AFAA Group Exercise Certification

Ever wondered what it takes to become an AFAA certified Group Exercise instructor?




AFAA stands for Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and has been educating fitness professionals since 1983.

Those seeking Group X certification from AFAA can expect to learn:

  • Basic Anatomy & Kinesiology
  • Nutrition and Weight Management
  • Group Exercise Program Design
  • Exercise standards, selection, technique, guidelines, choreography, cueing, etc.
  • Injury Prevention, Emergency Response and Special Populations
  • Business Skills and Legal Responsibilities (Substitute teaching, Law and Exercise)


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AFAA provides two formats for certification:  all online or in person.   I chose to do the live option and used the 3 months prior to the live certification to read, fill out the study guide, memorize and practice my skill sets.  

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I was a ball of nerves the morning of the live certification.   I didn’t spend as much time as I needed studying for the written test.   There were many concepts that I wasn’t 100% confident in, however, there was no turning back!

My certification was held at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus.   After signing in for the day, we all sat and waited for our instructor to kick start the morning session.

Just enough time to get your stomach in even more knots.  :/




In preparation for the certification I not only studied but also researched and read multiple blog posts about AFAA certifications about what to expect.   Based off their recaps, I was fully anticipating the first few hours to be a study session.

NOT the case.

My facilitator had us working out the entire day. 

We first started out doing an hour and a half of practicing different exercises.  Our facilitator would call out a move and we would perform.   He asked us multiple questions relating to:

  • muscle groups being used
  • muscular contractions (isometric, concentric, etc)
  • joint actions (flexion, extension, adduction, rotation, etc)
  • muscle actions (agonist, antagonist, assistors, etc)

This was a fun way to review terms, however, there were a couple gals who were very knowledgeable and would quickly answer his questions before the rest of us had time to process and speak.   I am very much a processing type of girl.  Ask me a question, let me think through it, and then I will answer.  So, sadly, I was distracted by these girls and felt they were just trying to ‘show off’ their knowledge base.    It left me a little frazzled.

After about 90 minutes we had a break and I spent that time with my head buried in my study guide.



The next part of the morning was spent demonstrating a general group exercise class.  This was also part of the practical portion of the certification testing that was to be held in the afternoon, so I appreciated the opportunity to practice and gain feedback.

We were given a 5 minute block in which we were to demonstrate a generic warm-up, workout and then a cool-down.   We were prepped that we’d be judged on not only skill set, but appropriateness of exercises, energy and rhythm.

I was not worried about this portion at all.   I think my musical talents helps me tremendously in this area, but also my knowledge of choreography and understanding the importance of an 8 count.

I kept my warm-up pretty basic.  Think step touches, cross lunges, repeater knees, grape vines, etc.   For the workout section I did a mini cardio kickboxing routine and then kept my cool-down similar to my warm-up, but focused on bringing down the exertion level by minimizing arm swings and bouncing.

This concluded the morning session and led us right into lunch so I took off for a little walk around campus to get some fresh air.


Memorial Stadium!

I should note that just a few weeks prior to this certification the Iowa Hawkeyes and Huskers faced off in a Thanksgiving weekend football game.

And, the Hawks won.

Of course, me being me, I wore my Iowa sweatshirt on campus.   A friend didn’t think I would follow through with it, so for proof, I took my life in my own hands and asked a student to take my photo.  😉



After my walk and another cramming studying session, it was back to work.

Our next activity had us practicing our 10 muscle groups, of which was also part of the practical exam.   This is where the facilitator calls out a muscle group and we demonstrate an exercise that engages that particular muscle and follow it up with two stretches to stretch it out.

The groups tested:

  1. Pectorals
  2. Trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi
  3. Deltoids
  4. Biceps, triceps
  5. Hip adductors, hip abductors
  6. Gluteus maximus
  7. Quadriceps, tibialis anterior
  8. Hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus
  9. Rectus abdominis, obliques
  10. Erector spinae


We ended the ‘Study’ portion of the day by teaching the class one exercise, three different ways.

I chose a sit-up:

  1. feet on floor doing a crunch
  2. feet on floor with full sit up
  3. V-up


We were given about 20 minutes to study and ask questions before starting the practical portion of the examination.



They first spread us out across the room with identifying numbers.  Everyone tests at the exact same time, so be prepared for that!   I was put in the front row so no chance of cheating there!   Maybe I should take that as a compliment as maybe they recognized I knew what I was doing?  hahaha..   Right.

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  1. Group exercise class demonstration: 5 minutes
  2. 10 muscle group exercises with accompanying stretches.
  3. Individual presentation of 1 exercise (I chose the sit-up)



100 questions.   Multiple choice, T/F, essay, matching.

And it was hard.  There were a lot of muscle group questions.  I was prepared to locate the muscle group on the human body.  I was not prepared to explain what muscle group was acting as the antagonist and agonist.  Be sure to study that!


Once we were done with the test, we were free to go.   We were told it could take 4-6 weeks before we’d receive our results.  Talk about waiting on pins and needles!

Regardless, I had fun getting to know several of the gals throughout the day.  You bond quickly over nerves and questions.




And 4 weeks later I received my results in the mail that said I PASSED!




I believe becoming a Nationally Certified instructor is important.  It not only gives you the extra credentials  but it also shows devotion to learning more about the human body and commitment to helping people get fit and healthy the right way.

Living in the city, most gyms require some sort of national certification to teach in their facilities, so if you are thinking of becoming a group exercise instructor, I strongly recommend you get a mentor, sign up for a certification and get to studying!

Good Luck!


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