AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips*Update – I passed! Yay!*

Yesterday, I went with 8 of my Zumba friends to take the AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification. This is hosted by AFAA, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot but boy was it a loooooooooong day! We were there from 8:30am-6:30pm.

For those not familiar, AFAA Primary Certification is a widely recognized certification in the group fitness industry. You have to take the workshop and pass the written and practical exams to get your certification. You have to do continuing education to maintain your certification over time. Basically, it’s no joke.

When I was preparing for this certification, I didn’t find much information online, so I wrote this post in hopes of helping others. In this post, you’ll find some high level descriptions of the day and events, as well as my personal tips and tricks to help you pass. Read on forΒ myΒ AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips.

AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification Components

  • Practical Exam
    • Group cardio demonstration (8-9 minutes of warm up, cardio, and cool down demos)
    • Group muscle strength + flexibility demonstration (they call out 10 different muscles, or muscle groups, 1 by 1 and you show 2 strength moves and 1 flexibility move)
    • Individual demonstration (you get 1-2 minutes to teach your group a single move with 3 levels of intensity)
  • Written Exam (100 multiple choice questions – harder than you may think)

I went to the APEX version in Charlotte, NC. Because the event was an APEX event, it was $99 instead of $299, which resulted in a very large number of participants. Normal certifications have closer to 15-30 (I believe). We had 98! We were supposed to have 115, but we had 98 people! That’s a lot!

Sweat Happy: Click here to learn more about my fitness story and why I believe in happy workouts

Morning Portion of the Day (Workshop)

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

(Here’s Katherine demonstrating a strength move in preparation for the group portion of the certification)

I was glad to know so many people there…we were sort of our own little Zumba crew…lol. I rode to the certification with Katherine and we quickly found our Zumba friends and chatted it up before things got started. I was glad we got there early, because there were a lot of people trying to register at once. The start time was 9:00am, but we arrived at 8:30am.

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

(And here’s Megan demonstrating some cardio moves)

Before things got started we talked about what kinds of practical moves we’d been practicing.

Things got started around 9:15am. I’d go into detail about what went on, but I think this blog, GroupFitPower, has some great detail and sums things up nicely. Click here to read some super-detailed posts about AFAA Primary Certification (GFP had multiple posts about this certification at one point, but many of the links are broken. I checked this one on 10/3/15, and it’s still working).

The first half of the day we had an introduction, got some general information, went over the group cardio workshop and finished about 3/4 of the group muscle demonstration workshop.

Basically, the morning part of the dayΒ is more presentation. The test portion happens in the afternoon.

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

Lunch Break

At around 12:40 pm, we broke for lunch. We had a 45 minute break.

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

I lucked out that Kat was sweet enough to bring me a chicken/cheese/lettuce sammie. (Kat, you rock!)

Be sure to pack your lunch! You will most likely not have much time to go anywhere to buy lunch (and actually have time to eat it).

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

Above is a picture of the gym we were in during lunch break when everyone was out getting food. Not everyone had yoga mats, so you may not be able to tell, but envision this gym packed full of people…we took up TWO basketball courts! That’s a lot of people!

I should have eaten more, but I thought we’d have time for snacks later. I was wrong (I had a couple minutes to down a Clif Zbar). After lunch, we wrapped up the muscle workshop, went over our study guides, took a quick break to hit up the restrooms, etc and then it was on!

Afternoon Portion of the Day (Exams)

Here’s where things got kind of serious. We were each assigned numbers, which were on stickers to put on our stomachs. We were separated into groups of 30, 30, and 38. I “lucked out” and got the group of 38 (was hoping for the small group!).

Cardio Group Demo

For the cardio group demo, we stood in several, long lines across the length of the gym, about arm length apart from each other. When they started the music, we had to start our demo.

The first 3 minutes were for the warm-up. Then, they cued us to start doing our cardio workout. After about 4 minutes, they cued us to start our cool-downs. The time seemed to go on and on…it’s weird how when you’re nervous the 8 minutes can seem like an eternity.

You really have to focus here because it’s easy to get distracted by all the action going on around you.

