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