One of the most rewarding parts of being a personal trainer is seeing improved results in your clients’ bodies and improved confidence in their personalities at the end of your training programs. Knowing that you are partially responsible for transforming their inner and outer selves is a very powerful feeling.
Inspired by their positive change in individual clients, many trainers naturally look to expand their reach and train clients on a larger scale. For most trainers, the best way to achieve this is to become a group fitness instructor.
What is Group Fitness?
Group fitness is an extension of any “regular” one-on-one fitness program, taught in a structured class style. If you are a personal trainer with a group fitness certification, you can leverage your current training programs, equipment, and gyms to serve more clients at one time. Group fitness classes typically range from 2 to 25 people at once (or even more depending on the scale of the program).
Naturally, group fitness programs offer less individualized attention than traditional one-on-one training sessions, however the added social element more than makes up for that, as it’s much easier to stay motivated when your peers are just as committed as you are to getting fit.
If you love being a one-on-one personal trainer and want to take your impact to the next level, a group fitness certification is a perfect next step in your career.
While there are plenty of excellent choices, there are three programs that we feel will best prepare personal trainers for an effective and lucrative venture into the world of group fitness.
The three best group fitness certification programs in 2020 are:
Choosing the right certification is easier when you know the factors that make a great program stand out. Price is generally the first factor you’ll weigh, but that is only the beginning. You should also consider programs that offer a nationally accredited certification exam, and–even better–a retake option. Study materials should be available online in multiple formats and you should be guaranteed lifelong access to them, as well as support through mentors or customer service chats. In terms of content, you should look out for sections on facilitation, exercise physiology, safety hazards specific to groups, and building rapport in a group setting.
Let’s examine each of these programs in detail to help you determine which is best suited for your career goals.
#1: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Our pick for the best overall group fitness certification is offered by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
NASM offers a variety of group fitness certification options to match your skill-set and goals as a trainer. The content of this certification centers around building rapport, safety, and exercise physiology.
The Self-Study format is delivered through lectures, videos, and a Group Fitness digital book. This content delivery is perfect for the flexible learner who likes varied options to keep studying exciting. You can count on constant support through multi-medium support through phone, email, and chat from both mentors and support staff within the NASM network.
The Premium Self-Study option also includes active learning activities, flashcards, and a certification exam retest option, if you need it.
The All-Inclusive program also includes a group fitness instructor textbook, a live workshop, and a job guarantee with a corresponding gym associated with the NASM program. As mentioned in our NASM vs. ACSM article, the job guarantee offering by NASM is especially appealing to students who know they’re ready for a career in personal training but are concerned about the current state of the job market. (And in the wake of COVID-19, that’s a legitimate concern.)
All of the above options offer the accredited certification exam, which allows you to legally practice group fitness training. NASM offers these three extensive options to help cater your experience based on your learning style, job needs, and goals. Each of these programs also include NASM-exclusive discounts for services and products within their professional network.
NASM’s flagship personal trainer certification program is known for its evidence-based approach, and the Group Fitness Instructor program is no different. You will learn how to train your clients with science-backed exercise physiology movements that protect their safety and help them reach their fitness goals while minimizing chance of injury.
NASM equips you with the tools you need to attract and retain clients, whether through group fitness classes that are tailored to one workout, or hybrid classes where you can thrive on motivating others to switch their routines for the better. This flexible approach to group fitness program creation will allow you confidence in your new classes, whether you are new to personal training or have been in the field for years.
NASM also offers a free American Fitness Magazine subscription, technique lectures and videos, as well as state-of-the-art training methods.
Self-Study Program: $224
Premium Self-Study Program: $299
Group Fitness Instructor All-Inclusive: $374
Each of these pricing options also includes access to a payment plan available with online purchase.
Note: Certification prices change daily depending on promotional offers. Please check here for the most up-to-date pricing on NASM certification.
