Become a Group Fitness Instructor

If you’ve ever considered becoming a group fitness instructor, I’m so excited for you!  It’s a wonderfully rewarding job. There certainly isn’t one right way to go about things. I’ve been asked by many of my participants both how I got my start in the fitness industry and how to become a group fitness instructor themselves. I decided to write a blog that covers both topics and I’ve organized it into 6 steps below.

1) Start with the format you love. 

Back in 1998 I was in college and married with a newborn. Being a new mom was hard, and I knew I needed some me-time. For one of my college courses I signed up for a 5:30 am step class. I fell in love with the format. We did the same 4 combos every class all semester long, and I still loved it! At the end of the semester, I asked my instructor what it took to teach step. He was ready to tell me which certifications to get, but I was working on my degree, taking care of a baby, and had no spare time. I had fallen in love with step and knew I wanted to teach it when the timing was right.

2) Look for opportunities to ‘practice’ teaching in a non-intimidating environment.

Fast forward to the year 2007. By then I had 3 sons, we’d lived in London and were back in the USABoysSwim-JennyFord. I found Christi Taylor, and her at-home step DVDs. I started thinking seriously about getting certified. Around that same time a lady in my neighborhood asked if I’d be interested in *teaching water aerobics at a community pool. It didn’t pay much, but all my boys could get free swim lessons. This sparked something in me and I decided to take the plunge. I prepared for my first class by attending water aerobics classes (which I had never done before), talked to instructors, borrowed their instructor manuals, and put together my first class.

(*If you live in an area where there aren’t many opportunities to practice on a live class at a gym, try gathering together friends or neighbors and offer to teach a free fitness class each week. When I first started teaching Zumba, I offered a free class to my church friends and neighbors once a week. It was a great way to test out all the practicing I did at home, and they were happy to have a free workout.)

3) Find an approachable fitness instructor or professional, and ask them to talk you through which certification options suit you.

At that same time, I joined a nearby gym because it had a lot of step classes on the schedule. (This was back before the big Zumba explosion.) I approached a few of the friendlier instructors and they told me if I wanted to teach group fitness I needed to get my group fitness certification through ACE or AFAA because fitness facilities in our area required one or the other. Both of these certifications give you a solid start and teach you how to design a safe and effective group fitness class. After research, I went with AFAA because many instructors said the test was not quite as difficult as the test for ACE. Before you choose a *certification, check with the facilities you’re interested in teaching, and they can tell you which certifications they require. (Group fitness certifications requirements vary from place to place.)

*If you’re wanting to specialize in a certain format such as: Zumba, Spin, PiYo, BollyX, Insanity, TRX, BOSU, or something else, it’s still a good idea to start with a general group fitness certification from ACE or AFFA.

(I haven’t seen a specialty training recently for Step, or teaching ‘free-style’ danced-based classes. I’ve had many of my participants ask me how they can learn to teach step. I’m happy to announce I’m working on a ‘How to Teach Step Program’ for my YouTube channel.  You’ll be able to use it at your own pace and conveniently practice in your home.) 

4) Find opportunities to further your training. Your education should never end. Seek out the best in the industry if possible.

ChristiTaylor-JennyFord

In 2008, Christi Taylor taught a 3 day one-on-one instructor training course that was approved for Continuing Education Credits or CEC’s. (Every 2 years you’ll need to keep your certification current by taking additional education courses and CPR.) I had built my foundation, but needed to learn skills that would help make me an exceptional instructor. The stars aligned, and I left my little family for 4 days and flew to AZ to take her course. It was the best decision I’d made in my fitness career so far. The skills I learned with Christi helped me become a SUPERSTAR instructor. Her experience and knowledge were invaluable!

5) Practice, practice, practice!

