My AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification Experience!

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I am proud to say that I survived my AFAA Primary Group Fitness certification exam yesterday!  It’s a long day, but if you love fitness, you’ll have a BLAST!  I loved it! The day flew by!  I wanted to share with you my experience, what I did and hopefully it helps 1) motivate other people to do this and 2) alleviate any nervousness you’re feeling about your upcoming certification!  I feel confident that I passed, but even if you do fail a section, you can re-take just that section.

First thing you need to know is that you need to go to and register for an event.  The cost of the training itself is $299.

This fee includes:

  • Primary Group Exercise Certification Study Guide (shipping additional)
  • Full one-day Certification Review
  • Certification examinations (written and practical)
  • One year AFAA membership ($68 value) or membership extension to current members and a print or digital subscription to American Fitness magazine (does not include postage to addresses outside of the U.S.)
  • AFAA Certified Instructor certificate and I.D. card (upon successful completion of both examinations)

You will need to pay additional to get the pre-study materials, which include:

  • Fitness: Theory & Practice textbook
  • Standards and Guidelines Reference Manual
  • Practice Test: questions similar to the actual written component of the certification exam.

I think all of these things are totally worth it!  They are great for reference material for when you are creating your class format!

What about pre-requisites?

There are a few.  I would highly recommend getting your CPR/AED Certification prior to this certification.  You will need this to get your certification.  You don’t need to have it the day of, but you can’t officially get your certification until you do furnish proof of being CPR certified.  To find a certification near you, just go to the American red cross website and look for a training near you.  It’s not super expensive and it’s a great thing to know!

Also, you will want to study ahead of time!  Make sure you register for an event far enough out that you have time that is appropriate for your study habits to get some studying done beforehand.  For me, 2 months was good.  I work full time, take part time Masters classes, teach Turbo Kick one night a week, and run my own health & fitness business, plus want to have time for my workouts, so this allowed me to do all of those things and study at my own pace.  I’ll talk in a bit about how I prepared for my training.

Also, it would be helpful for you to either have some experience teaching a group fitness class, or attending a group fitness class.  If you don’t, no fear!  Look at some gyms in your area and take some group fitness classes!  Even just being in a class will give you a feel for what teaching entails, how you cue, how a class flows.

What do they test you on?

  • Written Test: 100 question (multiple choice and matching)
  • 3 part practical
  • Cardiorespiratory training
    • You need to demonstrate that you can do a proper warm-up, cardio pattern and cool-down
  • Strength and Flexibility Demonstration
    • You will have 12 groupings of muscles (e.g. Pectorals, Shoulders, Arms, etc) and you will need to demonstrate 2 strength moves and 1 stretch for each group
  • Individual Presentation
    • You will get up in front of the group and demonstrate a strength move or a cardio pattern, showing 3 levels of intensity (e.g. a squat or a v-step)

This is NOT as scary as you think – I promise!!

Okay, so you know the details and if you need more information, just go on the website and do some research yourself.  I actually enjoyed studying and practicing for this test!  It made me more confident just in teaching my Turbo Kick class!!  Now I’ll take you through my personal experience and give you some pointers!

What to bring the day of


  • #2 pencils for written exam
  • Your book and your study guide
  • Comfortable workout clothes and shoes, that also make you feel fierce and confident!
  • Water
  • Healthy food and snacks
  • A sweater for when you’re not working out, in case it’s cold
  • Proof of your CPR/AED current certification


You’ll arrive at the place where you’ll be doing the certification.  I made sure to google the heck out of the place that they were having it at, and researched parking to make sure I was totally prepared for it.  I got there about a ½ hour early, but it was a small group so I could have gotten there later.  I’d recommend getting there no later than 15 minutes prior so you can fill out your stuff and get settled in and take some deep breaths.

Once you arrive, your instructor will walk you through how the day will go.

Part 1: Review of anatomy and kinesiology

This was helpful for BOTH the written and practical test.  She walked us through the major muscle groups and also really made sure we understand what is working during certain actions, and what types of things you will use in a group fitness class.  The thing to remember is that there may be certain exercises that YOU do in your workouts at home or on your own at a gym, but that aren’t appropriate for a group fitness setting.