#2: American Council on Exercise (ACE)
One of our favorite group fitness certification programs is the one offered by the The American Council on Exercise (ACE).
ACE offers a comprehensive Group Fitness Instructor course, which is based off their mission-driven program to prepare you for leading classes with ease. ACE leads its branding by prioritizing the community-building aspect of group fitness instruction. Any personal trainer who specializes in group fitness instruction would attest to the fact that building community is the key to client retention. If you expect to keep your clients, you want your sessions to feel like more than just a workout. ACE is uniquely focused on emphasizing this very aspect of group fitness instruction.
Through ACE, you can expect three program options based on your needs and learning style. All three program options include the accredited certification test, which you must register for within six months after enrolling in the certification.
Let’s begin by breaking down each offering. ACE’s Pro Essentials program includes one practice test, ACE answers, a self-serve resource library, and an interview guarantee. If you upgrade to Pro Plus, ACE offers you two practice tests and a hard copy of its Fitness Instructor Handbook.
ACE also offers a top-tier option called Pro Advantage, which includes three practice tests, the ACE Retest Voucher, enhanced digital resource packages, and an online study program. Each of these programs includes ACE Answers, access to a digital classroom, and of course the handbooks required for you to ace your exam.
ACE brands itself with a mission of movement, which is centered around bringing communities together with healthy habits as their commonality. You can expect this certification to include tips on facilitation and branding yourself as an ACE Specialist. ACE recommends between 80-100 hours to prepare for this certification, and allows their programs to be self-paced for your own time management.
ACE offers a wide network of associated gyms who participate in their Interview Guarantee program. This is especially beneficial if you are new to personal training, or are considering a job change upon building your group fitness techniques. 24 Fitness, Anytime Fitness, and Crunch are just a few of the organizations in ACE agreements, and these partnerships will grant you access to an entry interview based on your certification.
ACE also offers a free Career Guide to help you further explore your options as a group fitness instructor. ACE also offers professional discounts on resources such as liability insurance and other equipment needs.
If you choose to continue your education as a group fitness instructor, ACE also offers a specialist program to determine your target market (weight-related habits, nutrition, etc.) and niche down to serve your dream clients. As you’ll soon discover, finding your ideal niche and establishing your rapport as a leading expert in that particular domain is one of the keys to landing clients. Everyone wants a specialist, not a generalist.
To sum it all up, the main value ACE provides on top of its certification includes getting your foot in the door for interviews and national gyms, and a wide array of discounts and services to help you build your business.
Pro Essentials: $299
Pro Plus: $449
Pro Advantage: Regularly $599, but often on sale for $449
Note: Certification prices change daily depending on promotional offers. Please check here for the most up-to-date pricing on NASM certification.
#3: International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
One of the newer group fitness certification programs that we recommend is offered by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).
ISSA leads its program content with the idea of formatting programs efficiently in order to scale your training sessions. This program focuses primarily on exercise physiology, with emphasis on injuries, major structures and functions of the body, as well as the biomechanics of movement.
You will leave with the tools to evaluate clients, modify exercises, and to develop your business in a way that suits your needs. Leveraging the in-depth science covered in this certification is perfect for the trainer who supplements each instruction and class with detailed explanations around the “why” behind each movement.
ISSA offers a distance education course where you are able to study at your own pace and take an online certification. This course offers unlimited educational support, a study textbook (over 250 pages), and multiple online quizzes.
ISSA estimates you can finish the course in 8-10 weeks in addition to study time. This is supplemented with workbooks, a study guide, exercise labs, and an online student forum. The content structure of this course centers around the anatomy behind each movement, followed by the techniques to facilitate them in a group setting, safely.
Lastly, the final exam is online, open-book, and untimed.
ISSA offers unique bonus materials that are difficult to find in other programs without an upgrade or add-on. For example, the online exercise lab contains over 250 images to help you optimize your clients’ form and ensure safety from all angles. Improper form is a huge safety liability, so getting practice through images while you study is a powerful technique.
