due to COVD circumstances, the exam is now available both in-person and online (through a live remote proctor).
If you chose to do an in-person exam, AFAA has a customer service number to call the Testing centers directly to schedule time to take the exam.
If you are choosing the on-line option, there is a specific website to use to schedule.
When I took this exam, the only option was an in-person exam. It was very easy to schedule the exam and I was headed to a testing center at the local University.
The testing center is a place where multiple exams are offered and you may be sitting next to someone taking an exam for something totally different.
Once I entered the testing center, I was asked to put all of my personal items into a locker and to also show them my arms and legs (sooooo crazy). My best guess is that people write answers on their arms?
I was also required to show them a government issued photo ID. Make sure your ID has the same (or matching) name that is on file with AFAA at the time of the test registration. I was also required to present a copy of my CPR/AED certification card.
The testing center provided me with ear plugs and a computer.
The exam was 120 questions, and I was given 2 hours to complete. There is an option to skip questions and return to them at the end.
AFAA has a great resource that covers additional information about taking the exam HERE.
How quickly do you get your exam results?
Preliminary results are given immediately after you complete your exam.
I cannot even tell you the breath of relief I had when the testing center handed me that piece of paper that said I had passed.
What is the Group Practical Exam?
This is no longer required.
When I first started reading about the AFAA exam, there was a lot of material about a practical or video that would also be part of the exam.
This part of the AFAA exam has changed and is no longer part of the required content. This used to require a practical exam where you showed a warm up, cardio, and a cool down.
How long does it take to get AFAA certified?
With the online study guide, you have the option to go as fast or as slow as you want.
I highly recommend taking a quick view of the study guide and then setting a target deadline. For many, the average time to study for the AFAA exam 6-8 weeks. If you are familiar with the human body, the time is much shorter.
How long does the AFAA certification last?
2 years!!! And if you keep up with the renewal requirements, this will be a one time exam.
Passed the exam, what are the next steps?
CEU requirement and where to find them
To keep your certification, it will need to be renewed every 2 years. At the time of renewal, you will also be required to show completed continuing education (CEU).
I generally get my CEU through AFAA directly and they even offer free ones throughout the year. Many of the training workshops (to learn a specific format) will usually have CEU associated with it. For example, my 305 Fitness workshop earned me 15 CEUs.
Just keep in mind that you will need at least 2 CEUs coming directly from an AFAA or NASM course.
The complete renewal form can be found https://www.afaa.com/docs/default-source/pdf/afaa-cgfi-recertification-application-12-2019-_r4-final.pdf?sfvrsn=cecca314_2
AFAA has two pathways for renewal with a 2 year ($99) and a recertify for life ($399). With the recertify for life, you will still be required to submit your proof of CEU every 2 years.
Wrapping this one up!
You made it to the end of this very long post!!! And this is where the gems are! Check out my tips that I think helped me pass this exam on the first try.
Create a schedule of when to review the different sections. For me, I did a little bit each day.
Take the practice quizzes. Go back and read the material on the questions you missed
Memorize the muscle man (like seriously….know the muscle man)
Heavily review the anatomy and kinesiology section
Memorize the AFAA 5 questions
Take the practice exam…like multiple times
The test is not going to look just like the practice quiz/exam. The exam takes on a more “situational question” approach and will take a concept and apply it to a possible situation you may see as a Group Fitness instructor. It is taking the memorized material and applying it to different scenarios.
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