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!

5 Best Group Fitness Certifications - the [year] Roundup 4
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


  • 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.


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

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).

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.

  • 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
  • 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 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

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.

  • Unique curriculum with tons of practical knowledge
  • Great online library 
  • Lack of recognition

FM-VGFI costs and study materials

Let’s check out exactly what you’ll get.

The FM V-GFI alone typically costs $499 and comes with the following:

  • Certification exam
  • Digital textbook
  • Audiobook
  • Video lectures
  • Business growth assignments
  • Programming templates
  • Student support

However, when it comes to Fitness Mentors certification programs, and even other fitness certifications in general, it’s always best to go for entire package deals if you can.

FM deals include at least one additional certification at a significant markdown on both.

For example, the FM Pro bundle would include the FM V-GFI and two other certifications for just $899.

The study materials are pretty good, and that excludes all the extras you’d get with a bundle package.

Like the ISSA-GEI, you can also pick up the FM V-GFI by itself or as part of a package deal.

And package deals are highly recommended if you plan on doing any other type of training, such as personal training, health coaching, etcetera.

Fitness Mentors Group Fitness course topics

The Fitness Mentors course includes chapters on these topics:

  • Scope of Practice for the V-GFI
  • Theory of Group Fitness
  • Anatomy, Physiology and the Study of Human Movement
  • Assessments for the Group Fitness Instructor
  • Safety Considerations for the Virtual Group Fitness Class
  • The Group Fitness Class Blueprint: Format and Program Design
  • Virtual Class Set Up: Equipment
  • Virtual Class Set Up: Technology & Hosting Platforms (Input from Salut)
  • Effective Class Leadership
  • Components of Nutrition
  • Client Acquisition, Business and Sales
  • Legal Guidelines for the V-GFI

Taking the Fitness Mentor Virtual Group Fitness Instructor exam

The exam is a 50-question multiple-choice exam administered entirely online. 

You will be allowed to attempt it three times before the retake policy kicks in, and the retake policy requires that you pay $50 to retake the exam.

To pass and eventually become certified, you must score at least 70% overall.

Fitness Mentors continuing education, salary, and career prospects

No continuing education requirements are needed for this certification. 

In terms of career prospects, the Fitness Mentors company has much less clout than the other organizations on this list, but I do think in terms of real-world skills, this course gives you a unique skillset compared to these other certifications.

More and more fitness businesses are online-facing and this is the only group exercise certification that will adequately prepare you for that world.

Most of the others on this list are kind of living in the past and the future of fitness is online coaching. For that reason, I do think this certification has huge merits and might even be a good inclusion along with another certification on this list.

3) AFAA Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA-CGFI)

best training certifications - afaa group fitness textbook on table with yellow question mark boxes
AFAA Group Exercise Instructor General Information

AFAA Group Exercise Instructor General Information

  • Exam cost: $299
  • Study material cost: $299 to $859
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 61%
  • Average completion time: 3 months

What is the AFAA Group Fitness Instructor certificate?

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) offers two different ways to get certified for their group exercise certification – on-site or online.

These two AFAA group exercise certification options aim to extend their reach to as many people worldwide as possible. 

Every certifying agency should require their test takers to be monitored to ensure they do not cheat.

And I like that even the online AFAA group exercise practice tests are monitored via webcam to ensure participants don’t cheat.

Enrolled in the AFAA Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA-CGFI) certification program?

AFAA credibility and reputation

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) was formed in 1983 and was the first organization to produce standardized national guidelines for training certifications.

The AFAA-CGFI was so popular that a few years ago NASM bought AFAA and now they oversee the certification. 

NASM logo

This is certainly a good thing because now you have the clout of both AFAA and NASM, the largest fitness certification provider, known for their NASM CPT certification

AFAA Group Fitness Certification pros and cons

Overall, the AFAA Group Fitness Certification does a great job covering how to teach classes, motivate a group to workout and plan for any class issues and dynamics.

AFAA now uses NASM’s online study portal, which is among the best in the business.

The actual sections on exercise instruction and how to adapt your teaching to different learning styles is a huge plus with this certification and I find it useful when I teach classes.

On the negative, the special populations section isn’t as comprehensive as some of the other certifications on this list.

AFAA mainly covers strength, HIIT/interval, boot camp, yoga, and cycle workouts in this certification, so if you want to focus on other styles, you may need to look elsewhere. 

  • Broad coverage of training modalities
  • Effectively prepares coaches to design and instruct classes
  • Limited corrective exercise training
  • Difficult exam

AFAA-GFI costs and study materials

The last time I checked the AFAA website, both the on-site and online AFAA-CGFI courses were $299. However, I have frequently seen discounts on the online version, which they offer for $199.

The AFAA group fitness certification cost includes entrance to the exam and all of the online study materials.

