Saturday, February 16, 2013

AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification Study Guide

This is probably way too much information, but I thought I would detail my experience studying for and passing (YAY!) the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America's Primary Group Exercise Certification.

I found some great resources online that helped me study and gave me a good idea of what to expect. Go here, here and here to read some other people's experiences on their blogs. Also check out this write-up from Nutrition Nut on the Run. Obviously a lot has been written about successfully preparing for this test, but since words are free and knowledge is power, I'll throw in my two cents, too. If this is helpful to anyone or helps inspire someone to earn their certification, then it's worth it!

Photo credit
First, I originally signed up with AFAA to take the APEX course which is a day long program offered at a special price of $99. However, because of some last minute family plans, I ended up transferring to the online course, which was $299. The only upside to taking the online course was I didn't have to drive to Raleigh on a Saturday, and I found out my results immediately.

I didn't attend the workshop, but from what I heard/read, the workshop is tailored to helping participants pass the exams. If you filled out the study guide and prepared for the demonstrations prior to the class, you should be fine. It sounds like the instructors go over the study guide, and specifically talk about what is going to be on the multiple choice test taken at the end of the workshop. They also practice doing appropriate exercises and stretches for the group portion. With the online class, all you have are the online videos and the study guide to go off of. I felt like I probably didn't have quite as much guidance as I would have at the workshop. If you like to ask a lot of questions and learn better face-to-face, then I would definitely suggest the workshop instead of the online course.

The E-course Includes:
    • 14 video lectures 
    • Primary Group Exercise Certification Study Guide
    • Sample multiple-choice test questions
    • 1 Multitraining Live study session
    • Monitored written and practical examinations
    • 1 year AFAA membership with magazine subscription
    • AFAA Certified Primary Group Exercise Instructor wall certificate and ID card
    Other Requirements:
    • CPR/AED certification is required before your PGE Certification is issued (Read about becoming a Citizen Responder)
    • Submit signed AFAA Release forms
    • 18 or older
    • A reliable computer with high speed internet, a webcam and microphone
    • Spare time to study (preferably without a toddler trying to "help" you)
    • A love for fitness 
    A Good Idea, but Not Required:
    • Fitness: theory and Practice 2010 textbook ($69)
    • Exercise Standards & Guidelines Reference Manual ($39)
    • The Practical Way DVD ($20)

    Study, Study, Study
    I registered for the certification about 2 months before the original exam and workshop date. I think this gave me plenty of time to go through the textbook and completely fill out the study guide. My study guide ended up being about 33 pages typed, but it felt good knowing I had all of the information compiled in one place. Take your time and try to really understand the concepts from the study guide. I used the app Flashcard Machine to transfer all of the main tidbits from my study guide onto easy-to-study cards that I could look at right on my iPhone.

    I also spent some time studying the Musculoskeletal System and learning the primary muscles. I copied the image of the muscle man, whited out and numbered the titles and then had my hubbins test me.

    Quick, how many bones are in the human body?
    Photo credit
    Luckily, I also had the advantage of getting some study and test prep tips from two friends who just recently completed their certification. It's nice to hear straight from someone what the experience is like and what to expect. Thanks Gia and Becky! You are both some rockin' hot mamas!

    Written Exam 
    Make sure you schedule the written exam before the practical exam. This has to be scheduled online through a third party online proctoring service. The proctor will watch you take your test through your webcam and take control of your desktop to make sure no other windows are open while you take the test. They will ask you to do a scan of the work space and hold up your driver's license. You will have 60 minutes and there are 100 multiple choice questions on the test. In order to pass, you must get at least 80% correct. 

    Sample test questions:

    When performing a squat, during the concentric contraction, _______________ occurs.
    a. hip extension
    b. ankle dorsiflexion
    c. knee flexion
    d. spinal extension
    * answer- a

    What form of exercise is designed to achieve maximum muscular involvement?
    a. Intermittent training
    b. Variable resistance
    c. Myofascial release
    d. Dynamic plyometrics
    * answer- b
    These questions belong to AFAA, and are not my property. 

    I felt pretty confident going into the test, but it's still easy to get nervous and start second-guessing your self. If you are taking the test online, my one piece of advice would be to "skip" any questions you are not completely sure about. If you "skip" the question, you can go back to it at the end of the test, (as long as you still have time). However, if you "submit" the answer to the question, you are not able to go back and change your answer. 

