How to Start a Workout Routine If You're Overweight

Starting a new workout routine is hard for everyone, but it can be especially hard if you are overweight or obese. The best types of exercise for obese people aren't always available at your local gym or fitness studio, and putting together a program on your own can be both uncomfortable and confusing.

But no matter your weight, exercise is important. Workouts can help you lose weight, change the way you feel about yourself, boost your mood, and improve your health.

So how do you get started? Use this guide to choose a workout that you might enjoy. Then check your local community center, hospital, health club, or neighborhood center to find an exercise program to suit your needs.


Watch Now: 5 Low-Impact Workouts That Are Great If You're Overweight

Exercise Benefits

Trendy workouts and fitness programs are not only for people who are obsessed with fitting into a tiny dress size or skinny jeans. But exercise is healthy for everyone of every size and it can offer special benefits for those who are overweight or obese. If you are not sure which category you fall into, you can use a BMI calculator to find out.

Carrying excess weight puts you at higher risk for certain diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and depression. A program of moderate exercise can help you to reduce your risk of disease. Weight loss, which may happen as a result of exercise, can also help to reduce your risk for disease.

But more importantly, exercise can improve the way your body functions throughout the day. If your body feels better as you move through daily activities, your mood and your confidence level are likely to get a boost as well.

Before You Start Exercising

Before you start any exercise program, make sure that you are healthy enough for physical activity. Visit your health care provider and ask about limitations or modifications that may apply to you. If you are on any medication (especially for high blood pressure), ask your doctor if you need to follow any special procedures to monitor exercise intensity.

You should also get properly equipped so that your exercise sessions are comfortable. There are companies that make size-inclusive workout apparel. You can either shop online or find a retailer in your area that carries plus size activewear.

Lastly, you should also make sure that you have proper workout gear and footwear. Visit a locally owned shoe store where a walking or shoe expert will recommend several brands and let you take a few out for a test drive. Most experts recommend shoes with extra support and cushioning for exercisers who are heavier.

Overweight couple on exercise bikes talking with personal trainer
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Workouts for People With Obesity

These programs are particularly well suited for larger people who exercise. See what interests you and then use the tips to get started.


This seems like an obvious choice, but there is a reason that walking tops the list of the best exercise for almost everyone. Walking requires very little equipment and it can be done almost everywhere. Walking is low impact, improves strength and mobility in the lower body, and can be easy, moderate, or vigorous depending on your specific plan.

Keep in mind, however, that walking isn't for everyone. If you experience knee, back, or hip pain, talk to your healthcare provider. You may be able to work with a physical therapist or exercise professional to address the issue or come up with a better routine for fitness.

How to Get Started

If you are absolutely new to exercise, start by walking for just 10 or 15 minutes each day. Gradually add time so that you work towards one full 30-minute session.

Don't worry about speed or pace in the beginning. Make consistency your goal. As your fitness level increases, see if you can begin to increase the speed and intensity of your workout.

Researchers have found that a moderate intensity can be achieved by reaching 100 steps per minute pace, or 3,000 steps in 30 minutes. You may choose to invest in an activity tracker, but an inexpensive pedometer (or the smart phone you already have) will count steps for you too.

Aqua Jogging

Water activities are particularly well suited for people who have painful joints or difficulty moving, but lap swimming is too intense for many people and water aerobics classes are not always available. A good alternative is aqua jogging.

Aqua jogging is simply running in the water with the help of a buoyancy belt. You get all of the benefits of running or walking without the impact. You may be able to find a buoyancy belt at the pool where you swim or you can buy one online, then head to the deep end of the pool and begin jogging.

How to Get Started

Your feet shouldn't touch the bottom of the pool when you aqua jog. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you move forward in your lap lane only by moving your legs against the water.

It takes more effort than you might imagine, so start slowly and increase the duration of your workout as you begin to feel fitter. If you are uncomfortable in the deep end, begin in the shallow area and gradually move into deeper water as your comfort level increases.

Group Exercise Classes

One of the best ways to stick to an exercise program is to develop a social support system. Group exercise classes are a perfect place to find friends, but you'll want to be sure you find a class that meets your needs.

