AFAA Certification Review | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

AFAA Certification Review

There are many factors to consider when deciding which personal training program is right for you. Not only are there dozens of program options, but the information about these programs can be overwhelming. This review is here to give you what you need to know about the AFAA certification and if it's the right fit for you.

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Jun 1, 2021

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Get the Basics...

  • AFAA has helped over 350,000 fitness professionals.
  • The group fitness instructor certification is the flagship of AFAA’s certification offerings.
  • AFAA also offers personal fitness trainer, indoor cycling instructor, and nutrition coach certifications.

If you’ve made the decision to start a profession in the health and fitness industry, it is likely that you have a passion for motivating others and wanting to help them achieve results. The desire to help others reach their goals is the first step but, to be as successful as possible, you will need a certification from a reputable source. Once you have the two working together, your career will start to take off.

There are many different organizations to choose from when you decide to obtain a certification, so you need to gather the facts before making your pick. Knowing which certifications are offered, which ones will further your career, and what is required to maintain your certification will help you in the long run.

Luckily for you, AFAA has options for whatever you want to do with your fitness career. From groups to individuals and fitness to nutrition, you’ll have plenty of quality choices.

After you’re certified, our gym management software helps keep your business and schedule organized. Book a demo to learn more!

About AFAA

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) has been a certifying body in the health and fitness industry since 1983. Having released the very first nationally standardized guidelines for fitness professionals, AFAA has had a hand in launching the careers of over 350,000 fitness instructors and trainers.

Being your best, motivating people to believe in their own power, and inspiring others to move toward healthier and happier lives are core values put forth by the organization. The AFAA website states, “Our vision isn’t to just change bodies — but to advance the lives of instructors and those they guide through their own personal fitness journeys.”

Having a strong mission and vision is critical for success but taking steps to ensure the organization stays on course is even more vital. Several years ago, AFAA took a giant leap in giving itself and its professionals the tools they need to stay on the cutting edge of the industry.

In 2015, AFAA’S founder and CEO, Linda D. Pfeffer, retired from her organization and made an acquisition of AFAA by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Both moves came as somewhat of a shock to the fitness community, but the latter makes sense with Pfeffer no longer at the helm. Since she was considered such a strong leader, it would only make sense that strong leadership was needed to continue the success that AFAA had already achieved.

The merger created somewhat of a powerhouse in the industry. AFAA has enjoyed a strong reputation for over 30 years as a leader in group fitness certification. NASM, on the other hand, has nearly three decades of its own as a prominent certifying body for personal training. While remaining under separate names, the two industry leaders have come together to form one organization offering one of the highest levels of credibility in the health and fitness field.

Certification Options

An organization in this industry is only as good as the education that they offer, and AFAA is more than adequate in this department. The flagship offering through AFAA is the group fitness instructor certification, which is what this review will focus on, but there are three other quality options as well. The personal fitness trainer, indoor cycling instructor, and nutrition coach certifications are also available to customers. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Group Fitness Instructor Certification

Accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the AFAA group fitness instructor (GFI) certification provides individuals with all of the tools they will need to successfully lead a group exercise class. In addition to covering class choreography and the design of many different modalities, the GFI certification also touches on more broad topics. Exercise physiology, weight management, nutrition, and professional responsibilities are all important aspects of which students will learn.

In order to learn in the most efficient manner, AFAA offers four different study programs to its customers.

  1. GFI Basic, $399. This option includes a digital textbook, videos, practice exams, and quizzes, plus the accredited exam.
  2. GFI Self-Study, $499. This option gives future instructors the base-level tools they need to pass the exam. These tools include technique and lecture videos, the group fitness digital book, a study guide, a practice exam, the certification exam, and customer support. In addition, self-study customers receiver a free digital issue of American Fitness Magazine, discounts through AFAA, and access to The Practical Way–a series of activities to excel in the group fitness community.
  3. GFI Premium Self-Study, $599. The GFI premium self-study includes everything in the basic self-study, but also adds in extra learning activities, learning flashcards, and a free exam retest in the event that you do not pass the certification exam on your first attempt.
  4. GFI All-Inclusive, $799. The final and most expensive option offers everything in the GFI premium self-study program but has a few added benefits. The GFI all-inclusive program also provides a group fitness instructor textbook, a live group fitness workshop, and a job guarantee (restrictions apply).

