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Advice on Becoming an Aerobics Instructor

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If you are an aerobics student and enjoy it, you might consider becoming an instructor and getting paid for it. It pays less than computer consulting but more than selling burgers, and as a plus, you get to hang out at gyms for free.

Becoming an aerobics instructor is not a simple process. To begin with, you should to be familiar with aerobics classes, which can be difficult enough. This is just a start, as aerobics instructors obviously need to know more than their students. This entry attempts to describe what an aerobics instructor needs to know and do.


As the teacher, you have to instruct the students how to move. Here are a few issues to consider:

  • Timing - Instructors have to be able to do one thing while saying the next. Instructors often count down, but they never get to 'one', because when they get that far, it's time to announce the next move. This ability can only be learned with practice. As a beginning instructor, you will inevitably make mistakes. However, aerobics students are usually a forgiving lot.

  • Complexity - There's a fine line here. If a pattern is too complex, the students can have trouble learning it, and give up. If it's too simple, the students can get bored, and give up - assess your class and choose wisely.

  • Balance - You can have a lovely pattern, but if it only exercises the right leg, you'll have to get your students to do it all again on the left leg. If you spent 15 minutes teaching the pattern on the right leg, you should really spend 15 minutes on the left.

  • New Patterns - Even the most novice of students will get bored with the most complex patterns after about six weeks. Patterns must be changed before boredom sets in.

  • Impact - It is considered unsafe to go straight into high-impact exercise from a standing start, or vice versa. One is supposed to warm up before exercise, and cool down afterwards.

  • The '32-Count' - Virtually all aerobics patterns are modular, so they can easily be swapped for each other. A pattern consists of 32 beats of action.


In days of old, aerobics teachers would record their own tapes, with any music they liked, in any order. Now the music for an aerobics class is rigidly formatted, usually by specialists who charge $251 for each tape or CD. Whether or not you're willing to pay that much for a tape, you have to be sure your tape is suitable.

  • Tempo - Aerobics tapes range from 120 to 150 beats per minute (bpm), depending on the type of exercise. A typical tape covers less than half that range.

  • Sequence - You can't just start out with your fastest music; you have to start out slowly, and escalate gradually. Commercial aerobics tapes have the 'bpm' listed for each song.

  • The commercial '32-Count' - Commercial aerobics tapes are expected to provide a consistent 32-count (or at least advertise when they don't), to make choreography easier.


Aerobics teachers need to know enough about the human body to exercise the parts in need of exercise, and avoid breaking the parts that don't. This means a knowledge of:

  • Musculature - Instructors are expected to be able to name the different muscle groups, and to know exercises to strengthen each one.

  • Other body parts - In particular, instructors are expected to know the difference between bones, ligaments, tendons, and how long each typically takes to heal.


Aerobics teachers not only need to know the different parts of bodies and their needs, they also ought to know how they are fuelled by food. As far as aerobics teachers are concerned, the food groups which provide energy to the body are:

  • Carbohydrates - This is the most important one. Carbohydrates are easiest for the body to get energy from. There are simple carbohydrates (ie, sugars), and complex carbohydrates (starches and other vegetable substances), which consist of strings of simple carbohydrates. These are equivalent in energy content to simple carbohydrates, but complex carbohydrates yield some extra vitamins and minerals after digestion.

  • Proteins - Proteins are combinations of amino acids. There are 14 amino acids which the body needs. A complete protein contains all of them. Vegetables contain incomplete proteins, which are perfectly acceptable as long as they're combined to provide all the amino acids. (For example, beans and rice together contain all of them, as does peanut butter on wheat bread.)

  • Fats - Fats are not necessarily bad. They contain more than twice as much energy per unit weight as proteins or carbohydrates. The body needs some fat, to insulate the nerves and muscles.

Government nutritional guidelines suggest a diet which contain calories that are at least 60% carbohydrates and less than 30% fat (United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare guidelines).

There are some supplementary food groups as well, which provide other nutrition the body needs: vitamins, minerals, and fibre.


