Steps to Getting AFAA Certified: Post #5: Practical Exam Part II

Finally!!  The last post in the AFAA certification series.  If I’ve been a little long-winded, I apologize, but you never know what piece of information will be helpful to which person.  Thanks for making it this far in the series.   If you’d like to check out the previous posts, they are here:  Post 1Post 2Post 3Post 4.


This topic is covered in great detail during the workshop.  A presenter will take you through each muscle group and demonstrate several options for exercises you can perform for the demo.  You can also come up with a game plan prior to the workshop and use that opportunity to confirm that your choices are acceptable.  Here, we won’t discuss exercises you’ll do for this group, only what is expected during testing. 

As soon as you have completed the cardiorespiratory demonstration, you will be told to “demonstrate exercises appropriate for the … <one of ten muscle groups>.” You will be given two minutes.  They will not announce that you should switch to your second exercise, so I recommend that you choose your two exercises and do one of two things:  perform each exercise for 15 repetitions each and alternate between the two until time is called OR perform each exercise for 130 beats worth of time, since your music will be approximately 130 bpm.  130 beats is 16 8-counts.  If you do “2-up, 2-down” you’ll do 32 repetitions before you switch. 

Also note, you will not be using any type of weights or bands for this demonstration, so you’ll have to mime the act of wrapping your tubing or picking up your weights.  You will also be asked to show by your facial expression, breath and muscle tension where you are contracting or doing the work, and when you are releasing.  This can take some practice, so again, if you have no sculpting experience, head to the weight room with your book so you can try out some of the exercises before you show them off.

After the two strength exercises, you are asked to show a stretch.  Remember how your stretch reflex works:  it takes at least 20 seconds for flexibility gains to be made so once you pick your stretch, HOLD IT!  Unless you realize ten seconds into it that you flubbed up and are stretching chest when they asked for shoulders, you are expected to hold a static stretch.  You have the option of demonstrating and active stretch, but this has a specific formula you must follow.  Your best bet is to demonstrate one stretch and hold it the entire time you are given.  I saw lots of folks who demonstrated their inability to follow directions — doing ballistic stretches, switching two or three times or going back and forth between two different stretches…  You will get marked down for this!  Remember:  two strength, ONE stretch.


After you have completed your group demonstration, including cardio respiratory and muscle group demos, it is time for the individual presentations.  This is by far the most frightening section for most folks because the spotlight is shining on you and there is no where to turn for help!  But fear not, because #1 – it goes by too quickly to notice and #2 – after you read this, you’ll know more than enough to get by. 

One by one, you are called up to lead your group in a single exercise which you will demonstrate in three varying ability levels, ie. Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced.  You must speak at least one minute and no more than two.  In those 1-2 minutes, you must:

1.  Give the name of the exercise
2.  Tell what muscle group it will be working, or that it is a cardio segment
3.  Describe the action and give form cues (I recommend no fewer than three form cues).
4.  Provide proper progressions for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Levels

Again, it helps to have a game plan.  Choose an exercise that has obvious progressions, such as cardio (HINT:  You already have a game plan for this — you did it during the group demo!) or strength exercise, such as a push-up,squat, crunch, or combo move.  The hardest part can be deciding what differentiates a beginner(1) exercise from an intermediate(2) from an advanced(3).  Here are some examples:

1.  Knees positioned under your hips
2.  Knees positioned behind your hips
3.  Up on your toes

1.  Feet shoulder width apart, hands by sides or on hips
2.  Add a knee lift at the top of each squat
3.  Single-leg squats

1.  Feet on the floor, hands across chest
2.  Feet on the floor, hands behind head
3.  Feet off the foor, hands behind head
2.  Feet on the floor, hands overhead

1.  Basic static lunge, no arms
2.  Static lunge + overhead press
3.  Lunge + lift back leg to a glute press as you stand up and press overhead

Now, here’s a sample script you can use to fill in the <suggestions> for your own demonstration:

“Hi everybody!  My name is <name> and I am going to lead you to stronger <muscle group> by performing <name of exercise>.  To do a <name of exercise> you’ll need to be <sitting, standing, on your knees, etc>.  You’ll also need <handweights, a band, nothing but your smile>.  Are you ready?  Let’s start with the basic version of this exercise.  Start with your <form cue 1> and your <form cue 2>.  <Form cue 3>.  Move to the top of this motion in two counts as you <ex/inhale> then return to your starting position.  Keep the alignment in your <toes, knees, shoulders, ears> as you <move something>.  Stay here if you are a beginner.  For my Level II students, you can progress this exercise by <intermediate form cue>.  Stick with this, and don’t forget to <form cue>.  For some of you, this may not be intense enough.  If you would like to try the Level III or Advanced version of this exercise, change to <advanced form cue>.”

At this point in the demo, you should hear the words, “Thank you very much” followed by thunderous applause (especially if you are the last one in your group!).  If you hear nothing, you did one of two things:  You either did not go for the full minute, or you left out information in one of the categories.  Do a couple of repetitions to make sure you didn’t just run under time.  If you lead a few reps and still have not heard, “thank you very much,”  run back through your checklist in a refresher way.  “Can you feel your <muscle group> working?” and/or “Done properly, the <exercise name> is an excellent way to develop your <muscle group>.”  Then, give a few more form cues, especially alignment and muscle action.  Finally, demonstrate your distinct Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced movements. 

If you get cut off mid-sentence, chances are you made it and covered all of your bases.  A final hint:  if you choose cardio for your demonstration, make sure that your progressions do not cause your students to bump into each other.  For instance, you can’t progress a grapevine by adding jumping jacks at the end of it because your beginners will be moving laterally while the folks who added jumping jacks are standing still.  Progress to a movement that “covers the same territory” as the one before it, ie. Side-to-side lunges can lead to jumping jacks or step touches can lead to skater jumps. 

So there it is.  You made it.  You’re done.  Now you sit back and wait 6-8 weeks to find out if you passed.  (Note, I did, so I have some evidence that my advice works!!) If by some fluke you do not, you can retest without taking the entire workshop again.  However, you might consider taking the workshop again so that you can hear the things again that you might have missed or forgotten.

I wish you the best of luck in your certification!  Study hard, listen up and read all 5 posts — you’ll do fine!


57 thoughts on “Steps to Getting AFAA Certified: Post #5: Practical Exam Part II

  1. Thank you so much!! Your posts have lessened my anxiety greatly! Very well thoughtout and extrememly helpful. Thanks for being of service to those of us in the fitness industry.

  2. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I’m pretty anxious about my exam next week, however have been blessed to find this website! Thank you for the detail and thoughtfulness! I really appreciate it!

  3. Ok my test is in two weeks and I’m a bit stressed out. I’m covered except for being able to retain muscle groups etc, any suggestions? Great website, very insightful.

  4. First, relax!! They are going to review muscle groups very specifically during the workshop. To me, the best way to learn muscle groups is to head to the weight room with the book and do the exercises (so you can feel which muscle does the work) while repeating the name of the muscle group with some sort of pneumonic device to help you remember it. For example: Pectoralis Major (chest) is the major mover in a push up. So I repeat while doing pushups: “Pectoralis Push Up.” Here’s another one: Overhead press works the deltoids. But the top of an overhead press looks like the position you are in when you dive off a diving board. So I repeat while doing overhead presses: “Deltoids Dive.” Take some time finding little devices like that to help you remember what the names of the muscles are, and you’ll do great!

  5. I took the test yesterday and I wish I had read this before. I felt fine on the written exam and the group practical but not as confident on the individual. I’m just praying that it was good enough. I wish the result came back sooner so I wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.

  6. Mahalo for all the sage advice! I will be taking the exam in 2 months,so lots of study and practice time ahead. I am a senior with lots of years as a student and have decided to teach. With all the ideas you have given, I feel much more positive about my decision.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to do this! I recently signed up for an apex event in a month or so and I had no idea what i was getting into (my study packet hasn’t arrived yet). This information will help me prepare and hopefully pass! I will for sure be hitting up some aerobics classes for more ideas before I take the test. Again, thank you so much this information is very valuable!

