Best group fitness certifications. Tyler Read holds up the textbooks of the best group fitness instructor certifications - which group exercise certification is the best?

In today’s article I review the best Group Fitness Certifications for personal trainers interested in group fitness training. As a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer for over 10 years, I’ve used multiple of these certifications.

The team at PTPioneer is certified through all the major organizations and we know which group exercise instructor certifications employers like to see on a resume.

I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which certification is best for your career goals.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

Below I compare each group exercise certification based on the following considerations:

  • Certification costs and study materials
  • The content of each group exercise certification
  • Earning potential
  • Pros and cons of these group fitness certs 

After reading this entire article, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to choose a group fitness certification with the utmost confidence.

Now, let’s dive into the group fitness instructor certifications!

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CPTCPTFeaturesPrice
ISSA Group Exercise Instructor

ISSA Group Exercise Instructor

  • Excellent coverage of technique and aerobic training
  • Wide array of class styles covered
  • Best fitness certification bundles
Check ISSA Pricing
Fitness Mentors

Fitness Mentors

  • Unique curriculum
  • Real-world skills
  • Good online resources
Check Fitness Mentors Pricing
NASM CPT

NASM CPT

  • Renowned AFAA Group Certification through NASM
  • Most complete group exercise certification
  • Best online portal exercise videos 
Check NASM Pricing

From my perspective, the top two group exercise certifications are definitely the ISSA Certified Group Exercise instructor (ISSA-GEI) and the Fitness Mentors Virtual Group Fitness Instructor (FM-VGFI).

However, I do favor ISSA for the following reason.

The ISSA-GEI has extreme value, especially if purchased in the ISSA Elite Trainer package.

This includes their ISSA CPT program, ISSA Nutritionist certification, and a third of your choice, which in this case, could be the ISSA-GEI.

There’s no doubt you’ll earn more money once certified as an Elite Trainer than you spent shelling out to cover your overall personal trainer certification cost.

issa-elite-trainer

Keep in mind, too, that ISSA occasionally runs deals on their website for the Elite Trainer program, so if it’s up for grabs, consider going for it while you can.

If there’s currently a deal on the Elite Trainer program, it’s pretty tough to pass up.

1) ISSA Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ISSA-GEI)

best group exercise certifications - ISSA group exercise instructor textbook on table with yellow question mark boxes

ISSA Group Exercise Instructor General Information

  • Exam cost: $639.20
  • Study material cost: $53.27/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 90%
  • Average completion time: 2 months

What is the ISSA Group Exercise Instructor certificate?

The International Sports Sciences Association Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ISSA-GEI) is one of the newer group fitness certifications on the market.

It has a heavy focus on creating effective yet safe programs for a wide variety of clients and abilities.

With the ISSA group fitness certification, you’ll discover your training style, the essential training equipment you’ll want to work with, and how to market your class and expand your business.

So not only does ISSA teach you how to become a group fitness instructor, but ways to market your class and training, which increases your overall personal trainer salary.

Highlighted below are some other details you’ll learn from the ISSA-GEI:

  • Performing safe fitness assessments
  • Effectively programming routines for a variety of clientele
  • Different types of classes (i.e. flexibility, endurance, strength, or cardiovascular fitness)
  • Choosing the perfect equipment for your specific class and objectives
  • Marketing yourself as a group fitness instructor and growing your business

Overall, you’ll learn a great deal.

Heck, I won’t be surprised if you become the one clients reach out to for some personal training tips or even tips for beginner core workouts.

If you’re truly good at what you do, then class members may become potential personal training clients and vice versa.

ISSA credibility and reputation

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) was a pioneer of online certifications. They were the first fitness organization approved for distance education in the US. ISSA brings the best value for professionals looking to start with multiple certifications and specializations bundled together. 

The ISSA-GEI is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

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Founded in 1926, the DEAC is a private, non-profit organization that operates as an institutional accreditor of distance education institutions.

ISSA also has a NCCA-accredited exam you can take through the NCCPT. 

ISSA Group Exercise Certification pros and cons

Although this is the newest group fitness certification, it is already one of my top choices for those who envision themselves as successful trainers.

