Haaaapppppyy Thursday!

I am so thrilled about the excitement around not only the strawesome glass straw giveaway, but also the tex-mex feast!  If you haven’t checked out the corn fritters you just have to.  They’re amazing. Smile

Today I wanted to share my experience of my AFAA primary group fitness certification… what to expect and what you really need to know.  On Sunday I had a good idea of what was going to happen, but I was still a bit surprised with the practical exams.  Getting certified is scary enough, and it’s a big $$ investment too, so I hope to lessen some of your nerves if you’re planning to or getting certified.

AFAA’s primary group fitness certification is an all day thing.  Mine started at 10am and was supposed to go until 7pm.  Luckily there was only 4 of us testing so the day went by really quickly and I got out at 5:30pm.  We had 1 instructor/exam leader, but usually there is more than 1 for larger groups.

The day starts out with instructions.  Instructions on…

  • what you’ll be reviewing that day for the written exam (they don’t want you to be in the dark!)
  • what is expected for your group cardio segment
  • what is expected for the group strength and flexibility exercises
  • what is expected for your individual presentation

And that’s what you go over… basically everything you need to know to pass.

Review for the written exam
If you completed the study guide and read what was recommended you will pass the written exam.  It was the second easiest part of the day for me.  The exam is 100 multiple choice questions and you have 1 hour to complete it.  You need an 80% to pass.  I took about 25 minutes to complete it.  Another gal finished when I did and the other 2 were still working on it when I left.

A big focus that day is on the essentials of exercise, which is section 1 in the study guide.

You need to know about the body…

  • Joints
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Cartilage
  • Anatomical terms: anterior/posterior, medial/lateral, supine/prone, superior/inferior, unilateral/bilateral
  • Planes dividing the body: horizontal, sagittal, frontal
  • Joint actions: flexion, extension, adbuction, adduction, rotation, circumduction
  • Muscle terms: agonist, antagonist, primary movers, assistors, stabilizers
  • Muscular contractions: isometric, concentric, eccentric (most common 3) plus isotonic and isokinetic
  • Muscle fibers: fast and slow twitch
  • Postural deviations: scoliosis (curve in the spine), kyphosis (very rounded shoulders), lordosis (excessive low back curve)

Make sure to read up on all of these + the main muscles (in your study guide!) and you’ll be prepped.

They will go over EVERYTHING that you need to know that day.  If you are unsure about joint actions (and I sure was), then you’ll learn about it there.  And if you end up not finishing your study guide then guess what… you go through the entire thing together!  You’ll get your answers right then and there.

Group Cardio Practical Exam

This practical exam consists of a 3 minute warm up, 4 minutes of higher intensity cardio and 1 minute of a cool down.  You have to do at least 3 different moves in both the warm up and cardio segment.

For me, this is where my nerves kicked in.  I knew what to expect for the practical group cardio section, but I was still nervous.

First of all, you will practice this and get feed back before you do the exam, so you’ll know if you’re doing it right.  Make sure to start small with your warm up and gradually increase intensity as you warm up.  Gradual is very important here.  Basically you want to follow the bell curve… starting small, bringing it up to the highest intensity, then bringing it back down to your cool down.

You have to follow a 32-count beat, so if you’re not familiar with that I suggest practicing.  The music was a lot faster than I was anticipating.  If you practice try using something that is around 135-145 beats per minute to be safe.

I was kind of random with my choices and I didn’t follow a plan (because of nerves), but here’s an idea of what you could do.

Warm up:

  • March
  • Side step
  • Hamstring curls

Repeat between those 3 moves  which each lasting 32 beats.  Add levers (arm movements) and shoulders rolls + such as you go on.  Keep it simple and just rotate between 3 easy moves and you’ve got a warm up.


  • Jog
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Big hamstring curls moving faster

Again you can repeat between those 3.  It’s really important to maintain proper posture and alignment (which they go over!) and make sure your heels go all the way back down to the ground during jumping jacks (or any jumping movement).