When you teach an aerobics class, you are assuming some responsibility for the health of all your students. You have to be ready for:

  • Fitness levels - If you don't know whether a student is ready for an hour of jumping around... ask before you start.

  • Tiredness - Monitor your students - make sure they can keep up. If they get tired, they're in danger of...

  • Injury - If a student gets injured during your class, tending to the injury is the top priority. The acronym 'RICE' (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), is a crucial first step for the treatment of an injury.

  • Giving advice - As a fitness professional, students will sometimes assume you know more about health than they do, and ask you questions. By all means, answer if you know. If you are unsure, however, you should refer them to a qualified professional.

Getting Certified

After reading about everything an aerobics teacher needs to know, you may be wondering how you can ever learn it all.

Well, don't panic. There are numerous aerobics organizations which are willing to train and certify instructors. Certification is typically optional, and seldom required by gyms, but training is almost always required.

The YMCA started certifying swimming instructors in the 1930s, and offers aerobics certification in several nations today.

Still, most certifying organizations operate primarily in the United States. Two certifying organizations prevail among American fitness professionals:

Of these two, ACE has the more stringent requirements, expecting their members to have college-level training in biophysics. AFAA's training is less demanding, and consequently more subscribed. Most American instructors get certified through AFAA.

The remainder of this section describes AFAA training and testing, unless otherwise specified.

The Training

Both major certifying organizations offer training at about $10 per hour (at time of writing). Novice instructors need about 30 hours of training. Some courses last only eight hours. This can be adequate, given extensive home study beforehand.

The Test

After you are trained you can become certified - but first you have to pass a test. AFAA's test costs about $200. The two sections of the test are:

  • Written - The AFAA written test consists of 100 questions, to be answered in 60 minutes. Of those 100 questions, 20 concern the muscles of the body. it is recommended that you memorise the various terms before the test. The remaining questions mostly cover anatomy, exercise technique, and nutrition.

  • Demonstration - Instructor-candidates are expected to demonstrate their knowledge. The AFAA test gathers a roomful of instructors in a workout room to exercise together, with evaluators watching.

  • Group exercise - The tutor goes through the parts of the workout, and tells the candidates to perform exercises appropriate to each part. Each candidate is expected to come up with their own set of exercises. The candidate is graded on their ability to perform a complete and safe set of exercises.

  • Individual demonstration - The tutor calls each candidate up to lead the class in an exercise for a specific muscle. The candidate is graded on leadership and on ability to avoid exercises that cause injury.

There are three evaluators, who assign a grade of 3 (good), 2 (inappropriate), or 1 (unsafe) to each student on each section of the test. On each section, the high and low grades for each student are thrown out, leaving the median. If this results in one 'unsafe' or two 'inappropriates' for the student, the student fails the test. Two of the three evaluators have to notice any mistakes that may result in a failure.

Getting a Job

Congratulations, if you have got this far, the hard part is over. By the time you've made it through all the training and certification, you've probably met a lot of people who can give you advice on finding a job.

The person who hires an aerobics instructor is typically a 'fitness director'. Fitness directors tend to know other fitness directors, and cheerfully refer you to other gyms if their own gym has no openings. Many fitness directors don't even require you to be certified, but they do need you to be trained. They may ask you to audition (that is, lead part of a class). Beginning instructors can receive about $20 an hour.

Once you get that job, the next hard part begins - actually getting up in front of a class of people and barking commands at them. But don't panic. If you have been through the training, you will be fine. You may make some mistakes, but even the most advanced instructors make mistakes. It comes with the job.

Experienced instructors can teach up to eight classes a week safely, and up to two classes on any given day. More than that, and they run the risk of injury due to over training. Some cruise ships and resorts will ask their instructors to teach three classes a day, six days a week. Beware of these jobs.

Aerobics makes an excellent side job, but the demands on your body make it virtually impossible to make a living solely as an aerobics teacher. People do make a living in the industry, but they conduct training or direct fitness programs. If you're an experienced instructor, you might consider one of these options.

1US dollar prices.

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