Best Group Fitness Certification:

Top 4 GFIs of 2020

According to the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®, a worldwide fitness trends survey, group fitness was ranked third as one of the top 10 fitness trends of 2020. We can’t go on without mentioning that this study was published in late 2019, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the landscape of fitness.

However, we do know that gyms and trainers alike are adapting quickly to the online world and that group fitness will still be an important offering in a trainer’s tool belt. In fact, studies show that 85 percent of gym members visited their facility twice a week specifically for group fitness and that the new virtual fitness boom has been good to group fitness-focused businesses such as MIRROR and Peloton.

If you are currently pondering the best group fitness certification, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a list of objective criteria that compares four of the most reputable group fitness certification bodies out there with feedback from real group fitness instructors. 

Bonus Tip: Certified personal trainers are able to instruct group fitness classes but group fitness trainers are generally ineligible to train one-on-one in most corporate settings. 

Here are the factors we looked at to determine the best group fitness certification course:

  • Accreditation: most gyms only accept group fitness certifications that are NCCA, NBFE or DEAC – recognized so this is an important factor for aspiring instructors. These certifying bodies are considered the gold standard for fitness certifications.
  • Price: considers cheapest study materials and exam.
  • Expected Study Time: considers the time you have to take the exam from the time you register and purchase study materials.
  • CEU Requirements: refers to the amount of continuing education units that are a requirement to maintain a certification.
  • Primary Focus of Education: considers the educational foundation of the course and what students can expect to learn.
  • Average income: considers the national average income of group fitness instructors.

Group Fitness Certifications we Analyzed:

  • ACE: ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor
  • AFAA: Certified AFAA Group Fitness Instructor
  • ISSA: ISSA Certified Group Exercise Instructor
  • NASM: Group Personal Training Specialization

Below we will dive into the aforementioned factors you should consider when weighing your options. But before we get into that, let’s cover some basic FAQs on group fitness certifications.

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Best Group Fitness Certification FAQs

 

1. How do you get certified to be a group fitness instructor?

Before sitting for a group fitness instructor exam, you’ll likely need to meet the following:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Have a current CPR/AED certification
  • Possess a government-issued photo ID

From there, you’ll need to choose a certification body, schedule your exam and begin studying, pass your exam, then get a job as a group fitness trainer. Learn more about how to become a group fitness instructor here

2. How long does it take to get a group fitness certification?

Most group fitness certifications can be obtained in about 6 months.

3. What can I do with a group fitness certification?

There are a lot of group fitness jobs available to you when you have a certification including the instruction of: yoga, pilates, cycling, Zumba, barre, HIIT, and virtual training. 

4. What is the cheapest group fitness certification?

ACE currently offers the cheapest group fitness certification at $224. However, this is subject to change and looks to be a promotion off their regular $449 package.

5. Are there any free group fitness certifications?

There may be some free group fitness certifications out there but they are unlikely to be reputable or help you get a job.

Accreditation

Accreditation for group fitness certifications is an important factor because it speaks to the professionalism and quality of a course. Accreditation is performed by reputable third-party organizations that review courses to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the public.

Group fitness certifications that wish to become accredited must submit their courses and final exams to third-party credentialing companies for review along with a hefty credentialing fee. These are the baseline in which certifications meet fitness standards and promote competency for entry-level employment. 

ACE, AFAA, and ISSA all have NCCA-accreditation while NASM’s course does not. However, NASM, perhaps the biggest name in personal training certifications, offers their course as a continuing education specialization and assumes aspiring group fitness instructors to be existing certified personal trainers. Remember, certified personal trainers can already train group fitness classes with their existing cert so this specialization makes sense for their brand.  

NCCA Accredited Group Fitness Certifications:

  • ACE
  • AFAA
  • ISSA

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

Accreditation is a very important factor for those group fitness instructors that want to work within a corporate setting. Many gyms or fitness facilities will require an accreditation for gainful employment. However, lack of an accredited certification does not mean you can’t become a great group fitness instructor; you just have to weigh your career path and consider if this is important to your end goals.

Price

Price includes the cost of the least expensive study package and test. Note that each certification body generally has tiers, so if you need more study materials expect to pay more.

ACE currently offers the least expensive group fitness instructor package at $224. This is normally priced at $449 and may be subject to change if this proves to be a short-term promotion. 

Coming in as the second cheapest group fitness course is AFAA, with a basic package at $299. Of the accredited options, ISSA is the most expensive at $499 although this is promotional pricing; they are normally $799 so this offer may be short-term. ISSA may also be the most expensive because of the course contents; they have provided skills training across 12 popular group fitness exercise formats, making this a unique offering.

NASM’s Group Personal Training Specialization, a veritable add-on for personal trainers, is currently priced at $374 and is discounted from their normal price of $499.

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

While price may be a very important factor in your final decision, don’t let it be the ultimate decider. Other factors such as income potential, CEU requirements, and educational focus should also be weighed.