One of the highlights of this program is the wide inclusion of many class styles you will encounter as a trainer. ISSA covers everything from step class to kickboxing, to battle ropes, and kettlebell training. 

On the negative side, the online ISSA study videos feel a little old-fashioned. They provide good content, but they’re not as flashy as those from ACE or AFAA.

Pros
  • Great emphasis on exercise technique and demonstration
  • Covers a wide variety of exercise classes
  • Elite Trainer package offers the best value in the fitness industry
Cons
  • Expensive by itself

  • Online videos feel dated 

ISSA costs and study materials

As far as cost is concerned, this certification typically ranges between $599 and $799. However, ISSA offers a monthly payment option for those who prefer it. 

Although the ISSA-GEI certification is highly reputable and provides outstanding fitness instructor education, it is among one of the cheapest personal training certifications.

When you purchase the ISSA-GEI, you will receive the following:

  • The main textbook
  • A study workbook to guide you through the textbook
  • Access to their online exercise lab (which includes 250 animated exercises)
  • Free access to an ISSA-certified group exercise specialist for assistance
  • Practice quizzes and tests
  • Access to the online student forum,
  • A free, professional website designed for you

You can study at your own pace using a wide variety of the study materials provided to you, and whenever you are ready to take the exam, you can hop online and do so.

ISSA-GEI course topics

The course materials are divided into chapters covering:

  1. Physical Activity
  2. The Human Body
  3. Special Populations and Health Concerns
  4. Exercise and Pregnancy
  5. Injuries 
  6. Equipment
  7. Teaching Group Exercise
  8. Designing a Fitness Class
  9. Muscle Conditioning
  10. Bootcamp
  11. Step Class
  12. Hi-Low Aerobics
  13. Kickboxing
  14. Indoor Cycling
  15. Aquatic Aerobics
  16. Suspension Training
  17. Battle Ropes 
  18. High Intensity Interval Training
  19. Kettlebells 

The book covers a wide range of styles of exercise and movements you may encounter as an exercise instructor, but it doesn’t go too in-depth on each topic. There are also additional videos in the online portal which add to the elements discussed in the book. 

Taking the ISSA group fitness certification exam

At the end of each chapter in the book is a short quiz. Once you’ve finished taking all the quizzes, you can take the final exam online. Because the DEAC-exam is open-book, there is a high chance you will pass. 

Once you take the at-home open-book final exam you have the option to take the NCCPT exam accredited by the NCCA as well, although you do have to pay the proctoring fee. I would still recommend doing this as NCCA accreditation provides the highest standards or recognition in a fitness certification.

ISSA continuing education, salary, and career prospects

ISSA recertification happens every two years for group fitness instructors. If you get your CEUs through ISSA the recertification fee is waived, which is a nice perk.  

Group Exercise Instructors make on average $34,348 per year in the United States, according to Zippia. However, this has a wide variance, depending on location. In California, the average is a whopping $61,660 per year, according to Indeed.com. This is similar to average personal training salary

One of the nice things ISSA has is their Elite Trainer package, which gives you 3 certifications-in-one. Having a personal training and nutrition certification in addition to group fitness will allow you to work with more clients and charge higher rates in the long-term.

2) Fitness Mentors Virtual Group Fitness Instructor (FM-VGFI)

Best group fitness certifications - Fitness Mentors Virtual Group Fitness Instructor

FM-VGFI General Information

  • Exam cost: $499
  • Study material cost: $66.58/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: 70% (2022 data)
  • Average completion time: 2-6 months

What is the Fitness Mentors Virtual Group Fitness Instructor?

Although Fitness Mentors still has a long way to go before it can claim the same heritage, its strides with its online and entrepreneurial take on fitness have them poised to be the dominant institution in the next phase of fitness.

In my perspective, this alone is what makes FM one of the best online trainer certifications.

Their Virtual Group Fitness Instructor Certification (FM-VGFI) takes the traditional group fitness approach and adapts it to the online fitness sector.

Fitness Mentors credibility and reputation

Fitness Mentors (FM) has built up quite a significant reputation in delivering second to none career guidance and business acceleration strategies to fitness professionals worldwide.

