Take Your Education Beyond the 1-Day “Certification” Workshop

Group fitness instructors hold many of the same responsibilities as classroom educators, yet are not held to the same standards of learning. Why Not?

The Office of Admissions at Oregon State University states, “For teachers and other education professionals, having a broad and comprehensive base of knowledge is vital.

If you are a group-fitness instructor (GFI), than you are also a TEACHER. Specifically, you are a fitness teacher. Check out these similarities:

  • A classroom teacher plans, prepares, and tries out new ideas and content; so do you as a GFI.
  • A classroom teacher engages his students through their connections and presentation; so do you as a GFI.
  • A classroom teacher makes their daily lessons relevant and meaningful to the learner; so do you as a GFI.
  • A classroom teacher informally assesses their students and accordingly makes adjustments to their teaching; so do you as a GFI.
  • A classroom teacher strives to see their students feel successful; so do you as a GFI.
  • A classroom teacher serves as part of the solution (for education) in their state; so do you as a GFI (for obesity).
  • A classroom teacher transforms others’ lives; so do you as a GFI.

Therefore, a classroom teacher has great responsibility to their students and our society, at large; so do you as a group-exercise instructor! With this responsibility, then, comes the power and process of educating yourself as a fitness professional.

Foundational Knowledge is a MUST!

I have been both a licensed classroom teacher and an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor since the late 1990’s. I began with Step and Mad Dogg Spinning and, over time, added various other freestyle formats. Later, as pre-choreographed programs started emerging, I began adding those formats to my resume by taking the necessary one-day training courses, which were exciting and new. But despite all of the specific formats I have taught over the years, I came to realize that none of them mattered without sound foundational knowledge.

What is Foundational Knowledge?

When I say “Foundational knowledge,” I’m referring to the researched-based competencies in the group-fitness arena. These include human movement (science), programming (class design and content), and leadership (presentation and effective communicating). This knowledge serves as the basic groundwork of a group-fitness certification.

Specific format training is great IF it is added in conjunction with a group-fitness certification. If a newbie GFI’s only education is from a one-day “certification” to lead a specific licensed class, that newbie is not equipped with enough general fitness education to best serve their participants. That one-day training is only enough time to cover the specialized do’s and don’ts, class design, and choreography of that specific format.
Let’s apply this same concept to the school classroom.

Imagine This

You learn that your child’s Algebra teacher—let’s call him Mr. Smith—never completed a collegiate teacher-education program. This means that he didn’t receive adequate instruction of the foundations of education, best-teaching practices, assessment strategies, and professionalism. Instead, he skipped that training and simply sought out specialized training in math—specifically Algebra—and began teaching his endorsed content area the next week. Would you feel that Mr. Smith had enough foundational knowledge and experience to best teach your daughter???? Probably not.

Fortunately, in reality, your child’s math teacher has actually spent hundreds of hours preparing to become a teacher. He successfully exited a college teacher-education program that included a broad set of competencies for foundational knowledge (in addition to all his math classes). Plus he worked intensively with a mentor as a student teacher. He also had to pass a standardized exam and get finger printed as part of his application process for licensure. In many states, he would also be required (to eventually) earn a master’s degree. Finally, to keep his teaching license, he would have to earn continuing-education credits.

How do YOU get that knowledge and training?

With this all being said, and knowing that a GFI is a TEACHER, I’m strongly recommending that a GFI should do the following as a professional.

A GFI Should…
  • acquire and maintain a nationally-recognized group-fitness certification to gain foundational knowledge. Broad topics would include anatomy and physiology, exercise programming and class design, cueing and presentation skills, and professionalism and legal issues.
  • work closely with a mentor for guidance and support.
  • take continuing-education courses rooted in research and science to remain at the forefront of the ever-revolving fitness industry and maintain her GFI certification.
  • attend format-specific training events, if desired.
The Opposed Standpoint—Debunked!

“A group-fitness certification does not make you a ‘good’ instructor!” This statement, which I read on Facebook recently, is 100% accurate. No piece of paper will guarantee that any instructor will be a safe, effective leader while teaching her fitness content.

HOWEVER, maintaining a group-fitness certification means that an instructor is

  • armed with a broad scope of knowledge that she can apply during her classes.
  • held accountable for continuing to educate herself beyond just paying a monthly subscription for new material.
  • dedicating herself as a true professional who serves the wellbeing of others.
  • more employable, as our industry continues to raise the standards.

In summary, if you love teaching group-fitness classes, you should acquire (and maintain) your GFI PRIMARY certification. Remember: you are not just a fitness instructor; you are a TEACHER.


  • “ACSM Group Certified Instructor.” November 2, 2016.
  • Kennedy-Armbruster, Carol & Yoke, Mary M. Methods of Group Fitness Instruction. Human Kenetics: 2014.
  • “Office of Admissions.” November 2, 2016.

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