So You Want to be a Group Fitness Instructor (Part 4)

If you’re new here (welcome!), catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

This final post is to answer some of your questions and to provide a few additional thoughts. So, let’s get to your questions first.

Q: What if you don’t know what you want to certify in? It seems like you have to choose which area you want to certify in, but I have no clue!

A: One of the first certifications you could get is the AFAA Primary Group certification. It’s a generic one that will let you teach a variety of classes, based on your preference and what you are comfortable with. So, for example, your gym might have an cardio/weight lifting intervals class and probably wouldn’t require a specific cert., but would just want you to have some sort of training. Does that make sense? I would also start to pay attention to what classes you really enjoy and could see yourself teaching; if you hate cycle, don’t certify in that. 🙂

Q: I have never taught an aerobic class. I don’t know a ton about the right techniques or well, let’s just say I am for sure an amateur. BUT I love working out. I love to teach ( I use to teach dance). Is there material I should be reading or something I should be doing to know more about everything with fitness?

A: My advice to get ready is to attend a lot of classes. Start to pay attention to how they cue, how they explain exercises, and especially what form/techniques they point out. There are lots of books and magazines on the topic (I like Fitness Magazine for getting ideas for new moves and this book seems like it would be pretty comprehensive for a lot of the basics without being overwhelming). There is so much to know that you can’t possibly know it all, but start to get educated. You’ll also learn a lot from your manual you’ll get with your certification.

Some ideas for getting experience teaching a group fitness class: volunteer to teach a class at your church, practice in front of your husband or a friend (yes it’s totally awkward, but it’s good practice), or see if a gym you are interested in offers co-teaching for a new instructor so you won’t be thrown into an hour-long class all by yourself on your first day.

Like a reader [I’m actually not sure of her name!] mentioned in the comments of Part 3, you might also want to think about transitioning into teaching group ex with a Zumba certification since you are already comfortable with the dance genre.

Q: Did you say there is a way to save money on your certification?

A: AFAA offers a 3-day conference called APEX. You pay $99 a day and can get multiple certifications/attend multiple workshops in one day, depending on the schedule. The classes are huge (hundreds of people I think) but that’s a huge discount. Start looking on AFAA’s website to see when they’ll have one in your area if you are interested.

Additional thoughts about teaching group ex:

  • Be prepared to do a demo as a “try out” for a gym. It’s usually anywhere from 5-15 minutes, including a warm-up, examples of what you’d teach, and a cool down. Bring your own music, including a CD for backup (surprising there are still gyms out there without iPod hookups!). I think they are usually looking for your stage presence (how comfortable you are up there) and your overall energy. And to make sure you know a bicep from a quadricep. 🙂 Any readers that have ever hired instructors and can provide more advice?
  • Don’t be surprised if you don’t like it as much as you thought you would at first. It took me a couple months before I really looked forward to teaching. But, that being said, I’m not really an extrovert and I kind of have to “turn on” a different personality to teach and that just took some getting used to.
  • There will be days when you’d rather just workout on your own instead of teaching others. It’s just part of the deal.
  • On the few occasions that I just don’t want to workout, knowing I have to teach gets me there (obviously) . And I always end up enjoying it and am happy once I’m there.
  • Get to know your attendees. If they feel like they have a little connection to you, they’ll probably be more likely to come back.
  • Ask for feedback from your manager or other instructors; see if they can attend a class or at least let you know any feedback they hear from members.
  • If you decide to go the cheaper route with the AFAA APEX conference, know what to expect. It’s a lot cheaper, but I’ve also heard of a lot of people failing the practical exam when they do that route. The APEX conference is huge and you may not learn the little nuances that the exam proctor will look for. However, if you are knowledgeable about basic exercises, I’m sure it will be fine. [Tyler, I know you’ve gone to APEX. Any thoughts?]
  • Still try to attend other people’s classes to get new ideas for moves and learn from them; there will also be someone with more experience, different experience, a different personality, different format, etc. and I think you can always learn from others.
  • Substitute for others when you can. Karma exists in the world of group ex instructors and someday you’ll need a sub too.
  • Have fun! Be yourself! And let me know how it goes!

