We’ve never had access to more health and fitness content, yet so many of us remain confused about exercise basics. We know where to find videos of handstand push-ups and choreographed kettlebell sequences, but when it comes to figuring out how much cardio to do or what kind of gear you actually need to get started, it’s hard to know who to trust (and who’s just trying to sell you something).

For accurate, expert-backed info, we assembled a squad of certified personal trainers and asked them which fitness questions they field over and over again. Here are their answers and recommendations for creating an effective—and enjoyable!—personal fitness routine.

Experts In This Article

  • Dane Miklaus, CSCS, founder of WORK Training Studio in Irvine, California
  • Daniel McKenna, CPT, former Peloton instructor and founder of The Irish Yank Society
  • Jen Kates, CPT, founder of Shift Human Performance
  • Marcel Dinkins, CSCS, Peloton running instructor
  • Mary Beth Rockwell, CPT, founding trainer of The Next Fitness Thing app
  • Mathew Forzaglia, CPT, founder of Forzag Fitness
  • Wesley Showalter, CSCS, Chicago-based personal trainer

1. “Where do I start?”

This is one of the most common fitness questions out there. For folks who are just starting a fitness program or returning to exercise after a break, Dane Miklaus, CSCS, founder of WORK Training Studio in Irvine, California, recommends starting with physical activities you enjoy. That may mean stepping outside the gym and away from traditional workouts.

“Can you put on a set of headphones and listen to a podcast, music, or audiobook while you walk? Do you enjoy riding bicycles? Forget the stationary bike. Go enjoy nature,” Miklaus says. If you create a routine around doing what you like, you’re more likely to stick to it. “Over time, you’ll begin to add on. But the piece of advice I would give to most beginners is to start out slowly and with an emphasis on consistency,” he says.

When setting goals, prioritize process-based goals over outcome-based goals. For example, rather than focusing solely on a specific result, like losing 10 pounds or running a seven-minute mile, create goals around the long-term habits and behaviors you wish to establish, like accumulating 15 minutes of intentional movement a day or strength training two times a week.

“Goals are great. Goals can help you get started. We can have milestones that we want to reach. But, in time, your ultimate goal should be training for life. Training as a lifestyle and exercising as a product of a healthy, holistic, overall approach to living your best life, as opposed to some number on a scale or body fat percentage,” Miklaus says.

2. “Which shoes are the best?”

People meet Marcel Dinkins, CSCS, Peloton Tread instructor and former Division 1 athlete, and want to know which shoes she’s lacing up before a run. “I think this really shows just how much we are over-emphasizing gear,” she says.

Yes, supportive, activity-appropriate footwear is important, but sporting the same shoes as your favorite athlete or influencer won’t guarantee similar results.

“I think a lot of people new to the space may not realize that the people they are looking to for product recommendations, like trainers and athletes, may have direct sponsorships with those brands, meaning they may not necessarily be their go-to choice but instead a paid endorsement,” she adds. Ads and product placements are designed to get you to buy shoes and other goods, regardless of their quality or value.

If you’re just beginning your fitness journey, resist the temptation to spend your entire paycheck on new gear. Chances are, you can use what you already have to get started. (Those old sweats and free promotional T-shirt from the back of your dresser will work just fine.)

And if you do decide to invest in a new pair of kicks, seek out expert, unbiased advice. “It’s important to focus on what works best for your body rather than relying solely on popular recommendations or endorsements,” Dinkins says. “Visit a running store to get fitted specifically for your body and goals, ensuring the shoes you choose are the right fit for you.”

3. “How can I lose belly fat?”

While this is another common fitness question, research (like this 2022 review in Human Movement) shows that spot reduction, or targeting one area of the body for fat loss, is impossible.

No specific exercise (or gadget, tea, or garment, for that matter) will shift the focus of your weight-loss efforts to the belly, hips, thighs, or arms. Where you gain and lose fat is largely determined by your genetics and biological sex, per a 2019 study in Nature Communications. So, the best you can do is aim for overall fat loss.

Most people are surprised to hear that exercise alone won’t drive sustainable weight loss, says Mathew Forzaglia, CPT, founder of Forzag Fitness. “People will try and outwork a bad diet. And, in the beginning, they will see noticeable results because they are challenging their body with a stimulus it isn’t used to, so it’s forced to adapt,” he says. But unless you address unhealthy eating habits, your progress will plateau.

“Eating a cleaner diet and being in a calorie deficit [using more calories than you consume] is the best and most successful way to burn fat and lose weight,” Forzaglia says, emphasizing that you don’t need to go hungry. Filling your plate with whole foods—grains, vegetables, fruits, lean sources of protein—and cutting just 100 to 200 calories a day may be enough to tip the scale in your favor.

Resist the temptation to judge your progress according to someone else’s timeline—it’s not a fair comparison.

4. “Do I need to strength train if I just want to lose weight?”

Mary Beth Rockwell, CPT, founding trainer of The Next Fitness Thing app, gets this question a lot, especially from women. There’s a commonly held belief that clocking hours of cardio is the best and only way to lose weight, if that’s your goal. Rockwell reminds her clients that weight loss is one of the many benefits of resistance training.

“I stress how important building muscle is to speed one’s metabolism, so progress comes more quickly than with cardio alone,” she says. Essentially, when you add muscle mass, your body burns more calories at rest. Plus, an efficient strength workout burns a significant amount of calories; the rate of energy expenditure during a typical resistance workout is comparable to that of a moderately intense ride on a stationary bike.