Expected Study Time

We can infer the expected study time of each course by determining the time the certification bodies give you from when you buy the study materials to when you have to take the exam.

ACE: 3-6 months

AFAA: 180 days, but many students take 6-8 weeks

ISSA: 6 months

NASM: 6 months with the expected study time of 10-12 weeks

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

The duration from start to completion of a group fitness certification is a very important consideration as it is closely tied to employment. If you are entering the group fitness profession in dire need of a job, you certainly want to consider an option that helps you get certified as quickly as possible. If you are less motivated by immediate results, perhaps a study timeframe that was longer would be more ideal.

CEU Requirement

For NASM, the course in and of itself is a continuing education course so there are no further CEUs needed if you go this route. The credits you can receive from the NASM GPTS are: 1.9 NASM; 13 AFAA; 1.9 ACE.

For ACE, you are required to earn 20 hours of continuing education credits every two years and the cost is $129.

AFAA requires 15 approved hours of continuing education every two years. The AFAA recertification fee is $99, but they have a recertify for life option for $399.

ISSA requires 20 continuing education hours within 2 years of certification. If all credits were earned through ISSA, there is no renewal fee. Else the fee is $99.

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

CEUs allow you to stay on top of the latest health and fitness developments, provide relevant and current advice, and create opportunities to explore new income paths. They are required by each certification body, so consider how many CEU hours you need to stay current, how much the fees are, and how much respective continuing education courses are.

Primary Focus of Education

The below information was taken straight off the websites of the certification bodies.

ACE

  • Understanding human movement
  • Intelligent selection and sequencing of exercises
  • Providing inclusive classes
  • Communication strategies and behavioral change
  • Class participant safety and legal considerations
  • Creating memorable movement experiences

AFAA:

  • Fundamentals of exercise science
  • Class design and planning
  • Class instruction and presentation
  • Notable topics: professional and legal responsibilities; nutrition
  • Fundamentals of virtual coaching

ISSA:

  • Skills for teaching 12 different exercise formats (including HIIT, Bootcamp, Kickboxing, Step, Stretch, Muscle Conditioning, and more)
  • Safety and injury prevention
  • The science behind group exercise and how it works
  • How to design and instruct a group exercise class for every level

NASM:

  • Coaching skills specifically designed for groups
  • Program creation rooted in exercise science
  • Business skills to excel as a group trainer
  • Motivation skills to engage participants

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

Expect a lot of overlap within the educational focus for ACE, AFAA, and ISSA due to their focus on what is called the Job Task Analysis. The NCCA accreditation requires this within the educational focus and is an objective consideration into what it takes to be successful in the field. The NASM group fitness course is not NCCA accredited so it is not required to follow this regulation. However, the NASM personal training certification is NCCA accredited so it is likely they incorporated this knowledge into their CEU.

For ISSA, they separate themselves by providing insight into training group fitness for 12 different exercise formats. This may also be why their course is considerably more expensive than the others. However, if these various courses are not on your radar for teaching, they may not be as appealing to you as working towards a specialization you are most interested in.

Average Income

While most fitness bodies do not publish this information, we are able to extract meaningful salary data from reputable third-party websites. The numbers we publish below are averages, however, consider that factors such as education, geographic region, advanced certifications, and industry experience will all weigh in. For more info on personal trainer salaries, check out this post.

ACE is one of the only companies we found to have published group fitness instructor salary information, however it is from 2010. The average ACE trainer makes $47,659 full-time. (or around $23 an hour) annually according to this report.Their part time instructors make around $24.50 an hour, but only work 10 hours per week.

Industry averages for group fitness instructors are consistent with the above, showing a $23 per hour average nationwide. As a group fitness instructor with a few years experience, expect to make just under $50,000 per year.

Group Fitness Instructor Takeaway

There are many factors that can influence how much you can make as a group fitness instructor. Brand new, entry-level instructors with just a handful of classes should not expect to make as much as seasoned instructors who are teaching classes of 10+ students, two or more times per day.

However, the limits to your salary as a group fitness instructor may be entirely up to you as the online group training world allows you to monetize your business while you sleep. If you create courses on-demand, you can potentially have an unlimited amount of students compared to the instructor that is subject to how many hours there are in a day.

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Choosing the Best Group Fitness Certification for You

No one can tell you what the best group fitness certification is. At the end of the day, the choice is subjective and depends on how you weigh the above factors. For example, if learning about 12 group fitness exercise training format sounds awesome to you, then ISSA may be an ideal choice. On the other hand, you may find that the price point of ACE and the curriculum better resonates with your wallet.

Another very important factor not mentioned above is the career path you are choosing. If you know that there is a specific gym you want to work with, you’d want to check with them to see which group fitness certifications they require for employees. 

The point is you need to be honest with yourself and look at all the variables for choosing a course and weigh them to determine the best option for you. 

I hope that this post has helped you make the decision to choose the best group fitness certification that much easier. If you have any questions, or would like to see anything else added to this list, please leave a comment below.

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