    You will find out if you passed as soon as you click the last "submit" button on the test. Good luck!

    Practical Exam 
    Please keep in mind, these are just my opinions and what worked for me. Of course, you should study, watch the videos and attend the live study session. The practical exam also has to be scheduled with an instructor who will watch you via the webcam. I have to admit it was a little awkward/creepy doing exercises for a stranger on a webcam (on Valentine's Day to boot)! I could also see the other participant who was testing at the same time. She was more Zumba focused, so her moves looked way different than mine!

    There are 2 parts: Group Demonstration and Individual Presentation.

    1. Group Demonstration
    Within the group demonstration you will perform an 8 minute Warm-up/Cardio/Cool Down. It is broken down into a 3 minute warm-up, 4 minute cardio session, and 1 minute cool down. Focus on incorporating at least 3 different moves into the warm up, starting with lower intensity moves and gradually increasing the intensity until you begin the cardio segment. You don't have to lead this portion of the class or speak, just perform the moves.

    This part feels pretty strange to do in front of the examiner on a webcam! I suggest going into it knowing 3-5 movements you plan to do and then add elements as you go along. Also, you are being graded on your ability to stay on beat to the music the examiner is playing. I am embarrassed to admit I actually googled 130 bpm and practiced, because my rhythm is not quite up to Beyonce standard! While you're there, you can also watch some videos of sample warm up, cardio and cool down moves.

    I experienced some technical difficulty during the practical. The sound on my computer was going in and out! AHH! This made it really hard to stay on beat, and I think I missed some of the instructions. I just kept moving the whole time. The examiner ended up calling me on my cell phone half way through the practical, so that I could actually hear her instructions. I guess this is just the risk associated with the online course and dealing with technology. Stressful, but everything turned out ok!

    This is what I did for the cardio portion of the practical exam:

    Warm-up (3 minutes)
    (I just kept repeating these movements until the time was up, increasing the intensity as I went.)
    • March in place
    • Shoulder rolls (forward and backwards)
    • Arm circles (forward and backwards)
    • Heel digs with bicep curls
    • Side step
    • Reach and pull across body
    • High knee pulls
    Cardio (4 minutes)
    (Again, repeat the movements until time is up. Keep it simple and focus on good form and safety. If you get stuck, just keep moving. Do a grapevine or jumping jacks for 16 counts until you remember your plan.)
    • Jog in place --> High knees
    • Boxer shuffle--> High low punches
    • Squats --> Squats with hamstring curl
    • Jumping Jacks --> High knee kicks
    Cool Down (1 minute)
    (This is the shortest segment, and all you really need to do is make sure you are bringing down your heart rate and lowering the intensity.)
    • Heel digs with bicep curl
    • Hamstring curl
    • March in place with arm circles
    • March in place

    Strength and Flexibility examples for 10 different muscle groups. (2 exercises for each muscle the examiner instructs and 1 stretch)
    1. Pectorals
    2. Trapezius, Rhomboids, and/r latissimus dorsi
    3. Deltoids
    4. Biceps and/or Triceps
    5. Hip Abductors and/or Adductors
    6. Gluteus Maximus
    7. Quadriceps and/or Tibialis Anterior
    8. Hamstrings and/or Gastrocnemius/Soleus
    9. Rectus Abdominal and/or Obliques
    10. Erector Spinae
    I went into the practical knowing exactly which exercises and stretches I was going to do for each muscle. I practiced in front of the mirror and made sure my form was correct. Again, everything I read said to keep your choices simple. This is for Group Exercise Certification, so in general, the moves need to be ones that most people could perform in a group fitness class.

    The examiner will say, "Please show a strength exercise for the Pectorals." At this point you will start doing your first Pec exercise for about 15 seconds. Then the examiner will ask for a second Pectoral exercise, so you'll switch into a different exercise in which your Pecs are the prime mover. Finally, the examiner will say, "Please show a flexibility exercise for you Pectorals." Yep, you got it, now you switch to a move that stretches your Pecs. This will continue until you've performed 2 strength and 1 flexibility exercise for each of the 10 muscle groups above. 

