How to Start a Workout Routine If You're Overweight

Starting a new workout routine is a challenge for everyone. While there is still a long way to go, the media's portrayal of people of all body types exercising is getting better all the time. No matter your weight, exercise is important. Workouts can help you 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 or health club to find an exercise program to suit your needs.


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

Exercise Benefits

Physical activity is generally a positive choice for everyone, and it can offer specific benefits for those who are considered overweight.

Carrying excess weight sometimes 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 potential 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. For these reasons, a lot of people who exercise consistently learn to love exercise.

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.

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.

Overweight couple on exercise bikes talking with personal trainer
vm / Getty Images


The following programs are particularly well suited for people who are considered overweight. 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 a 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.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best fitness trackers. If you're in the market for an activity tracker, explore which option may be best for you.

Aqua Jogging

Water activities are particularly well suited for people who have painful joints or difficulty moving, but lap swimming can be intense 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. Observe whether the pace of the class seems right for you, and if it is customizable. 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 The Underbelly encourage yogis new and experienced to come as they are, encouraging exercisers to take up space, and providing tips for modifications as needed. Many streaming workouts also have supportive online communities.

Strength Training

There are many good reasons to start a strength training program. Strength training can increase the range of motion in all of your joints. 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.

While working with a personal trainer is an excellent option for advancing your strength training confidence and skills, it can often be an expensive resource. There are more financially accessible resources, like YouTube videos or community center classes, that can also help you build a foundation of strength training knowledge.

How to Get Started

If you join a gym, ask the staff to show you how to adjust weight equipment, cardio machines, and any other equipment you are interested in using. Sometimes gyms offer a free personal training session for new members, which can help you learn the ins and outs of the machines are your particular gym.

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 a new exercise routine. 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 on your joints.

If you don't have the space or the budget for a bike or a cross trainer, consider a DeskCycle or a 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 all excellent mind-body exercises that any exerciser can usually find access to.

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. This can add the extra benefit of experiencing nature while you exercise.

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 a healthcare professional if you are having difficulty maintaining the activity or if other symptoms arise.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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

Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.