Cool down:

  • March

Yeah that’s all you need to do.  Really take it down and cool your body down.  This isn’t cardio here it’s a cool down.  You could add shoulder rolls here but it isn’t necessary.  Not stretching, just cooling down.

Group Strength + Flexibility Exercises Practical Exam

You will complete a minimum of 2 strength exercises (in 1 minute) for each muscle group then show 1 stretch for the muscle group (after the minute is up).  Only 1 isometric exercise is allowed per group.

Muscle groups to prep for and exercises you can do:

  • pectorals – chest fly and chest press
  • trapezius, rhomboids and/or latissimus dorsi – row and back fly
  • deltoids (shoulders) – shoulder press and lateral raises
  • biceps and/or triceps – bicep curl and tricep extension
  • hip abductors (outer thigh) and/or abbuctors (inner thigh) – single leg squat and side laying leg lift
  • gluteus maximus – plie squat and lunges
  • quadriceps and/or tibialis anterior (shin area) – squats and toe lifts (this strengthens your shin area)
  • hamstrings and/or gastrocnemium/solues (calves) – lunges and calve raises
  • rectus abdominis and/or obliques – basic crunches and bicycle crunches
  • erector spinae (low back) – plank and face down laying with alternating leg lifts (not both legs at the same time!)

Flexibility for the groups:

  • pectorals – open up your chest with arms out to the side
  • trapezius, rhomboids and/or latissimus dorsi – interlace your fingers and stretch your arms forward, palms out
  • deltoids (shoulders) – arm across chest for a shoulder stretch
  • biceps and/or triceps – arm over head with hand behind head for tricep stretch
  • hip abductors (outer thigh) and/or abbuctors (inner thigh) – standing lunge to 1 side for an inner thigh stretch
  • gluteus maximus – laying on your back pull 1 leg into your chest
  • quadriceps and/or tibialis anterior (shin area) – standing quad stretch
  • hamstrings and/or gastrocnemium/solues (calves) – standing with 1 leg slightly more forward than the other, sit back into the stretch
  • rectus abdominis and/or obliques – laying on your stomach up on your elbows (not hands!)
  • erector spinae (low back) – child pose

My suggestion here is to take a second to think of what exercises you’ll be doing (because you go back to back between the groups) so that you don’t start doing a bicep curl during the deltoids group.  Complete about 16 reps of the first exercise, then go into the second.  If you haven’t been told ‘thank you’, which means you’re done with the 1 minute, just go back to your first exercise.

You will go over each of these groups before you get tested on it, so if you go in with an idea of what you want to do for each then you’re right on track.

Individual Presentation Practical Exam

You will go in front of the group and demonstrate + explain 3 levels of an exercise – a beginner, intermediate and advanced variation, including the muscle groups being used and proper alignment.  You must talk for 1 minute but no more than 2 minutes.

During this you can choose to do either a strength exercise, cardio or flexibility.  I suggest choosing a strength exercise because it’s easier to differentiate the 3 levels.  I did the squat for mine and here’s what I said:

“Hello my name is Heather.  Today I am going to show you the squat, which is an exercise to strengthen your gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings.  For level 1 begin with your feet hip distance apart, abs engaged with a neutral spine, shoulders down and back.  You will bend at your knees and push your glutes back.  The weigh should be in your heels here and your knees should stay behind your toes.

For level 2 of this exercise lift up the heel of your left foot.  Now the majority of the weight is in your right heel with the left toe on the ground for stability.  Remember to engage your core here and push your glutes back like you’re sitting in a chair.

If you’d like to take this to level 3, lift up your left foot completely off the ground for a single leg squat.  Maintain a neutral spine and good form during this exercise.”

At this point you will likely here “thank you” which means you either 1) you said and showed everything you need to or 2) you went past your 2 minutes.  If you don’t hear thank you then 1 minute might not have passed then just go back to 1 of your levels and queue proper alignment some more.