In addition, if you choose either the self-study or premium self-study options, you may still purchase a copy of the textbook Principle of Group Fitness Instruction for a price of $72.99.

While customers may benefit from one of the three study programs, purchasing a program is not part of the eligibility requirement for taking the exam. If you choose, you have the option of registering for the exam only at a cost of $249. Candidates who pass the exam will be awarded the same certified group fitness instructor credential as someone who purchased a study program and passed the exam.


There are only two initial requirements in order to be eligible to sit for the GFI exam:

  1. Candidates must have received, or be within 90 days of receiving, a high school diploma or equivalent degree.
  2. Candidates must obtain and maintain an accepted CPR/AED certifications. AFAA provides a list of recommended providers, however, other providers may be accepted as long as there is a hands-on component in the certification.

Registration and Exam Content

Once you have purchased your GFI exam and any study program, you will have 180 days to complete your preparation and sit for the test. In the event that you are unable to complete the exam within the 180 day period, you have the option to contact AFAA’s member services department and request a 90-day extension, although additionals fees will apply.

The GFI exam is comprised of 120 questions. Of this total, 100 questions count toward your final score while 20 of them are used as research for future tests. In the 2-hour time limit, you must earn a scaled score of at least 70 in order to pass the exam. If you do not earn a high enough score to pass the exam, the PSI testing service will send you a report providing details of your test results.

Within the exam, you will be tested on four performance domains, each making up a different proportion of the test. The domains, descriptions, and percentages are as follows:

  1. Fundamentals of Exercise, 32%. This domain focuses on the basic structure and function of the nervous, muscular, skeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. In addition, fundamentals of human movement, metabolism, and nutrition, among several other topics.
  2. Class Design and Planning, 28%. In this domain, you will be tested on the essentials of designing and planning a well-structured fitness class. Your knowledge of preparing a balanced class for all ages and fitness levels will also be challenged.
  3. Class Instruction and Presentation, 28%. How to deliver a positive, safe, and effective class is a vital skill tested in this domain. Coaching, demonstrating, monitoring, and providing modifications are also covered.
  4. Professionalism, 12%. You will be tested, in this domain, on working within the confines of scope of practice and safety, legal and ethical requirements, and tasks required to increase success as a group exercise professional.

Maintaining Your Certification

Staying current in the industry is important for professionals so they remain knowledgeable about the skill and practices that are appropriate for clients and participants. For this reason, AFAA requires its group fitness instructors to recertify every two years. In order to do this, instructors must complete 1.5 continuing education units (CEUs), the equivalent of 15 contact hours, in the allotted timeframe. Two of these contact hours must be from an AFAA or NASM course.

In the event that two years have passed and you have not completed your CEUs, you are provided with a 90-day grace period. If you completed your CEUs within this 90-day period, you will have 12 months to submit your recertification paperwork. Failure to recertify results in a re-examination requirement. You do have the option to not earn any CEUs and simply choose to re-take the exam every two years, however, most fitness professionals would tell you that continuing your education is vital.

Of note, at the time of your recertification, you will be required to have a current CPR/AED certification. An organization does not necessarily need to be on AFAA’s recommended list to have its certification accepted, however, there must be a hands-on component involved.

Personal Fitness Trainer Certification

There are a wide variety of career options for personal trainers, but all of them require certification. Choosing AFAA as your provider gives you access to the latest scientific information available, combined with 35 years of helping fitness professionals advance their careers. From fitness screenings and health assessments to exercise physiology and behavior modification, the personal fitness trainer (PFT) certification provides you with the knowledge you need to be successful in the fitness industry.