The online student forum is also a competitive benefit due to the networking opportunities available to you. If you are a new trainer experiencing a difficult client, or a job-seeker looking for a lead, this community can prove extremely valuable in your search for answers.
Another benefit offered through ISSA is its free professional website, which allows you five designed pages and a hosted URL for your group training programs to be live online. If you feel less strongly in your business and marketing acumen, the website is a perfect place to begin attracting clients. This attention to detail regarding the entrepreneurial aspect of your personal training journey is a valuable asset to the ISSA experience.
In short, ISSA offers a unique bundle of perks that are generally add-ons in other courses.
Online Course Access: $799
Benefits of Group Fitness
Group fitness classes have perks for both trainers and clients alike.
For trainers, group fitness classes are a powerful way to spike your income and client bandwidth, since you can choose how many people you teach at the same time. If you have perfected a strengths-based workout program and are ready to take it to the next level, invite your one-on-one clients to level up their skills in your upgraded fitness class. On the flip side, you can upsell your group fitness clients into personalized individual training if they love your energy and methods in your class.
Group fitness classes are also a fun way for you to brand yourself, whether you are working for a gym or for yourself. You can create group fitness classes based on workouts like high intensity interval training (HIIT), equipment-based strength programs, or even brand them to certain music styles people like to work out to.
For clients, group fitness classes offer an ease of pressure and addition of community to their fitness routine. One-on-one personal training makes some people self-conscious, especially those who are new to exercise and feeling confident in themselves. For others, personal training may not be as affordable to some as a group class due to the higher rates offered for personalized attention.
Clients get excited about developing a fitness community, especially if you introduce them to other clients to help each other to show up and stay accountable. Creating a climate and group class where clients are meeting each other, having fun, and following an easy step-by-step workout is a long-term client retention strategy many trainers are desperate to take on.
Types of Group Fitness Sessions
The wide range of fitness classes available for you to teach are ideal for any trainer who loves to get creative and put on a motivating class. Regardless of your one-on-one training programs, you can either up-level your current programs, or add a new group class to your skill-set in order to charge higher rates and bring in clients with new interests.
Group classes can include workouts based on cardio that are HIIT or running-based for those looking to improve their heart health. They can also include dancing such as salsa, pole fitness, or barre workouts for people who love a fun class that gets them excited to move. Fitness classes based on strength-building can utilize equipment and form perfection where you are able to monitor your class as they go.
Depending on your certification, you can be trained in trademarked fitness classes such as Zumba®, TRX®, or BOSU®. This can give you an advantage in terms of branding yourself and associating your name as a trainer with a nationally-recognized workout.
On the other hand, you can develop your own group class system and trademark your brand if you are a trainer with an entrepreneurial streak. You can develop online group fitness programs, or even hold events to promote your one-on-one services.
Fitness classes are a great business tool for events where you can collect emails, network, and collaborate with other fitness professionals in your community. Lastly, you can separate certain group classes into Beginner or Expert levels in order to organize your clients and market yourself as a versatile trainer.
Our overall pick for the best group fitness certification programs goes to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Not only is the pricing structure the most affordable based on features and benefits, NASM competes with ACE in terms of its gym network, and with ISSA in terms of its online study tools.
NASM offering a Job Guarantee takes you beyond the promise of just an interview or a website; it connects you directly with its network of gyms who are actively hiring to get you in the door as a group trainer. From its retest voucher to exercise physiology techniques and lectures, NASM provides the most educational and career-readiness value for the most affordable investment.
Becoming a group fitness instructor requires creativity, dedication, and confidence in the power of your personal training skills. Leverage your past one-on-one success with programs that help you scale your coaching power, no matter where you are in your career. Upsell your individual clients and create a community around your fitness brand regardless of your current programming and skillset.
Regardless of which program you choose, a certification from any of the three programs mentioned will ensure you are well-equipped to launch your own group fitness classes and take your personal training career to the next level.