Alright, I think that’s all I’ve got to say on the topic! But if you have any questions, please feel free to keep asking. And other instructors, please keep chiming in with your thoughts/experiences since I’m relatively new to this as well.


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    30 responses to “So You Want to be a Group Fitness Instructor (Part 4)”

    1. i think that your series has been great! one of the other things that i would add would be to remember that at the end of the day, it’s not your workout or about you. the best instructors always remember that they are there to lead a great workout for other people and that means walking around the class and engaging with the class. 🙂 also, to piggy back on practicing, if a full routine seems daunting to practice, see if you can teach a warm up or cool down segment to start. again, great information for folks, and kudos again for getting started as an instructor!

      with that, i have to go teach spin!
      .-= andi´s last blog ..excuses vs. explanations =-.

      • That is such a great point! It is important to remember who your classes are for: the members!

        Hope you had a great class. 🙂

        • With the cert you have, do you have to work for a gym? Could you assemble a group in a park or some other location?

    2. These are some amazing tips doll! I love reading everything to do with workouts and healthy lifestyle. It really seems that you love this lifestyle as much as I do 😉

      have a beautiful day!

      .-= Kris | iheartwellness.com´s last blog ..Wacky Wednesday =-.

    3. hello!
      I just found your blog and I couldn’t be happier. I have a degree in Music Ed and have decided to follow up my passion for dancing, working out, and teaching. I’ve been looking into the group fitness instructor career. I’ve always loved going to cardio classes and have done many classes in strength training. I’ve taught/choreographed a high school color guard ( in charge of strength training/choreography/ as well as movement) and love it! I also have a amateur background in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and lyrical dancing. I feel like this career is for me…yet, I’ve been so clueless on how to start. I’ve been to the ACE? website but.. was a little hesitant. I’m not a great online learner and do better with hands on classes/seminars. Thank you SO much for this..it’s really made me feel like I CAN do this. I’m not just going in the dark hoping I make it out! 🙂 Any advice would be great. I’m def going to look into the Zumba option..anything Dance related will def be my strengths. Hope to see more!

    4. Hi there! First off, thank you for this series, it’s answered alot of my questions. Secondly, I want to (and have wanted to for awhile) become a group fitness instructor. I LOVE LOVE taking exercise classes (whether in a gym or by DVD). I’m hoping to pursue my certification within the next year, however I do have a couple questions. I’m a stay at home mom with 2 (small) adorable daughters and would like contribute income to the household. I’ll have to save to pay for the certification, meaning I don’t have extra cash to join a gym to take classes and gain experience. I’ve had memberships in the past and have taken MANY classes over the last 10 years. However, I haven’t been able to join a gym since my first daughter was born (kids are expensive 😉 ) Anyway, (finally to my question), what are your suggestions to gain experience? I follow a couple of workout blogs, have a couple DVDs, take a couple classes here and there. Should I hold off on my certification until I can join a gym and start networking and taking classes for experience? My fear is that I’ll spend the money on a certification, but won’t be able to gain the experience needed for a job. BTW, sorry for the long post 🙂

      • I have a free membership to my local gym in exchange for working 2 hours a week in their childcare room. Maybe try to find a similar setup?

    5. This is a great series of posts and it could not of come into my life at a better time. My first course was a bit of a set-back for me. Obviously not as easy as it seems, and it was such a relief to hear that you went through some of the same things. Thanks again for the great advice.

    6. Teri, this is a great series and I know alot of people who are interested in teaching fitness have alot of questions. I have been teaching group fitness (zumba and yoga) for many years and have worked everywhere from health clubs to private homes. I decided to put all my knowledge into an ebook. I hope you don’t mind this plug, but my ebook has alot of valuable info for people seeking answers and I give all my advice on where to find jobs and what to expect if you are trying to do this full time. I go into great detail on many topics. People can view the topics I write about on the page selling the ebook. If you would like to review it let me know!

