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February 11, 2019

How to Become a Certified Fitness Professional

You’re passionate about health and fitness. You live for a good lift and crave cardio. You’re a regular at your gym and you never miss your HIIT class. Perhaps you also inspire others to come to class with you. Maybe you've offered weight-lifting advice, thought about creating workout plans, or leading a fitness class. If you answered yes to any of the items above, you may be well suited to pursue a career as a Certified Personal Trainer or Group Fitness Instructor (also referred to as a Fitness Instructor Specialist).


Why certified fitness pros love their jobs



While fitness professionals all want to inspire others to exercise and reach fitness goals, fitness pros come from all different walks of life and their reasons for certifying are as unique as the individuals.


For me, as a newly-certified CanFitPro Fitness Instructor Specialist (FIS), I had a strong desire to encourage others to live a healthy lifestyle and give them tools to improve their quality of life. For Karen Maro, a newly certified Fitness Instructor Specialist, certification became a dream of hers after becoming addicted to the “feel good high” she got from CrossFit and the results she was seeing in her life. “I took the [FIS] course for a variety of reasons and now teaching a weekly class is definitely what I was meant to do.” explains Karen.



Be prepared to put in time and effort.

Even if you have an amazing knowledge of the muscle groups and the cardiovascular system, there is still more to learn. Going through the process myself, it was eye-opening to see how much effort and thought goes into a fitness class. You will develop an even deeper respect for those in the field and especially those who are very good at their jobs.


According to multiple sources, including the Australian Institute of Fitness, fitness jobs are on the rise so this is a great time to get fitness certifications under your belt.


Step 1: Determine which type of role is right for you

Would you prefer to create and lead fitness classes or have more in-depth one-on-one sessions with a client? Both options will allow you to inspire and motivate others but they have different approaches.


Personal Trainer

A Personal Trainer works either one-on-one with clients or in a small group (three people or less). They can create custom and personalized plans for clients that span across a particular time frame and meet specific goals. A lot of personal trainers will be employed by one gym or fitness facility and that is their ‘office’.


Group Fitness Instructor

If designing a class for a group is calling your name, then you’ll want to consider registering for the Group Fitness Instructor course (also called Fitness Instructor Specialist – or FIS – by canfitpro). While successful Group Fitness Instructor will mix up their workouts and classes often to avoid boredom, the workouts are done as a group a few times weekly. As a Fitness Instructor, your aim is to get the group moving and exercising but you are not creating individualized plans for the participants.  Many Fitness Instructors also work other jobs and aren’t always exclusive to one fitness facility.


Step 2: Get Certified

Certifying Organizations  

There are many ways you can become certified to teach or train others in the fitness industry so you’ll want to do your research. Consider the credentials you’d like and where you would like these to be recognized. Check out job postings for positions you would genuinely want to do and see what qualifications they require. Sure, you can take a course at a facility that may allow you to teach there but to have your credentials recognized nation-wide you’ll need to become certified with the industry’s professionally recognized institutions:


Courses, Exams, and All You Need to Become Certified

As you’re researching becoming a fitness pro, look at the process for each organization and their certification requirements and familiarize yourself with the timelines, grades required, and details about the steps. They will follow the same general format. Specific timelines and program-related information isn’t included because each step will vary depending on the organization and certification you’re working towards:


In-class sessions and/or online modules

  • In-class time will be with an instructor who is teaching the material and a large focus is on the body and how it all works. You’ll be racking your brain trying to remember Grade 12 Exercise Science since that is likely the last time you had to know this many different bones and what ATP is plus how it works (‘ATP’ stands for Adenosine Triphosphate, by the way. It’s a molecule that stores the energy we need to breathe, circulate our blood, and move our bodies).

Written exam

  • After a specified amount of time has elapsed since your in-class sessions, you’ll write your theory exam. The Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor exams through canfitpro both require 80% to pass. Many organizations, including canfitpro, will require you to successfully complete your theory exam before you can even schedule your practical.

First-aid and CPR

  • It only makes sense working in the fitness industry that you have at minimum your CPR A. If your CPR and/or first aid are not currently valid you will need to renew or obtain your certifications in this. Be sure to check what first-aid and CPR credentials your program requires for your fitness certification.

Practical Exam

  • Once you pass your theory exam, you’ll likely have a window of time in which you will need to schedule, complete, and pass your practical exam. Be sure to pay close attention to any rubrics and criteria your instructor gives you but most importantly have fun! This is you doing what you love.


Tips on how to make the certification process easier on yourself

Be committed.

Remember why you signed up. When you’re tired from studying and suddenly forget the difference between ligaments and tendons you might wonder why you bothered. It’s easy to find retail jobs out there, why not do that? But don’t give up. Remember the spark that ignited your journey, the desire to inspire others.


Think about what type of instructor you’d like to be

The most helpful tip that my instructor gave us was to give thought to what type of instructor you would like to be - cardio, strength training, a bootcamp instructor, a kickboxing instructor, tabata instructor, etc. You may already have a strong idea where you would like to take your shiny new certification and that’s great. But first you should craft your practical exam towards this genre of fitness. It’ll be easier for you to put together, you’ll enjoy practicing it more, and you might even be able to keep it handy for a live, real-world class setting upon certification.


Manage your time well

A rushed, thrown-together-last-minute practical exam will be obvious and isn’t likely to earn a passing grade.  If you’re nervous like I was, then you might be comforted knowing you can run through your practical in your sleep come Exam Day. Plus, what works on paper may not actually make sense in action.

Fitness Pro Roles

Becoming certified as either a Group Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer will open a lot of doors. Whether you want to make this role your full-time gig or simply your side-hustle, there’s a position out there. Some examples include:

  • Becoming a Personal Trainer at a gym
  • Owning/managing a fitness facility
  • Beginning your own personal training business
  • Instructing classes at a fitness facility – either in the traditional ‘facing the class’ format or in different contexts, such as fitness kickboxing
  • Hosting fitness classes in outdoor or community settings
  • Participating in/leading health programs at senior or children’s centres
  • Upping your credentials and furthering your education

There is a lot of flexibility in the fitness industry. Whether you choose to work as Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, full-time, part-time, or occasionally, you’ll find it can be a very rewarding career. After all, you’re helping people better their lives and what bigger job perk is there?

Post-Practical exam - I'm a newly certified Fitness Instructor Specialist!


Looking to learn more? Explore our Fitness activity page for articles, videos, and great community resources.

Find CanFitPro in our Athlete Advisor, your online business directory putting local sport, fitness and wellness businesses at your fingertips. Find, rate and review fitness leadership certification programs, local community offerings and businesses that will help you do your thing.

Find, attend or create a fitness leadership event on our SWSCD Hub.

Do you have a good resource or story for those learning how to become a fitness leader? Tell us about your experience directly on our Discover blog or by using #seewhatshecando on social media and inspire others to get active. 


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