exercise for overweight beginners

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We all know exercise isn’t easy.

It’s even harder when you’re just getting started.

Add 50, 60, 70…100+ extra pounds to the mix? Exercise for overweight beginners can feel damn near impossible.

And if you do get started, the extra exhaustion you feel or weight loss plateau you hit can become too high of a barrier to overcome. So you stop, and then face the cycle all over again.

I became a weight loss specialist – in addition to being a personal trainer – because I knew weight loss for the very overweight had its unique obstacles.

Weight loss is complicated. It’s tricky. It involves understanding how your unique body works and WHY it’s put on those pounds.

Exercise is a great tool for creating a healthier lifestyle. It can help you burn calories, preserve/build muscle mass, prevent disease, perform daily activities more efficiently, boost confidence, and reduce stress. But only if you’re actually able to get started and keep going.

So here’s what to do.

What to Know About Exercising When Overweight

Real quick, here are some exercise pointers to keep in mind when you’re overweight.

Low Impact Exercise for Overweight Individuals

If you are carrying some extra pounds, one of the easiest ways to get injured is by performing high impact movements. Think: anything with running and jumping.

It doesn’t mean you can’t perform these moves for many months to come, it just means you need to have a solid foundation first. Then you’ll be way less likely to injure yourself and derail your fitness routine.

Stick to cardio exercises like walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, or using a rowing machine. And if you’re concerned about jumping or jogging in place during home workouts, simply switch these movements for lower impact ones. (Burpee without jump, marching in place, etc.)

low impact exercise in pool

Stop If the Exercise is Painful

You may have heard the phrase, “No pain, no gain,” but there are really TWO DIFFERENT types of pain to know about. There’s muscle fatigue, which is what you SHOULD feel when performing movements. But then there’s also very real, not-good-for-you pain.

Pay attention to sharp pains, particularly in joints such as the knee. Also look out for pains that occur just on one side and that linger from workout to workout. Unlike muscle fatigue and soreness, these pains are signals from your body that it’s not tolerating a movement well.

This is especially important when it comes to exercise for overweight beginners; you’re more prone to injury due to the excess weight you’re carrying around. If you’ve also had a sedentary lifestyle up to this point, your body may have muscle imbalances or some weak/tight muscles that need to be addressed.

The key point to take away is that if an exercise hurts – and not in a muscle fatigue “no pain, no gain” sorta way – don’t do that exercise. There are plenty of alternative exercises that can work that same body part.

And if the pain keeps recurring, you may need the help of a personal trainer or physical therapist to figure out what’s going on. They can assess you and figure out what corrective exercises need to be done in order for your body to function its best.

free weight loss checklist

Perform Both Cardio and Resistance Training for Weight Loss

The verdict is in! A combination of both cardio AND resistance training is best when it comes to exercise for overweight beginners. (And well, everyone, for that matter).


Cardio is great for building up cardiovascular fitness. It helps your heart beat more efficiently so you can do more without getting so tired. It also decreases your risk of countless diseases. Oh yeah, and it burns calories too.

Resistance training helps you maintain muscle mass while losing weight. This is great because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn every day. Maintaining muscle also provides better aesthetic results – revealing visibly toned muscles as the fat burns off.

There are SO MANY ways to incorporate a combination of the two into your fitness routine. If you hate classic cardio, try performing circuits that include both cardio and resistance training together.

If You’re Overweight, Exercise Alone Won’t Achieve Weight Loss

Want to lose weight? You also have to make diet adjustments. Exercise provides those additional benefits I mentioned above, but healthy eating changes are how you really lose weight.

RELATED POST: Can You Out-Exercise a Bad Diet?

Alright! Now that you have the basics, let’s cover the step by step guide to starting exercise for overweight beginners.

exercise for overweight beginners

Step 1: Forget All You Know About Exercise

What you’ve done in the past. What the best kinds are. How painful and time consuming it is.