    7. Hi Teri, I just came across your website & I love it! I wanted to ask you a question. I’m very very interested in becoming a fitness instructor (particularly Zumba and maybe kickboxing). I have danced my whole life and been a dance instructor & choreographer for years. I’m really passionate about fitness too, though, so I think this would be a good fit for me. My dilemma is this: there’s an opportunity for me to become certified through AFAA here in town in 1 week (through the APEX event you menioned). The only problem is I just had a baby so I’m really out of shape! I want so badly to take advantage of the great deal through APEX though… Would you recommend me getting back in shape first & just paying more for my certification when I’m ready, or just getting the certification now to take advantage of the deal? I don’t want everyone to look at me like I’m crazy for going for the certification when I still have all this baby weight on me! I keep going back & forth & cannot decide! Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks so much!

      • Hey Chelsea,

        If you are confident in the basic form of moves (a proper squat, what workout to do to work triceps, etc.), I’d say go for it. If you aren’t totally confident in the strength moves for the specific muscle moves, you may want to wait because you won’t get as much one-on-one attention at an Apex event. But seriously, it’s not physically demanding so you’ll be fine in that department. Also, be sure to know the written material! They multiple choice is pretty specific and tough if you didn’t study.

        Shoot me an email if you have more questions: [email protected]

        Good luck!!!!

    8. Hi Teri,

      I stumbled upon this today as I was researching certifications for the first time and you have answered all of my questions and more! Thank you so much for your posts. I’m an avid Body Combat fan and I’d love to get certified but I’m currently a college senior who goes to Gold’s. Since I’m about to graduate I’m not sure if Gold’s will sponsor me, should I begin looking for gyms once I start my full-time position instead?

      Thanks again!!

      • Yes, I’d wait until you know where you’ll be living/working after graduation. Gyms want to sponsor someone that will stick around for a while. However, I would highly suggest that you chat with the Body Combat instructor now. Other instructors can (and often are) your biggest advocate in getting hired and sponsored. Good luck! 🙂

    9. Hi
      You all are really helpful!
      I have a daughter who is now 3. I am trying my best to pursure a great career for her and I. I was very tiny before I had my daughter, what really motivated me and got me into health & fitness. It was me, gaining all the baby weight. I waited 6 months after I had my beautiful daughter. Then one day I looked everywhere online about nutrution to the right workouts to fit for my life style. It took me only 4 months to loose about 20 to 25lbs. I was amazed. My eyes my body my mind was so inspired. I am now at 110 5ft frame and a little toned. I live in a small town and yes I have big dreams. I keep going from wanting to model to fashion to writting well I can have all those but I want to make a career not just a hobby. I am so inspired about how much work time and happniess I felt about myself after doing all that hard work and still keeping myself in shape and eatting right foods. As I am mom and working two jobs. It seems I don’t have time to go to college at this moment but I feel that time is going. I researched you don’t have to go to college to become a fitness instructor but do need to get certifed. I have been certifeid for CPR before but need to get recertifed again. I have talked to a fitness trainer in my town. She has been a trainer for 18yrs and im going to see her tomorrow afternoon. She is even giving me free passes to the USD center so I can get some expiernce. I’m so nervous and excited. Nervous because I have been praying for this day to come. I want the best in my life. This would be a dream come true to inspire and motivate others. I have also been in dance classes through out school years. I love dancing that was also one of my dreams. I am thinking Zumba, yoga and being a fitness trainer in a group of young adults and maybe elders. I have a job right now where I take care of the elders. I’m part time Personal campion care and also part time at a motel. Being in a small town is very hard to pursure your dreams but I’m pushing myself and going to make this happen. I love sharring. If anyone can give me any other tips ideas. It surely would help. Sorry for any misspelled words. I wrote this in a hurry. I’m to excited!

    10. Hey! So I have been trying to get clear information on this for a while. Your blogs were so helpful so thank you!I went to the AFAA website ( http://www.afaa.com/301.afa?PK=1023 )and it says it costs 300.00 which you said was the APEX event price so I am wondering if I am looking in the wrong place. It also says that one of the prerequisits you need is group exercise teaching experience? That also makes me think I’m looking in the wrong area, but I can’t find anything else. Did you have to have instructing experience before taking the test and getting the certification?