Review of alignment and basic stances

We went through all of the basic stances and made sure we understand what is important as far as foot placement, back alignment, knee placement, etc and what is appropriate for shorter vs longer duration of reps.  We also went through the 14 exercises that are not to be used in a group setting, and if there are any, what some modifications of these would be.  She actually called our names and had us each go up and demonstrate the proper stances and the proper modifications, which was a good way to ease us into being in front of the group presenting!

Practical Exam Practice

Cardio portion: First, we walked through the cardio portion.  She started out by asking us for input on some basic warm up moves, and some basic cardio patterns.  Because that’s the key – keep it basic!  She had all of us as a group perform the patterns we were planning to do, and offered suggestions at the end.  While you could come up with this on your own, I’d highly suggest practicing this on your own!  If you have a favorite class format, look up some of the basic moves and practice that.  Remember that you’ll be following music in a 32 count phrase format, so you can go in itunes and download a song that has 120-135 bpm and practice your routine with that.

During this part, she also reviewed with us what a musical phrase is and gave us some resources on finding this music that is appropriate for a group class and legal.  DO NOT USE SONGS ON THE RADIO!  They don’t follow the consistent pattern.  I am lucky enough to have already learned this, so now I’m good at hearing the 32 count since I teach turbo kick, but they’ll practice this with you.  This will allow you to learn how to just do the moves without having to count!  It’s awesome!!  And no matter what format you’re planning to teach, this is one tool that has helped me IMMENSELY!  If you go to, and go to the Shop, and teaching tools, there’s a CD that’s inexpensive called Cueology.  There are I think 6 songs on there, and someone is counting for you so you can hear the counting and the song at the same time.  Then, the next song is only counting at the top of the phrase.  Then the next song, they’ll count and at count 5 of each phrase, they’ll say “Now I start to cue”!  It’s not necessary FOR the training, but I think it’s a great tool for every instructor of any format to have!!

Strength portion: Remember, there is no equipment to use, at least in our setting there wasn’t.  You just pretend you are holding weights.  We all got in our spots and walked through all of the groups that we’d be ask to demonstrate for.  She had all of us practice what we were going to to do and offered suggestions as well.  That gave us a variety of exercises and stretches to choose from.  She also recommended that we pick a stretch and a move that is obvious to the muscle groups you’re working.

Individual presentation: She broke us into groups of 5 or 6 and we all ran through our ideas for our presentation.  This also gave us a chance to practice in front of a smaller group first.  Then, she had us actually practice this in front of the whole group!  It was great – it gave us a chance to do it without being in front of the evaluator, so less stress to start with, and offered pointers.  What you want to remember during this portion is you want to tell people what TO do, NOT what NOT to do.  For example, during a squat, you don’t want your knees to extend past your toes.  So don’t say “Make sure you knees don’t extend past your toes!”, say “Make sure your knees stay behind those toes!”  Remember, safety cues are more important than how to’s or counting.


I brought food so I hung out and went through my study guide and hung out with another girl who brought her lunch.  You get the change to meet some really awesome, like-minded fitness people so take advantage of it!  We’re our own breed!!  You had about an hour, so you had time to get out and get something as well.

Written Exam Preparation

We went through our study guide for about an hour and covered the important topics for the test.  DON’T expect to get it all the day of the exam.  Make sure you really study beforehand!  However you study best is up to you.  I recommend opening up the study guide and skimming the sections of the book the study guide recommends.  While you’re reading, have you study guide open and fill in answers as you get to that part of the text.

I personally copied the study guide questions and answers onto note cards and made a massive stack of note cards.  That works for me, but it was a lot of work.  If you don’t want to take that extra step, just make a point to browse the study guide everyday until your exam.  You will most likely cover the important points for your text that day, but this gives you confidence.  Bare minimum is to do your study guide!!  And do the practice test!

Also, I would recommend memorizing verbatim the 5 AFAA questions.  Just remember WADCF.  Learn them verbatim because a question on the test might be what’s 1 of the 5 questions, and it might have both “Can you maintain proper form and alignment” or “Can you maintain proper alignment and form” – so knowing the exact wording is important.  Remember the purpose of these is to evaluate an exercise to incorporate into your class.

