acsm group exercise certification review - tyler read holds the ACSM group exercise instructor textbook

Here is my complete review of the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification. I write this after taking the ACSM group fitness certification course, passing the ACSM-GEI certification exam, and using my experience as a group exercise instructor in the world of fitness. 

I cover whether this ACSM group exercise certification is the right choice for you as compared to other major group fitness certifications.

I’ve worked as an ACSM certified group exercise instructor as well as a personal trainer for over 10 years, and I have taken and passed many group exercise certification programs. I’ve seen which ones cover the content you’ll need to thrive as an instructor and which ones the fitness industry respects the most. 

The full PT Pioneer team of certified professionals encompasses many trainers certified in group fitness through multiple organizations like NASM, ISSA, ACE, among others. Together, we put together the highest quality review of the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification.

I discuss the following:

  • ACSM certification info, price, packages, prerequisites
  • Quality of the ACSM-GEI textbook and exercise program
  • Pros and cons of the ACSM group fitness certification
  • How does the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification compare to other certifications?

I also recommend getting a personal trainer certification, which will complement your group exercise instruction.

If you want to find out which ACSM certification is right for you, we highly encourage you to take the quiz and find out. 

What ACSM certification is right for you?

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What is the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification?

what is the acsm group exercise certification - acsm's resources for the personal trainer

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification (ACSM-GEI) is a top notch group fitness certification that prepares you to become a group exercise instructor. If you want to teach fitness classes or work with clients in a group setting, the ACSM-GEI might be the one for you. 

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor General Information

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor General Information

  • Exam cost: $299 (members), $399 (non-members)
  • Study material cost: Test cost + $134.45 (textbooks) 
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 75%
  • Average completion time: 3 months

ACSM credibility and reputation

Founded as a non-profit research institution in 1954, the American College of Sports Medicine created the first nationally recognized fitness certifications in the United States. The fitness and health community holds ACSM as a leader in the field of exercise science and sports medicine, including personal trainer certifications and other specializations.

The NCCA accreditation approves only the best fitness certifications and many of ACSM’s certifications sit among the list of gold standard NCCA-accredited programs.

ACSM’s mission statement promotes the advancement of scientific research education, and application of sports medicine and science to improve fitness, quality of life, performance, and overall health.

I can say from personal experience that most gyms and facilities hold ACSM in high regard and know that the organization produces excellent trainers and coaches.

Is the ACSM-GEI worth it?

is the acsm group exercise certification worth it? tyler read decides if getting the ACSM GEI is worth it

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification is worth it if you want to work with special populations as a group fitness instructor. ACSM has much better coverage than the other group certifications in this aspect.

If you want to learn how to coach a wide variety of styles, ranging from a choreographed cardio class to a muscular strength workout, bike or yoga/pilates, ACSM guides you through the process as well. 

Additionally, if you want to go into the field of exercise science research, I would highly recommend considering ACSM over other organizations as the organization sits at the top of the food chain when it comes to clinical research (although NSCA stands a close second).

Pros
  • Detailed coverage of special populations 
  • Good exercise science and communication skills
  • Only GEI to cover pilates
Cons
  • No study materials
  • Limited exercise technique descriptions

ACSM Group Exercise vs other top certifications

ACE, NASM, and ISSA all provide excellent group fitness certifications that compete with the ACSM-GEI. 

Each of these organizations shines in certain areas of instruction.

The ACE Group Fitness Certification contains the best motivational and coaching psychology aspects of group exercise. NASM’s AFAA Group Fitness Instructor excels in the areas of technique instruction, while the ISSA Group Exercise Instructor Certification covers the greatest number of class types (kickboxing, aquatics, bootcamp, etc.) when it comes to group fitness. 

Make sure to check the pricing of each of these group fitness certifications as well, because this changes periodically.

Who is ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification meant for?

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification teaches you the fundamentals needed to become a group fitness instructor.

I would also recommend the ACSM-GEI for current personal trainers who want to teach classes or for someone without any prior certifications who wants to teach at a local studio or gym.

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This certification is not aimed at making you an expert at any one class; moreover, it covers multiple class structures to give you a broad overview of different class styles and movements.

Great For
  • Personal trainers who want to learn how to teach classes 
  • Anyone who wants to become a group exercise instructor
Not Recommended For
  • People who want to specialize in one class/modality

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification cost and packages

acsm group instructor cost. acsm group exercise textbook with gold coins on table.

The ACSM exam costs $299 for member candidates, $399 for non-member candidates, and $199 for those looking to re-test. 

Becoming an ACSM member costs only $30 for students, so if you are currently in school, I advise choosing the membership-option, as it saves you a great deal of money. 

If you want to become a member and you are not a student, prices start at $110 and go up to $260 depending on which membership you choose. 

A membership saves you on re-certification and CEU fees, but otherwise, it’s not a huge savings, so I suggest you opt for just the test.

These costs do not include any study materials for the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification. 

