What is the Best Group Fitness Instructor Certification?

Those in the fitness field have several options open to them if they want to move up in their careers. Group Fitness Instructor certification is amongst the most powerful career boosters. Not only will you have your training as a personal fitness instructor to fall back on, but a group fitness certification means that you can take on more tasks.

Better yet, hosting classes is a great way to get people interested in you. If somebody likes your group fitness sessions, they’ll be more likely to ask you for one-to-one sessions. This works both ways. You can encourage your personal fitness clients to also take your group fitness classes. Over time, you can develop a client list that makes you valuable to your gym, or opens the door to go into business for yourself.

This means a higher income for you, and more career options. Furthermore, a good course can also help you to understand how to market your services.

However, it’s not easy to find the right certification. Several organizations offer courses, all of which take a different approach.

Keep in mind, the basic requirements for certifications and the job will usually be a CPR and AED certification and some form of proof of education at the high school level as a minimum. Renewal of fitness certifications through CEUs will still apply for a group fitness instructor, as it does for all fitness industry certificates.

Group fitness is looked at as a specialization similar to strength and conditioning certification, corrective exercise certification, health coach certification, and more.

We’ve examined some of the leading Group Fitness Instructor certifications for the purposes of this guide. Read on to find out which the best course is for you.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) Group Fitness Instructor Certification

An ACE Certification shows that you can do more than memorize a class and perform. As part of the program, you will develop a better understanding of how different activities affect different parts of the body as well as become equipped with the skills and knowledge to create classes of your own.

The study program comes in three flavors – Basic, Plus, and Advantage. Each offers quality, though the most advanced packages offer more educational materials.

The Basics program currently costs $449 and gives you access to ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor Handbook in eBook form. This provides in-depth information about fitness and demonstrates how it impacts overall wellness. You’ll also enroll in the ACE University, which offers access to chapter reviews and quizzes so you can track your progress against the handbook. You also receive access to the ACE Resource Answers, and a practice test that you can use to prepare yourself for the final exam. This exam is also included as part of the package.

The Plus program adds to this by offering an additional practice exam. You also receive both physical and eBook versions of the handbook. There is also a group fitness classes in diverse settings course. This comes at a cost of $599.

Finally, the Advantage package comes with everything in the Plus package. However, you now have unlimited access to 3 practice exams. Furthermore, ACE offers its Enhanced Exercise Science 101 course, which goes into more detail on all the foundations of training. Typically, the Advantage package costs $749, but ACE runs regular offers so you may get it cheaper.

ACE offers one of the best personal training certifications, so it makes sense the the ACE group certification would be so highly valued. It is definitely one of the most popular options to become a group instructor, right next to ISSA and AFAA. You can’t go wrong with ACE fitness education.

Whichever you choose, you’ll have access to a ton of resources to help you understand group fitness. Furthermore, their certification carries accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).


  • Focus on applying theoretical knowledge to creating new classes.
  • Access to the ACE University, which offers one-on-one help with a study coach
  • Dedicated Facebook Group
  • NCCA-accredited
  • Three program options.
  • Detailed study materials are included as part of the packages.
  • Practice tests included.
  • The final exam is included.


  • No physical teaching component.

National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) Group Exercise Certification

The NETA certification also carries NCCA accreditation, plus it takes a more physical approach to learning. The most expensive version of the course places more of a focus on practical learning than theoretical. While experienced personal trainers may not need these, they go a long way to teaching the fundamentals to beginners. As part of the package, you’ll take part in workshops where you review your progress with a trained professional.

All told, NETA offers three routes to earning its certification. There’s the previously described practical course. However, you can also choose courses that focus on self-study using the NETA materials, or a course based on live webinars. The latter courses reinforce the theory behind the physical aspect of teaching group fitness.

Importantly, you may need to purchase one of these two theoretical courses if you take the workshop-based course. This is because the workshop course doesn’t provide you with any study materials as part of the package.

However, all three do include a final test, which you must take at one of NETA’s 500 testing centers in the United States.

Course prices range from $299 to $399. While this may seem cheaper than the ACE course, there is a catch. You have to purchase the related course books and practice exams separately. When totaled up, the courses have a comparable price. The courses also focus more teaching group fitness classes than they do on creating your own.


  • A choice of two courses.
  • The most expensive course has a physical teaching component.
  • Courses carry NCCA accreditations.
  • Can control your own schedule if you take the self-study course.


  • Course materials aren’t included in the package.
  • You receive no practice tests.
  • The physical course offers less control over your own schedule.
  • Less focus on developing your own group fitness sessions.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Group Exercise Instructor Certification

The ACSM differs from the other courses on this list because of its focus on camaraderie. Through this course, you’ll understand the importance of bonding with your students, as well as teaching them. We mentioned previously that this bond is crucial to improving personal training businesses. If this is a route you’re interested in, the ACSM course may be the right choice for you.

ACSM has a different pricing structure too. You pay for the exam separately, meaning you can choose which course materials you invest in. The exam typically costs $399, though ACSM members receive it at a reduced price of $299. You can also buy a retest for $199, should you not succeed on your first attempt.

While this may seem lower than the ACE certification at first glance, the prices go up depending on which study materials you buy. For example, the ACSM’s Resources for the group fitness instructor costs a further $81.99.

ACSM also offers physical workshops at locations throughout the United States. However, each of these carries a separate cost of their own.

One the one hand, this pricing structure gives you more control over how much the course costs you. If you already have a solid knowledge of group fitness, you could take the exam without studying. However, those who need extra tuition soon experience mounting costs. Attending multiple workshops could easily lead to the certification costing more than any other on this list.