  • W: What is the purpose of this exercise?
  • A: Are you doing that effectively?
  • D: Does this exercise cause any safety concerns?
  • C: Can you maintain proper alignment and form for the duration of this exercise?
  • F: For whom is this exercise appropriate or inappropriate?

Also, learn the muscles.  I copied the anterior and posterior views of the muscle guy out of the study guide, whited out the names, and replaced them with #’s and wrote the right names on the back and had my husband test me frequently.  It really helped.  There were about 12 questions that were matching a muscle group.

Test Taking Time!

There are 2 evaluators for the practical exam.  The instructor who has been with you all day is one of them, and another person walks in before it starts.  They’ll give you a number to a wear and put you in specific spots.  While you’re going about the 2 group demonstrations, they’ll walk around and watch you.  Don’t ever stop moving because someone isn’t standing there at that moment. This can 1) cause you to miss a beat and get off of the music beat and 2) cost you points!

Written Exam

It’s 100 multiple choice/matching.  So have your # pencil. You have an hour to complete it.  We finished early because most of us were quite prepared.  Remember you have to get 80 out of 100 right and I don’t think that’s difficult at all!  There are some tricky questions in the test, so make sure you read questions and all of the answers carefully but keep within the time limit.

Practical Exam – Part 1 – Cardio Demonstration

Remember the key – keep it basic!  You basically need to come up with 3 warm up moves, and 2 stretches.  And do those for 3 minutes.  For your warm up, you want it to be specific to the cardio you’re about to perform.  I love me some turbo kick aka kickboxing.  So for my warm up, I started with side to side shoulder rolls, then did a step touch with a hamstring curl, then did a double bob with a jab punch.  For the 2 stretches, I chose to do dynamic stretches rather than static, so I started with a lat pull down.  Then I did a hamstring stretch with an arm circle.  If she hadn’t by then said “Please increase your intensity for the cardio portion”, I just went back and repeated it.

During the cardio portion, you basically just need to come up with 3 basic movements.  Again, me and my kickboxing – I started off with a jumprope – basic!!  Then I moved into a ski (basically a run) with alternating knees.  Then I did a hopping double bob with a jab/knee at the end.  Each one of those I would do for a whole musical phrase.  You just repeat these over and over again until you hear “Please begin to lower your intensity” and that is when you start your cooldown.

For a cooldown, remember that you shouldn’t just stop and stretch.  Just repeat your warmup!  This allows you to decrease your heartrate gradually and do some limbering stretches at the end.  That’s only about a minute long and you’re good to go!! DONE!

The crazy part of this is that you are all doing your routine at the exact same time, so you have to be focused on what you’re doing and not get distracted by what everyone else is doing.  However, you also have to be aware that you don’t run into the person next to you!  We had plenty of space so that I was doing a double bob and the girl next to me was doing a grapevine towards me and we still didn’t collide.  Just depends on how they place you!

Practical Part 2 – Strength & Flexibility Portion

During this section, they’ll start with group 1 – pectorals – and have you start with the strength moves.  PLEASE NOTE, I screwed this up the first time – they don’t tell you when to switch to the 2nd move.  So I was laying there doing chest flies for a good 2 minutes, wondering when I should switch to a pushup, and then they said, now do a stretch.  So crap, I missed that!  But it’s okay!!  I’m still confident.  Anyway, what I would suggest doing is maybe doing 8 counts of the 1st exercise, then moving to do 8 counts of the other and just alternate until they tell you to demonstrate the stretch.  Also, make sure you are really focusing on proper alignment as you do these moves!  You’ll know what proper alignment is when they go through the different stances.  I would suggest putting down ideas for what you’re gonna do during this section and practicing in front of a mirror before you go to the test!  Here are some examples of what I did for some of the groups – I’m missing a couple but can’t remember them right now LOL!  No worries – they tell you what to work and when.

