Top 3 Group Exercise Certification Programs 2023

One way to expand your career options in the fitness industry is to become a certified Group Fitness Exercise Instructor. The more certifications you acquire, the more earning potential you will have in the field.

With one foot in the personal training department and the other as a group fitness instructor, you will become irreplaceable at any gym. People will get to know your training style by taking your classes and may become interested in training with you one-on-one. Similarly, as a personal trainer, you can encourage your clients to take the classes you teach.

When getting certified, you have a choice of several national group exercise certification programs. We’ve found the best three to be ACE, AFAA, and ISSA. All three offer fantastic programs so you will need to determine which one is the most convenient, cost-effective, and overall fit for you.

All three of these courses offer NCCA accreditation as an option for test-takers to take the best version of the course and have that gold standard accreditation. These three certifications also come from companies that have some of the best options for personal training certification, so there is some crossover of already amazing certifications. Group fitness instructor certification can lead to improvements in existing personal trainers’ salaries.

If you already have a CPT certification from one of these three companies, then it is probably best to stick with the same organization, since they are all at the top of the group fitness instructor certifications. Make sure you have an up-to-date CPR and AED certification, as that is needed to qualify for basically any person in the business.

Let’s review them one by one.

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Because of the explosion in the popularity of group fitness in the past decade, it is even more important than ever to get nationally certified in group fitness. There are so many choreographed group fitness programs out there that do not require much more than a teacher in front of a class memorizing a DVD of material. Unfortunately, this is performing, not teaching. By having an ACE certification, you have proof that you can create, design, and instruct your own program while helping your class stay safe.

ACE has some of the best feedback from employers, no matter if the topic is personal training or this certified group exercise instructor program. ACE is simply a great fitness organization, and people certified in ACE will have many opportunities to work in a studio or other facility.

As an ACE certified group fitness instructor, you will have the skills, knowledge, and professional training to stand out among other instructors. While many instructors are only trained to teach a certain level or certain type of class, with an ACE group fitness certification, you will be able to teach all levels. By creating unique classes, you will engage your class and encourage a higher level of repeat participants. ACE is a non-profit organization with the goal of making people stronger and healthier.

ACE ensures that their certified group fitness instructors will be able to guide classes in these areas:

  • Dance Fitness
  • Strength Training
  • Cardio Training
  • Yoga
  • Spinning and Cycling
  • Aerobics
  • HIIT
  • Kickboxing
  • Sports Performance
  • Pilates
  • Martial Arts
  • Boot Camp
  • Tai Chi
  • Barre
  • Aquatic Exercise
  • Qigong

When getting ACE certified, you will have the choice of a basic (approximately $449), plus (approximately $599), or advantage (roughly $749) option. These all include various types of study materials that will prepare you for the exam and cover the cost of the exam, but the premium will give you practice tests, flashcards, and access to further online exam preparation. Because there is no workshop to prepare you for the exam, going for the most premium option would be a good choice.

ACE often offers deals on these programs for as much as half off, so that is worth waiting for. For the number of coaching skills and exercise information throughout this program, you can feel confidence knowing that the ACE certification brings quality results and credentials.

When you are ready to take the exam, you register online and take the test at a local testing center.

Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)

The AFAA certification is for individuals to knowledgeably and creatively design group exercise certification programs for a wide variety of healthy individuals of all fitness levels. The purpose of obtaining a certification is to be nationally registered as someone who has gone through the practical and written exam to prove their aptitude in creating such programs. AFAA allows both an online and onsite certification program.

Whether the program is done online or onsite, AFAA recommends no less than one month of pre-study before taking the exam. For those taking the test onsite, there is an all-day review prior to the written and practical test at the end. The cost is $399 (there is a 10% discount for AFAA members). Before taking the test, there are a number of books and study guides that will need to be purchased. These can be bought on the website and should be studied months before the review workshop and exam.

AFAA, after being purchased by NASM brought many more study materials and packages of varying value. These packages vary from a base price of $399 all the way to $1,298. They also have some very beneficial

The following are covered in the workshop but should be reviewed using the exam preparation textbooks and study guides:

  • Basic anatomy and kinesiology
  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Group exercise design planning
  • Essentials of teaching (exercise guidelines, motivation, cueing, choreography, etc.)
  • Exercise selection and injury prevention
  • Business skills and legal responsibilities

For those taking the test online, the price is also $399, but frequently discounted. You will get access to streaming videos to help you prepare for the test. Just like the onsite workshop covers basic test questions and review, the streaming videos will provide an overview of the exam. The online practice and exam should be taken by a self-starter who can handle a lot of studying on their own. If not, then the hands-on workshop is best. During the online exam, the test-taker will be monitored using their webcam by a third party. This is to avoid any dishonest or immoral activity during the test.

