Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hittin’ the Books: AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification


**Update: I PASSED!***


So, I’ve been a little MIA the past few days.  I was busy hittin’ the books. 


I’ve been preparing to try and get my AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification.  As you know, I already am a Licensed Zumba Instructor, but most gyms and companies require a Primary Group Fitness Certification from an organization like AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) or ACE (American Council on Exercise).  Primary Group Fitness training helps you to be prepared for all of the aspects of teaching a fitness class like Zumba or Step.  Some of the things you learn in the process of working towards Group Fitness Certification are:

  • all of the major muscle groups in the body and what exercises and stretches are good for those muscles
  • how to safely put together a class (warm-up, body of exercise, and cool down) so that everyone gets a good workout but stays safe and healthy
  • how to encourage different types of participants
  • how to help participants with specific needs, such as pregnancy, diabetes, or arthritis

There was a LOT to learn!



Technically, you need about a month to get ready for AFAA, but I tried to cram it into about 2-3 weeks.  I started studying over a month ago, but once school started, it threw off my schedule.  I slacked off a little, but over the past week and a half, I really intensified my studying.  Here’s hoping that I passed!  We’ll know in 6-8 weeks!

One thing that I was VERY happy about was that the trainers went over a LOT of the study guide.  That was VERY helpful.  They’ll point out a lot of the things that you really need to know for the written test.  If there are items that are really important, they’ll make sure you understand them.


Are you thinking of trying for your Primary Group Fitness Certification?  Wondering how to prepare?  Hopefully these tips will help you. 

Practical Exam:

The practical exam is done as a group, for the most part.  Before lunch, you will practice this entire process.  There will be no surprises.  The actual practical test will be after lunch.  If your workshop is a big workshop (mine had more than 120 people!) then they will probably break you into smaller groups.  We had 3 groups of 40 people. 

First, you’ll do a cardiorespiratory practical.  Your whole group will be asked to show a warm-up, body of exercise, and cool down.  You’ll have about 2-3 minutes to show warm ups (and you only have to show 3 exercises!).  Then they’ll say “Now, move into higher-intensity work.”  You’ll change over to higher-intensity moves and continue to do those for about 4 minutes.  Then they’ll say, “Please begin to lower your intensity.”  You’ll have 1 minute to bring your heart rate down.  Don’t be nervous.  Choose 3 warm-up exercises that you could do over and over, like marching, step-touch, and grapevines.  You can do them over and over.  Then choose 4-5 exercises for the higher-intensity.  You could do low jacks, then jumping jacks.  I also did a higher-intensity grapevine with arm movements.  There are tons of options.  For the cool down, I went back and did my 3 warm-up moves again in reverse order (grapevine, step-touch, and finally marching) to cool down. 

Next, you’ll be asked to demo exercises and stretches for each muscle.  This is also done in the group.  They will say, “show an exercise for the bicep or tricep.”  You can do something like a bicep curl.  They they will say, “Please show another exercise for a bicep or tricep.”  You might show a tricep kickback.  Then you’ll hear, “Please show one stretch for a bicep or tricep.”  So then you show your stretch.  Then you’ll move to the next muscle group. 

Finally, you’ll do your individual presentation.  You will select one move—either a strength or a cardio move—and demonstrate it at three levels.  I teach Zumba, so I demonstrated a salsa.  I started at a regular side salsa.  Then I said, “Now, if this is too complicated, you can do this.”  And then I showed a broken down version of the move—a simple side-to-side tap.  I then showed how to add arms to the regular salsa move to make it more complex.  Lots of people showed squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, and crunches.  Pick a move you are comfortable with—that you’ve preferable demonstrated in a class setting.  Smile and have fun with it.

Written Exam:

You should do the entire study guide that you get from AFAA.  This is the BEST thing you can do to prepare yourself.  There were some people who came to our workshop and had not even started the study guide.  Even though they go over a lot of the information at AFAA, I cannot imagine going in without having done any prep work!  I would spend a LOT of time learning the muscle groups and the names of the muscles.  One thing that you should also pay close attention to is the type of movement done by different joints.  For example: When you do a bicep curl and work your bicep, your elbow is doing elbow flexion.  There are a lot of test questions pertaining to this.  PLUS, you will need this information for the practical test.  The written exam is 100 multiple choice questions.  It is the very last thing that you will do at the workshop.  You have an hour to complete the test.  The test isn’t hard if you have studied, I promise.  The questions aren’t tricky.  If you’ve studied and prepared, you can relax. 

What to Bring:

Your workshop will most likely be in a large gym.  I would bring something to sit on—other wise you’ll be sitting on a hard gym floor.  If you have one of those little tailgate chairs or cushions, that would be a great thing to bring.  Or a yoga mat would be great, too.  I brought my lunch so I could use that time to study.  Some of the AFAA instructors will be there to help you or answer questions you might have.  Bring number two pencils and a pen to take notes.  Also—a water bottle!

So now I just have to wait 6-8 weeks to find out how I did!  Here’s hoping I passed! 


  1. I'm absolutely loving your blog and the title is just too cute! So glad to be a new follower! xoxo

  2. I took the AFAA primary group exercise cert in Sept. I studied a lot! I used the study guide and practice test. IMHO, it is very important you understand the theory behind everything. You cannot just memorize answers to the study guide. I felt the written test was a bit difficult and I am an RN (and state boards are extremely difficult) I felt that the textbook was poorly written and would have benefited by some heavy proofreading editing.

    I passed the written exam, but missed 12 questions. You can miss 20 out of 100 and still pass.

