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Obesity and Exercise

What To Do When You Can't Do Traditional Exercises


Updated May 16, 2014

Obesity and Exercise
Garry Wade Collection/Taxi/Getty Images

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:

  • Weight benches are too narrow and/or too tall for larger bodies. Many seats on strength machines are too small for larger behinds.

  • Getting up and down from the floor is a workout all on its own, and many supine exercises cause problems breathing.

  • Many clients carry weight around their bellies, which makes some exercises impossible.

  • Traditional leg exercises, such as squats and lunges, are difficult for people with knee problems. Balance is sometimes an issue as well.

If I were 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.

Next Page: Exercise Ideas for Obese People

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