  8. Thank you for being so detailed! I have asked several instructors and others that have taken it before what to expect, and none were as detailed as you. I’m taking the exam on Friday, and I so happy I came across your website. Thanks, again!

  9. My exam is tomorrow and I have been struggling with what individual presentation to do since I cannot do a push up on my toes! Thank you for these postings as I will sleep well and dream of 3 variations of a crunch. Many Thanks!

  10. Hello, I took the exam Feb. 6. I won’t know if I passed for 6-8 weeks, but this website was a great help. In preparation for the exam I bought the textbook and sample exam, but not the primary study package. To my surprise the study package also included a study guide (which isn’t mentioned on the AFAA website)according to the other attendees. So, FYI if you are looking for more than a practice exam, buy the package. It may cost a little more, but I felt it would have been nice to have before the big day.

    • I’m so glad you all found something useful here. Congrats to those of you who passed! I’m sure you were all fantastic — isn’t a great sense of accomplishment? Keep checking back here for ideas on what to do now that you have that cert!

  11. This website is saving me! After signing up for AFAA group fitness cert and receiving my book materials, I was feeling overwhelmed. Learning about the practical exam made matters worse — primarily because I am a Spinning instructor (not aerobics) and because I didn’t know how to prepare. Thanks so much!

  12. Thank you so much for this resource! I am not sure I will be able to take the AFAA Group Certification this weekend because I’ve waited so long to decide whether or not to take it, but one day I will! I’ll bookmark this for future reference! You were very thorough! Thanks so much!

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m still in the research phase, deciding whether I want to go for a group instruction cert or just a CPT. Your posts were invaluable in making me feel like this is something I can do! I get a bit nervous imagining being the instructor rather than the instuctee, but when you break it down, it seems a lot less daunting. Much appreciated!

  14. What a great blog-thanks Krista. I also want to thank you for mentioning bellydance! That’s the reason for my taking this exam and I am a little nervous about it. Making sure I’m doing “aerobic” moves and not bellydance moves may be my challenge. Your blog has definetly gave me some piece of mind -I have a much better idea what to expect and what they expect. Thanks again.

    • Welcome to the site, Anne. I’m glad to have a bellydancer following, and even more pleased you found the information useful. Don’t be afraid to use movements that you know well; as long as you can demonstrate the progression of easiest, intermediate and difficult (from a fitness-level standpoint, not experience with bellydancing) then you’ll be fine! Best of luck!

  15. Thank you for taking the time to lay out this information is such great detail. I now feel better prepared to take my exam in September. I really think you should consider becoming an AFAA Presenter. I think you’d be great!

  16. Hello Krista, Thank you so much for all this information. Your website has answered some of the questions I have about my upcoming AFAA certification in late September. But I do have a few more questions, if you don’t mind me asking. You referred to this, but please confirm that a step will be provided to those of us who would like to use it in the group presentation. In addition, will we be cueing during the group presentation, or just demonstrating with no words? I’m assuming cues during the chaos of everybody doing their own thing would be impossible to hear anyway… I’m struggling with deciding what to do for the individual presentation, but think I need to simplify my plan (I will take a close look at your suggestions)… If I do cardio for the individual presentation, again, will they provide a step for this (if I decide to do a step presentation)? In addition, will there be mirrors in front for the individual demo so that I can face away from the group for purposes of cueing the correct foot? Thanks so much!

  17. Hello again Krista, You mentioned having a mat for the group presentation. Is this for stretches during the cool-down? Is it required to be used? (I have stretches that I would like to do on a step, not a mat.) Thanks again.

