• Charlene Tate

So You Want to Be a Group Fitness Instructor


First, ask yourself WHY? If the answer is to make a lot of money or because you want to workout and get paid for it, the job is probably not for you! 1) You won’t make your millions just teaching fitness classes, and 2) although you may stay fit by working as a fitness instructor, your main job should be that you want your students to get their workout benefits in a safe, effective way. Your WHY should include your desire to help others on their health and fitness journey. You should be a motivator, be passionate about exercising and sharing your knowledge, and (hopefully) lead with lots of enthusiasm.

Second, ask yourself WHAT? What do you want to teach? There are so many formats, the decision can be quite daunting. Yoga, kickboxing, circuit training, Zumba, core, Pilates, sculpt, aqua...the list goes on and on! You may already love one particular type of exercise class or genre as a participant, so that may be a great place to start. If you’re not sure, it might be a good idea to try several different class formats before deciding what you will train to teach.

Finally, HOW are you going to do it?

Step 1: Find a mentor. True professionals who are in it for the right reasons WANT to help you find your path and explore your strengths. Find that special mentor. Figure out why she/he is good. Why do students keep coming back? What sets him/her apart? Ask students and get their feedback.

Step 2: Once you figure out the what, the why, and have found your mentor, the how comes more clear. Do you need a national certification? If you will be teaching at a particular studio or gym, find out about their instructor requirements. Many times a health club will require a national certification (such as ACE or AFAA for group exercise, AEA for aqua), and sometimes they do not (although they should!). Specialty classes such as Zumba or POUND are very popular, and many clubs only require training or “licensing” (Zumba has a license and a monthly fee associated with it for example) in just that one particular format.

You need to do your homework. Research your area and think “bigger” than only one format IF you want to be more marketable. Often, a major certification allows you to negotiate salary/hourly wage. I highly recommend a national certification (one that is recognized), so that you can understand safety, muscle and joint movement, anatomy and so on. As a former health club coordinator, I still remember the day I evaluated one of my instructors who was teaching a core class. There were about 15 people in the room, all flat on their backs doing abdominal work. The instructor was in the front of the room on her back, cuing the movement that was supposed to be happening. It was NOT happening, because they did not understand her cues and could not see her. This made for a pretty ineffective workout, and is a good anecdote to explain why education is SO important in this field.

If you choose a certification, good for you! Order your study materials and STUDY! Take a variety of classes, learn from your mentor, join a FB group (such as Shannon Fable’s ACE Group Fit - which is a WEALTH of information from experts in the field), and ask questions.

My best mentor advice:

People want to feel successful, they want to feel welcome, and they want to see positive changes.

Good Luck!

Janice has been teaching water aerobics since 1985 when she was asked to teach at the Mesa YMCA. She has worked with all populations (athletes, older adults, special populations) at health clubs and resorts since that time. Her sense of humor, motivating attitude and caring nature make her one of the most sought-after instructors in the valley.

Janice has also managed and trained hundreds of aqua instructors over the past 20 years. She is the creator and presenter of Aqua Progressions, a training designed for new and veteran water aerobics instructors to learn choreography tools, review safety and contraindications for all populations, and understand the principles and properties of water for a safe, effective workout. Janice has presented for several national organizations such as IDEA World, SCW Mania, and her own FitnessFest and AquaCon conferences.

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