The cost of the PFT certification is $499, not including the textbook. Customers can choose from paying the entire amount at once or making four interest-free payments of $124.75. Should you choose to do so, you can purchase AFAA’s textbook, Personal Fitness Training: Theory and Practice, for a price of $79.00.

In addition to the certification exam, your purchase includes the following:

  • 14 online lecture videos
  • Personal fitness trainer downloadable study guide
  • Multiple-choice practice questions
  • Free digital subscription to American Fitness Magazine

Once you have made your purchase, you will have one year to complete your program. At the time of your exam, you will be required to have a current CPR/AED certification with a hands-on component. Upon passing your exam and receiving certification, you will also earn 15 CEUs. Of note, the PFT certification through AFAA is not accredited by the NCCA.

As with the GFI certification, you will be required to complete 1.5 CEUs (15 contact hours) every two years to maintain your PFT certification.

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Indoor Cycling Certification

As an AFAA certified indoor cycling instructor (ICI), you will have the tools you need to design an energetic, safe, and effective class for your participants. During your studies, you will learn how to design workout programs, create high-energy playlists, and utilize coaching strategies to get the most out of your participants.

AFAA’s approach is coined by the acronym G.E.A.R. The approach aims to:

  • Establish participants’ goals
  • Create energy through music
  • Provide accountability through coaching strategies
  • Get results through scientific and safe techniques

The ICI certification process is completely self-paced, although you must take the final exam within one year of your purchase. The exam is convenient because you can take it from the comforts of your own home, however, the certification is not accredited.

For $449, you will receive more than just the ICI certification exam. Also included are online content, videos, exportable instructor resources, eight practice exams, seven quizzes, and manuscripts. Most notably, your purchase also includes an interactive e-book that breaks down the programs into the following eight chapters and learning objectives:

  1. Why indoor cycling?–Understanding the history and benefits.
  2. Indoor cycling fundamentals–Types of indoor bikes and setup safety, riding positions, pedal stroke, and measuring intensity.
  3. Ride profile creation–Indoor cycling format types and class structure.
  4. Cycling physiology–Energy systems, cadence and resistance, and essentials of using power.
  5. Cueing and coaching–Communication, terminology, the economy of words, student-centered vs. teacher-centered.
  6. Music utilization–Power of music, cohesive playlists, rhythm and tempo, music mapping, and matching musical features to drills.
  7. Participant engagement–Authentic presentation style, vocal tone and utilization, getting off the bike, and building relationships.
  8. Put it all together–Create a results-oriented class, create and communicate the plan, increase accountability, motivate, and inspire.

Upon completion of your certification, you will earn 15 CEUs to put towards a different recertification. In order to maintain your ICI certification, you must complete 15 CEUs from other courses within two years of your certification.

Nutrition Coach Certification

One of the most prevalent shortcomings of certain jobs in the fitness industry is the ability of professionals to give nutritional advice while staying within their scope of practice. By becoming a certified nutrition coach (NC), you can remedy this problem and provide your clients and participants with a more in-depth knowledge of dietary guidelines and requirements for their goals. This certification is offered by NASM but is listed on AFAA’s website since the two organizations have completed their merger.

Personal trainers and group fitness instructors have an understanding of basic nutrition for the general population, and thus they can give general guidelines. Certified nutrition coaches, however, have studied in a more specific manner and are able to offer advice and design programs for individuals. The specific scope of practice might be different from state to state, but obtaining an NC certification will give you a leg up on your competitors either way.

The NC certification is available to customers at an introductory price of $899. This may seem like a high number compared to many certification offerings, but the credibility brought forth by AFAA/NASM could be worth it. You are also receiving more than just a certification exam by making your purchase.

