If you are looking to become a fitness instructor, you may be a bit confused as to what certification is best for you to take. There is a plethora of certifications and a lot to consider when deciding which one you should get. Some things that should definitely be at the top of your list when you’re deciding are the physical demands of teaching that style of exercise, the demand of that class or whether you’ll be able to find work and whether you’ll still need additional training. This article will review some of the more popular certifications that are available for and some of the basic pros and cons associated with each of these certifications.
AFLCA (Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association)
What is it: This is a base certification that is required by most fitness places in order for you to teach. Depending on what courses you take, it can either certify you to become a Specialty Exercise Leader (meaning you most likely teach in a class environment) or a Certified Fitness Trainer (which typically means you train people one-on- one). Note that AFLCA Specialty Exercise Leaders can become specially certified to teach classes such as Spin, Aquatic Fitness and Older Adult through the AFLCA.
What is required: For both Specialty Exercise Leader or Certified Fitness Trainer you must complete classes, write at least 2 exams and perform a practical assessment (i.e. teach a mock class for an already certified instructor). Time commitment is variable to complete these components. When I took the Specialty Exercise Leader Certification for Group Fitness, it took about 50 hours to complete.
Pros: It’s a good certification to start with since it makes you relatively employable at a comparatively lower cost than many other certifications.
Cons: With this certification you need to maintain CPR yearly (usually expires every 3 years) to maintain your liability insurance (most fitness employers will cover this expense). You also need to maintain your certification by recertifying every 2 years and obtaining continuing education credits each year.
Pro Tip: If you are planning on taking this training, try and do it with an organization that might hire you once the training is complete. For example, Spa Lady and Heavens Fitness both offer this training as well as hire employees based on their performance in the certification.
*Note that another entry level fitness certification you can take is through Can Fit Pro. Can Fit Pro is more newly established than the AFLCA and is the largest fitness certification body in Canada. However, for the most part Can Fit Pro and the AFLCA certifications aren’t considerably different. While different employers may prefer different certifications, in most cases both certifications should provide similar education and similar jobs.
What is required: To be an official yoga teacher with teaching insurance you need to take a program that is Yoga Alliance Certified. These programs are either 200 hours or 500 hours in length and go over topics such as meditation, pranayama, anatomy, teaching asana, yogic history etc. Note that different programs will have a different distribution of time spent on each of these topics. Pros: The certification itself can be an experience. Not only can you travel to lots of different places to do this certification, but this certification can also be a personal journey. Many people do a yoga certification with the intention of deepening their own practice with no intention to teach.
Cons: Yoga certifications are very expensive and time consuming. Most 200hr training is upwards of $3000.
Pro Tip: Don’t necessarily take the course that is completed the quickest. Having the course spread over a few months instead of a few weeks not only makes it easier to absorb the information you are tested on, but also makes it possible to practice the material and receive feedback from your instructor. You want to make sure that by the end of the course you will be comfortable teaching if that is your goal.
What is required: Many barre certifications are offered online and consist of a written and practical exam. Barre certifications can take a few days or weeks to complete and are more of a supplemental certification than an entry level one.
Pros: Barre is trendy and currently there is high demand for barre instructors. Also, if you have dance experience, certification can be a good way to share your technical dance skills with others.
Cons: There can be associated licensing fees with this certification.
Pro Tip: If you are having trouble deciding between barre instructor programs look at the associated licensing fees with each program as well as potential for obtaining continuing education credits (CECs) for your AFLCA certification.
Certified CrossFit Trainer
What is required: To become a certified CrossFit trainer you need trainer certificates for CrossFit Levels 1 and 2 as well as 750 hours of coaching CrossFit. CrossFit Levels 1 and 2 consist of courses that you attend for a couple of days followed by multiple choice exams at the end of each level. While CrossFit Level 1 Certification is technically enough to begin instructing CrossFit, you need the other requirements to be a certified CrossFit Trainer.
Pros: You can also become a Certified CrossFit Trainer if you have 1,500 hours of active strength and conditioning coaching without having the other requirements.
Cons: A Level 1 CrossFit certificate costs $1000 even though the certification only runs a couple of days. You also need 50 CECs over a 3 years period to maintain certification. Note that each CEC typically corresponds to 1 hr.
Pro Tip: If you are new to working as an exercise instructor consider pairing your CrossFit Level 1 Certification with an AFLCA Resistance Training course to supplement your knowledge. CrossFit is a form of exercise that often uses heavy weight, high repetition and/or high impact exercises and so as an instructor of CrossFit it is imperative that you provide proper instruction and safety cues. While you are instructed on these in crossfit, this is one area where you will definitely want as much information as possible to prevent injury.
What is required: That you attend a one-day dance session that spends a couple of hours on Zumba basics (Latin dance steps and brand information).
Pros: There is no exam. All you need to do to receive your certificate is to participate in the class. Note that taking a Zumba course provides you with a certificate and a license to use Zumba material. This does not mean that a Zumba program is a certification.
Cons: You must pay $30 USD per month to maintain your Zumba Certificate (i ZIN membership) or take a Zumba course (which runs upwards of $200 USD) every year. Also since there is no practical exam that you must pass to receive your Zumba certificate and the class is so short much of the learning to teach Zumba occurs after the actual course. Note that out of all the classes listed, Zumba typically has the highest physical demand on the instructor since the instructor must participate in the majority (if not all) of the class.
Pro Tip: Unless you have the background of a professional dancer a lot of teaching Zumba will be practicing different dance routines and memorizing moves. If you find the Zumba provided choreography too difficult you can often find simpler choreography for the same songs on YouTube.
Also while it may seem like we’re against continuing education for fitness instructors, we definitely aren’t. All fitness instructors should continue learning! They are listed as a con because most of the time you have to pay for the courses yourself and will also have to schedule it around your teaching schedule or find a sub. It is a lot more difficult than your regular workplace education. If you’d like to hear about what it’s like to be a fitness instructor after you finish your certifications check out the What It’s Like to be a Fitness Instructor article.