You will have 12 months to take the certification exam after you purchase the package, which, in my perspective, is plenty of time to get all of your studying done.

You can take the AFAA group fitness practice exam, which complements the AFAA group fitness study guide.

Also, I’d say that AFAA offers the right amount of study materials, especially when compared to the limited options offered by ACSM.

They offer 14 different video lectures that can all be accessed online. 

The primary textbook is in PDF format, making it easy to access on your tablet or smartphone and encouraging you to study for your AFAA group fitness test wherever you go.

Need some additional guidance?

Another feature of the AFAA-CGFI course is access to a video conference with an AFAA professional instructor.

I have heard that sometimes these can be one-on-one sessions, but more often than not, you will be in a group with other students.

This is pretty cool because you can get answers to many of the questions you may have through these conferences.

You can buy physical textbooks from their website if you prefer them as well.

AFAA Group Fitness Instructor course topics

The AFAA textbook has 13 chapters and 5 appendices:

  1. The Group Fitness Industry
  2. Foundations of Exercise Science
  3. The Human Movement System
  4. Integrated Fitness
  5. Teaching Basics
  6. Teaching Multi-Training and Exercise Technique
  7. Class Planning and Preparation
  8. Adapting to Class Dynamics
  9. Communication and Learning Styles
  10.  Inclusive Instruction for Special Populations
  11. Class Engagement and Motivation
  12. Professional and Legal Responsibilities
  13. Nutrition

Appendix A: The Kinetic Chain

Appendix B: Expanded Human Movement Science

Appendix C: Other Systems Related to Human Movement

Appendix D: Chronic Conditions and Expanded Emergencies in the Fitness Environment

Appendix E: Expanded Nutritional Concepts

Taking the AFAA Group Exercise certification exam

The AFAA certification exam has 120 multiple choice questions and a 2 hour time limit.

You need to score at least 70% to pass.

AFAA continuing education, salary, and career prospects

One of the perks of the AFAA Group Fitness Certification is that they offer a job guarantee with their programs, which is something I found useful when first becoming a group fitness instructor.

Save $150 on the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification
See the ACE Group Sale Here
Get a free prize with the ISSA specialist in group fitness Certification
See the ISSA Group Special Here
Save $150 on the ACE Health Coach Certification
See the ACE Health Coach Sale Here

This should set you up well to start earning an income after passing your exam.

AFAA requires 1.5 CEUS (15 hours) every two years to renew your certification.

4) ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor

best group fitness instructor certifications - ace handbook on desk with yellow question mark boxes
ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor

ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor

  • Exam cost: $489
  • 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

What is the ACE Group Fitness Instructor certificate?

Over the last couple of decades, group exercise classes have exploded in popularity. 

The rise of Zumba, yoga, cross-fit, indoor cycling, and body pump has swept across the nation, and nearly every gym provides various group fitness classes for its members.

At first, general personal trainers used to teach these classes, but they had little to no instruction on how to do so correctly.

This led the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to create its own group fitness instructor certification for a more organized, systematic way to teach these classes to be efficient and fun.

The instructors of those classes needed education on the dynamics of group exercise training, which birthed the ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor certification.

The ACE group fitness instructor handbook teaches an individual how to properly design, construct, choreograph, and safely lead large group classes.

Aside from learning class choreography for more structured classes, you’ll learn methods to get creative with your exercises in classes that aren’t choreographed or structured. 

ACE credibility and reputation

Unlike most other certifying agencies out there, the ACE group exercise certification is nonprofit and sticks to its primary goal of helping individuals live exceptional and healthy lives.

ACE was also one of the first group fitness certifications to be NCCA accredited.

NCCA stands for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and is recognized as the gold standard accreditation in the fitness industry.

Established in 1987 by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), the NCCA is an independent, non-governmental agency that sets the standards for professional certification programs.

NCCA accredited group fitness certifications are highly reputable.

As of right now, there are 13,000 individuals certified with the ACE group fitness certification. 

That number is multiplying, but it’s no surprise why.

ACE Group Exercise certification pros and cons

The ACE Group Exercise certification is almost universally known as one of the top group fitness certifications. One of ACE’s highlights are their motivational coaching tips.

ACE includes the most comprehensive exercise psychology tips, which really aid you as a group fitness instructor. Moreover, if you want to know how to inspire and lead a group of people, ACE is your best bet.

On the negative side, ACE doesn’t cover exercise science aspects in as much detail as the other certifications on this list, but as these are group fitness certifications, none of them really do, so this isn’t as much of a drawback.   

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

ACE Group Fitness costs and study materials

Right now, as we speak, ACE is offering three separate bundles on their website for the group fitness instructor certification.