You also need to purchase the two textbooks: ACSM’s Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor and ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription

ACSM’s Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor costs $81.99 (plus $12.95 shipping) on ACSM’s website; however, a quick google search shows a used copy through Amazon for $52.46. I recommend shopping around for a bit so you don’t have to pay the full price.

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription costs $51.99 on ACSM’s site.

If you want any sort of study resources, ACSM points you to PrepU’s study course, which costs $89.99. The PrepU class gives you quizzes that help test your knowledge of the material, but not a whole lot more.

Given the lack of complete study materials from ACSM, I recommend looking at third-party study options. 

All in all, the costs, without any extra study help, begin at a little over $500 for this exam if you include the test and textbooks.

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification review – content coverage

acsm group exericse certification table of contents - tyler read looking at the ACSM GEI content

The ACSM textbook contains 3 sections and 13 chapters covering the knowledge you need as a group fitness instructor:

Part 1: Introduction to Group Exercise Instruction

  1. Profile of Group Exercise Instructor
  2. Profile of a Group Exercise Participant

Part 2: Leadership and Design

  1. Class Design and Programming
  2. Communication Skills
  3. Choreography, Music, and Cueing in Class Design and Delivery
  4. Teaching Your Class: A Quick Guide
  5. Hospitality and Conflict Resolution for Group Exercise Instructors
  6. Guidelines for Special Conditions
  7. Specialty Classes
  8. Legal Issues and Responsibilities for Group Exercise Instructor

Part 3: Exercise Science for the Group Exercise Instructor

  1. Exercise Physiology for Group Exercise Instructors
  2. Kinesiology, Anatomy, and Biomechanics
  3. Introduction to Nutrition for Group Exercise Instructors

Introduction to Group Exercise Instruction

This first part of the ACSM textbook defines the roles and responsibilities of a group exercise instructor, including scope of practice, training, and code of ethics. 

These chapters go over pre-participation screening for clients taking group exercise classes, which I believe to be a helpful piece of knowledge to know as a group fitness instructor. 

Other certifications tend to be light on teaching the evaluation process, and while this isn’t as important for a group exercise instructor, knowing how to properly screen a client for various health risks before they participate in exercise is a fundamental skill as a fitness professional for safety reasons. 

ACSM provides several field tests you can use to screen participants and assess their levels of fitness, which come in handy to know if you are a private individual teaching group exercise rather than working in a gym setting.

Leadership and Design

The Leadership and Design section of the ACSM-GEI textbook describes the various types of exercise classes along with sample class plans for several styles of fitness training. 

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification also provides appropriate ways to design classes based on objectives and environmental considerations. 

One of the aspects I like about the ACSM textbook is these little blue boxes at the bottom of the pages, called “Ask the Pro.” 

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Inside the blue boxes are first-person statements from actual group exercise instructors giving tips that help supplement the knowledge from the chapter. In some cases, they sound a bit corny, but many of them actually have useful actionable tips I use in my classes.

ACSM covers communication skills needed to teach classes along with how to make classes fun and work with group dynamics. Group communication skills represent one of the key concepts in teaching classes versus individual personal training, so it’s great that ACSM emphasizes them in their textbook.

I also appreciate the section on stages of learning. ACSM breaks down the different stages of learning and types of learners. 

When you combine visual, auditory, and kinesthetic cues as an instructor, your value as a coach goes way up because you can teach multiple learning styles at the same time.  

 The ACSM-GEI certification textbook divides classes into 4 key areas: cardio (choreographed), cardio (nonchoreographed), strength, and cardio/strength combination, and mentions the design implications of each.

The curriculum emphasizes different methods of using music as a rhythmic tool in aerobics classes, a unique part of teaching a class versus individual instruction.

When it comes to actually describing the exercises used in a group fitness class, ACSM explains why you might use different exercises, but does not include actual instruction on how to perform the exercises. I find this lack of exercise instruction incredibly problematic.

Knowing how to do an exercise is equally if not more important than knowing if it should be used. Other certifications like ACE or NASM provide lots of quality content about how to perform movements.

ACSM includes a section on conflict resolution for the group exercise instructor, a unique piece of knowledge that’s good to know. While I’ve encountered few conflict resolution moments in my own experience as an instructor, knowing what to do in these situations saves you a big headache if you do deal with one. 

The chapter on guidelines for special populations provides a level of detail you don’t normally see in many group exercise instructor courses. This detail makes sense as ACSM serves as one of the leading research institutions in the field of exercise. 

ACSM certainly provides enough content about how to train clients dealing with special conditions in a group setting, from pregnancy to diabetes to those with shoulder injuries.

The ACSM-GEI also contains information on teaching pilates in its class selection. 

If pilates instruction interests you, this course will give you a brief primer on basic movements. To this date, I haven’t seen any other group exercise certifications that mention Pilates, so ACSM wins out here in terms of classes covered.

Exercise Science for the Group Exercise Instructor

The exercise science section of the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor gives you a complete and detailed overview of both how the body works during athletics and how it responds to exercise.

Some of the charts in the sections on joint movement contain more detail than what you’d find in most exercise degree programs. If you want to know about muscle action and insertion points, this is the certification for you, although I posit that as a group fitness instructor, this level of detail will not be of use to most people. 

