How to Become a Certified Water Aerobics Instructor

Do you enjoy an active lifestyle and love spending time in the water? If so, you may be looking for career options that take your passions into account. One possible option is becoming a certified water aerobics instructor. Certified instructors possess advanced knowledge in the field of guided exercise. This knowledge prepares them to work as professional trainers in a variety of settings.

What’s more, certification as a professional water aerobics instructor comes with financial rewards. Today, the average fitness/aerobic trainer makes about $40,000 a year. And current figures show that the field will grow significantly over the next decade. Here’s what you need to know to get your certification and start working in your new profession.

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What Do Water Aerobics Instructors Do?

Water aerobics instructors (also known as aquatic fitness instructors) conduct exercise classes in a water-based environment. Many of these classes focus on teaching aerobic exercises. (Such exercises get their name because they work the body’s cardiovascular system.) However, other classes focus on strength training exercises that build up the body’s muscles.

During both types of classes, instructors carry out certain core duties. Common examples of these duties include:

  • Demonstrating the steps needed to perform each exercise
  • Overseeing clients’ exercise performance
  • Making any necessary modifications to increase clients’ ability to participate
  • Going over basic safety rules for each exercise
  • Making sure clients follow all safety guidelines
  • Rendering first aid during any emergency situations

Many instructors also offer other forms of assistance. Typically, this includes things such as weight management and nutrition tips. It may also include assistance for clients with special needs.

Some water aerobics teachers specialize in group classes. Others specialize in personal or individual classes. In addition, some instructors teach both types of courses.  

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What is Water Aerobics Certification?

Water aerobics certification is a form of professional training. This training  provides detailed instruction that allows you to develop advanced skills. It can also show you how to use those skills in real-world teaching situations.

After completing coursework in your chosen certification program, you will undergo some form of testing. Most recognized programs require you to pass a written exam. In addition, you may have to pass a practical exam that requires you to demonstrate your skills. Only upon completing this process will you receive your certificate.

Many of today’s employers only hire certified instructors. That’s especially true for those who wish to teach personal or one-on-one classes. Group instructors will also find greater employment options if they hold a suitable certificate.

What are the Basic Educational Requirements?

There are no set schooling requirements for working as a water aerobics instructor. However, the vast majority of all instructors have graduated from high school. In addition, many people enter the field with some kind of college degree. Common courses of study include:

  • Physical education
  • Kinesiology (the study of body mechanics and movement)
  • Sports medicine
  • Exercise physiology
  • Exercise science

Today, many employers will expect you to hold such a degree at an associate or bachelor’s level.

Required Pre-Certifications

No matter your level of formal schooling, you must have some training before seeking your instructor certification. Specifically, you must hold:

  • A current certificate in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • A current certificate in first aid

During CPR certification, you learn how to revive someone who’s stopped breathing and has no pulse. Part of your training will cover manual resuscitation techniques. You’ll also learn how to use an automatic external defibrillator, or AED.

Most people take an adult CPR course. This level of training equips you to help anyone over the age of seven. You can usually complete your training in one to three hours.

During first aid certification, you learn how to help people experiencing other kinds of medical emergencies. These situations have one thing in common: the ability to produce life-threatening outcomes. Basic certification will prepare you to:

  • Recognize specific types of emergency situations
  • Manage the scene of an emergency
  • Make an initial assessment of the condition of those who need help
  • Determine when to call for professional medical assistance

Which Certifications are Available?

There are two basic types of aquatic fitness instructor certification: universal and specialized. Some employers may only require you to hold universal certification. However, others may require you to go through a specialized program. Depending on the employer, you may even need to obtain both types of certification.

Universal Group Fitness Certification

Universal group certification grounds you in the basics of safe, effective group fitness. It focuses on topics such as:

  • The way the human body moves during exercise
  • Best practices for selecting individual exercises and creating an exercise sequence
  • Best practices for developing inclusive classes that allow for differences in client ability
  • Best practices for responding to emergencies involving class participants
  • Group dynamics
  • Effective communication and client motivation
  • Effective facilitation of client feedback
  • Best practices for creating an overall positive experience for class participants

Specialized Certification

Like universal certification, specialized certification covers the basics of safe, effective exercise. However, the information you gain may be more in-depth than you’d find in a universal fitness program.  In addition, specialized certification provides detailed training in specific areas of concern for water aerobics instructors. Examples of these areas include:

  • Familiarization with pools as work environments
  • Advanced details of how human bodies move in water
  • Exercising in shallow water
  • Exercising in deep water
  • Water choreography
  • Serving a leadership role while in the pool

Your certification program may offer instruction in a variety of formats. Possible options include traditional classroom instruction and in-pool training. They also include online training in the form of video or audio modules.

Who Offers Certification Programs?

A range of organizations offer water aerobics certification in the U.S. A short list of these organizations includes:

  • American Fitness Professionals Association
  • National Exercise and Sports Trainer Association
  • International Fitness Association
  • Interactive Fitness Trainers of America
  • SCW Fitness Education
  • Aquatic Exercise Association
  • American Sports and Fitness Association
  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America
  • American Council on Exercise

Each accrediting group has its own set of requirements and teaching standards. Some of the programs offered will provide you with universal certification. Others will provide you with specialized certification.

The exact name of your specialized credential depends on the organization you choose for certification. Examples of the title you may receive include:

  • Aqua Fitness Instructor
  • Master Aqua Fitness Instructor
  • Aquatic Instructor
  • Aqua Fitness Professional

How Long Does Certification Take?

There is no fixed amount of time required to gain your instructor certification. Instead, you’ll have to follow the guidelines established by each certifying organization. Some organizations allow you to complete the process in a single, one-day workshop. Others may require you to spend much more time in their programs.

One common option for certification is the course offered by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). You can complete the 150-question ACE exam in about three hours. Another popular option is the course offered by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). The AFAA requires you to take a three-day workshop and complete a test with both written and practical components.

Some of the most rigorous certification guidelines come from the American Exercise Association (AEA). The AEA recommends that all applicants spend six to eight months studying for their Aqua Fitness Professional exam. That includes a concentrated period of study as the exam time draws near.

The AEA also recommends that you get some practical experience before taking your instructor test. You can gain this experience by apprenticing with a certified instructor. You can also take part in a class led by a certified instructor. The AEA’s minimum suggested amount of prior experience is six months.

Not all programs require the same level of dedication. However, as a general rule, it helps to prepare yourself before taking your certification exam. Depending on your chosen program, you should expect to spend a few days to a few weeks getting ready. You may need to set aside more time to prepare for a specialized certification program.

Post-Certification Training

You might think your work is done after you gain your aquatic fitness instructor certification. However, that’s not usually the case. As a rule, new program graduates start their careers by teaching joint classes with a more experienced instructor. This exposure to a seasoned professional can greatly enhance your skill set. It also prepares you for independent instruction at a later date.

The time spent in post-certification training can vary from person to person. You may only spend a few days or weeks shadowing another instructor. However, you may also teach alongside an experienced colleague for longer periods of time.

Renewing Your Credentials

Eventually, you will need to renew your instructor certification. The exact guidelines for renewal vary from organization to organization. Check the guidelines that apply to your specific chosen program.

Recertification helps you refresh your knowledge of your existing skill set. It can also help you learn new skills, or adopt new standards established since your last exam. This process helps you stay up-to-date in your chosen field. It also helps you provide the highest possible standard of service to your employer and your clients.