How to Become a Group Fitness Instructor

If you have always enjoyed participating in group fitness classes, consider a career as a group fitness instructor. It’s a fun and invigorating way to make a living, and it’s very rewarding to know that you’re helping inspire others to develop a lifelong habit of exercising.

Rather than coaching people one on one, as a group fitness instructor you’ll be able to lead exercise routines and help several students at a time learn proper techniques.  You’ll help the participants work toward improved aerobic conditioning, stretching, strength building and endurance. You may create routines and help students recognize what changes they might need to make in order to get closer to achieving their fitness goals.

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The Power of Exercising in Groups

Exercise is vitally important for the best chance of staying healthy and preventing chronic illnesses such as stroke, heart disease or diabetes. Many people find that even though they know exercising and staying active is important for overall health, it can be difficult to motivate themselves to make healthy lifestyle changes. They may find it difficult to get inspired to work out to exercise DVDs at home. They may find exercises such as walking or jogging to be boring and may crave something that’s more fun, entertaining and social.

Exercising in a group environment allows people to be inspired and energized by the commitment of people around them and, for many people, it’s easier to work hard on physical fitness in a group setting than it is alone.  Nobody wants to be seen as the weakest person in the class, so keeping pace with others is part of the appeal.

As a group fitness instructor, you can help students in your classes have a great time while being more active. It’s your job to lead classes in a way that helps students feel challenged and motivated.

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Types of Group Fitness Classes

Just about any type of exercise can be done in a group setting. You might think of some of the fitness classes that were popular in the 1980s, such as those led by Richard Simmons, but group fitness classes have continued to grow in popularity since then. While aerobics classes are often done in a group setting, there are many other types of group fitness classes. Some examples include:

Pretty much any kind of exercise can be taught in a group class, and if you like a certain type of exercise but have never seen it taught in a class, there’s no reason you can’t start a class so you can share what you know with others.

Is Becoming a Group Fitness Instructor Right for You?

The most important thing you need for this line of work is a passion for fitness. You need to not only genuinely love exercising and being active but also feel comfortable doing so in front of classes. You’ll need to genuinely enjoy interacting with people and having a leadership role. You should be in the habit of taking good care of yourself because, as a person who is genuinely physically fit, you’ll serve as a role model and an inspiration for others.

Listening skills are important to help you understand the concerns of people in your classes if they have questions or need guidance. The ability to recognize and relay changes that people need to make for more effective results depends on good communication skills. A positive, encouraging attitude can help your students believe they will attain success and eventually get stronger and meet their fitness goals.

If you choose to open your own fitness studio or gym, you’ll need to be willing to do what’s needed to bring in clients to fill your classes. This may include passing out business cards, maintaining a website, attending networking events or promoting your fitness classes on social media. You’ll also need to learn the skills necessary for running a business, such as keeping records or hiring staff.

Education to Become a Group Fitness Instructor

A high school diploma or the equivalent is the minimum requirement for entry-level jobs. An increasing number of employers prefer candidates who have completed an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in a subject related to fitness and health.  Examples of fitness-related degrees that can be completed in two or four years include:

  • Exercise physiology
  • Exercise science
  • Physical education
  • Kinesiology
  • Sports medicine

Some of the topics included in these degree programs include anatomy, physiology, nutrition and exercise techniques.  You’ll need to learn what’s needed in order to develop fitness programs for people of all ages. If you’re interested in eventually opening your own group fitness studio, you’ll need to learn what it takes to run and market a business.

With or without a degree, it’s important that acquire the knowledge needed to handle any type of emergency that could happen during an exercise class. Certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AED) is a good way to prove that you’ll be able to handle medical emergencies if they happen during group fitness classes.

Do Group Fitness Instructors Need Certification?

Most employers prefer to hire candidates who have obtained certification as a group fitness instructor. You may be able to find an entry-level job without getting certified, but certification is a good way to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to a career as a group fitness instructor.

Group fitness certification is available from several agencies. The National Commission of Certifying Agencies offers a list of accredited organizations. Those that offer certification of group fitness instructors include:

You may want to check with potential employers to find out if they require certification from a specific organization. Continuing education may be required to maintain some certifications. Continually taking classes can also help you to be sure you’re knowledgeable about the latest developments in group fitness instruction.

Job Outlook for Group Fitness Trainers

As the fitness industry continues to grow, there are more and more opportunities to work as a group fitness instructor. Formal education and professional certification can increase the number of opportunities that are open to you.

Many businesses and insurance companies are recognizing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and may offer incentives for employees to join health clubs or gyms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of fitness instructors and trainers will grow at approximately 13 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

How Much Do Group Fitness Instructors Earn?

The salary potential for group fitness instructors can vary based on where you live and where you work, along with your education, possession of certification and level of experience. According to, as of March 2020, the average annual salary for those working in this profession was $41,501, with a range between $30,601 and $58,001. Instructors who are certified or have advanced degrees usually are able to earn a higher salary than those without a degree or certification.

If you choose to be self-employed, there will be a number of factors involved in determining the amount of money you’re able to make. These include how well you market your business, how many clients you’re able to attract, how much you charge for membership in your facility and how many expenses you have. Expenses may include paying for the facility, purchasing equipment, advertising, liability insurance and paying staff. You may want to work another job for a period of time while you grow your business.

What to Expect When You Work as a Group Exercise Instructor

When you work as a group fitness instructor, you’ll coordinate fitness programs for a facility, choreographing exercise routines and demonstrating how to carry them out. You may choose the music for each class. You’ll monitor the progress of your students, adapt programs as needed and build trust and rapport. You may specialize in one type of exercise or teach several different fitness classes. While the most common locations for group fitness instructors are in gyms and health clubs, unique opportunities exist to lead group exercise classes in places such as cruise ships and spas.

You can work as a group exercise instructor on either a part-time or full-time basis, and classes may be taught days, evenings or weekends. You may teach classes that are small or large. In some health clubs, you may be able to advance to working as a head trainer, which would also involve hiring and supervising other instructors.

For success in this field, you’ll need to maintain your own fitness level, passion for exercise and positive attitude. Others will look to you to help them improve their fitness level, and it can be very rewarding to know you’re helping others become healthier and more physically fit. If you love inspiring others to lead a healthy lifestyle, you’ll find that working as a group exercise instructor is an interesting and fun way to make a living.