However, there’s no denying the ACSM’s quality either. The organization has over 50,000 members making it the largest sports science organization on the planet. Studying through them gives you access to well-researched materials. Furthermore, taking out a membership lowers the cost of the exam, and may provide you access to other professionals so you can build your professional network.


  • Course is backed by a global professional organization.
  • You receive greater control over how you study.
  • Offers the option of attending workshops across the country.
  • Puts a greater focus on developing bonds with class members than other courses.


  • You must buy all of the course materials separately to the exam.
  • Every workshop costs a little extra on top.
  • Does not have NCCA accreditation.

The overall cost of the course may be higher for beginners due to their need for study materials.

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Group Exercise Instructor Certification

The ISSA has a certification for group exercise focused on guiding clients in classes with exercise formats like HIIT, Kickboxing, and Bootcamp while creating buzzing energy for all participators.

ISSA’s group exercise program is a bit more expensive than the programs higher on the list, but for a good reason. In total, this group exercise + NCCPT exam comes in at $1,398.00.

The ISSA CPT exam focuses on 12 different formats of group fitness, and these can be adapted for other formats, as well. The science behind exercising in groups and exercising in general is also brought forth well in this program. An ISSA Group Exercise Instructor will be able to design and instruct classes for every fitness level, as well as doing so with safety and a focus on preventing injury.

The ISSA Group Exercise Instructor certification is NCCA accredited like ACE and NETA, so you know that you are getting high quality exercise content.


  • The ISSA has a large international presence
  • NCCA accreditation is high value and rarer for group fitness certification
  • Offers live class options and more to choose from
  • Has a focus on value when purchasing multiple packages


  • Pricier than most other group fitness certifications, especially when purchased alone
  • Proctoring fee not included for those wanting the NCCA accredited exam

Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) Group Fitness Instructor Certification

The AFAA is a lesser-known organization that is now owned by NASM. You could technically also call this the NASM Group Fitness Instructor Certification, as they are the parent company. AFAA offers excellent certification in many areas of fitness that are more specialized.

In the AFAA group fitness cert, you will learn:

  • The basics of design and choreography of group exercise classes
  • Essentials of physiology and exercise
  • Training modalities like strength and resistance training
  • A unique perspective on skills and professional responsibilities
  • The foundations of healthy eating and overall nutrition

The AFAA uses an all-digital learning platform like all of these programs, and they have an optional purchase for the textbook. AFAA has some other specializations that can help with group exercise and application with workout activities like, yoga, pilates, anaerobic strength training, aerobic classes, powerlifting, CrossFit, swimming, running, cycling, and more.

Instructors and certified personal trainers who want to do group classes on the side are the main individuals who are going for these group fitness instructor certifications, and AFAA is a great choice for these needs.

AFAA has received a lot of positive feedback regarding its content in health and exercise instruction. They offer a lot of content for a solid price compared to others. This certification also has discounts often and people can choose to purchase the group tests alone.


  • One of the best options for a career in the fitness industry
  • Pairs well with personal trainer instruction that comes from AFAA and NASM
  • Teaches exercises in a great degree of depth
  • NCCA accredited


  • Could focus on some diet aspects, since other group certs have sections on this
  • No workout format to apply to all modalities

The Final Word

In choosing the best of these three Group Fitness Instructor certifications, we have looked at several factors. The quality and methods of tuition play a huge role. So too does the focus of the course. The best certification should help you to build on your existing skills, and develop new skills that help you to teach classes better.

Price is also a factor, as this is especially important for beginners who need study materials. Any additional accreditation has also factored into our decision.

With all of those factors taken into account, we believe that the ACE certification is the best choice for both beginners and experienced practitioners. It is the only one to provide all of the program materials and the exam as part of a package deal, which simplifies the cost.
Furthermore, its focus on helping students learn how to develop their own classes stands out. This skill will prove advantageous to you as you try to set yourself apart from other group fitness professionals. The ACE program also carries NCCA accreditation and includes practice tests. The only thing missing is a practical component, such as a workshop.

That’s not to say that the other two courses don’t have plenty to offer. NETA’s practical approach offers a different take on training, plus their course also has NCCA accreditation. The ACSM course could be either the most costly, or least expensive of the three, depending on your current skill level. However, it also comes with the backing of an established organization with tens of thousands of members.

Still, if we are to choose one, we select the ACE certification. It’s the most comprehensive of the three choices. Plus, you receive access to an extensive library of resources to help you pass.

How do I find the best group fitness certification?

My top choice for group fitness instructors is ACE, but if you are already certified through one of the other companies on this page, then it is usually best to stay with that organization. Many individuals with personal trainer certification seek out certifications to specialize in and add to their credentials and potential for gyms and employers. The group fitness certification is a great opportunity for new expertise and the option to get continuing education units or continuing education credits.

What are the key areas covered in the certification?

These 5 certifications cover the most important coaching skills in group fitness training and the foundation of exercise at the same time. The primary teachings will focus on coaching skills, group workouts and formats for these trainings, movement patterns, and equipment usage like with weights and machines in various forms. Some of the lesser-known teachings will be on muscle development, bodybuilding, weight loss, as these are not often considered with group certifications.

What are the salary prospects for certified group fitness instructors?

The salary of group fitness instructors is going to be very dependent on the other certifications attained. Normally the salary will be just higher than a personal trainer salary, as group fitness training is a specialization that people certify in to add to their clients’ choices.

What are the different types of group fitness certification?

Group fitness certifications are the broader form of group certification programs. You can also have much more specific population groups and types of group classes. This can vary from muscle building classes, to cycling, and all the way to MMA style certification. The great thing about fitness is that it can be personalized based on your interests or your participants desires.

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