I’m pretty unsure of how I did on this portion of the practical. I tried to prepare what I’d do in the week before certification, but changed things up once I saw what they did in the cardio workshop (the part earlier in the day when they go over what they’re looking for). I prepared and practiced the moves I’d do for the group cardio during the lunch break, and I know I showed different levels of intensity, but I’m not sure how they graded them. There were so many people there…I wonder if they noticed I started at a low level, went to mod, and then high…or by the time they made their way to my side of the room, did they only see me doing mod or high level and mark me down because they missed my low? Did I land on my whole foot (and not just toes) for my high-impact moves or did I maybe flub that up just for the time they happened to be watching me. I’m not sure.

My Tips:

  • Check out the tips on GroupFitPower (as mentioned above, some of the GFP AFAA-links are broken; the one to the left was good as of 1/18/13) – they are great.
  • Check out the tips about this certification by Nutrition Nut on the Run (click).
  • Practice, Practice: Not everyone who does the Primary certification is a cardio instructor (some do bootcamps, yoga, etc). Whether you’re already a cardio instructor or not, I recommend preparing some moves…especially if you’re not already a cardio instructor.
  • How to Learn Cardio Moves: If you’re not sure what kinds of moves you should do for the cardio, I found some great ones by looking up youtube videos. This video #1 and video #2 were my favorites because they showed some great simple moves. Pick 3-5 of cardio moves that you like and feel comfortable doing and practice them. You want to get your body used to doing them with ease and to transitioning from one to the other. You’ll want to pick moves that you can easily move up in intensity because you have to show 3 different levels of intensity during the practical. An easy one is taking step-touch to step-touch with arms to hamstring curl with arms or taking basic grapevine with a foot-tap to grapevine foot-tap and with arms to grapevine with arms and hamstring curl.
  • Music: I was really curious about what kind of music they’d be playing since I’m used to doing my zumba jams. The music they play will probably vary from certification to certification, but our music was your typical non-stop cardio with one song blending seamlessly to the other. You can find some good cardio songs on iTunes. I downloaded some from iTunes and practiced various cardio moves at home. I kept the songs I downloaded to songs between 125-135 bpm (you can enter “bpm” in your general iTunes search and some albums say what bpm the album’s songs have).
  • High-Impact: For high-impact moves, should you choose to do them, our instructors really stressed to us that you land on your whole foot (not just toes)…practice this…it’s hard to do if you’re not used to it and when you’re stressed about remembering your cardio moves, you may forget this.
  • Rules: Read the study guide for rules and additional information. The study guide tells you what the testers are looking for so try to make sure what you practice meets those requirements.

Note: Please take my tips with a grain of salt. I’m not affiliated with AFAA…I’m just a regular person sharing my personal opinion…I hope my tips help you, but they certainly won’t guarantee you pass…when in doubt, ask the people who are running your certification. I found they were happy to answer any questions.

Muscle Strength + Flexibility Group Demo

As soon as the group cardio practical was over, we were instructed to get our yoga mats and come back to our places for the muscle strength + flexibility group demo. This part went pretty smoothly, but I’m not sure how strictly they were grading for form, etc. If you can, I recommend learning some strength and flexibility moves for each of the 10 categories listed in the study guide – pay attention to the guide here…very important stuff! Learn as many strength moves as you can and at least 1 flexibility move. You only need 1 flexibility move and though they didn’t say it during our certification, I believe you get marked down if you don’t hold your stretch long enough.

Additionally, if you can, prior to the certification, go over your strength moves with someone who can correct your form. It’s one thing to know a move, it’s another to do it right. I had at least 2 moves for each of the categories when I did the practical, but my biggest concern/question is whether I did them correct enough to receive a passing score. The proxies don’t tell you if you’re doing them right, so you just have to hope you’re doing your moves to their standard.

My frustration with this section is that I spent 5-6 hours researching strength and flexibility moves, but a lot of the ones I found online said different muscles were the primary movers and some that I found online, I asked the instructors about and they basically said were not acceptable. Remember, you have to demonstrate strength moves that use the muscle they’re announced as the primary mover. I wish they would have provided a list of acceptable moves beforehand because it’s hard to remember it all from that one day.