    2. Individual Presentation

    The Individual Presentation is the only portion you have to actually lead on your own. The examiner will tell you to begin, and you will have 1-2 minutes to teach a mock class an exercise or pattern of your choice. You can choose a cardiorespiratory pattern, muscle strength, or flexibility exercise.
    • Introduce yourself, showing enthusiasm and proper voice projection
    • Explain the exercise you will be demonstrating
    • Explain which muscles will be involved
    • Give proper alignment, movement and safety cues
    • Be sure to show 3 levels of intensity
    I chose to demonstrate a hip bridge. Here is what I said:

    "Hi, I'm Allison. Today we're going to be doing a hip bridge which is a stability exercise done in the supine position. This exercise will work your hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae. So to get started, lets get down on the floor in the supine position. Great. Your knees should be bent with your heels on the floor, and palms down at your side. Keep your head, neck and spine in neutral alignment, push through the heel and press your hips up. This is level one. You should feel your glutes engaged and your shoulders are stable. If you want to take it to level 2, raise your arms up towards the ceiling. This makes it more challenging to stabilize since less of your body is on the ground. Continue to breath and maintain that neutral alignment through your head, neck and spine. Great. If you want a further challenge, for level 3 we'll raise the left foot off of the ground. Keep your knees close together and push through the right heel, so you feel your glutes engaged. Don't forget that neutral alignment of your spine and remember to breath. Feel free to take it back down to level 1 or 2 if level 3 feels too challenging and you can't maintain proper alignment."

    This part made me really nervous, but honestly, it went by really quickly. Practice your presentation and make sure you can get in all 3 levels within the 2 minute time limit. The examiner won't tell you if you passed or not at the end of the practical. You should receive an email within 1-2 days.

    Whew! That was a lot! Sorry if that seemed to go on and on and on! I hope some people find this information to be helpful if you are considering taking the Primary Group Exercise Certification. I am so thrilled to have successfully passed, and I am excited to begin this next step as a Stroller Strides Instructor. Let me know if you have any questions!


    1. Allison, this was VERY informative. I just signed up for the workshop and am extremely nervous about all of it. From what I have read, the key is to basically study and practice. I will definitely use your post to help me prepare for my exam. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

      1. Dionne,

        I'm so glad you found this helpful. Don't be nervous. As long as you fill out the study guide and have at least some idea about what you are planning to do for the practical portion of the exam, you'll do fine! Good luck, I'm sure you'll do great!

    2. Hey girl!

      Thanks for typing this up!
      I'm considering certifying through AFAA and there is actually a certification taking place fairly close to me in about a month and a half ...i'm just wondering I know you haven't done both but i'm considering doing the online version because I honestly feel like I wouldn't "FREAK OUT " and have test anxiety if i did it online...and plus reading about the "live" in person cert. FREAKED me out. it's sounded way too jumbled and actually a little "obtuse" - reason being is that the cert in live is 9-6 and i read that most of that time is spent reviewing... and it sounds like a lot of time just wasted... anyways I would love to hear how you thought online worked for you... i know you ran into some difficulties but do you think it was worth it or would you rather have done it in person?

      1. Hey Jaime,

        I think the online option is awesome because you can schedule the tests for when it's convenient for you. The videos do take some time to watch- probably around 4 to 5 hours. As long as you're comfortable studying on your own, you should be fine. The practical portion felt super easy and fast even though it is a little strange to be Skyping with a stranger in your living room while you exercise! :) I've also heard that during the live certification practical everyone is required to do their exercises at the same time, so the focus isn't directly on you, but you do have to deal with the chaos! You do, however, have to do your individual presentation in front of the whole group. Eek! Stage fright! Overall, I'm glad I took it online. It worked with my schedule and in the end I passed! Good luck! Thanks for stopping by!

      2. Thanks so much for replying! Actually now that I think about it , do they just give you a few dates within the month you "enroll" and you pick the test time? How do they go about assigning a test time and what is the time frame from when you signed up.

        And I know you said this but... they actually told you THAT DAY whether you passed? That's awesome.

      3. Good question! It's pretty much open availability for the written exam.(Keep in mind you are supposed to take the written before the practical.) The Practical had 2-3 different test times available each week, so it's a little less flexible. You can also sign up for a study session, but if you do that, you have to sign up for the practical after the study session is over because the website only lets you sign up for one thing at a time. I thought that was annoying! Technically, you could sign up to take the tests as soon as you pay for the class online. I was finished the course 1 1/2 weeks after I signed up. I watched the videos in 2 days and then had to find a good day to take the tests.