The first bundle, the Basic, will cost you $285 and includes the following study materials:

  • Primary textbook
  • Booklet on the essentials of exercise science
  • Booklet to help you “master the manual”
  • Access to their online resource center
  • Entrance to take their official certification exam

On the other hand, their more expensive bundle, the Plus bundle, will cost you $375.

But even with this option, ACE is still one of the cheapest group fitness certifications on the market.

Finally, the Advantage bundle costs $465.

Their Plus package contains everything the first package does but includes components like a booklet containing sample tests and the “ACE Academy,” a fantastic 12-week series over e-mail. 

The best thing about the ACE Academy is that you will have one-on-one access to call or e-mail a qualified ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor.

If you have questions (which I’m sure you will, you will also have access to a private tutor whom you can contact.

ACE Group Fitness Instructor course topics

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification textbook has 11 chapters and 5 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

The overall content is outstanding. Besides learning how to teach classes, you learn about class set-up, music choices for different styles of movement, and how to regress movements for all skill levels. 

Taking the ACE-GFI Certification exam

You can take your ACE exam at a center or at home, monitored by a live proctor and your webcam. It has 150 questions, which you have to answer in a few hours.

ACE continuing education, salary, and career prospects

The ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification is the most famous group exercise certification and I can say with absolute confidence that it is among the best of the lot.

Gyms like to see this cert on a resume.

ACE requires 20 continuing education unit hours, equal to 2.0 continuing education units every 2 years for recertification. 

5 Best Group Fitness Certifications - the [year] Roundup 5
5 Best Group Fitness Certifications - the [year] Roundup 6

5) ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI)

best exercise instructor certification - acsm group exercise textbook on table with yellow question mark boxes
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

What is the ACSM Group Exercise Instructor certificate?

The ACSM Group Exercise Instructor Certification gives you the tools to be able to teach group fitness classes in a gym. You learn multiple class styles, including choreographed and non-choreographed cardio classes, how to mix in strength training with conditioning, and other styles of classes like pilates, cycle, and yoga. 

ACSM credibility and reputation

ACSM was the first institution to offer fitness certifications. They are known for their high standards of quality and their certified personal trainer program contains many pieces of information that other reputable certifications have borrowed for their textbooks.

ACSM Exercise Instructor Certification pros and cons

Because ACSM prides itself on its exercise research, you certainly have the opportunity to learn a lot about the fundamentals of exercise science with this certification. Moreover, the risk screening and assessments section of this certification gives you a complete overview of what you’ll need and more as a group instructor.

The special populations section of the ACSM Exercise Instructor Certification is also exceptional.

The best thing that I like about the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM-GEI) certification is its strong focus on camaraderie.

There are many ways that you, as the instructor, can raise the motivation in your class and provide a friendly atmosphere in different exercise formats. 

This is also the only top group exercise certification that includes pilates in its curriculum. 

The main con with this certification is the actual lack of exercise technique instruction when it comes to resistance training. This is a big negative and one of the reasons I shy away from recommending this certification to new trainers. Knowing these form techniques is key as an instructor, so you can teach them properly to class participants. 

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

ACSM costs and study materials

Unlike the ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor certification, there is only one package that you can purchase through ACSM.

And that is the ACSM-GEI.

However, two separate costs depend on whether you are a member of ACSM or not, which is similar to all of their other certifications.

Also, the study materials are sold separately from the test.

While the most current cost for members of ACSM is $219, the cost for non-members is $279.

If you do not pass the exam on your first try, retaking it will cost you a steep $150.

ACSM offers two primary textbooks to study for the exam. 

The primary manual, titled “Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor,” can be purchased from the ACSM website for $72.99. 

The smaller second book, “The Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription,” can also be purchased from the ACSM website for $41.99.

Overall, I think that the ACSM-GEI certification is all right. 

This certifying agency is one of the most well-renowned in the fitness industry, not only for its general personal trainer certification but also for its more advanced CSCS certification

Also, I believe ACSM would be much better off if they packaged the study materials and final exam into one to make it easier for their customers.

And finally, I do not think the ACSM group fitness certification curriculum or study resources are as good as the materials from ISSA or ACE. 

They should have an online version of the textbook and study materials because everything is digital these days (and I love my personal training software).

ACSM-GEI course topics

The primary sections of the ACSM-GEI textbook cover the following:

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

As I’ve said above, most of the content in this textbook is really useful to learn as a fitness class instructor. I just wish there was more emphasis on resistance exercise technique and programming. These areas of knowledge form the foundation of your practice as a coach.

Taking the ACSM Group Exercise certification exam

The ACSM final exam includes 115 multiple-choice questions.

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%

You need 70% or higher on the scored questions to pass.

Overall difficulty of this exam is similar to other group certs. 