Once you’ve learned basic teaching skills like how to cue, follow music, choreograph or put together classes, (YouTube can be a great resource for choreography inspiration) it’s time to practice. First practice at home until you feel very comfortable. Memorize as much as you can. I first set a goal to practice teaching for at least 15 minutes a day. Next, I started asking different step instructors if I could take over their class and teach one combo. Some instructors were thrilled to share, and others not so much. Teaching in front of live classes is a whole different experience. My first live teaching experience was with a HUGE advanced step class who took their workout time very seriously!  I remember being so nervous that my heart rate was at the top of my heart rate zone before I even began moving. I could barely catch my breath, my hands were shaking, and we hadn’t even begun marching.  In the end I did alright, but man alive, teaching live for the first time was one of the most terrifying experiences I had gone through in a long time. Bottom line, never stop practicing!

6) Make the most of your continuing education. Stay current with fitness trends. WelcomeIDEAJennyFord

Years later I’ve taken the opportunity to attend the IDEA World Fitness Convention in CA. What an incredible experience! 5 days of continuing fitness education and certifications from top professionals in the fitness industry. (If getting to CA is out of the question, there are other amazing fitness conferences you can attend all over the world. You should be able to find one that is closer to you.)

It definitely gets easier to teach in front of live classes, but even after 8 years of teaching, I still get nervous from time to time. I believe if you’re nervous it means that you care about your class participants, you value their time, and it only shows that you want to give them the best experience possible.

Remember, it happens one step at a time. You won’t get there overnight. With persistence and practice before you know it, you’ll be a pro. If you have any questions on becoming a group fitness instructor, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to help you in any way.

(This blog was originally posted in 2012. I’ve updated with new information September 2015.)

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To try one of my most popular step workouts, Step Aerobics Basic w/3 Combos. Would love to hear what you think!

16 thoughts on “Become a Group Fitness Instructor

  1. Hi there! Just read your article because I’m thinking of doing my first module for group fitness instructing! I’m pretty nervous and was just wondering how long you think it took you to feel comfortable at cueing and the sound of your own voice? How would you advise I improve my confidence and feel most comfortable speaking in front of lots of people? Thanks, I appreciate your articles!

    1. Hi Alicia,
      Those are GREAT questions! I am very excited for you taking the first steps to becoming a group fitness instructor. It is such a rewarding path! Honestly, it took me a few months to feel comfortable, but each time it got a little better. (The first time was the most terrifying.) Even for those first few months on the night before I taught, I had a REALLY hard time sleeping. Practicing cueing at home really helped, but boy it wasn’t until I got in front of a live class, that everything really sunk into my brain. People are generally forgiving if you make a few mistakes at first–especially when they can tell you put the effort in. So I guess my advice on overcoming nervousness at being in front of a group is to do it, and then do it again and again. I promise it will get easier. One day you’ll be up teaching a class, and it will feel so natural to cue, and to hear your own voice over the speaker system–you’ll get there–baby steps! Please write me and tell me how it goes. I would love to have an update. Really wish you the best of luck!

  2. Hello Jenny,

    I have made the decision to become an aerobics instructor and I had no idea where to even begin. Your article was very helpful and extremely encouraging. If I have any questions, you will be my first reference. Thank you so much for the information.

    Sincerly,
    Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa, Thanks so much for commenting. Congrats on starting your journey to become a fitness instructor. Please feel free to contact me at any time. Good luck with everything!

  3. Jenny,
    I am a senior in high school this year ,and I have been exhausted trying to think of something I would enjoy to do as my future career. I am very interested in being a fitness instructor! I have no idea on where to begin. What courses in college should I take?

    1. Hi Kayla,
      I think that is wonderful! Being a fitness instructor is a very rewarding job. I would suggest looking into AFAA or ACE certifications for their Group Fitness certification. Once you are certified, you can decide where you want to go from there. Most gyms require either of those certifications in order to teach. If you are wanting to go beyond a group fitness instructor, and be a personal trainer, you would want to take courses in Exercise and Sports Science in college. Let me know if you have any other questions, and good luck with everything! =)

  4. Hi Jenny,

    I’m currently in school for fitness and health promotion, with an eye to becoming a CPT, but am also interested in the group fitness dynamic. I enjoy taking group classes, but am always a little amazed at how the instructors keep track of counts, and participate in some of the crazy high intensity workouts while still leading and not getting totally out of breath. Is this a matter of practice? Or do most instructors tailor their workouts to something that they know they can undergo comfortably? I mean, some of those HIIT things are crazy! And I’m fit, but those things have me sweating like mad and breathing my max…how do they do it?