Before you invest any money, preview the class by watching it first. Remember that it may take an overweight exerciser more time to move through certain movements, so watch to see if the pace of the class is too fast. Also, watch how the instructor cues the choreography. A good teacher will give plenty of advance warning for movement or direction changes.

How to Get Started

Greet the instructor on your first visit. Introduce yourself and explain that you are starting a new workout program. By connecting with them, you send a message that you are open to feedback and encouragement. The instructor should provide extra guidance and modifications to make sure you are comfortable during class.

If you don't feel like you are ready for a group class, consider investing in a DVD or online streaming service so that you can exercise at home. Programs like HeavyWeight Yoga with Abby Lentz or Yoga for Round Bodies are designed specifically for larger bodies or for people with movement limitations. Many streaming workouts also have supportive online communities.

Strength Training

There are many good reasons to start a strength training program. But for an overweight exerciser, there are special benefits.

Strength training can correct postural issues that may arise from carrying extra weight. Strength training can also increase the range of motion in all of your joints. Finally, when you build muscle, you boost your metabolism when your body is at rest.

You can start lifting weights at home, but this is one instance where joining a gym or hiring a trainer may be especially helpful. You can use a single session with a personal trainer (either at home, at a health club, or even online with a video chat) to learn simple exercises and technique cues that will help keep your form in good shape.

How to Get Started

If you join a gym, you might find that some strength training machines are not made to accommodate a larger body. Weight benches are often too narrow to accommodate a larger body and getting up and down off the floor for mat exercises can be difficult. Even if you don't hire a trainer, the gym staff should be able to show you how to adjust equipment or use alternate exercises.

Start slowly and don't do too much too soon. Consistency is the most important element of your new workout program. You don't want to overdo it on your first day and then have to take a week off to recover.

Cardio Machines

Some cardio machines can be a good option for people with obesity. For instance, a recumbent bike, a cross trainer, or portable cycler can usually comfortably accommodate a larger body.

Biking is a great way to burn calories with less impact on your joints. A recumbent bike is a smart choice if you have back pain, joint problems, or simply need more support.

There are also recumbent cross trainers on the market, which offer more variety if you get bored pedaling. The machine is similar to a stepper and lets you work both the upper and lower body with less stress to your joints.

If you don't have the room or the budget for a bike or a cross trainer, consider a DeskCycle or similar set of portable pedals. These small lightweight devices let you pedal while seated at your desk or in a comfortable chair.

How to Get Started

Start slowly and make consistency your goal. Try to pedal for five minutes, then rest. Pedal again for five minutes, then rest again. Gradually increase the duration of your pedaling interval and decrease the rest interval. Get off the bike as needed to stretch your joints and relax out of the saddle.

Mind-Body Exercise

Mind-body exercise has become more accessible to the general public. Yoga, moving meditation, and Qigong classes are easier to find, but sometimes they are difficult for overweight exercisers. Many balance-oriented yoga postures, for example, are difficult for people who are obese because they have a different center of gravity.

Tai Chi uses a series of flowing movements to increase the range of motion in the joints and to incorporate some (usually standing) balance postures. Tai Chi also incorporates meditational elements that help to decrease stress and improve your sleep.

How to Get Started

As with any group exercise class, you should preview the program before you invest money. Ask the instructor if previous experience is necessary and what accommodations can be made for a new exerciser.

Also, ask about the location. Some Tai Chi classes take place in outdoor parks or nature preserves. You'll want to be sure you are comfortable exercising in a public setting before you invest.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that the type of exercise you choose is less important than the fact that you are doing it. Don't be afraid to try everything on this list to find an activity that you enjoy. And give yourself credit for sticking to your plan! Keep a journal to track your progress, and check in with your physician if you are having difficulty maintaining the activity or if other symptoms arise.

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  1. Moazzami K, Lima BB, Sullivan S, Shah A, Bremner JD, Vaccarino V. Independent and joint association of obesity and metabolic syndrome with depression and inflammation. Health Psychol. 2019;38(7):586-595. doi:10.1037/hea0000764

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