Key points to remember:

  • Tell them your name
  • Explain the exercise + the muscle groups it will strengthen
  • Make sure to either say beginner, intermediate and advanced or level 1, 2 and 3
  • Queue (and show) proper form and alignment
  • Speak loud enough so everyone can hear you and look at the group you’re talking to

This was really the easier part of the day.  It went by so quickly and you practice + get feed back before doing it.

After you’re done with everything you’ll be one tired person.  I was exhausted by the end of the day.  There was a lot of info to take in but it was all so helpful!

I tried to cover as much as I could here, but you’re not looking for a book to read right? Winking smile

If you have any questions please ask away!  I’m here to help and share what I’ve learned.

Now I’m off to walk Joe with Jacob.  Joe knows what’s coming and is getting pretty excited!

86 thoughts on “What To Expect The Day Of Your AFAA Primary Group Fitness Certification”

  1. Great and insightful post. I love reading this type of stuff, crazy right!? I’m the kind of person who kept all her PDHPE text books from high school just because I like re-reading it!

    1. Nope nothing that you have to bring except i’d recommend a notebook to take notes on. You will do great, just try go stay calm and take a second to figure out what your plan is for each of the practical sections. Let me know if you have any other last minute questions 🙂

  2. Thanks Heather for this enormously helpful info! I take the AFAA workshop/test the end of September. I had to reschedule the date because I realized I couldn’t answer half of the questions on the practice test correctly! I studied hard and thought I had it all down. I am an RN and am a “gym rat”. But that didn’t help with the practice test, I flunked 🙁

    I found the organization of the AFAA study materials very disorganized. Also, many of the questions covered in the study guide were not included on the practice test. One of the questions in the Practice guide was not in the chapter. I had to find it online.

    Thank you for giving some organization and encouragement to this whole process!

  3. Girl I have had your page up all night studying! My exam is Sept 9th! Thanks for the great great info!!!! any helpful tips for the written? I feel very unsure and behind!!

    1. Tiana, you are so welcome! If you’ve completed the study guide you will do great on the written. The written was the easiest part of it all and probably where I did the best. I read the chapters in the book the study guide told me to, filled in all the questions, then the day of you go over everything in the study guide which is a nice recap. Let me know if you have any more questions. Good luck Sept 9th!

  4. In your examples for individual you have squats… Thats what I plan to do but the single leg varies so much I’m not sure what they are looking for. What position do you suggest for the leg that you raise?
    Thank you

    1. Hey Kim – I kept it simple so that I could maintain very good form the whole time. My non-squatting foot was slightly in front of me with my toe touching the ground for balance. You could definitely lift your foot and leg up higher if you felt comfortable doing that. Best of luck!

  5. Hi Heather! Well, you truly have been a lifesaver! I took my AFAA test in October and was very happy that I passed the written. I won’t say it was a piece of cake. I am a nurse, but I think if someone has been a fitness instructor or been doing classes for a while, that it would come more easily.

    I did not pass the practical portion. I was really not prepared like I should have been. It was hot in the facility with no AC and it was 75 degrees outside. That, and I slept little the night before. Our instructor was super nice (we only had a total of 6 in our workshop). When I get nervous everything flies out of my head 🙂

    I have used your guide to study and practice. I have gone to the gym to practice the moves. I have made up cue cards with each flexibility move and strengthening move and have hubby drill me over and over. When I get to the gym I know this stuff, but frankly I found at least half of the exercises a bit difficult without the use of equipment like cable machines, resistance bands or my favorite, free weights. It feels weird to “go through the motions”. Anyways, I did learn the first time around to pick exercises that fit a general population. Anything that is deemed even a bit risky will risk a fail mark (as I did with the hip flexion exercise). Wish me luck. I go this Saturday to retake the practical. I don’t have to be there all day, just the afternoon. sigh. Again thanks.