    1. Hi Verne,

      I think becoming a CPT is a wonderful choice! And I really like that you are also interested in the group fitness side of things. You will definitely be a very well-rounded fitness professional. Seriously, it is pretty amazing when you start to think about how to cue-ahead while leading a class. With practice it definitely becomes second nature. You automatically learn how to breath in between cues, as well as naturally keep track of counts. I definitely believe that fitness instructors excel at teaching whatever formats they enjoy most. If a HIIT class is what you are passionate about, you could definitely learn how to teach one, no problem! And you are right, each instructor will tailor their class according to their experience and what they are comfortable with. Luckily most instructors don’t jump into an advanced type format to begin with. Baby steps for sure! I took some instructor training on how to cue and lead a class before taking on a class. It was the best thing I could have ever done. Then just practice like crazy. Of course actual experience will teach you faster than anything. Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck with everything!

      1. You mentioned instructor training on how to cue…where can one come by that? Also, in putting together combos…so confusing to me, layering, breaking down etc. Is there some kind of formula to follow?

        To Verne, as far as the counting goes, you can use the music to basically count for you….by using the 8 counts…if that doesn’t mean anything to you, then I’d say that is the place to start.

        I teach some basic formats, BodyPump (everything given to me and I just learn it) and Sculpt and Tone (not really needing to cue or develop chorey). I’d love to grow though!

        1. Oh, and I just subbed a Cardio Sculpt class and had to do step…ugh. I was worried myself about being able to breath through the class bc I don’t too enough cardio for sure. But, the adrenaline carries you through!!

        2. Pauline,
          Just had a baby 6 weeks ago, but planning in a few months, to film that very thing, helping instructors learn to cue choreographed classes like step, hi-lo, anything really where you put together combos, break downs, all that. I am so excited to put it all together!!! I have had MANY requests for such a thing.

          There is definitely a formula that makes it all so much easier when you go to put your combos together. ANd then, before you know it, you’ll be putting together your own choreography!

          You already have the teaching experience from teaching BodyPump and Sculpt and Tone, so that is so AWESOME!!!

          Check my YouTube channel in a few months, or write me anytime so I can keep you updated.

          Thanks again for your comments, they have made me that much more excited to get filming once I am slim and trim again! 😉

  5. Hi! I have wanted to pursue becoming a fitness instructor for several years specifically aerobics, step, something fun and energetic! I only just made the decision to stop wishing or day dreaming about doing this and to just DO IT already BUT I don’t know where to start. Then I found your article thanks for the great tips. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE to workout, sweat and challenge myself. I would love to help others on their fitness journey!!! So first things first…AFAA or ACE certification. How long did you study before you took the test? Is Christie Taylors training course something you would recomend for aspiring fitness intructors? Any other tips or advice you can offer would be much appreciated! Thanks for posting this article!

    1. Hi Jenessa,

      Good for you! Way to take that leap! Sounds like you have what it takes, especially having that desire to help others in their fitness goals. I really think AFAA if a great place to start, if group fitness is where you want to stick. If you want to do group fitness and maybe even do personal training, ACE may be a better option. I studied for a few months before taking the test, but I also have a husband and 4 boys to look after. =) I would always recommend a course like Christi Taylor’s instructor training course. I am not certain if she is still offers one, so if you don’t go through her, I would definitely look into some sort of instructor training that teaches specifically how to cue, and basically what tools you need in order to teach a safe and effective class. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE on your own!!! Be sure to try and befriend instructors at the gym you attend, and see if they’ll let you teach class for 10 min. or so. That practical experience will teach you better than anything. Good luck with everything! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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