  18. Pingback: AFAA Primary Group Certification FAQ | GroupFitPower

  19. Fantastic information. Helped me so much except with the 32 count stuff. Can you explain a way to know that you are on the beat correctly or any websites that may be helpful. Also, is it okay by the testers if you say do 8 bicep curls, 8 tricep kickbacks and then 8 shoulder presses and then 8 chest press bringing elbows together? Am I way off on this? Can you tell I am totally new at this? SOS!

  20. Hi Krista!
    Thanks so much for your posts! I AM SO NERVOUS as I take my test in two days (friday)! After finding your website, I feel a bit more at ease but I just have to keep practicing and studying! You are the best!

    • Hi Beata, Choose the mode that you have the most comfort and experience with. Pick exercises that are easy to modify. My specific recommendations are given in Post #4. Good luck!

  21. Hi, I would like to take the test december 19th but i am feeling really nervous. I have no idea what to do for the practical and need a lot of help. I am also unemployed so I desperately need to take the test as soon as i can. Also what chapters should i really focus on for the written….I need help on focusing on specific things to study and memorize. If anyone can help it would mean so much to me…..thanks

    • Hi Vanessa. You have plenty of time, you just need some discipline. If it is important that you pass the exam this soon, then you need to look at studying as your 9-to-5 job for the next 2 1/2 weeks. Clear away all distractions and focus on absorbing as much material as you can. The best use of your time is to work carefully through the study guide which will focus your attention on the right subjects. To prepare for the practical, read through these posts and PRACTICE. Just be honest with yourself. If there is no way you are going to be able to put in the effort before the 19th to get this done, then you’ll have to reschedule. No one else can do it for you, so take a deep breath and get serious!

  22. Krista, just a question I did not see you cover yet. If you do not pass, do they make you aware of the questions you missed or practical errors in your presentation? Do you know someone who had to retake the test?

  23. For Kimberly: Hi Kimberly, I just took the exam January. While at the exam an tester showed up with us who had to retake the practical. She passed the written but only had to retake the whole practical with us. I’m not sure if they let you know what part of the practical was not a pass. However, my written test results accompanied my certification letter. Each category of the written exam will be broken down to how many questions were missed. I believe that if the tester does not pass any part of the practical then they must retake the practical only. But don’t quote me on this. If you need to, call the AFAA 800 number on their website to confirm. Hope this helps an good luck!!

  24. Thank you so much! I feel like you are an angel that has helped me so much to be prepared. I am going to tell AFAA about you. They need to have a direct link to your site. Now for my question: Can I teach Zumba (Salsa) for my Cardio 1-2 min class? This is what I have prepared and what I would like to teach. (Please let me know soon as the test is in two days!!!)

    • Good Luck this weekend! There is no reason why you couldn’t use Zumba for your cardio portion. Just apply the principles to your movements and you’ll be good to go! Best wishes!

  25. Thank you for all the info you provided… I found this to be very helpful in preparing for certification. I take my test next weekend and after reading your posts I’m feeling much better. Thanks again for all your help!

  26. I am thinking of doing different level of a grapevine for my individual presentation:
    Basic grapevine, a little bounce and lateral arm movemennts, then a knee lift for the advance.

    will this work.

  27. I signed up for the AFAA group fitness certification in September. I am nervous of course but was thrilled when I came across your post. It is nice to know what to expect and how to prepare. Thanks so much…I’ll let you know how I do! -Ruth

  28. Thank you so much!! I now feel confident enough to register for the APEX workshop. Your review was so thorough. I really appreciate it!!

  29. This was so extrememly helpful and it really helped me focus as I prepared! I’m taking the test in 3 days, can’t wait! thank you thank you!

  30. THANK YOU!!! I take my test tomorrow and have been EXTREMELY nervous!!!!!!!!!! Your blog helped answer a lot of my confusion on the practical~If I come across others getting ready for AFAA certification I will send them here to your blog!! Just what I needed!

  31. hi 🙂 and thank you for this website … just wondering if there are many people who received theirs results earlier than the 6-8 week time frame?? took mine on the 10th and very anxious to see the results 🙂

  32. Wanted to send a big THANK YOU your way. I’ve been a long time group ex instructor and my Bachelors is in Ex Science, but if I had not read your postings, I would have been so ill prepared for my certification this coming weekend (especially the CPR card, never would have thought to bring that). Thank you for all the advice! You have calmed my AFAA test anxiety!