  6. Hi Heather 🙂

    It has been a lifesaver that I have found your page! I have my certification in about 3 weeks and am super nervous about it, so thanks so much for putting this info together. I am most nervous about remembering all the different anatomical terms, muscle names and primary action etc and then all the different exercises for the different muscle groups. Would you say it is def best to go prepared with what exercises you want to to for the strength/flexibility section? Thanks again for putting this info together – much appreciated! 🙂

    1. Hi Maria!

      You have an exciting weekend coming up! I’d definitely recommend having a plan in place when you go. For me, I got really nervous and almost forgot what I was going to do twice, so drilling it in your head as much as you can will only help. Good luck!

  7. Thanks so much for this page! It’s calmed my nerves a great deal. I’ve been taking step aerobics, Bodypump and kickboxing classes for many years and while I’m a 49 year old research biologist, I just decided a few months ago that I’d like to start teaching step during evenings and weekends. I’m taking the exam during AFAA 2012 (in just a few weeks!) but between the texts, study guides and DVDs sitting on my desk it just looked so overwhelming that I admit to procrastinating. Your descriptions of what to expect for both the practical and written exam portions made me realize that I can really do this since I take classes at least 5 days a week, I’ve had plenty of great instructors over the last 15 years and all I need to do is pretend to be them teaching a very basic class since they all seem to be doing it correctly 🙂

      1. Thanks again, Heather! I took the exam on February 12 and just got the results back, just shy of 3 weeks so I didn’t have to wait as long as I expected to. I passed! 🙂

  8. Hi Heather,
    First off, thanks so much for this!! it’s been so helpful. I go for my cert. on Feb. 10th. I wanted to ask if they had any weights available for demonstration. Did you have to be on mats to show floor exercises? I guess I am trying to pick my exercises and want to know what’s going to be available…

  9. OH and Heather, I am a bit confused about isometric exercise!!..I PROMISE I have been studying but some things are confusing to me. What does that really mean??

    1. An isometric exercise is one where you’re muscle is under tension, but not lengthening or shortening. An example would be holding a bicep curl half way up, or holding the bottom part of a squat. Your muscles are working, just not moving. Hope this helps!

  10. HEATHER!! thanks so much for answering my questions. I go to my certification on Friday. I was thinking of doing 3 intensities of a bicep curl. I borrowed it from the DVD I ordered with my study materials. What do you suggest besides squats and lunges for our presentation?? I am SOO nervous. Also, can you suggest any tips for for the many joint actions. It’s so overwhelming trying to remember them all.

  11. Okay Heather,
    My cardio sample is step touch with lat raises, grapevine, rolling into double hamstring curls, maybe knee lifts. I am terrified of adding jogging jacks because I think that I might have poor form..Sorry for so many questions!! What do you think?

  12. I made it though the group fitness workshop today.

    I think I did okay. I was a little nervous during the individual presentation and a fumbled some words a little bit, but it seemed like quite a few people did that also. I feel like I did pretty well during the group strength test, at least I hope. It is hard to know because the judges don’t show any facial expression. If I messed up anything, I think my toes overshot my knees once during my squat and I think she saw me. There were two judges for 34 people though, so really, I would guess they couldn’t stare at each of us for very long.

    About 17 people in my group showed either plank or push-up, so by the time that was over I was pretty darn tired, as was the rest of the group. I’m hoping that they kept that in mind towards the end.

    I feel like I passed the written test, no problem. There were only about 5 questions that stumped me and you’re allowed to miss 20. I studied for about 2 months beforehand and she reviewed a lot of the info that she knew would be on the test.

    We’ll find out in 6 weeks. Thank you so much for the blog. It really helped me feel much more prepared.

  13. Question….on the Group Cardio part….do we just pick 3 moves and repeat them thru the 3 min warm up??
    Then…..are we suppose to have it timed to 3 mins to go right into the Cardio segment, or do they tell us when?
    And then in that 5 min of Cardio are we suppose to start out low intensity and work up to high quickly and then come back down within that 5 min (again, timing it to make it correct??) and then go right into Cool down??
    It’s hard using just 3 moves to know how long to do each one and where to start showing to bring the heart rate down to go into the Cool Down.
    I test on Saturday, and trying to eliminate these questions that I have to be better prepared.