The ACSM section on nutrition gives you the very basics, i.e., which macronutrients have which calories, and some cursory hydration requirements. 

I don’t mind that the nutrition section is pretty bare because you don’t encounter too many nutrition questions in a class setting as a fitness trainer.

If you do want to learn more about nutrition, I recommend an actual nutrition certification.

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor exam prep and study materials

acsm group exam prep study materials - ACSM GEI textbook opened with highlight

ACSM does not provide any of their own study materials, beyond recommending that you join the ACSM Facebook Study Group. 

For this reason, you will have to look elsewhere for study help, whether you choose the PrepU Study Course or third-party materials. I suggest taking at least one good practice exam prior to the real thing so you can see where you are at.

ACSM Certification requirements

ACSM requires that you be 18 or older, have a high school diploma/GED equivalency degree, and hold a current CPR/AED certification. That’s it. 

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Salary

According to zippia.com, group exercise instructors in the US make an average of $34,348 per year, although this varies between states and cities.

The median wage in LA comes out to $50,501 for group fitness coaches, much higher than the national average. 

In general, major cities contain higher paying fitness jobs, although more and more of the industry now teaches online workshops rather than just in-person, meaning your location isn’t as important as it used to be. 

Trainers with higher experience and a recognized skillset make more money. I certainly don’t recommend limiting yourself from an income standpoint and if you also work as a personal trainer in addition to group fitness, you stand to double your income with the right practices.

Taking the final ACSM Group Fitness Instructor exam

ace group exercise certification exam - ACSM GEI exam and textbook on table

The ACSM final exam uses a 115 multiple-choice test format which reflects the material found in the textbook. 15 of the questions are non-scored, because they’re used instead for future exams, so it’s actually a 100-question exam. ACSM assesses you on the following domains:

  • Domain I: Class Design 30% 
  • Domain II: Leadership 25% 
  • Domain III: Instruction 30% 
  • Domain IV: Professional Responsibilities 15%

To pass you need a 70% or higher on the scored questions.

Personally, I didn’t find the test super challenging, but I’ve taken and passed many other group fitness certifications in the past. 

I recommend reading the textbook at least twice and making a good study guide to learn the material. As mentioned earlier, taking a practice test also lets you know where you stand prior to the exam so that is definitely a must to check your knowledge.

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor continuing education

As an ACSM certified group exercise instructor, you have to complete 45 CECs every three years to renew your certification plus a $55 recertification fee. The American College of Sports Medicine provides its own continuing education credits, or you can get CECs through other organizations. 

Other ACSM offerings

ACSM offers many certification options that give you further career opportunities and aid in your recertification quest including:

  • ACSM Certified Personal Trainer’ (ACSM-CPT’)
  • ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist® (ACSM-EP*)
  • ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist’ (ACSM-CEP*)
  • ACSM Certified Health/Fitness Director’ (ACSM-HFD*)
  • ACSM Certified Program Director* (ACSM-PD’)
  • ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer** (CIFTSk),:
  • ACSM/AC Certified Cancer Exercise TrainerSH (CETSK)*
  • CSM/PAS Physical Activity in Public Health Specialists” (PAPHSSH)

Due to the clinical nature of the ACSM institution, several of these certifications exist in the medical sphere. 

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification overall rating

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI) Review 10

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification
ACSM Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI) Review 11

Read my ACSM Group Exercise Instructor review and find out if the ACSM GEI is right for your group fitness instructor career. Is the ACSM GEI worth it?

Product Currency: USD

Product Price: 399

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:
9

Pros

  • Detailed coverage of special populations
  • Good exercise science and communication skills
  • Only GEI to cover pilates

Cons

  • No study materials
  • Limited exercise technique descriptions

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification gets an overall score of 9 out 10. If you are thinking of a career in the medical field after becoming a group exercise instructor, I highly recommend this course.

Additionally, if you want a certification from a respected institution, the ACSM-GEI also makes a lot of sense. 

However, due to the lack of good study materials, and the fact that the textbook doesn’t cover how to teach the actual exercises you will need as an instructor, this isn’t my favorite group exercise certification.

I find that the offerings from ACE, ISSA, or NASM (AFAA) feel like more complete certifications and may be the way to go if the above mentioned reasons do not apply to you.

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification FAQs

ACSM Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI) Review 12

Which is better: ACE Group Fitness or ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification?

Both ACSM and ACE have excellent certifications for group fitness. I prefer the ACE certification over ACSM, because of the better study materials and more complete program; however, if you are interested in working in exercise research, ACSM is the better choice. 

How many questions is the ACSM exam?

There are 115 questions on the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor exam. 15 of those questions are not scored, meaning you are only tested on 100 total questions. 

Is ACSM nationally recognized?

ACSM is nationally recognized through its NCCA-accredited exam. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies only accredits the best certifications. 

Is the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor exam hard?

The ACSM-GEI has a 75% pass rate, meaning every 3 out of 4 pass who take the exam. This puts it squarely in the middle in terms of difficulty for fitness tests. 

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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