Included in the cost of the certification are a 24-chapter digital textbook, videos, printable infographics and handouts, chapter quizzes, and a practice exam. Successful completion of the NC exam will earn you continuing education units to put toward another certification. This is especially useful if you happen to also have obtained a personal training certification. You would then have the skill set to offer both fitness and nutrition advice on a personalized level.

Like other certifications offered through AFAA, you will need to recertify as an NC every two years. Unlike the other certifications, however, you do not do this by completing CEUs. Instead, you must re-take the NC exam every two years in order to maintain your certification. Also of note, the NC is a non-accredited certification.

Earning Continuing Education Units

CECs can be earned in a variety of ways, both through AFAA and through other sources. Within the AFAA organization, there are more than 60-course offerings, each of which has a different price and CEC value. Any of the certifications offered (GFI, personal fitness trainer, indoor cycling, and nutrition coach) also award CEUs upon completion. There are also a significant number of courses offered through NASM, which would be easily convertible to the units needed for an AFAA certification.

You are also able to earn CEUs by completing courses, through an approved third-party organization, which carries a CEU value. You can contact member services through AFAA to find a list of approved providers. From there, you will be able to research potential classes you would like to use toward your recertification, as well as the number of CEUs they are worth.

Finally, you are also able to earn CEUs by completing college coursework. The content of this coursework must fall within the accepted performance domains (anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, etc.) in order to be accepted. For each credit or unit, a college course is worth, you will earn 0.1 CEUs. For example, taking a college class worth two credits will earn you 0.2 CEUs toward your recertification. Individuals who are studying exercise science or a related field would easily fill their CEU requirements.

There are some cases in which there may be a course offered through a third-party organization or college that is not listed as accepted for CEUs by AFAA. If you believe this course meets the standards and criteria to qualify, you can petition to have it accepted toward your CEU total. Generally, most certifying organizations will accept classes that contain relevant information to the health and wellness field and provide a suitable amount of study hours.

The Bottom Line

As a certification leader in the industry since 1983, AFAA has long been a go-to source for aspiring group fitness instructors. This specialty is made fairly obvious on the AFAA website, as the GFI certification has the most available information among its fellow courses. This is not to say, however, that AFAA does not offer other quality certifications. Personal fitness trainer, indoor cycling instructor, and nutrition coach are all well-respected certifications also offered by AFAA.

In addition, AFAA gained even more credibility in 2015 when it was acquired by NASM. This is certainly not to say that AFAA lacked credibility, to begin with but having the two organizations sharing expertise is mutually beneficial. Combining the group fitness specialty of AFAA with the personal training reputation of NASM, the two organizations have become a powerhouse in the fitness industry.

Between the two organizations, there are ample opportunities to continue your education. Whether it be for recertification purposes or simply for becoming a more well-rounded and knowledgable professional, you can be sure that your coursework will be high-quality and well-respected. With over 60 choices through AFAA and nearly 40 more through NASM, you are sure to be able to continue your education in a manner that benefits your career path as a fitness professional.

Whether you want to instruct group fitness classes, work with individuals in the gym, or guide people in their nutritional journeys, AFAA has a certification for you. You can take comfort that your certification will be well-respected due to AFAA’s reputation and that you will have additional opportunities and support due to the organization’s merger with NASM. If you want to become part of not only one, but two giants in the fitness industry, then choosing an AFAA certification is the right path for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long does my certification last?

AFAA professionals are required to renew their certification every two years.

Do the initial CEUs I earn with my certification count toward my recertification?

The CEUs you earn when you pass a particular certification exam does not count toward the CEUs needed for that same recertification. For example, when you earn 15 CEUs for passing the personal fitness trainer certification, you could use those credits toward recertification for group fitness, but not a personal fitness trainer.

Does the AFAA/NASM merger mean I am also NASM certified?

No, although NASM acquired AFAA in 2015 and they function under a partnership, they remain separate certifying bodies.

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