Today, they also offer a suite of excellent health and fitness certifications fully accredited by DEAC.

This puts FM in league with all other legacy certifying agencies such as ISSA, ACE, and NASM.

Fitness Mentors Virtual Group Fitness Instructor Certification pros and cons

This exclusively online course is not only designed to teach you how to become a group exercise instructor but, more so, to help you take over group fitness from across cyberspace.

Especially if you envision yourself as an online trainer, then this course is probably the best for you.

Don’t get me wrong, this has everything that a general live/in-person group exercise certification has, but it includes plenty of information on how to be a successful group exercise coach digitally.

Pros
  • Unique curriculum with tons of practical knowledge
  • Great online library 
Cons
  • Lack of
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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47 thoughts on “5 Best Group Fitness Certifications – the 2024 Roundup”

  1. hi,
    thank you for taking time to give us all that fantastic info! I can t decide between ACE or ISSA. i live in NB Canada. I would like to start my business. I would need business studies in the group fitness certification. What do you suggest? I m a 50 year old personal trainer, so I don t want to be to stress for the exam. What do you suggest.
    Thanks Denise

    Reply
    • Hey Denise, both of these organizations are excellent, I would recommend ISSA just slightly more. But, you will be set up for success with both programs.

      Reply
  2. Hi I am just starting out in the personal training world..I do not have any certifications but have a background in teaching dance classes and am a registered dietitian. I have always loved taking group fitness classes and want to expand my fitness knowledge and teach group fitness classes. I’m in a bit of a time crunch, so I was looking into getting a group fitness certification first since I’m most interested and then eventually obtaining a personal training certification.. I’m not sure which course to sign up for (I have looked a lot into both ACE and AFAA). What is your advice? I’m also a bit confused if CEUs for recertification are affordable in the long-run?

    Reply
    • Hey Maria, I would recommend a personal training certification first and then specializing in a group fitness certification next, but you can definitely go either way with that. CEUs are more or less affordable. Most Certifications require 20 1-hour credits every two years, and you can find some for free, and then any course you take in the two years to specialize will likely cover all of your required hours.

      Reply
  3. I would like to take the quiz, however I have never taught or done personal exercise training. What would be determined by taking the quiz? But I am interested in studying to become a trainor.

    Reply
  4. Hey Tyler
    I have a passion to become a group instructor and I need to know what is the best option for me since I am not good at study or test. I am so much better with visuals rather than someone handing me a book, saying go study and then take a test. I am already certified in Spin. That was an easy day of 8 hour class, then taking a test with open book. I passed and have been instructing for two years. Love it. I want to go on and do group. What do you suggest for someone who isn’t great at study but would make an excellant instructor. Thanks

    Reply
    • That sounds awesome and I’m glad that you already have a lot of experience in the fitness industry. Any of the group fitness certifications on this list should do just fine. Whichever one resume is best with you. I think that ACE it’s always a good option to go with.

      Reply
  5. How frequently do you have to renew your certification? And if you have both this group fitness and personal training, do you have to renew both?

    The article about the personal training cert talked about educational credits, is there the same requirement for the group fitness cert? And is the first aid requirement the same? Or will I have to take 2 first aid courses?

    Sorry if you already answered some of these questions and I did not notice.

    Reply
    • Renewing your certification usually comes every two years for the majority of the certifying agencies out there. All you will need to do is show proof of continuing education. They typically ask for approximately 20 hours of continuing education every two years.

      Reply
  6. Hey there!
    Hoping you can help. I am based in Europe and have no previous experience, just love group classes. I did your quiz and it recommended ISSA. Is it recognised across Europe and would you recommend it for someone with limited to no experience?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • I know that it is recognized in multiple parts of Europe. But just like I tell everybody oh, you should check with the gymnasiums close to you that you would like to work at to see which certifications they accept. That’s the number one factor.

