ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification Review 2023
ACE Group Fitness Instructor review - Tyler read holds up ace textbook on a table next to a laptop

Here is my full breakdown of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification. I base this on taking the course, passing the exam, factoring in over a decade as a group fitness instructor and trainer.

Our PTPioneer team has fitness professionals with many certifications including the ACE-GFI, and we have compiled our collective knowledge to give you the best review.

Additionally, I have worked in many gyms, and gym owners prefer their group fitness instructors to be certified to teach groups.

Let’s look at the details of the ACE Group Exercise Certification so you can see if it is right for you!

I cover these topics:

  • Organization info: pricing, packages, prerequisites
  • Program and textbook quality
  • How does the ACE Group Fitness Certification compare to other group exercise programs?

If you are also considering a CPT, I highly recommend that you take my quiz to get an estimate on which personal training certification is the best fit for you overall. 

The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review 1
The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review 2

What is the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification?

ACE group exercise instructor review - black board with what is the ace group on it next to the ace group instructor textbook

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor program aims to teach the skills to teach a wide variety of fitness classes.

With ACE’s program you will learn:

  • Group class fundamentals
  • Considerations, design and preparation for classes
  • Elements of leading group classes
  • Safety, nutrition, and legal concerns as a Group Exercise Instructor
ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor

ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor

  • Exam cost: $285
  • Study material cost: $285 – $500
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: ~70%
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months

ACE credibility and reputation

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) was born in the 1980s with the mission of inspiring people to get people. ACE has grown into one of the top fitness organizations. 

ACE gives its students a fully realized practical approach to fitness.

ACE uses their Integrated Fitness Training (IFT) program to design exercise programming for both cardiovascular and strength training.

In my experience, most gyms like hiring ACE-certified trainers and ACE is especially well known for their group fitness certification. This is certainly something to consider. 

Also, the ACE GFI is NCCA-accredited, meaning it’s passed the bar in terms of recognition in the US. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies only recognizes the best programs, so you know you have quality in store for you. 

Is the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification worth it?

Ace group fitness instructor - Tyler holds up ace textbook - is the ace gfi worth it

Yes, the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification is worth it for anyone looking to inspire people to get fitter in a group class setting. In fact, the ACE-GFI is the group class certification that all other group fitness programs are measured against. It’s arguably the best and most well known. 

Pros
  • ACE IFT® Model is an excellent framework for resistance and aerobic training
  • Mover Model® helpful for behavior change
Cons
  • Lack of comprehensive exercise science 

ACE vs. other top group exercise certifications

The other main organizations with popular group exercise certifications are ISSA and NASM (AFAA).

The ISSA Group Exercise Instructor Certification covers the highest variety of different styles of exercise classes, but doesn’t give you the most comprehensive teaching methods.

NASM has the AFAA Group Fitness Instructor Certification, another popular option. NASM’s program has great info in the areas of instruction and preparation for teaching group fitness classes. 

It doesn’t cover each type of fitness class, but if you want to teach a strength, HIIT/interval, boot camp, yoga, and cycle workout, NASM is definitely a certification to consider.

ACSM also has a group exercise certification, and while this is the only cert to cover pilates, there isn’t enough technique instruction for strength exercises in this program for me to recommend it to most people. 

Who is the certification meant for?

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification is meant to give fitness professionals the tools to be able to teach classes effectively.

This is not a personal training certification nor is it a course that specializes in any individual type of class, rather it will make you a generalist.

Great For:
  • Personal trainers that want to coach small-group fitness
  • Coaching large group fitness at commercial gyms
Not Recommended For:
  • Trainers wishing to specialize in one type of class 

ACE GFI course costs and options

ace group fitness instructor review - ace handbook next to gold coins and yellow question mark boxes and ptpioneer hat - how much is the ace group exercise certification

ACE offers three separate study bundles for this certification. The cheapest basic study bundle costs $224 (check current price). This includes the main textbook, one practice test, and access to ACE University, their online study system.

Then there’s the ACE Plus package for $299, which also gives you a hardcopy of the text, an extra practice test, and a bonus class teaching group exercise in diverse settings.

Finally, the ACE Advantage program adds a third practice test and ACE’s Exercise Science 101 course. 

You can also call an ACE professional on the phone or email for one-on-one for help with the material at any time during those three months. I think that the ACE Academy is a fantastic addition to their program.

It makes passing and getting the group fitness instructor certification much easier.

If you feel confident passing tests, I’d stick with the Basic option, but it’s nice to know you can upgrade and get more practice tests if you need more assistance for complete success. 