    I bombed the practical. I have done dance aerobics for five years and I wasn't prepared for the practical. Yes, they do go over the moves, but I got darned confused, was sleep deprived (nerves) and it was firecracker hot in the facility (no A/C)

    I will retake the practical next month, but will study very hard for the different stretches and strength moves. It is VERY important each move is done safely for a general population. If you demonstrate a move that would be bad for say, someone with a rotator cuff problem, you can and will flunk! I will work on my "moves" and then will hire a personal trainer to see that I do them correctly before test day.

  3. Would I be able to by the study materials from one of you who already obtained the certification? 
    Thank you!

  4. I actually borrowed them from a friend. But maybe try eBay?

  5. Congratulations on becoming Certified! Thanks for the tips and hints below. I'm currently studying to take the exam on Feb 2nd. While doing the study guide, I noticed that chapters 9-11 from the book were not covered in the study guide. Should I skip reading them completely?  Also, did you find the practice test helpful in preparing for the exam? Thanks!

    1. How was the test? Any tips? Tricky questions extra.

  6. I definitely remember taking the practice test more than once. Make a copy of the blank test so you can take it again if needed. I also made copies of the human body diagram so that I could quiz myself on that. Make sure to know the muscle and join movements!
    Elizabeth Bridges
    ELA Instructional Specialist
    Rock Hill Schools

  7. Hello. Congratulations on your certification! I am going for mine in a few days. I've studied as well as i can and am hoping it is enough. The problem is that I m 16 years old. I don't k now if this will affect my experience while attaining my certification.  Do you think it will make things MORE nerve wracking given my age? I am Zumba certified, and have been for 7 months, but I have a giant fear of doing things in front of masses of strangers. Is there any advice you can give me?

  8. I did not think you could get licensed for Zumba until 18 years of age. Not sure about AFAA. Good luck!
    Elizabeth Bridges
    Confessions of a Former Couch Potato

  9. I'm gathering info between AFAA and ACE.  What made you go with AFAA instead of ACE?  I have no group fitness experience.  I exercise alone at home to Beachbody dvds.  Will the lack of experience teaching be bad for me?

  10. I chose AFAA because it was affordable (September and Februaru are $99!) and because it was highly recommended.
    There were lots of others who did not have instructor experience, but I definitely think it helped to have it. At the least, I would make sure to visit a variety of group fitness classes to see what other instructors do. That helped me a lot!
    Good luck!

    Elizabeth Bridges
    Confessions of a Former Couch Potato

  11. Hello! my question is, did you use the AFAA theory and practice text book at all or was the study guide enough for you? I really don't want to spend $70 plus dollars in a book when the guide has worked for trainers like you. Did it have everything that you needed to pass the exam? I would really appreciate some info and be grateful to save some money!


  12. I did have the textbook and used it with the study guide.

  13. Hey Liz, thank you so much for sharing your experience! And congrats on passing! I am interested to know what study method worked best for you in preparing? Did you use flash cards, go chapter by chapter and test yourself afterwards, use charts, a study buddy??? I'm a good test taker but without the group/class atmosphere, preparation for testing is rather difficult...

  14. Hi there! Thanks for reading. I got the study guide from AFAA and borrowed the book from a friend. I sort of worked through the book by completing the study guide as I read. (I also made a copy of the study guide so I would have one blank one to study with.). I made lots of copies of the human body diagram so I could take practice tests. I also took the practice test (again, I made a copy so I would have a blank original) and took the practice test a few times over the couple of weeks that I was studying. It also helps if you go to the AFAA day with specific questions in mind. If you know what you know vs. what you are confused about, then you will know what questions to ask. No tricks or surprises- just go by the study guide! Good luck!!! Le me know how it goes! I can't believe it's time for me to renew already!

  15. Thanks so much for answering! I am preparing to test in Sept (nervous!) But I have the study guide & answers, but I'm working on getting the book. Your way of study sounds very efficient! I will follow suit. If you have the chance, would you be willing to post your renewal experience? Thanks!

  16. Liz!!! I hope you did well. I too am going for my Group Ex. Cert. I love what you wrote and the fact that you are a "former" couch potato!! Thank you so much for giving me a glimpse into the day ahead for me. You took a lot of anxiety away. My best to you!! Janine

  17. Thanks so much for your nice comments! Good luck and I hope you do great!

  18. this was so helpful! i'm looking to take test next month and am very new to all of this. would you recommend buying the package for $109 or are there places to buy used books to save a little money?

  19. Thank you, this is very helpful! Your specificity and examples of what to expect in the class have made me feel better about my exam, which is coming up in a month.

  20. So glad it was helpful to you! Thanks for stopping by!


  21. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am preparing to take the AFFA next month, and wondered about the practical.
    What kind of equipment is allowed for the practical?...... dumbells, towels, etc.

  22. Thanks for this! I am also trying to be a Zumba instructor, and there's SO MUCH you have to do before you can even teach a class.. and a lot of money up front. Thanks for letting us know what to expect.

  23. do you know if there are any telephone conference calls for studying together?

  24. Thank you, I feel like this is soooo meee right now!

  25. Maureen Horn KiblerJuly 28, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    thank you for the great advice - I'm taking the AFAA cert at the ZUMBA convention next month - I think I've got the written down pretty well (doing the study guide, Quizlet practice exams and Poke-A-Muscle)
    I'm a little nervous for the practical (even after 3 years of teaching Zumba LOL) fingers crossed!!! I had a double mastectomy a few years ago so my ability to do crunches and push ups is practically non-existent due to the lack of abdominal muscles since the surgery - I'm a bit nervous about that! (as the surgeon said, you don't have abs, you have mesh!)


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