      Reply
  7. Hola Tyler
    Te quiero preguntar en EEUU cual de todas las certificaciones de entrenador personal seria la mejor?
    Muchas gracias

    Reply
  8. Hello, I am looking to get certified as a group instructor but want to make sure the accreditation is well known. With that I know NCAA is very well known but what about NCCA in comparison to them? I am deciding between NETA and ACE
    Thanks Tyler

    Reply
    • Hello April,
      I feel like you are talking about the same accreditation agency the NCCA. Both NETA as well as the American Council on exercise are both fantastic organizations that are accredited. I would lean more towards ACE personally, just because I really like their study materials and help.

      Reply
  9. Passing an exam and becoming certified doesn t automatically make you a good fitness instructor if not already experienced, you also have to make a concerted effort to practice and rehearse skills such as cueing and choreography which can t be instilled in you passively by studying from a book, manual or video.

    Reply
    • Hey Finley,
      I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying. The best fitness instructors, group instructors, personal trainers etc. all practice their craft religiously. But it is also important to get a good base of knowledge before you jump in and start practicing for safety reasons.

      Reply
  10. I teach Tai Chi, Meditation, and Qigong. I have taught these for decades without any sort of national certification. More and more, I am being asked for group exercise certifications when I apply to teach with corporations, benefits management companies, and gyms/health clubs.

    After 30 years, I am very well versed in running my classes, modifying movements based on age, strength, health, ability, safety in martial arts, safety in rehabilitation, fun with the group, music, etc etc.

    There are no offerings that I am aware of for certification in any of my areas of expertise. It would almost be insulting to be certified by a person or body who undoubtedly has less experience than me.

    In your opinion, is it worth it for me to spend the $ to certify, and if so, which body do you think is best?

    Reply
    • Hey Bill,
      This can definitely be the case especially for people that have been working in the industry for a long time. Certifications are a necessary step in the fitness industry to try to weed out bad trainers. On the other hand, in your circumstance, you have a lot more experience than any certification can teach and that is invaluable. If you are trying to get it job at a new location though, most people require a certification as opposed to just handing them your resume. If this is your only concern, might as well get certified because it will be a walk in the park for you. I think AFAA, ACE and ISSA are all good options for group exercise certifications.

      Reply
      • I’m still considering the value of this type of a cert for me – so few gyms offer Tai Chi, Qigong or Meditation (despite the tremendously healthy benefits each modality offers) that the cost of certification is more of a risk than a guarantee. Thank you for your site and your input.

        Reply
    • hello Anne,

      I think that the best option for a group exercise certification would be the international sports sciences Association or ISSA. This is due to the fact that everything is online including the final exam. Not only is the final exam online, it is also open book so there should be no anxiety involved while taking this exam. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  11. Hey Tyler! Love your articles, but I do have question though. I have been leaning toward getting the AFAA Group fitness cert or getting the CrossFit level 1 certification. I really enjoy teaching my group classes with my personal training cert, but I do want to expand my knowledge on it. I currently teach HIIT classes and I was wondering if you would suggest which of the two I should pick for this type of training class. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Thanks so much for this post! I was a bit confused when I came across the NASM Group Personal Training Specialization. How does it differ from the group certs you mentioned above? Are “Group Exercise” and “Group Personal Training” two different things?

    I’m currently in the process of studying for my personal training certification with NASM but would also like to instruct or teach groups, as well as, create online programs to sell to a variety of people. Would my NASM CPT be enough to do this, what path would you recommend I go?

    Reply
    • Hey Lu,
      I am so glad that you enjoyed my article on group fitness certifications. Group exercise is more of how to train large groups of people for classes such as step classes, spin classes, zumba classes etc. Group personal training is typically smaller groups where people get more individual attention. There is a gray area though and they do mix quite frequently. The national Academy of sports medicine general certification will be fine for small group personal training sessions totally. If you want to get into larger groups, I do suggest picking up a group fitness certification as well. It all depends on what the gym requires of you in order to hold these types of classes.

      Reply
  13. Thanks for the great insights for all the available certifications. I hv better understanding on the choice of certification I like now .. thank u again

    Reply
    • Hey ling,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment with your kind words. I really hope this information helps you make an informed decision on which group fitness certification to choose. Good luck with all the studying!