        I found out I passed the written exam as soon as I finished. For the Practical, I had to wait 1 day, and then AFAA emailed me my results. I got my official certification card about 1 week later. Hope that answers your questions!

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    4. Hi!! Thanks so much for your post. I am SO nervous and feeling so overwhelmed with the online course. :-( I registered in Sept and still have not finished it. I guess shuffling 3 kids around and teaching 5 Zumba classes a week don't really leave too much time to study. Kudos to you for finishing so fast after registering! :-) I really enjoy your blog and i think this is what i needed to read to get my butt in gear to just FINISH!

      1. Thanks KristyKick! I bet you're more prepared than you think already! Good luck!

    5. Hi Allison,

      I was so glad to find your post! I was wondering how much math was on the exam and if you used any study guides or tips from friends to deal with that portion of the test?


      1. Hi Lauren,

        So glad you found this helpful. There is not any math on the exam. The only "math" type question is related to exercise intensity and calculating target heart rate. You just have to know the 3 formulas (Historical Formula, Gellish Formula and Heart Rate Reserve Method/Karvonen Formula), but you don't have to actually do any calculations on the test because it is all multiple choice.

        I filled out the entire study guide that I purchased with my the E-course using the Fitness: Theory and Practice text book. If you google primary group fitness study guides and flash cards, you should also be able to find some completed guides to help you.

        Listening to this podcast also helped me focus on things like the muscle names and the AFAA 5 Questions.

        Good luck!

    6. This is the best article I found on this! Every other website I have visited list in detail about actually going to a class for the test. I am taking it it online and am getting ready to take my practical next week! Now I feel prepared! Thank you!

      1. I'm so glad it was helpful. I hope your testing went well! Fingers crossed that you passed.

    7. Thank you, this was very helpful! Knowing how you studied makes it clear that I need to work on flash cards, etc., after finishing the textbook and study guide. I've got a month left before I test in person.

      1. Good luck! I felt a little overwhelmed trying to read all of the material in the textbook, but if you can break it down and just focus on the main points of the study guide, it should make it easier and more manageable. I'm sure you'll do great!

    8. Hi Allison, do you know if you are able to actually use your study guide during the exam or do I have to memorize everything?

      1. Mrs. Evans, you are not permitted to use your study guide during the exam. There will be a proctor watching you take the test through your webcam, and they will ask you to put everything away. It's tough, but if you've studied, the multiple choice questions are not too bad! Good luck!

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    10. Allison, thank you for the details! My onsite workshop just got cancelled so I am considering getting certified online. Do the 14 lecture series specifically review the study guide questions or just repeat what we read in the textbook?

      1. If I remember correctly, the lectures cover a lot of the study guide topics, but they DO NOT got specifically through the study guide. A lot of it was the muscle and movements. They also demonstrate exercises for each muscle. I honestly did not find the videos to be very helpful, but I watched them right before I was scheduled to take the test, and I had already read the book and completed and studied my guide. I hope this helps!

    11. Hello,
      I'm Kerstyn, I take the exam in three weeks and I was wondering how you went about geting a partner to practice with via skype?

      1. Hi Kerstyn! I didn't practice on Skype with anyone before the actual exam, but I believe there was the option to sign up for 1 study session prior to taking the test. I didn't end up doing it because the system would only let me sign up for 1 at a time (either the study session OR the Practical), but not both! I wanted to get the test done as soon as possible, so I didn't do the study session. I hope this makes sense. Good luck on your exam!

    12. Hey there, this was terrific! Taking the group class cert, aqua fitness and indoor cycling all within a month. It is getting expensive, wondered if you would be interested in selling your materials to me. Every little bit helps. thanx, Laura

      1. Wow, Laura! That sounds like a lot. I actually might be interested in selling my materials to you. Email me, and we can discuss whether it would be worth it to you with shipping costs and everything. Thanks!

    13. I never knew there was so much involved with getting your group fitness certification. I've been looking into it and wanted some advice about a specific place: Any information helps.

    14. Hi, I am currently enrolled in the online course. Do you recommend just paying for the textbook $69.00, or is the whole package necessary (Textbook, Practice Test, & Standards & Guidelines) for $109.00... Would I just be able to pass with filling out the study guide and necessary information with just the textbook & looking at the online videos?? Thanks! :)

      1. I think you would be able to pass with just the textbook and the videos. The practice test only included about 10 practice questions, and I think you get to do a practice test online that includes the same questions. Good luck!

