Obesity and Exercise - Challenges and Training Ideas

What To Do When You Can't Do Traditional Exercises

Obesity and Exercise
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We hear a lot about obesity these days, and the usual solutions range from gastric bypass surgery to the inevitable plea for diet and exercise. But with all this attention, there's one aspect of obesity no one's really talking about.

I discovered this missing link when I started working with two clients, sisters and nurses, both of them morbidly obese with a BMI well over (Overweight and Obesity Classification Chart).

The problem? They couldn't do the same kinds of exercises as other clients because of their size. The machines were too small and some exercises were just downright impossible. Together, we came up with some solutions to these problems, and if you're in the same boat, you can too.

The Challenges of Being Obese

Besides the obvious challenges of being overweight or obese in our world, when it comes to exercise, plus-sized people have even more obstacles getting in their way. My clients have shared some of their experiences with exercise, such as:

Intimidation at the gym. Gyms can be scary even for the most experienced exerciser. Walking into a room full of sweaty exercisers, all of whom seem to know what they're doing, is hard for many of us. My obese clients have mentioned how much more humiliating it is when you're very overweight.

Confusion about cardio. Cardio exercise can be a challenge at a gym.

Some of the problems these clients have faced include:

  • Some machines are difficult to use or can cause knee or back problems.
  • Swimming is a recommended exercise for obese people, and while this is wonderful if you have a pool in your backyard, what if you don't? Walking around in a bathing suit causes instant panic for plenty of people, but even more so, if you're overweight or obese.
  • Recumbent bikes are another good option for obese people. The problem is, many aren't built with big enough seats, and climbing onto them can be a real challenge.
  • Walking. This is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere, right? For people with joint or knee problems, walking isn't always comfortable, and some of my clients have even experienced name-calling and other rude behavior when they've gone out for a walk.

Strength-training issues. These are just a few of the problems my clients have encountered when they've tried strength training at the gym:

    If I were the queen of the world, I would wave my magic wand and eliminate this obesity problem altogether. Until my magic wand gets here, I've put together some ideas for people who need to be more creative when it comes to exercise.

    Private Personal Training

    Personal training is an excellent option for anyone, but especially for someone who's obese and looking to lose weight and get healthy. However, because of the gym intimidation factor, there are plenty of obese people who miss out on the opportunity to work one-on-one with an expert. One option, if you want to avoid the masses, is to work privately with a personal trainer. You can opt for hiring a trainer to come to your home or work with a trainer at a personal training studio. Some of the advantages of working out at a studio include:

    • The ability to negotiate sessions and pricing. Many chain gyms have a set price and set packages for personal training. If you go through a studio, you may have more room to negotiate pricing and even the length and frequency of your sessions.
    • Privacy. Most studios are small and often exist only to provide personal training (though some may also offer group fitness classes as well). At some, you can even request that they schedule you at a time when no other trainers or clients are there.
    • Experienced and educated trainers. Nothing against trainers at health clubs, but having worked at one, you're more likely to find more experienced trainers at a studio.

    One note -- not all personal training studios are alike, so do your research. Visit different places before you make a decision, and check the trainer's credentials and experience.

    Online Personal Training

    If you'd like to work with a personal trainer but don't have the funds or time, consider online personal training. Some sites provide you with your own personal trainer to help set up a workout. If you're a beginner, keep in mind that you won't have someone there monitoring you and watching your form. If that may be a problem for you, start with a live personal trainer and move on to online training when you're more comfortable with exercise.

    Right now, there's not a lot of equipment out there specifically for obese and/or overweight people. While I believe that will change as the demand grows, there are some options for people who prefer to exercise at home. Below are some great products I often use with many of my overweight and obese clients:

    Recumbent Bikes and Cross-Trainers

    Recumbent bikes are great for people who need support while they exercise.

    One product on the market is the Recumbent Cross Trainer, which offers an alternative to endless pedaling. This machine is more like a stepper than a bike and it allows you to work your upper body and lower body at the same time without stressing your joints. It accommodates a variety of body types and sizes, but it's also a bit pricey, so that's something to consider if you're on a budget.

    You can also look into regular recumbent bikes by checking out some reviews of the most popular brands. There are companies that make larger bikes for overweight or obese people.

    Exercise Ball

    Many people think they may be too big for an exercise ball, but if you're overweight, you can still safely use an exercise ball for exercise. Just double check the specifications of the ball you buy to check the weight limits and make sure it's an anti-burst ball (compare prices). An exercise ball can help you work on balance, stability, and core strength.

    Some of the basic exercises you can try include sitting on the ball (try watching TV for a while and you'll feel your body working a little harder than usual), marching, or balancing by lifting one foot off the floor, holding, and then lifting the other foot. Try this Beginner Ball Workout for more ideas.

    Portable Pedlar (Compare Prices)

    I use a pedal exerciser much like this with one of my clients, and she gets a great cardio workout without having to try to maneuver herself onto the recumbent bike. They do have some fancier models out there, but this one works just as well and you can adjust the tension to make it easier or harder to pedal. With my client, I simply have her pedal for as long as she can, rest, and then repeat 5 or more times. We keep track of her revolutions each week to track her improvement. (For the record, she started out with about 150 revolutions and she's now at well over 500.) You can pedal with your hands if you're not able to use your feet, which is another way to get your heart rate up and work on your cardio endurance.


    If walking is your exercise of choice, a pedometer can be very motivating. One of my clients spends much of her daylight hours sitting in front of a computer at work. Though she did great in her personal training sessions, it was hard to get her to be more active in her daily life.

    We finally got her a pedometer and a journal and gave her a goal of getting in at least 50 steps every hour. She set an alarm to go off every hour, slapped on her pedometer and took a walk around the building. It was hit-or-miss at first, but now she walks well over 100 steps an hour and she's more productive now that she gives herself a break. She's lost 50 pounds with diet and exercise, and having that pedometer was just one part of her success.

    Exercise Videos and Information

    For more videos, visit Collage Video for an excellent selection of home exercise videos. You can also check out this Seated Full-Body Workout, a complete total body workout using resistance bands, dumbbells and a medicine ball that can be done from a seated position.

    If you're obese or overweight, you sometimes have to be creative when it comes to exercise. There are many people talking about exercise and urging you to do it, but they aren't telling you exactly what to do if you can't do traditional exercises. The key is to find something that is comfortable for you, something you enjoy and something you'll continue to do over time. Remember to get checked out by your doctor before you begin exercising, especially if you have any health conditions or are on any type of medication.



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