There are many reasons why many of us do not go to the gym. We all have psychological barriers preventing us from making that trek and committing to living a healthy lifestyle. For those people who are overweight or obese, this motivation to get active is even less pressing.
Among the psychological reasons holding very overweight people back from hitting the gym and getting healthy are intimidation, discomfort, pain, confusion, and the daunting nature of the task at hand. It is intimidating for many of us to hit to gym, knowing that we are not the picture of allure in skimpy workout clothes. Compound the confusion of trying to figure your way around the gym and by having to deal with equipment that clearly isn’t built for your body type in mind, and see how long you last.
If one can find a way around those obstacles, then try to push through joint discomfort, chafing pain, and worry about the health risks of pushing oneself too far, then maybe they could focus on the health benefits of going. The first thing to realize if you consider physical activity impossible due to your size, is that you don’t need to go to the gym to begin an active lifestyle.
You don’t need to consider suiting up in clothes that don’t fit to try and negotiate machines that don’t work for you, that exacerbate your knee or back pain; you don’t need to squeeze into a bathing suit and head to the local pool for aqua-size because that has been recommended to relieve strain on your joints; and you don’t need to push yourself in an aerobics class that is not taking your challenges into consideration.
If you are at the very beginning stages of starting an active lifestyle and building on that, the first thing you should do is visit your doctor. Have a thorough medical examination and take a stress test to get an idea of your beginning level of fitness. Once you have done that, start with making very basic changes in your lifestyle.
Your goal should be improving your health, balance, and mobility. Focus on that, through small, achievable goals, and instead of worrying about burning weight, you can worry about improving your quality of life, and your self-esteem. From there the weight will take care of itself.
Make sure that you have the gear to get moving. Whenever you are being active, whether it’s a bonafide “workout” or an activity, make sure you are wearing proper footwear. Several shoe companies, such as New Balance, Asics, Saucony and Brooks make shoes that are designed for overweight folks, with added room, support, and shock absorption.
If you plan to sweat and are worried about chafing, the best bet is to wear fitted leggings or shorts made of one of the new synthetic fabrics that draw sweat away from the skin. If fitting clothing makes you feel uncomfortable, wear these garments under your baggier wear. If you have specific spot that continually chafes, apply a bit of petroleum jelly to protect your skin.
Once you have the gear, start small, working activity into your everyday life. If you are obese and even daily activities such as sitting and standing, going up stairs, and getting out of the car are difficult, start with aiming toward making these movements easier by doing reps of the activities. If you have trouble sitting and standing, grab a chair and try to do a few reps everyday. Once this activity becomes easier, intensify the activity: instead of sitting all the way down, squat until you hover an inch or so above the seat, then rise.
Practice getting in and out of your car, using your body to lift you, not the support of the car door frame. Starting at the level of a curb, practice stepping up and off the curb. Once you have that down, progress to stairs. When you are able to make your daily movement easier, this is your first success.
Once you feel you are comfortable upping your activity level, begin to incorporate the three important areas of fitness into your daily lifestyle: cardio, strength training, flexibility. If you are not comfortable going to a gym, there are things you can do in your daily life and at home that can help you get to your next level of success.
The recommended amount of cardio is a minimum of 30 minutes 3-4 times a week. This does not mean high intensity work outs and it does not even mean all at once. If you can step away from your workspace for 10 minutes three times a day and go for a walk or climb some stairs, you are injecting activity into your day.
This will also get your body used to the idea of movement, introducing it a bit at a time, instead of forcing yourself to sweat through a cardio routine that may not exactly have you coming back for more. You can even start with simple ideas like walking in place during commercials, walking while you talk on the phone, or doing yard work.
If walking works for you, consider getting a pedometer and increasing the number of steps you take every week. Keep a diary of your progress, as nothing is more inspiring than your own accomplishments. Recognize that your body is not used to activity and you are going to have to push through muscle ache at the beginning in order to feel progress. This is absolutely normal in anyone who hasn’t exercised in a long time.
Other approaches to cardio include low-impact aerobics (move only as much as you are comfortable, and stop is you feel too dizzy or your joints hurt), which you can get in a class or on a DVD for your home; recumbent bike (the kind with a seat back to support your back and eliminate the ridiculously small seat on upright bikes) or portable bike.
Once you get into a longer cardio routine, remember the importance of warming up, cooling down, and stretching. Warming up gives your body a head’s up that it is about to become active; cooling down slows your heart rate at a safe pace; and stretching promotes flexibility and balance. Stretching is as important a component of health as cardio or strength training.
Finally, when you are delving into strength training, it is helpful to have a professional guide you. Strength training is important to build lean muscle tissue, which is the only way to permanently raise your metabolic rate (the higher the metabolic rate, the more energy you burn, even at rest).
You can start strength training in a seated position, as this will lend support to your back and take pressure off your joints. In this position, it is easy to do upper body work, such as bicep curls, lat pulls, overhead press, and seated rotation for your abs. Using equipment such as dumbbells, bands, and exercise balls can give you variety in your routine.
If you don’t know where to start in weight training, or any of the areas of fitness, consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions (or more, if they give you motivation and you can afford it!). Many of them work out of private studios, where you can have them and the space all to yourself. They can set up a safe, progressive program for you, working with your challenges and providing the opportunity to succeed. It is success, more than anything, that helps us carry on doing tasks we don’t necessarily enjoy, but know are crucial to our well being and longevity.