Though class types and training techniques vary, there’s one thing every fitness professional has in common — certification. Whether you’re a group instructor, Pilates facilitator, spin teacher or personal trainer, the first step to breaking into this industry is obtaining the proper education and training.

Thanks to technological advancements, getting certified has never been easier or more convenient for aspiring fitness aficionados. From expedited workshops to full college degree programs, there’s an option for everyone — and every schedule — when it comes to earning your fitness instructor certification.

The fast track

One of the quickest ways to obtain your fitness instructor certification is by taking a full-day or multi-day workshop. Although this can be a very fast-paced approach to earning your certification, it saves you from spreading coursework out over weeks or months. Oftentimes, at then end of these workshops you’ll have the option to take a fitness exam that covers everything that was learned during your time there. However, if no exam is offered, know that you’ll still be required to take a test elsewhere before you’re officially certified.

Who is it for?

Workshops are great for people who don’t have the flexibility to extend their learning over a longer period of time. It’s also geared towards fitness professionals with some experience or background as an instructor. Completing all of the coursework in such a small amount of time is not recommended for the fitness novice, so if you’re new to the industry, taking a slower, more in-depth approach would be a better route. Also, keep in mind that workshops require attendance, so before you sign up, be sure your schedule allows you to make that commitment.

The online route

Spanning anywhere from six weeks to more than six months, online coursework is the most popular route for people looking to earn their certification. The ACE (American Council on Exercise), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and AFAA (Athletics and Fitness Associate of America), are a few of the many NCCA-accredited (National Commision for Certifying Agencies) institutions that offer online instruction for the fitness industry.

These online courses usually last between eight to ten weeks, and most require students to finish within a four to six month timeframe — with extensions regularly available if needed. Most of the online programs include instruction from certified fitness professionals, course materials like access to books and videos, mandatory assignments, and a final exam to complete your certification. For some institutions, the exam must be taken on-location at a designated testing site, so if you’re looking for a complete at-home experience, be sure to check out course details before you begin.

Who is it for?

The best part about online coursework is typically the flexibility in which you can attend and manage your classes. This option is great for people working other jobs or taking care of family in addition to taking classes. And while these aren’t as fast-paced or demanding as a workshop, it’s still important to make sure you’re staying on top of your work and are able to finish in the allotted amount of time. Having some discipline and schedule is key to successfully conquering online classes.

The long-haul

Looking for a more extensive certification? Significant growth in the fitness industry over the last decade has prompted more and more colleges and universities to offer two- and four-year degrees pertaining to fitness instruction. From an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science with a focus in Health and Fitness to a Bachelor’s of Kinesiology or Sports and Exercise Science — college-level institutions across the country are offering formal education opportunities for students looking to pursue careers in the fitness industry. Some even offer one-semester certification courses for those not looking to obtain a full degree.

Ready to begin your career in the fitness industry? Before you start, it’s always a good idea to look at the prerequisites of each course. Several programs require attendees to be at least 18-years of age and CPR certified prior to enrollment or graduation. So be sure to look into the details before you jump in.

Who is it for?

This education path is great for fitness professionals looking to advance their careers. Whether you want to manage your own staff of trainers or work on a sports team or at a medical facility – having a formal college education can help you get there. The downside to this type of certification or degree is that you have to commit to the length of the school’s program, which could be up to four years depending on your goals. Plus, there’s not much, if any, ability to move faster or on a more flexible schedule.

And remember, no matter what your scheduling needs might be, there’s guaranteed to be a fitness instructor certification program that works for you.

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