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

To become AFAA certified, you must be at least 18 years of age and possess a valid CPR and first aid certification. Prior group exercise experience is strongly encouraged. If there is no previous experience, then the one day intensive workshop is highly recommended. Once an individual has taken and passed the test they will be awarded a certification and AFAA card.

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

The ISSA is a big name in the fitness industry, and emphasizing this is the tremendous amount of options for fitness certification, and this group fitness certification is one of those excellent options. ISSA is most known for having a state-of-the-art certification for personal trainers and having bundles of certifications to bring the best value deals and discounts in the fitness industry.

The Group Exercise certification from ISSA consists of a 186 page textbook with 12 format variations so that the teachings can be applied to 12 of the most common fitness modalities for group exercise.

ISSA offers great educational support with a team of student success professionals. They are able to help learn and study at your own pace and then help with the optional at-home exam for renewal.

This ISSA certification program costs a base price of $1,398.00, but can often be on sale for half off depending on the discounts running over at ISSA. One thing that should be kept in mind for this program and all of the other programs in this article is that recertification requires continuing education units or continuing education credits, and these courses count as hours. In fact, with ISSA, this fitness course would cover all the required hours to recertify with ISSA.

ISSA also offers a job guarantee for many of its program and has excellent support for their GFI, personal trainer certification, health coach certification, and most other education courses. So, an ISSA student can have confidence that they will have a successful career with this kickstart they help out with.


By choosing a national certification like AFAA, ISSA, or ACE, you will have the knowledge and the ability to train anywhere in the world. You will also be able to teach anywhere–it does not have to be in a gym. Note, if you choose to train a boot camp of some sort outside, you will need to learn the legalities of training in the parks and open lots in your area.

You may also need to have personal training insurance in most jobs and career in fitness, so definitely consider looking into that. It is best to go with some form of NCCA accredited (all of these company certifications in this article are accredited) certification for max value and reputation with your certification.

ACE is my favorite of these three, but AFAA and ISSA certified individuals will have no problems succeeding in physical fitness and group fitness classes. ACE fitness just has a slight leg up in the market of group exercise certifications.

Some gyms do not make their group fitness instructors sign non-Compete agreements which means you can teach at more than one gym. You will need to check with each individual gym to comply with their rules. Overall, the more group classes you are certified to teach, the more money you will make and the more invaluable you will be to the club.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the benefits of becoming certified?

By achieving group fitness certifications, you can master a variety of fitness content and learn some exercise science specific to this area. Students of these programs often already have fitness trainer certification and have all the resources for training singular participants. Group fitness certifications focus on the instructor helping groups of people anywhere from 4-50. Another benefit could be just from learning a new perspective on exercise science and workout experience, while also achieving CEUs for recertification.

What are the skills that will be learned in a group fitness certification?

Education through any of these programs provides excellent resources and content. You will learn to teach people in classes focused in anything from step, zumba, CrossFit, plyometrics, tabata, cycle classes, swimming, rowing, TRX and much more. Throughout these programs in the article, you will find the expertise, resources, and tools to make proper programming for training multiple people at once.

Who offers the best group exercise certification?

The best certification, in my opinion, is ACE and their group fitness cert. Ace offers amazing educational courses that are going to be top of the industry. In addition to ACE, the ISSA and AFAA programs give coaches nearly equivalent and perfect instruction on the fundamentals of group fitness training topics. You truly can’t go wrong with any of these group fitness certifications.

How do I become certified to teach group fitness classes?

You can become certified by choosing a program on this list or one of the others, and then following through by studying all of their offered resources and then taking the certification exam to officially certify. From there, you just need to land a job as a coach at a gym, and the rest is what you make of it. On average, the time it takes to study all of the information and needs and complete a certificate is anywhere from 1-3 months.

What are the requirements for teaching group exercise classes?

You will need to have attained a certification in this field, and fitness professionals must have a high school diploma, CPR and AED certification, and there may be additional requirements like first aid or other class certifications. Some other group fitness topics to know about are Bodypump, Bodycombat, Les Mills, and Piyo. These are growing fast in the fitness industry.

What are some ideal specializations for personal trainers to pursue?

Personal trainers can expand on their knowledge and offerings to clients by specializing in specific areas of fitness like corrective exercise, group fitness instructor, and health coach certification. And for the more committed to higher education, you can always seek out a college for personal training for a degree in exercise science or associated fields.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top