The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review 1
The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review 2

ACE GFI course layout

ace group fitness instructor - ace textbook open to table of contents next to ptpioneer hat - course layout

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification textbook is grouped into 11 chapters with a few appendices:

  1. Who is the ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor
  2. Principles of Pre-class Preparation and Participant Monitoring and Evaluation
  3. Group Exercise Program Design
  4. Teaching a Group Exercise Class
  5. Principles of Adherence and Motivation
  6. Exercise and Special Populations
  7. Exercise and Pregnancy
  8. The Prevention and Management of Common Injuries
  9. Emergency Procedures
  10. The Business of Group Fitness
  11. Legal and Professional Responsibilities

Appendix A- ACE Code of Ethics

B – Group Fitness Instructor Certification Exam Content Outline

C – Effects of Medications on Heart-rate Response

D – Group Fitness Specialties

E – ACE Position Statement on Nutritional Supplements

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Let’s review a few categories covered in the text:

Group Fitness Fundamentals

This section of the textbook makes up the majority of the study material. In my opinion, this is where ACE separates itself from the other group fitness instructor certifications that are out there.

They focus strongly on how the class flows and is structured. Compared to one-on-one personal training, this is where your workouts differ significantly. With group classes, a lot of choreography and music selection is involved.

You need to learn all about the pace of the music, beats per minute, equipment selection, overall fitness objectives, and safety factors. This section makes up around 20 percent of the final test for the certification. Here is a cool blog poston some of these factors.

This certification doesn’t have as much emphasis on exercise science, biomechanics, and anatomy/physiology concepts, but it definitely gives you enough of what you’ll need as a group instructor. 

Considerations, Design, and Preparation for Group Fitness Classes

You can lead your class through a workout in infinite ways. This section talks about all the different learning styles and techniques that you can use at your disposal.

It discusses teaching styles, learning components, different cultures, progressions and regressions, choreography, and how to get your class pumped for the workout. This section is all about how to be the leader of the group and how to manage a class versus individual clients.

This section discusses different personality traits necessary to be a successful group instructor. You must be extremely energetic, inspirational, and knowledgeable to succeed as a group instructor and motivate your participants. These parts make up approximately 35% of the final test!

Safety, Nutrition, and Legal Considerations

This is the smallest section of the textbook, but it is imperative. It talks about fitness ethics and morals, standard practices, how to deal with medical conditions in your class, and personal trainer insurance.

It also discusses everything you need to do to maintain your group fitness instructor certification (similar to continuing education for all other certifications). This professional conduct section comprises 15% of your final test.

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification exam prep and study materials

ACE group certification - textbook open with notes  tabs - ace gfi exam prep

ACE offers some of the best study resources of any organization. 

With each of the packages offered, you get access to the ACE online study portal, online webinars, quizes, podcasts, and ACE Answers, where you can ask an ACE expert any questions you have.

ACE also has an online library of exercise videos, which is second only to NASM in terms of overall numbers.

In my case, I read through the textbook and made my own study sheet, although most people like to use their online study system because it’s so easy to use. 

ACE Group Fitness Instructor requirements

To be eligible to take the ACE certification exam you will need to:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have completed high school (or equivalent).
  • Hold a current CPR/AED certification with a live skills check.
  • Present a current government-issued photo ID with signature (driver’s license, passport, military ID).

These are the standard requirements for most accredited fitness certifications.

ACE GFI salary

The average salary for a group exercise instructor in the US is $47,431 yearly, according to Zippia.

This number will change based on many factors, including location. For example, Glassdoor states that the average salary for group fitness Instructors in Los Angeles is $64,933. 

Again, this is just an estimate of what you will make with the ACE Group Fitness Instructor rather than a guarantee. 

Taking the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification exam

ace group fitness instructor review - Tyler read holds up ace gfi handbook while taking test - how hard is the ace exam

You can take the proctored ACE exam at a center or in the comfort of your own home.

It’s 125-questions long and while there is a time limit, you will certainly not need the full amount of time offered. In my case, I had over an hour to go back and double check my answers before I submitted them.

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification continuing education and recertification

ACE has one of the most standard policies for recertification. They require 20 continuing education unit hours, equal to 2.0 continuing education units. These must be attained within two years.

The ACE organization also supports many outside organizations for trainers to attain their units for recertification. 

Other ACE offerings

The courses below are a great way to recertify and add extra credentials to your name.

ACE courses:

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification overall rating

ace group exercise instructor review - overall rating of the ace group exam - ace textbook next to blackboard
ACE Group Exercise Instructor
The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review 5

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor is an industry leading path for group fitness instruction. Learn the ins & outs of the ACE-GFI in our complete review.