    15. Wow- this is exactly the type of information I needed. I have to become certified to continue as a Spinning Instructor (the gym was bought by a larger gym and requires Group Ex Certification) and this is GREAT info. I do appreciate you taking the time to write it all out!

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    17. Do you know if there are any differences between exams for group exercise cert. and exams for personal training cert? Or are they the same tests?

      1. The exams are different. The Personal training certification is more in depth that the Group Fitness one.

    18. Allison,
      Thank you so much for writing this! It's really helpful to read about your individual experience (so many of the other blogs are about Apex). I just passed the multiple choice online exam and now am preparing for the Practical.
      I am a little confused by the study guide, however! For Category of Evaluation 3 "Chest and Back" it has "Grouping 1: pectorals" and "Grouping 2: trapezius, rhomboids and/or latissimus dorsi". Will the evaluator call out "Chest and Back" and then I am expected to show one strength exercise each from both grouping 1 and grouping 2? Or will the evaluator call out of those groups (ex. "Trapezius, rhomboids and/or latissimus dorsi") and expect two strengthening, 1 stretch from just that grouping? Thank you!

      1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Bridget! I couldn't find a lot of info on the online version when I was studying either. I think as I remember, they will call out the muscle groups, and you will choose 2 strengthening and 1 stretch from that muscle (or muscle grouping). Good luck! I hope this helps!

    19. Thank you soo much for this!!! I am about to take the Online Multiple Choice Test in a few days (which is pretty self-explanatory), but I was just so confused about the Practical. I was just going to end up scheduling my Free Online Multi-live session anyways, but this has helped soo much too!! I feel even more confident! Thanks girl! :D

    20. Do you recommend becoming CPR certified and order the textbook BEFORE you sign up for the online class?

      1. Hi lifeisgood! I think you need to be CPR certified before you get your official group fitness exercise certification. I ordered the textbook when I signed up for the online class, but you might be able to find it cheaper elsewhere.... Good luck!

    21. This is super helpful. I just took my written exam this morning (and passed, whew), but I'm nervous for the practical portion of the exam. Reading your blog is calming my nerves and helping me take the preparation for it one step at a time. Thanks so much - and I too am doing this to be a Stroller Strides instructor! WooHoo!

      1. Me too!! Where are you located?

      2. Thanks for the comment, Noel. I hope the practical portion went well, too! Are you teaching Stroller Strides now? I hope you love it as much as I did.

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    22. I just read the entire article. It was detailed and useful. I appreciate the effort you put in explaining the entire process. Now I know what to expect.
      Great Job and Congrats!

      1. Thanks, Yasmine! Good luck if you are planning on getting certified.

    23. Hi Allison! I'm soooo glad to have come across your blog! I too am looking into signing up for the afaa certification during the apex event. I found FIT4MOM (formally stroller strides) and that is my main motivation for getting this certification. Forgive me as I have no seen any of your other posts, but have you become certified as a stroller stride instructor yet?

      1. Hi Tina! Thanks for commenting. Have you signed up for the certification yet? I joined Stroller Strides after my daughter was born and loved it so much I decided to get certified. I taught for about a year before we moved to a town that didn't have FIT4MOM. It would be amazing if I could open my own franchise, but we'll see... I was located in NC near Ft. Bragg, where are you going to be teaching?

    24. I am getting ready to take this online in just a few weeks and I am so nervous. How did you find out the exercises to do for the flexibility and strength portion of the exam. Also what type of mike should I have?

    25. Hi! I have passed the online test! Yay!! But I have been so nervous about the practical that I keep putting it off! I guess I may be over thinking it, but is seems like I would have to repeat some strength exercises. For example, I am trying to decide on the moves for deltoids and then for trapezius/rhomboids latissimus dorsi and all I can come up with is front raises for both. Do you think it is ok to repeat a move? Would love your advice!

    26. Hi Alison! Thank you for posting. This is super helpful. I have a question about the practical online exam: do you have to call out/cue what you're doing or just demonstrate?

    27. This was helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write and publish all this useful information! My AFAA Group Exercise exam is scheduled for Monday, the day after tomorrow. I've been studying incredibly hard and feel self-assured that I'll do well on the written part, but I'm nervous about the practical part lol