Individual Presentation

The individual presentation was stressful but at the same time, possibly the easiest part of the certification for me. The 1-2 minutes are basically over before you know it and if you follow everything they ask for in the study guide, you should be ok. I rehearsed exactly what I was going to show over and over before certification day and I think that really helped.

Practice what you’re going to do beforehand. I think the practice I did beforehand really, really, really helped me. I used a timer to make sure I stayed between 1 and 2 minutes and really worked on remembering everything I needed to say. I’m glad I practiced saying so much because when the time came, I forgot some of the things I wanted to say, but still seemed to hit each of the categories.

Oh, and if you’re going to a strength move, maybe try to do not do push-ups. We had about 15 people in our group doing push-ups and we were getting kind of tired of doing them. I mean, choose whatever you’re most comfortable with, but variety will help keep your group happy (not that you’re being judged on that, but just something I noticed).

Written Exam

The written exam was really hard. There’s a lot of material you have to learn and a lot of what you’re questioned on comes from the book, not the study guide. For example, a question in the study guide asks you to list the six classes of nutrients, but the question on the exam asked which of the nutrients provided the body with the most energy. I suppose this question may be obvious to some, but my point is that if you only look through the book enough to find the list of nutrients and don’t both reading about them, you may not know the answer to the exam question.

My personal recommendation is to fill out the entire study guide and try to not race through answering the study guide questions…try to read the sections highlighted in the study guide. For some exam questions (not all), you’ll need to know more than just the study guide answers. If you have time, try to really read through the chapters.

I’m pretty worried about this part just because a lot of the questions were so tricky. I’d much rather pass the practical and have to retake the written, but I’d really just like to pass both.

Summary of my AFAA Group Exercise Certification Experience

Overall, I’m really proud of myself for even attempting the AFAA primary certification. I feel so much more empowered from the group fitness perspective from all the knowledge I gained through this experience. Even though the day was long and stressful, I had a good time, and I’m glad I did it.

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips

I’m crossing my fingers that I did well, but I’m really unsure because they don’t give you any feedback during the certification. I won’t know anything until I get a letter from AFAA in 4-6 weeks. I told Katherine I’m worried about the results and she reminded me that the AFAA is now over and I can’t change anything, so there’s no reason to worry. I’m trying my best to follow her advice and stay positive. *crossing fingers*

Oh, and I wasn’t sure what to bring to the certification because it’s apparently on the back of your registration confirmation (which I lost until the day of the event), so here’s just what I remember needing/using off the top of my head)…

What to Bring to the AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification

AFAA has an official list…this is just mine:

  • Number 2 pencils (the test is a bubble-test…you’ll need these)
  • A pencil sharpener
  • A clipboard (we took the written test in the gym on a basketball court… my back was killing me by the end of the written exam…a clipboard would have helped tremendously)
  • Snacks (snack bars, fruit, etc)
  • Water
  • Lunch (so much easier to have food than have to go out and buy some…our Y had food, but it was nice to not have to take time getting food…I used that time to practice what I’d be doing for the practical – group and individual parts
  • A yoga mat – yes, bring a yoga mat even if you don’t do/teach yoga. You’ll want one for the strength portion and for the individual portion. Our gym ran out of yoga mats and people were doing push-ups, sit-ups, etc on the hard basketball floors…not fun)
  • Your AFAA registration confirmation…I didn’t need mine, but you never know
  • Your ID (You need it to register)
  • Sweatshirt – there were a couple times when I needed mine
  • A change of clothes for your practical (I didn’t use mine, but I think it’s better to be prepared just in case)

What Are Your AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips?

Does any one else have any good AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips tips? If so, please leave a comment with your tips. If you’re looking for more, be sure to check out the GroupFitPower blog, which is one thing I used to prepare for my certification.

More TCL Fitness Links

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Hope this helped you! Thanks for reading my AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Tips post!

NOTE: The above information is just my personal opinion and is based onΒ my personal experience. Certifications are open to being updated and changed as time goes on, so I can’t guarantee the above information will always be true (who knows if they’ll add a new section to the practical or change the way they do it?), but I hope that someone finds a bit of help in this post.