Product Currency: USD

Product Price: 285

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:
9

Pros

  • Good behavioral coaching
  • Excellent study portal
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Less exercise science than the competition
  • Doesn't cover every style of class

Whether you have been working as a personal trainer one-on-one or have been doing small-group personal training, I highly recommend this certification. Starting to work with large classes is one of the most satisfying things!

ACE Group Fitness FAQs (Frequently asked questions)

ace group exercise instructor review - ACE FAQs - ace textbook next to blackboard with frequently asked questions

How hard is the ACE Group Fitness Instructor exam?

There is no data on the exact pass rates of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor exam, but from my experience taking this in comparison to other group fitness classes, it was mid-table in terms of difficulty. It’s certainly easier than the ACE CPT exam. If you take it seriously, you should have no problem passing. 

How many questions are on the ACE Group Fitness Instructor exam?

There are 150 questions and a 3 hour time limit. 

Is ACE as good as NASM?

Both NASM and ACE are equally good, but focus on slightly different things. ACE has better motivational coaching. The NASM (AFAA) Group Certification has better exercise science information. 

What happens if you fail the ACE exam?

If you retake the exam you can retake the exam for $249 within a year of the first test. You must wait at least 10 days before retaking it. 

Is the ACE exam open book?

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor exam is not open book. You are not allowed to use your notes in the exam. 

How long does it take to study for the ACE exam?

In general, it should take you 2-4 months to study for and take the ACE exam, although this varies depending on your schedule and previous ability. 

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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12 thoughts on “The Ultimate ACE Group Fitness Instructor Review”

  1. PTPioneer User

    I just passed my ACE PT exam and I am taking my GFI exam in two weeks. After that, the health coach. How would you compare the exams? The GFI information seems really easy compared to the PT exam. Also, how hard was the Health coach exam? Thanks!

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Laura,
      Is great to hear that you’re taking the initiative and learning as much as he can. Out of all of these exams I would say that the original ACE ccertification is definitely the hardest. Obviously there is some overlap between all three of them but if you had no trouble passing the original, your study tactics are working and you should have no trouble learning the information and passing the others because I think that they are easier.

  2. PTPioneer User

    What are your suggestions in regards to first becoming certified as a group instructor before getting a certification as a personal trainer?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I think that you can definitely do it especially if that is what you are more interested in doing. You should double check with the gym that you would like to work at to see if they allow their group instructor’s to work without it general personal training certification.

  3. PTPioneer User

    Hi there! I am just confused with the overall structure of the exam. Is it only multiple choice or does it also include a written component? Thank you!

  4. PTPioneer User

    Also i work long hours at my job in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry . So to teach classes during the week would be nearly impossible . However i would lime to begin somewhere and build from there to see if i can make fitness a full time job for myself . What do you suggest ? Where should a guy like myself start at age 56 with no experience , no certs or qualifications , who has never worked in fitness . Coming with a background in manufacturing . What would you suggest as a start for a l guy like myself with limited resources ? And so little time to dedicate to building his business ?

    1. PTPioneer User

      Hi ! My name is Pete . I have been thinking about getting into the fitness industry for quite some time . But unfortunately never attempted to do so . Because i convinced myself i am too old , with no experience , no certs , or qualifications that will enable me to compete with my younger counter parts that are qualified . Also my resources are very limited and with long hours at work it makes it difficult to dedicate time to build my business . I would love to get out of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry because it is not fulfilling for me . And it is not something i am passionate about . Which is helping people ! People ask for advise because they see i am somewhat fit . But i can only answer but so much because of the little education i have . What would you suggest as far as where i should start ? For a guy like myself at age 56 starting so late in the game ? What would be a great start ? And do you know of anyone in the industry that started at such a late age and are doing well ? As a PT or GFI or both ?

      1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

        It sounds like you are fully motivated to get into the Fitness and Wellness industry. I definitely recommend checking out a general personal training certification before you jump straight into group exercise instruction. It gives you a better base of knowledge on How to Train, Anatomy, programming Etc. From there you can specialize in group exercise training. This is the route I would go. Good luck with your Fitness career.

    2. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I would definitely start with a general personal training certification and then move on to group exercise instructing if that is your passion. You should be able to do just fine, pick a course and start studying between three and six months you should be a certified fitness instructor.

  5. PTPioneer User

    Hello! I am looking to become a group fitness instructor and I am torn whether I should get my Group Fitness Cert from ACE or if I should look into a Personal Trainer Cert. I also was thinking if I become a group fitness instructor I would definitely try to get my Personal Trainer Cert. in the next few years. Any advice would be welcome! Thanks!

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I usually recommend people start with a general personal training certification that is NCCA accredited. From there, you can move on to a specialist certification such as group exercise training Etc.

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