Is Your Group Fitness Certification Scientifically Sound?

You don’t have to have a science PhD to teach group exercise, but a basic understanding of human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and programming are vital to the safety and success of group exercise classes.

From a program director perspective, science-based classes are key to a successful group exercise program.  Most program directors would agree that when hiring, they only look for instructors who hold national certification(s) to teach group classes.  National certification courses from organizations like AFAA, ACE, & ACSM, and cover some exercise physiology, anatomy, and kinesiology.  But the big question still remains…

Are these enough?  Do these quick online certifications REALLY qualify an instructor to create their own class or teach “freestyle”?

Creating a Successful GX Program

The goal in creating a successful program shouldn’t just be about filling a schedule or filling classes.  A successful program generates true results for clients.  When clients are successful, they spread the good word.   While a freestyle class may be fun, exercises could potentially be risky.   If a client is injured during a class, they will not come back and they will tell everyone they know about the experience that caused them harm.  In addition many instructors who are simply “winging it” don’t have a lot of material and can get stuck in the rut of presenting the same exercises again and again.  While many loyal clients will appreciate the consistency of a class like this, they may not see much in terms of results.

Trademarked Programs

Many trademarked programs claim to have scientific research behind them.  As a program director, it is advised not only to try these classes, but to review the credibility of those who created the program.  Check their references, resources, and even interview anyone that has been a class participant.   Ask questions of the program creator or master trainer that is selling the class to you.  Critique that person.  All because they are on television, have lots of Instagram followers, or are a “celebrity trainer” does NOT mean they are qualified to create scientifically sound and safe programs.

Pre-Choreographed Programs

Pre-choreographed programs could be one solution.  Companies like Les Mills do an incredible job for clubs by helping to create a well-balanced program with classes that are thoughtfully created and carefully researched.   They charge a monthly or quarterly fee for their programs, but those fees include marketing, research documentation, and program consulting.  On the fence about pre-choreographed classes, then check out this article about the “great debate” on freestyle vs. pre-choreographed.

What is the Certification Process?

In addition to looking at the program creators with a critical eye, it is also important to examine the certification process.  In this day and age anyone can create a certification and begin certifying other instructors, but that doesn’t mean it is safe and effective.  When considering the certifications that your instructors have, ask these questions about the actual certification experience.

  1. Who is certifying the instructors?  What credentials do these individuals bring that make them a credible fitness educator?
  2. How does the organization select Master Trainers?  Is it all based on a resume, do they complete an audition?  Are there minimum standards that the individual must have from an exercise science knowledge to become a master trainer?
  3. How long is the certification?  Most programs can not be taught in less than 4-hours.  If a certification is less than 4-hrs question its legitimacy.
  4. Is the instructor required to do any follow-up after the course to receive their certification?  (ie. are they required to complete a test, submit a video, or do any continuing education?)

The master trainer can make or break a new instructors experience and knowledge going into a new program.  It is important that master trainers posess the following, and NOT simply be a great performer.

  • Education << ideally an MS or BS in exercise science / kinesiology.  At minimum 2 nationally recognized certifications.
  • Knowledge << this is different from just education; they need to be able to talk the talk and explain complex topics in an easy to digest manner; which reflects a great level of knowledge on their education.
  • Communication Skills << this does NOT mean they can stand in front of a group and ‘whop and holler’.  Nope, a master trainer needs to hold the attention of a group for 4+ hours.  They need to understand different learning styles and how to teach complex topics to all types of learners, and they need to be able to explain concepts in multiple ways in case someone doesn’t understand.
  • Instructor Skills << they can’t suck at being in front of a group and teaching group exercise!

Considerations for Program Directors

Once you have evaluated the programming you are offering at your facility and ensured that your staff is knowledgeable and credentials, now it is time to evaluate adding new classes to your schedule.  Here are three tips to consider.

  1. Make it impossible for members not to cross train!
    In other words,  make sure you are not offering the same class every day at the same time.  Even if the class in question meets all of the recommended scientific criteria, is it good for a client to perform that kind of exercise every day?  Let’s use Cycling as an example.   We know that our members would gladly take indoor cycling every day if they could.   I recommend offering a class like this every other day or twice per week at most at that same hour and alternating with classes like Strength Training, Yoga, Pilates, or Barre other days.   In addition, instructors should be doing their job by educating clients to “mix it up”.
  1. Ask: Is this format smart?
    All program directors must ask that question.  Take classes!   Does this format make sense for all levels?  Is there a well designed warm-up (read more on the importance of active-dynamic warm-ups)?  Are the exercises functional?  Does the instructor communicate and educate effectively during the class?   A smart program is based on scientific research and ties back the science to practical application.  In addition, smarter formats give clients measurable goals and objectives.
  1. Lastly, where are instructors getting their education?
    Continuing education is required in order to keep national certifications current.  Instructors and trainers are asked to renew these credentials every 2 years.  With the fitness industry ever changing and evolving, it is important for fitness professionals to continue their learning.  When an instructor claims to “know it all”, that is when their career must come to an end.   Education can be found in many places, but it is best that instructors attend live education courses or conferences vs. picking up information via internet sources.

A well-balanced program that offers members science-backed programs taught by educated instructors will go the distance.

GXunited is here for you!

Our goal here at GXunited is to ensure you are teaching safe, fun, and scientifically sound group exercise classes.  For that reason, we share exercise science research weekly, publish science articles (check out a few of our favorites below), and challenge you to question the status quo of programming and consider if what you know really is best.

We’ve got the ultimate directory of group exercise programs, certifications, and workshops – over 1,000 different courses!  As you are checking these out, be willing to question them.  Remember, all because they have a lot of marketing dollars does NOT mean they have the scientific research to back it up!

Have science questions, or areas you don’t quite understand and want explained and made relevant to your classes?

Is there a certain area of anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, or programming that leaves you going HUH? We want you to understand what you are talking about, and therefore we want to hear from you!  Simply leave a note in the comments or shoot us an email and we will be sure to help you understand!

Do you know the science behind your programming?  Can you explain it to others?

Is Your Group Fitness Certification Scientifically Sound?

Carrie Haines

Fitness Educator & Trainer

Carrie Haines has been creating and managing group fitness and personal training programs for over 15 years and lectures on fitness program development and management. Carrie has presented workshops and certification courses at B.A.M. Fitness Conference, SCW Mania, and IDEA World.

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ACE: Group Fitness Instructor
NASM & AFAA: Certified Personal Trainer

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Is Your Group Fitness Certification Scientifically Sound?

by Carrie Haines Time to Read: 5 min
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