Last Updated December 4, 2023 (originally published June 15, 2021)
Your love for all things group fitness has led you to explore what it takes to move from the front row to face the crowd. Chances are, you’ve run across various resources discussing the need to obtain a group fitness instructor certification. But beyond that essential step, you’re left wondering what else you need to do to land your first class. We thought you’d appreciate a bit of help!
While there are many ways to approach becoming a group fitness instructor, we've compiled the top five steps from a group of diverse leaders in the group fitness community. The following represent the most important steps and, while they may not always come in this exact order, they are the essential ingredients to becoming an impactful group fitness instructor. So, let's take a look.
Step 1: Obtain a Nationally Accredited Primary Certification
Obtaining your primary group fitness certification is a must and ideally comes first. A primary certification in group fitness prepares you for the “role” of being a group fitness instructor. It provides the information you need to competently lead general fitness classes (e.g., cardio, strength and flexibility). In addition, you will learn the basics of class program design, exercise science, cueing and music.
It is essential to narrow your search to group fitness instructor certifications that are nationally accredited. Review the available study materials, information regarding registering for and sitting for the exam, and the recertification requirements. It’s also a good idea to look into the certifying organization’s ongoing support for your continued education and career success, as well as their customer service offerings.
Step 2: Identify your Format(s)
You’ll next need to determine which types of classes you'd like to teach. Again, ideally this decision is based primarily on your personal preference and natural skillset. However, you may also want to consider what type of specialization might be required to get your foot in the door as an instructor.
Be sure to begin your research by taking classes. If you’re already a group fitness groupie, expand your palate by trying new classes, instructors and environments to get a better sense of the available options. Consider what it would be like to teach the format versus participate. You will find some classes are a better fit for you to lead than others, even if you love taking the class.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, determine if additional training is necessary. Many formats require that you earn an additional format-specific (sometimes called specialty training) certificate. The facility where you want to work may conduct the trainings in-house, or you may obtain the qualification through a third-party organization. Examples include indoor cycling certifying organizations, Zumba, and Les Mills formats.
Step 3: Carefully Vet Opportunities
Most instructors begin their careers working for a facility, but there are also options to be self-employed. Teaching at a facility usually provides a steady flow of potential participants, exposure to a wide variety of class formats, access to formal and informal mentors, education opportunities and a community. Be sure to explore all employment options and opportunities that exist for you to work as an independent contractor or to be self-employed.
Step 4: Prepare for Opportunities
Step 4 is actually a bunch of little steps that, combined, prepare you for the many opportunities that exist for group fitness instructors. It’s less of a box that you tick and then forget about but, rather, tasks that you start doing and continue doing throughout your career to be ready for the wide world of fitness.
Begin by connecting to a network. Check with your primary group fitness certifying and specialty certificate organizations, as well as with other group fitness instructors to find formal and informal networking opportunities. A network can help you fill in the gaps between what you learned in your formal education and the skills you need to make it in the group fitness world. We'd love to have you become part of our family at the ACE Group Fit page on Facebook.
Another excellent resource for filling in the gaps is a mentor. Do your best to find one that can help you navigate the industry and coach you on your unique path. You can find mentors at local clubs or studios, as well as in many of the networking opportunities described above.
Prepare for auditions and interviews by practicing, recording and watching yourself teach. If possible, ask for feedback from instructors, as well as trusted friends and family members. Then, practice some more with their respective feedback in mind. The more time you spend rehearsing, the better off you will be for the audition and your first class.
One additional preparatory step is to obtain (and then maintain) professional liability insurance. Whether you plan to teach clients online or in person, liability insurance is an investment you make for your peace of mind should you ever be sued by a participant for injury or damages. Even if you plan to work at a club, studio or another establishment, carrying your own policy is a good idea.
Step 5: Plan Your Path for Growth
While your recertification is probably two years away, set out on your professional journey armed with a growth plan. Both formal and informal education is helpful for pursuing new opportunities and improving the experience for your current participants. The best instructors are those who commit to being lifelong learners.
If you are not yet a certified group fitness instructor, visit the ACE Group Fitness Instructor certification page to learn more about why this may be the first step to a rewarding career in fitness.
If you are already ACE Certified, a great next step is to explore the many resources provided through ACE Continuing Education, from Specialist Programs that will help you define your niche to the CEC Power Pass, which will provide access to unlimited educational opportunities.
A special thank you to Staci Alden, Steven Trotter, Summer Sides and J'Lynn Morkovsky, who contributed their expertise to this article.