ACSM continuing education, salary, and career prospects

Salary for this group exercise certification should be similar to that of others on this list. ACSM remains a highly respected organization. While you don’t quite get the same level of recognition as that of ACE, it’s still a top cert. 

What are the benefits of obtaining a group fitness certification?

In obtaining a group fitness certification, you will surely gain many essential skills which will help enhance your fitness career and grow your personal training business.

You will be fantastic at working with larger groups and become a much more diverse and skilled personal trainer with one-on-one or smaller groups.

For instance, the active lifestyle and lots of physical activity that group fitness classes encourage will definitely help your clients adopt healthy lifestyles that last a lifetime.

Being certified as a group fitness instructor also opens you up to many opportunities and makes you much more desired as a personal trainer.

You can even choose specific certifications for the classes you desire to teach and/or your niche.

Here are some examples:

  • Bootcamp certification
  • Barre instructor certification
  • Pilates instructor certification
  • Step aerobic certification

If you’re a personal trainer, consider looking into personal training for seniors.

You could teach small group fitness classes at local gyms, in their homes, or in their apartment complex gyms or clubhouses.

Once I became certified as a group fitness instructor, I got most of my one-on-one personal training clients to take classes with me.

The biggest win for me was converting members in the group exercise classes into one-on-one personal training clients.

This is where I saw a significant increase in my overall income. 

Teaching group fitness classes gives you access to many new leads.

It is also the best type of personal training marketing method, and if you can sell personal training, then you will have no trouble obtaining and retaining clients.

After all, a good personal trainer stays sharp in the fitness game–dedication is key along with coaching skills.

Best group fitness certifications FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do I become a good group fitness instructor?

Becoming a fitness instructor clients can’t stop raving about requires serious passion. While obtaining a group fitness certification online or in person is easy, you’ll now have to combine the knowledge you obtain with passion and personality.

How do you build a successful fitness class?

Building a successful fitness class takes practice and consistency. All types of fitness certifications provide the foundational tools to become a fitness instructor of value. Establish a good rapport with your community, gym members, and large or small group training clients and maintain professionalism.

What are the most popular group fitness classes?

Throughout many decades, the most popular group fitness classes include the following: pilates, barre, HIIT, kickboxing, BootCamp, Zumba, step aerobics, tai chi, qigong, mixed martial arts, water aerobics and aqua fitness, dance fitness, and even pole fitness.

What are some specialty fitness certifications?

The most sought-after specialty fitness certifications include prenatal, perinatal, postnatal, youth, and senior fitness certifications. There are also fitness certification programs focusing on rehab from injury and/or disease and fitness instructor training programs to work with clients with disabilities.

What makes a great group exercise class?

Whether you’re providing group personal training or putting together your latest group fitness class choreography, one thing makes a great class – and that is you! You can learn a whole lot from your group exercise instructor certification, but the truth is that people will gravitate toward your energy. So bring on high energy, enthusiasm, and positivity.

Which group fitness certification is easiest?

I’d say that the easiest group trainer certification is the ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor certification. In most states, this can be obtained in 3 to 6 months depending on various factors, from your education and experience level to the time you devote to your studies.

What is the best group fitness instructor certification?

While I would definitely recommend the ISSA-GEI as the best one overall, and also one of the cheap group fitness certifications, it’s really up to you. There are plenty of group fitness certifications online and in-person for you to choose from, so make sure the one you pick matches your career goals and fits your needs.

What fitness certification is most recognized?

Out of all the group fitness instructor training programs, the most recognized by almost every gym in the United States is definitely ISSA, and following that, the NASM group fitness certification. I mention both because it’s truly a tie.

Conclusion on the best group fitness certifications

best group fitness certifications - GFI textbooks on table with yellow question mark boxes - which is the best gfi

As I mentioned at the beginning of my article, a group fitness certification can open up many doors for you.

You can gain many more clients and therefore make a lot more money by converting class members into personal training clients and vice versa.

Plus, the energy that comes along with leading group exercise classes makes it extremely fun.

(So if you ever questioned, “are fitness instructors happy,” my only answer would be, when are they not!)

While not all certifications mentioned here are equal, any one of them is better than no group instructor certification at all, especially if you are considering teaching a class.

Also, if you’re a personal trainer, obtaining any of the group fitness certifications would fulfill your continuing education credits (CECs) for your CPT and allow you to offer group strength training.

And finally, especially if you decide to work independently, consider personal trainer insurance to protect yourself from any potential legal actions.

Overall, I hope my article on the best group fitness certifications was helpful and that you can now make your choice confidently.

The 6 Best Group Fitness Certifications [In 2023]

See you after class!

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

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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.

  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

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

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

  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

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  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!

  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?

    • 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.

  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

    • 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!

  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?

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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.

  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?

    • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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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