This time will be different.

This time you’ll stick to it and you’ll see results.

Some of the many exercise barriers overweight individuals face include:

  • Past unpleasant experiences
  • Thoughts/feelings of inadequacy
  • Doubt in abilities
  • Poor balance or coordination/poor athleticism when starting out
  • Fear of joint/muscular pain

Whether you’re experiencing one or all of these things, exercise can feel extremely daunting at first.

So forget it!

Wipe the slate clean, and let’s move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Start Exercising Today.

Make a plan for how you can move your body for 20 minutes today. Yes, today. (Exception: you’re reading this right before bedtime or are already in bed – in that case, yes we’ll start tomorrow).

But if you’re even an hour away from bedtime, let’s get moving!

If it’s light out and not too hot/cold: go walking!

If outside exercise isn’t an option: do something that gets you moving inside.

Here are some choices:

  • Put on a YouTube video (search something along the lines of beginner 20 minute cardio)
  • Use a combination of these low-impact moves, rotating through them until 20 minutes is up: marching in place, side to side lunges, squats, mountain climbers, planks, donkey kicks, and arm circles
  • Do this 25 minute full-body beginner home workout – no equipment, no jumping! (includes warm-up and cool-down stretches)

Step 3: Plan Exercise for the Next Week

Once you’ve gotten that first workout in, it’s time to plan out this next week.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

The most important thing I do when scheduling workouts for clients with weight loss goals is make sure it’s not overwhelming. There’s no greater exercise deterrent than dreading your workouts and workout schedule.

20 minutes of exercise, 4 days a week is better than 30 minutes of exercise only 2 days – because you felt overwhelmed after those first two workouts.

Even if you KNOW you can do more, it’s a bigger mental battle to get yourself to work out when you PLAN to do a long workout.

So plan out a bite-sized workout schedule for this first week.

And you’ve already got one day down!

Here’s an example schedule:

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
DONE20 minsOFF20 minsOFF20 minsOFF

Alternate between cardio (like walking) and weight training (full-body resistance training moves) for best results. For example, if you did a full-body workout today, go on a 20 minute walk tomorrow.

Complete this step and BOOM. Now you’ve already got one week of solid exercise under your belt.

Step 4a: Plan Out Exercise for the Rest of the Month

Once you’ve completed a week of exercise, you’ll have a lot more insight into where your body is physically.

Could you have gone longer than 20 minutes? Did you have to stop and take breaks to complete 20 minutes?

Use the “data” you collected on yourself to plan out 3 more weeks of exercise.

You can keep the schedule the same if it worked for you. If you want to add a day, that’s great!

But follow these 2 rules:

  • Don’t back down from the 4 days a week, at least 20 minutes each day
  • Every week, add AT LEAST 5 minutes of exercise compared to the previous week

These 2 rules make it so you’re working out more than half the days during the week (4/7) and mean you’re increasing how much you exercise every week – but in very small increments.

As far as mental motivation goes, these 2 things are HUGE. No matter what, you’ll know you’re working out most of your days. And that you’re continually increasing how much you’re doing.

For more on a long-term workout plan, read this OG post of mine: The Basics of a Healthy Exercise Routine

Step 4b: Address the Barriers Now

What barriers got in the way of exercise during the first week? Lack of daily motivation, a busy schedule, and little exercise enjoyment are some big reasons I see people skip their workouts.

Here are some resources that can help:

Step 5: Build a Support System So You Keep Exercising

Having others to commiserate with makes sticking to a fitness routine so much easier, especially with exercise for overweight beginners and the specific obstacles you’ll face. Whether it’s reading a story about a someone’s major fitness breakthrough or getting support during a weight loss plateau, having a support system is a great motivator.

While I’d love to create a fitness support group on Facebook in the future, follow me on Instagram in the meantime. I’m always sharing tips, tricks, and motivation to keep you on the right track.

how to start exercising when you are overweight