This past Saturday I attended the AFAA primary group exercise certification. I’ve been sort of ambivalent about this certification, but I made it a goal because several other goals I have require the AFAA cert.

Who needs an AFAA certification?

The powers that be will tell you anyone who is teaching group exercise needs an AFAA cert.  Maybe this is true, maybe not.  If your gym doesn’t require it (I’ve posted before how I managed to operate under the radar without one for awhile), I think you should put it off.  Any secondary group ex workshop that provides AFAA approved CEC or CEUs will give you the same safety information you’d get in an AFAA workshop. 

If you want to be taken seriously as a group exercise instructor or you have plans to apply for presenter positions, you need the AFAA cert.  If you’re teaching a class or two here or there and your gyms don’t care if you have it, I think it’s not worth the money.

If I love teaching fitness, why wouldn’t I want the AFAA certification?

I like the way you’re thinking.  The first reason is just expense.  If this is just a hobby for you, maybe the $280 for the books and cert class is just unnecessary.

But the real reason I would put off the cert is because it’s actually a hard program.  As in a major pain in the ass.  As I’ve mentioned before, companies like Zumba have an incentive to make their trainings fun, pleasant and passable. AFAA has none of these incentives.

In fact, they want credibility as a national accrediting board. So they have an incentive to make their training sort of a bear in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I am fairly confident that if I’d rolled into the AFAA group ex cert without having some experience under my belt, I probably would have crapped my pants in fear.  I know other people have passed without teaching experience, but I don’t think I would have.  Here’s why:

1. You are expected to come to your AFAA cert with the ability to lead an aerobic warm up.

If you teach Yoga or Spinning, you are going to be up a creek unless you can remember good ol’ Jane Fonda’s warm up.  In our cert class, we had a guy who only teaches spinning.  We helped him put together a quick warm-up involving marching and grapevines and some disco moves so he could pass. I wouldn’t count on every group of applicants having such team spirit though.  For this guy, it was the longest 4 minutes of his life.

2.  You are expected to come to the cert with the ability to teach group exercise for several minutes.

You can’t get away with just demo’ing a Zumba song. You have to talk and you have to teach. You’re being graded on your ability to cue and provide form and alignment guidance. You also have to demonstrate three levels of modification (easy, intermediate and advanced).

Tip: Pick the thing you want to teach before you go and practice what you want to say about it. Tip 2: Make sure you don’t select something too difficult because you will be tired by the time this section rolls around.  I originally thought I’d do 3 levels of push ups but my form was suffering and I switched to a squat.  You get marked down for bad form.  Squats are nice and easy for me and I can do them perfectly even when I’m tired.  My little T-Rex arms have a harder time with push-ups.  Because I was tired when I was teaching the squat, I forgot to mention correct spine alignment and some other safety issues, so I’m sure I got marked down.  Practice ahead of time so you can say it automatically without engaging your tired brain.

3.  You are expected to know how to find the beat and understand the 32 count phrase.

Some people just come out of the womb understanding the beat.  Mostly, these are Brazilians.  But others easily get “the beat” as well. For me, a natural feeling for the beat came through practice and experience.  If you’re way off the beat while you’re teaching, you will get marked down.

You’re not expected to teach using a 32 count phrase for your practical exam, but you need to know it for your written test.  And it’s helpful to know the 32 count phrase teaching style because almost every aerobics class (except Zumba) uses it.  So if your AFAA presenter is a non-Zumbie and is watching you to judge your musicality, it would probably behoove you to 32-count phrase it.  This is one of the strengths of Chalene’s programs, in my opinion.  She teaches her instructors how to find the phrase and the beat.  If you are struggling with how to cue and how to find the beat, pick up Powder Blue’s Cueology CD.  20 minutes and Chalene will set you straight.

4.  You are expected to know strength training moves.

Why on earth a booty shaking instructor needs to know that a chest fly works the pectoralis major, I’ll never know.  But you do need to know 2 resistance moves for major body parts and how to stretch the part.  Most of this you can pick up during the training though, so don’t sweat it too much.

5.  You are expected to do homework.

Guys, I have a confession:  While I believe that one never stops learning, my days of using textbooks are OV-ER. O.V.E.R.  And dang it if they don’t ship you a fat heavy text book AND study guide AND practice test AND something else in addition to all that crap and I’m sorry but I just want to shake my booty and give others the opportunity to do so as well, do I really need to know that the BPMs for a step warm up are 120-130 BPM? Or the 15 different methods of testing your heart rate?  I contend I do not.  Most of this information will be presented to you at the workshop, but you’ll feel a little less panicked if you study ahead of time.  Luckily, a lot of the info is taught at other certifications, so you may already know it.

Whew! There you go. I relive for you my AFAA experience.  Hopefully I passed! 

Anyone else out there have any AFAA stories to share?