The 5 Best Group Fitness Certifications w/Prices & Reviews

If you have a passion for teaching group fitness and helping others lead healthier lives, earning a certification can help you establish yourself as an effective instructor. This article will go over the basics of group fitness certification programs and help you find the one from which you can benefit the most.

What is a Group Fitness Certification?

A group fitness instructor certification is a specialized type of personal trainer certification that prepares you to lead group fitness and exercise classes. Group fitness is a consistently popular trend for gyms and trainers, especially because holding classes online means that fitness instructors can help others stay in shape remotely. 

Earning a certification from a nationally recognized organization gives you job security in a variety of career opportunities. Employers for strength-building, cardiovascular, and yoga programs look for certifications from accredited organizations in their search for skilled personal trainers they can trust. Some programs even have job guarantees or internship placements to make transitioning into an official training position easier.

These certifications also improve your clients’ fitness experience. Group fitness certification programs teach effective and safe strategies such as creating programming and selecting appropriate music to make your classes as effective as possible. They also help you develop communication skills to motivate and give feedback to your clients in addition to confer practical anatomical knowledge.

All group fitness certifications require you to be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or its equivalent in addition to a current adult CPR and AED certification. Most programs require your CPR certification to have a hands-on assessment, and some institutions have other requirements such as first aid training as well. Certified personal trainers must also periodically recertify to maintain their credentials.

Deciding Factors

All of these choices for group fitness certification are reliable, but your best choice depends on your personal and professional needs. Use these guidelines to help you decide which certification program is right for you.


While some companies include study materials in their package and others do not, you will still need to pay more for certifications that require you to learn more content. You should consider the price of each certification while making your choice, but it should not be the primary motivation behind your decision.

Educational Focus

Most certifications include the same focus on becoming successful in the group fitness industry as a requirement for accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Despite this, you should keep an eye out for additional focuses such as specific exercise formats or online classes that coincide with your future career plans.


Corporate employers, including gyms and other fitness facilities, often require their personal trainers to be certified by a program recognized by either the NCCA, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, or the National Board of Fitness Examiners. Not all group fitness career paths require accredited certifications, but you should choose an organization that aligns with your long-term goals.


The International Sports Sciences Association is accredited by the NCCA and the DEAC as an official online academy for group fitness. Its certification course is relatively new but has established itself as a favorite of many trainers and their employers.

ISSA differentiates itself from other programs by teaching 12 exercise formats that range from kickboxing to muscle conditioning. You will learn the science behind teaching group exercises in each category so you can safely create and instruct classes for every fitness level.

The certification program takes less than six months, charging $33.29 per month, but it can be purchased for less as part of a fitness trainer package with other programs. ISSA’s course includes an online textbook that is continually updated, plus unlimited support from a team of education professionals and online quizzes. It also includes a free certification exam, although you can purchase it separately.

You can study at your own pace for the included accredited exam, with most students finishing within eight to ten weeks. The test is online, lets you use any of your study resources, and can take place all at once or across multiple sessions. ISSA allows you to retake the exam as well, although you have to pay an additional proctoring fee. Interestingly, the website notes that purchasing its training materials is not one of the eligibility requirements. 

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The American Council on Exercise created its group fitness certification to teach otherwise capable personal trainers how to organize classes for multiple clients. It is accredited by the NCCA as well as the European Health and Fitness Association with over 13,000 successfully accredited individuals. This certifying agency is also nonprofit.

The ACE learning experience teaches future group fitness instructors how to design classes that are safe and effective for various fitness levels and ages. This includes fundamentals such as choosing your music and creating an exercise program, but it also helps you understand your legal and professional responsibilities for leading group classes as well as motivation techniques. 

ACE has three online study programs: a Basic package for $291, the Plus program for $389, and the Advantage option for $486. The Basic program gives you access to a digital classroom with learning tools including video lessons, online activities, and quizzes. This online portal provides ACE Answers support from qualified group instructors for additional assistance along with a digital handbook and one practice test.

The Plus program includes everything from the Basic program and adds a hard copy of the group fitness handbook and another practice test. Advantage, the most expensive option, adds yet another practice test, expands the digital classroom to include more resources, and includes a voucher that lets you retake the ACE exam should you fail the first time. 

All three programs culminate in a certification exam you can take from home and register for within six months of your initial purchase. The exam itself can take place after this window, giving you ample time to prepare.

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The American College of Sports Medicine’s program is not accredited, but as a respected fitness organization, its certifications are just as effective. It holds its participants to a higher standard than other organizations.

Its curriculum emphasizes the health science and kinesiology components of group fitness to help you create effective training programs for any prospective client. You will earn to interact with a wide variety of equipment sets and exercises, leading your classes to achieve their fitness goals.

The certification exam costs $239 for members of the ACSM and $299 for non-members, with re-tests costing $155. While ACSM offers resource textbooks and online practice questions, all study materials are sold separately at these prices:

  • Resource textbook: $77.99
  • Prescription and exercise testing guidelines: $50.99
  • Review book: $53.99
  • Online quizzes: three-month access for $69.99  

You can also schedule webinars and in-person workshops through the website or download a content outline for the certification exam. However, the books are only available as physical copies.


The Athletics and Fitness Association of America is the most focused on group fitness as an organization and is accredited by the NCCA. In addition to expected topics such as class design, exercise science, and instruction techniques, it has a secondary focus on nutrition.

This certification program has four different group fitness packages, or you can purchase a standalone exam for $249. The basic program costs $299, or $23 per month, and includes the online learning course, digital textbook, learning videos, practice quizzes, and the exam. The self-study program for $349, or $27 per month, adds a job guarantee that will refund its cost if you do not find a job within 90 days of passing your exam.

AFAA’s premium self-study package, costing $419, or $34 per month, gives you additional studying resources with a hardcover textbook and assistance from coaches—plus, it lets you retake your test. The final all-inclusive package certifies you for life and includes an extra course for virtual fitness coaching for $908, or $78 per month.

Depending on your state requirements, you can either take the exam in person or with a live remote proctor. It gives you 120 minutes to answer 120 multiple choice questions, and you need to score at least 70% to pass. Your exam is only valid for 180 days after your initial purchase, but the AFAA lets you keep your access to the study materials for a full year so that you can refer to them as you begin instructing.

Fitness Mentors

The Virtual Group Fitness Instructor Certification from Fitness Mentors has DEAC accreditation and takes place exclusively online. Its program gives you most of the same benefits of learning about in-person group fitness, but its focus on conducting online fitness classes is its main appeal.

Fitness Mentors offers two entirely online courses. The FM V-GFI package costs $499 and includes a wide variety of study resources, including a digital textbook, video and audio lectures, programming templates, business-building assignments, and a support group, in addition to the exam. For an extra $199, you can upgrade to the Virtual Business Accelerator plan that offers lifetime personalized mentoring to help you build your online business by generating and converting leads. 

The online exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions and requires a score of 70% or better to pass. Fitness Mentors provides three attempts with your program, but you can also purchase a retest for $50.

Closing Thoughts

While earning your group fitness certification is only the beginning of a career that involves lifelong learning, it is an important first step needed to establish yourself. All of these trusted certification programs indicate to employers that you have the knowledge and commitment necessary to effectively lead your group fitness classes. By carefully comparing the benefits of each one, you can find the organization that best suits your professional needs.