Strength training can also bolster bone density (even in younger people), ward off age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss starting in your 30s), improve posture, and help you maintain your functional fitness. (Even if you don’t care about muscle definition, you still need to be able to carry your groceries.)

Your goals will dictate exactly how much strength training you should do, but most people will benefit from two full-body sessions per week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

5. “Is it too late for me to start strength training?”

Whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond, it’s never too late to start strength training, says Jen Kates, CPT, founder of Shift Human Performance. “There is a myth that is circulating that says that you cannot build muscle if you’re over 40 years old, and I’m here to tell you that this is just that: a myth. It’s simply not true if you are strength training and eating ample protein and food to support muscle building,” she says.

That said, your body and how it adapts to a training program will not be the same in your 50s as in your 20s. As noted above, we do need to contend with sarcopenia as we age, and our anabolic (muscle-building) response to resistance training gradually declines with time, per a 2020 review in Frontiers in Physiology.

However, these are reasons to do more strength training in our later years, not less. Lifting can help older adults preserve the muscle mass they have and potentially improve their strength, body composition, and mobility.

In a 2023 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, a group of older adults in their 60s, 70s, and 80s underwent 12 weeks of supervised, full-body resistance training. Researchers assessed participants’ strength, functional capacity, and muscle mass before and after the program. They found that all participants—even the octogenarians—improved in all categories.

Bottom line: It’s never too late.

6. “What should I do when I’m not in the gym?”

Regardless of a client’s goal, Chicago-based personal trainer Wesley Showalter, CSCS, emphasizes the “non-workout” aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “People need to be good about their sleep, their water, and their walking,” he says. It’s not uncommon, he says, for regular gym-goers to never miss an hour-long training session or group fitness class but then sit in front of a screen for the rest of the day.

These “active couch potatoes” have worse cardiometabolic health markers (e.g., blood lipid, glucose, and insulin levels, as well as body fat composition) than people who accumulate more daily activity at a lower intensity, according to a 2022 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. In other words, the folks who spend most of the day on their feet walking around may be in better health than those who take a 45-minute HIIT class and do nothing else.

As a baseline, Showalter recommends accumulating 10,000 steps a day, regardless of whether it’s a training day or a rest day. As for sleep and hydration, he advises his clients to get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night and to drink about half of their body weight in fluid ounces. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, aim for 80 ounces of water per day.

7. “How much cardio do I need to do?”

Your cardio needs depend on your current fitness level and ultimate goals. The person exercising for general health and longevity will train differently than the veteran marathoner who wants to PR their next race.

For the average person with no specific performance-related goals, Showalter typically recommends around 90 minutes of steady-state or “zone 2” exercise per week. “You want to be uncomfortable. You could talk, but you’d have labored breathing. But you’re not at your max effort,” he says, describing the level of exertion. He notes that these 90 minutes should be in addition to your daily baseline activity.

8. “Why is it taking so long to see results?”

Our culture values instant gratification in all areas of life, including fitness. “I am constantly reminding my community that results take time. You need to be consistent and show up daily, weekly, and monthly to see and feel results,” says Daniel McKenna, CPT, former Peloton instructor and founder of The Irish Yank Society.

Everyone brings a unique set of variables—genetics, skill level, experience, lifestyle, stress levels, diet, sleep, age, and biological sex—to the table, so individual outcomes will vary. Resist the temptation to judge your progress according to someone else’s timeline—it’s not a fair comparison.

That said, if you haven’t noticed any changes (including your mood, energy levels, and how you feel during workouts), you may benefit from a few sessions with a personal trainer or a nutritionist. They can help you optimize your diet and training based on your goals and unique circumstances.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Ramirez-Campillo, Rodrigo & Andrade, David & Clemente, Filipe & Afonso, José & Pérez Castilla, Alejandro & Gentil, Paulo. (2022). A proposed model to test the hypothesis of exercise-induced localized fat reduction (spot reduction), including a systematic review with meta-analysis. Human Movement. 23. 1-14. 10.5114/hm.2022.110373.

  2. Rask-Andersen, M., Karlsson, T., Ek, W.E. et al. Genome-wide association study of body fat distribution identifies adiposity loci and sex-specific genetic effects. Nat Commun 10, 339 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-08000-4

  3. Endo Y, Nourmahnad A, Sinha I. Optimizing Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Resistance Training in Aging. Front Physiol. 2020 Jul 23;11:874. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00874. PMID: 32792984; PMCID: PMC7390896.

  4. Marzuca-Nassr GN, Alegría-Molina A, SanMartín-Calísto Y, et al. Muscle Mass and Strength Gains Following Resistance Exercise Training in Older Adults 65–75 Years and Older Adults Above 85 Years. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2024;34(1):11-19. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2023-0087

  5. FARRAHI, VAHID1,2; ROSTAMI, MEHRDAD2; DUMUID, DOT3; CHASTIN, SEBASTIEN F. M.4,5; NIEMELÄ, MAISA1,6,7; KORPELAINEN, RAIJA6,7,8; JÄMSÄ, TIMO1,6; OUSSALAH, MOURAD1,2. Joint Profiles of Sedentary Time and Physical Activity in Adults and Their Associations with Cardiometabolic Health. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 54(12):p 2118-2128, December 2022. | DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000003008

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