  33. WOW that was great. Thank you so so so so much! I just found out about the AFAA Apex sale. Turns out I have one month to study for the Feb. 11th test. After reading this, I feel a lot more comfortable. I’ve been teaching for 1.5 years so it’s about time I supplement my other cert. This was a very thorough and detailed post (well, all 5!). I will definitely send others your way!!

  34. Krista,
    Thank you so much for your detailed posts. I take the Group Fitness exam this weekend and have used your posts as part of my preparation. I purchased the textbook, study guide, practice exam, and the on-line practice test. I certainly hope that I’m able to pass the exam the first time. I will definitely refer friends to your posts! Thank you

  35. YOU ARE AWESOME for putting so much information on this site!! I sure feel less nervous about the practical exam after reading all of the detailed information you shared. THANK YOU SO MUCH! 🙂

  36. thank you so much for this blog. I’m testing Saturday and am undecided on what to do for the individual. A woman on another site told me you can’t do grapevine for it. She also said doing cardio for the individual is hard because you are not supposed to do high impact more than 14 times in a row so you have to be careful not to transition into the advanced level too soon. Can you comment on this?

  37. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!
    I just registered for APEX next month and I am SO nervous. Your blog has helped me immensely to mentally prepare and motivated me to “Just Do It” already! I just wanted to let you know that almost 4 years after your first post, there are those of us still clinging to your words and advise.

  38. Thank you so much. The information is very helpful. I’m excited about taking the test now that i’ve read your post. I just received my study guide however i do feel better after reading your post.

  39. Thank you so much! – I’m taking the certification next week and didn’t know how to prepare for the practical test. Now I have a plan. Your advice is very helpful.

  40. I’m taking the certification next week and this is the second time I’ve just been PORING over your posts-they are so detailed and such a great reference!!!!! Thank you so much, reading this has actually helped me go from nervous to excited for the test!!!! Great job!

  41. OMG! Thank you so much for posting this! It helped me get over my test anxiety and now I’m really excited to take the exam! I actually am taking it tomorrow morning, bright and early 9AM! Wish me luck! : )

  42. You are an angel for doing all of this. I feel much better about taking the exam. Good luck to you and may God bless and keep you always!

  43. So I just got my study guide in the mail (I take my test Sept 9th 2011) and it goes along with the new Fitness Theory and Practice when I have the older version. I can NOT for the love of me find the answer to this question: List a minimum of 4 exercise recommendations outlined by the USDHHS and ACSM.
    This is referring to Youth Fitness.

    ANyone know?

  44. Hi everyone, I am taking the APEX on Friday, Sept 9th and am worried about my individual demo. I am 61 in relatively good exercise shape but have my limitations due to arthritis in knees and hips and am not always steady for balance. Therfore, I am not doing lunges or squats as that is tempting fate. I am doing bilateral deltoid exercise: side arm lifts, 1st level: bent arm (shortened lever) lifts up to shoulder level; 2nd level, straight arm raises (again to shoulder level and 3rd level I was going to do forward arm raises above shoulders with front lunge. Now I am worried that this is actually changing the main muscle group from Deltoids to Trapezius and Rhomboids. The AFAA CD has these arm raises with weights, and shows third level as arm raise with a one leg hip abduction and I am afraid if my balance is not just right, it would be to much of a chance to mess up for me. SO: first question: do I need hand weights to show the true affect of the muscle group exercise or do I just reference in the introduction it can be done with or without hand weights? Second question: do I change my 3rd level to same arm raises bilaterally bringing higher above shoulder level with a front lunge to keep the Deltoids as main muscle group. My Zumba instructor who is Ace certified told me to do the front arm raise and lunge as the 3rd level but I am worried, don’t want it to be wrong. Help!!

    NCI in NJ

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