      Reply
  14. Hi! I was considering to take the basic ACE package ($299) which does not include practical tests; if one uses the study guide alone, one may have less chance to pass the exam, since one may not know what type of questions or what material they like to emphasize more on.
    #1 What type of method to study do you recommend to best optimize one’s chances in passing the exam the first time.
    #2 What is the time range one needs to study provided they study every day the material 3-4hrs/day? What do you recommend in terms of how long should one take to study in order to pass the exam?
    Emily

    Reply
    • Hello Emily,
      Great questions. The study materials I usually suggest are a good study guide, the textbook obviously, flashcards and practice tests. I feel like these are the most important study materials for any personal training exam. In terms of the study time it takes to pass ACE, it really depends on how much knowledge of exercise and fitness you already have under your belt. If you study for 3 to 4 hours every single day, you can probably take this test in a month. If you do not have any experience with personal training or personal training certifications, I recommend three months study time for somebody just starting out.

      Reply
  15. Hello….Appreciate all the info. Can the ACE test be taken online? I was thinking about getting the ACE package with a study guide and exam, but can’t figure out where the test is taken. Do you have to purchase a study guide before taking the ACE exam? Can just pay to take the exam and study online.

    Reply
    • You can just pay for the exam and it comes with study materials that can be found on the ACE online portal. You can take the ACE group fitness training exam online once you are done studying. I hope this helps answer all of your questions and good luck with all the studying.

      Reply
  16. Can you become certified as a group fitness instructor if you take the NASM personal training certification or would I need to also take an additional course for group fitness?

    Reply
    • Hello Emily,
      Most people that are hiring group fitness instructors tend to hire people that are certified with a group exercise certification. Although with the knowledge you gain from the general personal training certification NASM, is not unheard of of people leaving group fitness classes. It really depends on the gym that you are going to work for in what they are looking for in a group fitness instructor. I’ve seen it go both ways. I hope this Helped answer your question.

      Reply
  17. AAFA was always recommended to me but I notice you don’t have AAFA yourself and didn’t seem to have anything bad to say about it yet def didn’t recommend it as much as ACE. It would be good to see a chart ..what one offers, what one doesn’t, to easily compare as you were a bit mumbly in places. Thanks. I really appreciate this site.

    Reply
  18. Good day,
    A friend of mine recently opened a gym and offered me the opportunity to teach the boot camp/drills a few days a week. Super excited, I took the opportunity and I really enjoy it but I would like to know more about group training. I recently took the TRX suspension training course and it was AWESOME! I learned a lot as far as cue’s, NAPS-MR, etc… and of course I’m hooked so I signed up for the Group Training Course; but I would also like to get certified for group training and eventually personal training. However, I’m torn between ACE, AFAA and NASM. After reading your article and hearing a few things from other instructors I eliminated AFAA but have you tried or heard anything about NASM’s group certification program?

    Reply
    • Hey Ash,
      Good to hear that you are so excited about getting into the fitness industry. If you are looking to mostly do group training stuff I would recommend sticking with ACE. I think that their group exercise certification is better if not the best one out there.

      Reply
        • They have been around for a long time. They are very well respected in the industry and by employers also always have great study materials for all of their personal trainer certifications.

          Reply
          • Hi Tyler,

            Thanks for all of the great information you provide, it’s very informative and helpful. I just registered for the ISSA Group Fitness training and I chose them based on the timeframe in which I’d like to get the certification and I saw that the exam could be taken online and I was under the impression that the ACE exam had to be taken at an exam center? My questions to you are as follows:
            1. Are the ISSA and ACE trainings equivalent as far as quality/current industry information?
            2. Is the ISSA certification “less” respected because of the open book test?
            3. If I study the ISSA material and pass the exam, would I be able to take the ACE certification without studying the ACE material or do you recommend that I study the ACE material as well?
            Thanks a million!

          • Both certifications are highly respected within the industry. You will definitely learn just as much from both of them. In terms of it being an open book test, it kind of is in this kind of not. I would definitely contact your future potential employer to see which certifications they accept. And no, you would not be able to pass the American Council on exercise exam from all of the study materials you learn from the international sports Sciences Association. You will need to study that separately in order to pass it. Good luck.

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