  • Pectorals – supine chest fly, pushup, stretch: standing, clasp hands behind the lower back
  • Upper back (Trapezius, rhomboids , latissimus dorsi): bent over row, reverse posterior fly, stretch: standing, hands in front, clasp hands with palms facing away from you
  • Shoulders – deltoids: overhead press, side raises, stretch: one hand across your chest
  • Arms (biceps, triceps): bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, stretch: overhead tricep stretch
  • Hip abductors and adductors: standing leg abduction, standing leg adduction, stretch: seated butterfly
  • Glutes and/or tibialis anterior: squat, standing rear leg raise, stretch: laying on back, hug your knees
  • Quadriceps: standing leg extension, lunge, stretch: standing quad stretch
  • Hamstrings and/or gastrocnemius/soleus: standing calf raises, standing rear hamstring curls, standing hamstring stretch
  • Adominals: standard crunch, V-sit, stretch: modified cobra
  • Erector Spinae: prone position alternating opposite leg/arm raises, prone upper body lift, stretch: cat stretch

Practical Part 3 – Individual Presentation

First, prepare to do a million squats and a million pushups!  That’s the most commonly chosen demonstration.  But it’s okay – just keep it simple!  I chose to do a plie squat.  So here are some things you should be clear about and keep in mind.

  • You need to demonstrate 3 levels of intensity and you need to clearly state which level you are doing
  • Make sure you yourself are demonstrating proper form!  I highly recommend knowing what you want to do before, and practice the hell out of it in front of a mirror, or with someone who knows what proper form looks like.  I practiced with my husband.
  • Make eye contact and look happy!
  • Introduce yourself and state what you’re doing to do and explain you’ll do 3 levels of intensity.  Tell them whether they should be laying down, on their hands and knees, etc.
  • So here’s a sample of what I said for the plie squat.

“Hi everyone!  My name is Jackie Damp and today we are going to do a plie squat!  This squat primarily works our glutes, also known as the booty!  Throughout this squat, it’s important to remember to engage your core to protect your spine and keep it in natural alignment.  TO start with level 1, you’ll take your feet out wide enough so that when we squat down, your knees will stay behind those toes.  Also, you’ll point your toes at an angle, and make sure that your knees and toes are pointing in the same direction.  So we’ll start by doing 8 reps of level 1, so place your hands on your hips and roll your shoulders back and down.  And come with me down for 1 and 2 and squeeze up for 1 and 2 (while you’re squatting you can tell them how many reps are left, reminders about alignment, knee placement, where they should be feeling it, etc).

Okay, now we’re going to move into Level 2, but you are MORE than welcome to stay at level 1 if you don’t feel you can maintain proper form when we add the arms to up the intensity a bit.  We’ll go at the same speed and still keep our core engaged.  As we lower down, we’ll lift our arms straight out in front.  Ready, let’s go down for 2 counts…etc, for 8 reps.  So we’re still really working the booty, but we’re also adding some work for our shoulders, specifically the deltoids, so it’s a 2 for 1!!  (You can say how many reps are left, reminders about alignment and core, etc).

Okay, for level 3, we’re going to add a pulse for 3 at the bottom of the squat.  So we’ll lower down a little quicker, and at the bottom we’ll hold it low and pulse for 3 then squeeze back up.  Remember, knees behind the toes, squeeze the glutes, and really engage that core!  When we pulse, we’ll keep those arms up so we have an isometric hold with those deltoids.  Ready and down, and pulse for 3, 2, 1 and up.”

You’ll plan to repeat that for so many reps, but if you’ve done it right, they’ll cut you off and applaud.  Just remember to tell them what TO do, not what NOT to do, and safety and alignment cues are huge!

Final Thoughts

I was super nervous to do this and I already teach a class!  That’s just how I am.  However, Pam immediately took away our stress and made the day fun and full of learning and helped us prepare for the day.  We had a group of 30 and they all did a great job.  I had a blast!  I got over my nervousness right away and felt prepared.  Talk to the other people there, practice with each other!  Don’t just sit in a corner and hyperventilate! :-)  And if you have questions, ask the instructor or other people in the class!

Also, get your instructor’s name and email.  And ask them if you’re looking for a gym or place to teach at, they have a lot of contacts and are a great networking tool for you!

If you have any questions before the test, just email me at or friend me on Facebook: and send me a message on there!  Seriously, just have fun with it!

I’m proud to say I passed! WOOHOO!  And being AFAA certified has opened up so many opportunities for me!

AFAA Certification