    11. Great tips here – nice post! I’m an AFAA-Certified group ex instructor (currently teach Zumba and love it) but am looking to broaden my teaching into other formats now. To all those out there pursuing AFAA – don’t fret! Study and you will be fine just as long as you relax 🙂 Best of luck!

    12. Hi Teri!

      I just took the AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification and am waiting for my results, and I think I did pretty well. But I do have a few questions on how to market myself after I receive the full cert. I am really interested in Barre Fusion and other dance-related technique, so can I go to gyms and offer teaching classes like these without a full permission from the creators? I know this does not include Zumba, but am I able to offer “barre infused” or “dance inspired” classes without permission and just with the Primary Group Exercise? Thanks so much!!

      • Hi Kaley! I’m really not sure. I’d think can probably teach similar classes, but I wouldn’t use the exact same cueing. And whether your certification will allow you to teach those classes, it just depends on the gym and what they accept. Happy teaching! 🙂

    13. Hi Teri!!

      Thanks so much for writing this series, it has been to helpful!! I am signing up for an APEX event in September for the Group Ex Cert, and I was wondering whether or not to get all the recommended study materials? It’s $109 extra dollars but if you think it would be worth it to help me pass I am willing to pay!

      Thanks so much,

      • Hi Rachel, it’s been a few years since I completed all my training, but assuming nothing has changed, I would absolutely recommend getting the study materials! The practical portion is so easy, but the multiple choice test was actually pretty detailed. I aced it, but I also completed and studied the materials per the recommendation of a friend of mine who had done it recently. So, yes, get the study materials, complete the study guide and study it! Good luck and have fun! 🙂

    14. Hi! Thank you so much fort your articles, it is so helpful! I have an additional question for you. I am thinking of becoming a personal trainer and as you mentioned in your first serie, NASM certification appears to be the most well-respected by the profession and so I am gonna do it. But as I am French and I currently live and work in France (my project is to be a personal trainer in the US), i was wondering if I Could do it while I am not based in the US. And i am also wondering if the book we need to read to take the exam is hard to understand for someone who isn’t American. What is your take on that? Thank you! 🙂

    15. Hi Teri! Just wanted to personally let you know your series is very useful, I’m sure you’re already aware 🙂 I am 25 weeks pregnant and trying to plan out work opportunities for after I have my baby that don’t require me to hire a babysitter or nanny. Group fitness seems reasonable such that I can workout, make money, and also have my little one nearby (in child care for the hour or so that I teach) all at the same time! Thanks so much for providing this information! 🙂

    16. Your tips are very helpful especially for 1st time trainers like me. Thank you for answering all of my questions! I hope we all live a healthy and happy life! 🙂

    17. I’m very interested in becoming a fitness instructor sometime next year, and I’m pretty strong and fit cardio wise right now, but I was wondering what level of fitness I should be at before doing a program like AFAA? Is there a certain weight that you should be able to curl, squat, etc? Also, in the practical exam, they just asked you to do specific moves, you didn’t need to lead a class?


    18. Thank you for your blog on this subject. I am looking into the ACE program. My question is this. I am 62 years old and have had some health issues over the last 3 years. But I still immensely enjoy and need a good workout several times a week. I have taken a lot of classes but seems like most classes are filled with young people.
      I am still really active and I know most of my friends are, too. So I am thinking I should certify for senior fitness after getting my general group certification. However, I am somewhat hesitant because I’ve not done any study programs in many years. Would hate to fail the final exam because I can’t remember. Have you heard of many older adults able to certify without these problems?

      • Hi Susan – kudos for you for considering getting certified. I think that’s wonderful! My mom is in her late 60s and I know she’d love having someone closer to age teach a class. When I was certified, there were actually a number of people in their 50s and 60s in the class. I don’t think you would have any issues passing the test – the written or practical – unless something has changed since I completed it. I say go for it!

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