As we went over in our previous article, losing 30 pounds in 30 days is not for everybody. In fact, it’s for very few people. You need to meet a few specific conditions for it to be relevant for you. You need to:

  • Be obese, specifically somewhere above a BMI of 40 with little lean muscle mass;
  • Be under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner;
  • Be in a situation in which you can maintain both a daily deficit of 3,500 calories and a daily intake of around 800-1,200 calories;
  • Be in a situation in which it is more dangerous to remain at your current weight than to embark on such a strict regime.

If this is you, then it may well be worth looking at trying to put the regime we listed in place. In our previous article, however, we went over how to achieve these goals without exercise- merely implementing a daily caloric deficit whilst moving no more than is required for day to day living. In this article I will run through how you can add to your gains by bringing in an exercise regime, as well as showing you the kinds of exercise that are appropriate and safe if you are obese and just starting out.

Please note that the following advice applies just as much to those who are obese but following a much more modest, reasonable nutrition plan. Whatever your dietary intake, the following should be beneficial for you.

As ever, it’s always best to consult with a qualified medical practitioner both before and during any exercise plan, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Training whilst obese

It’s rarely easy to embark on a new workout routine or training plan. The intimidation of beginning something new, the embarrassment of doing so in a potentially public place, and the inevitable soreness and fatigue combine with other factors to make it quite a daunting prospect. This is often especially so if you are either overweight or obese, or relatively untrained.

The confusion of what you should be doing is uncomfortable and can absolutely put you off before you’ve even begun. What you should be doing if you’re obese or overweight is not necessarily what others should be doing, and your local leisure centre may not be kitted out for it- nor may their staff be particularly knowledgeable about your specific requirements.

Don’t worry: you’re not alone, and I’ll cover everything you need to know in the following article.

If you’re on the larger side, exercise is tremendously important. It will help you lose weight, which is fundamental to what we’re talking about here, but it will also grant you some other health benefits. It will release endorphins and hormones that will elevate your mood and energise you; it will boost your confidence as you realise what you are capable of achieving; and it will increase your blood flow, bringing with it a host of other perks.

But where do you begin?

Choose the type of training you want to begin- this list should provide you with everything you need to know to do this- then simply sign up to whatever club or gym you need (or find an appropriate park or outside space) and get started.

Starting a Training Program When You’re Obese

Number one: safety is key. This needs to be the alpha and omega, beginning and end, to your exercise mantra.

Before you start any kind of exercise program, consult a qualified healthcare practitioner. Check that you are healthy enough to do what you are planning to do and have them run any tests they feel are pertinent. Tell them what medications you’re on, if any, and what your nutrition plan is. Get their professional opinion as to what you are capable of doing and take their advice to heart.

Next up, make sure you are well kitted out. Appropriate sportswear will make or break a training routine, and this is all the more true for obese people. Get comfortable, well supported footwear alongside whatever joint straps or insoles you feel you need. Visit a local shoe shop and try before you buy- any reputable sports or running shop will be able to advise you on the best kit for your budget.

Then you will want to get loose fitting, comfortable clothing. I would generally choose cheaper options if they are comfortable- hopefully you won’t be using the clothes for too long before you buy new, smaller wardrobes, so there’s no point breaking the bank.

Finally, choose your poison: what form of exercise most appeals to you? Read on for my list of recommended training.

Exercise for obese people

You do not need to do much. The chances are that if you’re obese, you are relatively untrained. Therefore, anything you do from this point onwards is more than you were doing before and will bring adaptation.

Nor should you do much. You are carrying a lot of excess weight. Were I to put on a vest loaded with an extra couple of hundred pounds, there is no way I would be able to complete my usual training program- least of all doing so safely. This is to your advantage here. Walking the block will be hard work, and hard work equals gains.

Your joints are precarious at higher weights, so keep it gentle. Any false move or slip can be dangerous, so move safely and smoothly, go slow and steady, and try to enjoy yourself whilst going just a little harder each time.

These are my favourite types of exercise for obese people.

1) Walking

This is my favourite exercise for people carrying extra weight. It may seem a little obvious- and a little simple- but there’s nothing at all wrong with that. It doesn’t need much more equipment than a decent pair of walking shoes and you can do it anywhere you like. It’s low impact so that your joints won’t be at risk, it improves blood flow and joint mobility, and you can tailor how vigorous it is depending on your own needs and how you feel day to day.

It’s also noted for the improvement it can bring to your mood. Rather than heading to the gym, go for a nice walk in the park- who wouldn’t be cheered up by this?

There are some people who may find walking inappropriate, however, and you need to keep this in mind. If you have any history of joint pain- knee, back or hip especially- then talk to your doctor or physiotherapist. It may be that they can help you to work out a decent walking plan, or it may be that you may need to shelve the idea and try something else until you’ve lost a few pounds. Do whatever feels right for you, and whatever your healthcare provider and you come up with together.

If you want to go with walking, start out small. Try to find an easy route that will take you ten to fifteen minutes or so. Gradually add to this until you’re at around half an hour. Then, try varying either distance or speed, depending on what feels best for you and what kind of time you have.

A cheap pedometer will start to come in handy. Track how many steps you do in a day and try to add to this. Try walking to work, or at least parking farther away or getting public transport for only a part of the route. Try walking to the shops, taking the stairs rather than the lift, getting up and walking around the room every fifteen minutes throughout the day. You’ll soon be surprised by how much you can get yourself moving when you give it some thought.