    1. Hey Jacque – hope I can answer all your questions! Here goes…

      Yes, you can repeat the 3 moves during the 3 minutes of warm up. You’re required to show 3, but you can show more if you want. It’s just easy to keep it simple and at 3.

      They will tell you when the 3 minutes is up, so you don’t have to watch the clock.

      During the cardio section – yes, start low intensity and build up (by adding levers, traveling, etc.), then they will tell you when to go into the cool down.

      Good luck on Saturday, let me know if you have any other questions!!

  14. Would you mind sharing what moves you chose for the warmup and the cardio part? I wish someone would put together a video of an example and put it online somewhere – it would make it much easier to understand and plan for – I don’t want to wait until Sat AM when I get there to try and figure it out.

  15. Jacque- I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I took it in February and our presenter showed us a variety of moves for EVERY single part of the practical exam. She even gave us huge hints if something was going to be on the written exam so make sure you listen closely to everything.

    My biggest thing to overcome was cueing during the individual time. I thought of what I would say but I don’t think I practiced it quite enough before the day of the workshop. Go with what you are familiar with so you aren’t as nervous and practice it in front of a mirror and SMILE. I took it during the APEX weekend so we had 30 people in our testing group. (a whopping 65 at the entire workshop!!) You could really tell which people had practiced theirs beforehand. Being fun and spunky seemed to get a lot of points.

    I worried and scoured the internet for 2 months so I know how you feel about being prepared…. but don’t get too stressed out. It really is explained thoroughly.

  16. One more thing, if you don’t mind – – everyone has stated that we will go over the whole study guide and that they emphasize what we need to know – correct??
    Well do they also have someone demonstrate the practical portion?? Do they show an example of the 3min warm up & 5 min cardio section to better understand what they are looking for? Or is that for us to figure out?
    And do they demonstrate what they are looking for in the 10 muscle groups – do they show various moves and how they are to be done properly??
    I am such a VISUAL PERSON – that once I SEE something I’m fine, so I am really hoping that you say that they DO demonstrate all of the above.
    Thanks Again!

  17. Can someone tell me if in the Individual Presentation,
    If doing a squat – are your hands on your quads when
    you lower your body? Or are they out in front of you for
    balance??? Or does it change with the certain levels??

  18. Man, this takes me back! I remember stressing about my AFAA certification and cramming with the AFAA study book that my friend bought (definitely not necessary if you’ve taken anatomy. The best part was this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0APfkZrjrc which we found one day when we were particularly burned out. There is a 45-minute long recording to help study which is equally as ridiculous. I highly recommend it for long car rides to keep you giggling while brushing up on your anatomy =)

  19. Thank you so much for the specificity of your description! This is very helpful, as I’m taking my exam in a month. I’m very grateful that you gave examples and ideas for each test portion and muscle group. Feeling less worried now – time to map out a game plan!

  20. Thank you so very much for your extremely detailed descriptions. I am so grateful for generous folks willing to share their experiences, as it really helps to have such practical information as the exam time draws near (mine is in 8 days!) I was definitely struggling with what the practicals would look like and all your details will really help in being prepared beforehand (I am not one to fly by the seat of my pants, especially in front of judges!!!) I’m still nervous and still have a lot to practice before next Friday, but I am so encouraged now. God bless.

  21. Thanks so much it was great to read what the day was like and your breakdown of what you did for your practical portion. Especially your cueing and talking portion. I’m taking my exam tomorrow. Wish me luck!

  22. should i get the practical way dvd when i enroll in the certification class? not sure if i will need it/ use it? this was avery informative post to help me prepare for the class!! thanks!

  23. My certification exam is tomorrow and I have been so nervous about it although I’ve completed the study guide, feel familiar with group exercise enough to know what I need to know but only until I read your blog did I really feel more at ease about it so THANK YOU so very much for all the wonderful insight! I am feeling much more confident now 😊💪❤

  24. This is very helpful, thank you! I have a few Les Mills certifications but my new gym is requiring an AFFA certification. I have one question for you – did you purchase all of the books they recommended? Seems like that would be pricey.

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