2) Aqua workouts or swimming

If what I said before about sore joints rang true for you, aqua training might be a better option. Water activities are well suited for those with joint soreness, injuries, or mobility issues. They support you whilst giving you resistance, and they are generally full body and so both build muscle and burn an awful lot of calories.

Try swimming, if it’s available to you. It’s not by chance that swimmers are some of the fittest, strongest and most aesthetically enviable athletes out there. Their sport works wonders.

However, if you’re new to training and you fall into the BMI 40+ that I’m addressing here, swimming lengths in your local pool might be too intense- at least to begin with. Aqua jogging or aqua aerobics are good alternatives, and you can control the level of intensity quite well. You will get the benefits of jogging or taking part in an aerobics class, but avoid the impact and precarious force placed onto your joints by such activities.

Most leisure centres will offer these classes, and most will have buoyancy aids available to borrow or buy.

3) Gym based steady state cardio

Let me unpack that for you a little. Gym based is obvious: do this at the gym on one of their machines – cross trainer, bike or recumbent cycle are best. Cardio is cardiovascular training, in which you work your heart and lungs. Steady state means that you pick one speed and intensity and stick to it for the duration of your workout (20-30 minutes should suffice).

Of course, you don’t have to do this at the gym. We have listed various at home solutions for cardio machines, showing you inexpensive and easily stored varieties of various machines. If you have a bit of free space at home, this is always a good option.

Basically, choose the cardio machine that works best for you, and treat using it the same as I told you to treat cycling. Get on it for ten minutes the first time and keep your pace low and manageable. Then add a few more minutes every week as you adapt, or try to move a little faster or at a higher resistance. You will find your heart rate rising (though not too much- once more, consult you doctor about your cardiovascular health before doing this) and your muscles will be tired out but will strengthen over time.

Importantly, sticking to cycles or cross trainers will keep your joints nice and safe as you train.

4) Strength and resistance training

We’re straying out of safe territory now, with exercise types that will prove a little more risky for larger people. I would suggest trying any of numbers 1-3 on this list until you’ve made substantial progress, before exploring this and my next listing.

This being said, there are plentiful good reasons to embark on a strength and resistance routine, especially for a larger athlete.

Carrying excess weight puts your centre of gravity too far forwards. If you have a large stomach, where your centre of gravity should align with your spine, now it will align with a midpoint between your spine and the bulk of your belly, causing postural problems. Furthermore, a lack of musculature combined with increased load can also give you postural issues. People who are or have been obese are notorious for exhibiting these types of problems. Strength training can help to fix these and should definitely feature at some point in your fitness journey.

Building muscle will also increase your metabolic rate, as muscle is more calorically demanding than other types of body tissue.

Strength training doesn’t just target your muscles. It can increase the range of motion of problem joints, can aid in bone density (which often suffers from rapid weight loss, with osteoporosis being a common side effect) and will help to strengthen soft tissue that may have been long neglected.

You can of course buy some free weights and lift at home. However, I would always recommend going to a gym where they have a fuller range of equipment and getting proper instruction, either from a personal trainer or, at the very least, a group fitness instructor. Your body will be more vulnerable than most to missteps under load so it’s vital that you train with proper learned technique.

5) Exercise classes

Fitness classes can be very positive spaces, filled with people who are all on the same path as you, who know the struggles you’re facing. Such a strong network of people can be an absolute life saver.

However, here we are also straying away from safety and comfort, as quite often such classes will involve a lot of highly unsuitable explosive movements that can injure someone carrying an obese person’s extra weight. They are also untailored, meaning that most classes will not meet your own personal needs and may be inappropriate. Before getting involved in one, it’s worth introducing yourself to the instructor, letting them know about your history and requirements, and asking to observe a class before joining in. This way, you should be able to work out if what’s involved is good for you.

The instructor should then be able to cue you for anything you should skip, or even better will be able to give you variations more appropriate for you.

For most obese people starting out, these classes can be a little overkill. Walk before you can fly and make use of some of the above methods to get a thorough grounding in movement and fitness before you go for anything more drastic. However, the further you get into your fitness journey, the more appropriate these classes become. And trust me, when you’re ready for them, they can be great fun.

Working out your caloric intake and deficit

If you’re trying to stick to a caloric intake of 800 or so, that’s fine- as long as you follow the advice laid out in our previous article. If you’re doing so with some mild exercise, however, you will not need such a drastic cut.

Doing 30 minutes or so of exercise per day will allow you to go up to more like 1,000-1,200 calories per day, depending on your basal metabolic rate (see previous article.) So, put your time into exercise and enjoy a little more food. In this way, you can make the goals you have set yourself whilst getting fitter and getting more nutrients into your diet.

A Few Final Words of Advice

The type of exercise you do is not very important- it’s far less important than the mere fact that you are doing any exercise at all. Find something that’s safe and that you enjoy and go with it for as long as it yields results, whatever it may be. Give everything on this list a go, or stick to your comfort zone- it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re getting what you need and losing the weight you want to.

It’s worth noting that if you’re on a severely restricted caloric intake, exercise may not be too doable. Remember to add an extra few hundred calories into your daily intake if you are doing exercise to account for the energy burned.

Always remember to keep in frequent consultation with your physician throughout any dietary or fitness changes.