An Overweight Beginner’s Guide to Embarking on a Fitness Voyage

The phrase ‘One size fits all’ may work well in the garment industry with innovative wonder-fabrics being introduced every other day, but is definitely bad news if the same is applied to fitness training. When it comes to the human body, there are just too many variables to be considered such as metabolism, age, body fat ratio, body type, medical conditions, genetic disposition and lifestyle before putting a fitness-newbie on an exercise program. To overlook this assortment and to treat all the fitness neophytes as equals is a recipe for disaster for the trainer and the trainee alike.

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It’s a double whammy if an overweight/obese beginner is signed up on an intense fitness class designed for more physically well-conditioned individuals. This is because these individuals are highly susceptive to injuries owing to their inactive muscles, more pressure on their joints and low activity levels.

And this is only possible if you enjoy your chosen fitness path. People get hooked-on to exercise only if they have fun in whatever they’re doing and they also notice positive headway in their weight-loss journey. The buck stops on acquiring a well-informed fitness trainer.

Getting hold of a discerning trainer who understands the goals of her clients is half the battle won. After having trained a medley of fitness enthusiasts of every shape and size for years, I have come up with a comprehensive ‘To-do list’ for the exercise greenhorns to keep in mind when they embark on their quest for fitness under the guidance of the perfect trainer, be it a personal trainer or a gym trainer.

So, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you go trainer shopping. Dig into these tips to help you formulate the best plan of action:

Initial evaluation is a must: In your first tête-à-tête itself, your trainer must ask you questions that would help her get to know you better and also help her to draw out a realistic exercise plan for you. Her questionnaire should include parameters such as:

  •        Your age (to help her plan age appropriate exercises),

  •        Body-weight exercises like push-ups: Start with the basic knee push-ups,

  •        Cardio in the gym: Start with the cross-trainer, elliptical trainer or stationary cycle before you move on to running on the treadmill.

  •        Outdoor running: Start with slow walk-jog routine before you progress on to running. Keep increasing the duration or intensity or both gradually and progressively.

  •        Power yoga: Basic yoga with simple and easy to perform asanas

  •        Once you’re comfortable performing these exercises regularly for a while, your trainer can gradually upgrade you to a more advance exercise program. This gradual progression will help you stick to your fitness routine, which is a major headway in achieving your ultimate goal of weight reduction. Doing ‘too much too soon’ is like walking on thin ice.

  • A slow and simple start works best: The trainer you opt for should modify and customize regular exercises to suit your low physical conditioning level. She should put you on simpler exercises initially which don’t overwhelm you. This will help you build self-confidence and self-esteem. For instance, if it is-

Strength Training: Start with free-weight exercises first rather than dumbbells.

Your medical history (like thyroid hormone state, deficiencies like vitamin D & B12, health issues like diabetes & heart ailments),

Your eating habits (how much and often you eat junk food, etc.),

Your general lifestyle (sedentary or active through the day),

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Any major injuries you suffered in the past (such as lower back issues, spondylosis, etc.)

Getting answers to these parameters will help the trainer to get to the root of the weight-gain problem.

Your workouts should be fun: You’re more likely to stick to your fitness plan if the workouts designed for you by your trainer are enjoyable besides being effective. Shorter spurts of workouts are better than hour long sessions. A trainer who designs shorter and fun sessions will be more effective than the one who plans hour long fixed intensity sessions.

For instance: If it’s a gym training session, performing short spells of circuit training could mean a fun-filled session. An exhilarating circuit training session could be a 20-30 minutes workout of different functional exercises using a variety of fitness props such as a pair of small and brightly colored dumbbells, an exercise mat, a Resistance band/Thera band, a low Stepper, a Swiss ball, Cross-trainer, etc.

Such agility drills will keep you engaged and eager to attend the next session.

Change is the only constant: Regular is generally boring. Request your trainer to plan different activities for each day of the week. The anticipation of a fresh routine is sure to draw you to your workouts. Some interesting sessions are functional training, cardio circuit using different props, a yoga session, a Bosu Ball or a Swiss Ball session, a beginner’s Pilates session, a basic TRX workout, a Zumba class, a Spinning class, an aerobics class, etc.

A progress card always helps: A good trainer should always prepare a progress card for you like your teachers did in school. This card will contain your weight and measurements taken at the start of the program, your workout schedules, remarks on your progress, etc. Based on this card, you and your trainer can easily track your progress as recorded from time to time. Reviewing the headway made by you, the trainer will be able to modify or upgrade your workouts from time to time..

Short term goals are realistic at the outset: As mentioned earlier, it’s prudent to take baby steps in the beginning of your fitness program. This tip should also be kept in mind while you’re setting your fitness goals in consultation with your trainer.

A long term goal is your end goal such as ‘wanting to lose all of 30 extra kilos in 18 months'. This could sometimes exasperate you on the days you don’t feel too motivated to work out. On the contrary, short term process goals such as ‘I shall exercise at least 5 days a week from now’ when you’re not really regular in your workouts, are more realizable. Once you attain a short term goal, move to the next and this way you inch closer consistently to your long term goal.

So remember, short term goals are more achievable as they don’t overwhelm you and spare you a lot of frustration. They in fact help you bolster your self-confidence as they are very specific and more quantifiable. And your trainer should be able to help you set and realize these.

Compassion works better than tyranny: There is a tribe of trainers who take pride in being harsh and relentless with their trainees. While this approach may work wonders for exercise enthusiasts with higher fitness levels and more stamina, it is likely to be counterproductive with the overweight beginners. In the beginning, they need more compassion rather than sternness from their trainers. Overweight people are more sensitive than the others due to poor body image. They are likely to withdraw at the slightest show of acerbity. They literally need hand holding in the initial weeks. A good trainer will always praise her understudy at the smallest progress made by her which will strengthen her faith in the trainer along with stepping up her self-confidence further.

A good trainer is much more than just a fitness coach: Your trainer is really competent if she is not only a great fitness coach but also has adequate knowledge about other important aspects of wellness such as good nutrition, adequate hydration, workout-related injuries management and rehab, importance of rest, etc. An overall guidance about all the above aspects will give you a complete perspective on health and fitness, as exercise alone is only one component of total wellbeing. You will be able to better manage your weight with the help of this all-composite knowledge as you are likely to become more conscious of how and what you eat through the day.

Warm Up and Cool Down are non-negotiable parts of a workout session: Besides being conversant with all the above pointers, a proficient trainer will always incorporate a proper Warm Up and a Cool Down time to each of your exercise sessions no matter how little time you have for exercising on any given day. No trainer worth her salt will let you skip a Warm Up and a Cool Down session as she would know how that could lead to injuries that can cause major hindrance to your overall exercise plan.

Postural guidance is integral to exercising: I often see people in various gyms working out all around me with improper posture through their entire session without their trainers intervening even once to correct their exercise form. A good trainer will always be there with you to correct your posture at the start of an exercise variation itself. This will ensure the effectiveness of that exercise besides keeping injuries at bay. Improper posture while exercising is one of the major causes of exercise-related injuries. Besides monitoring your posture, your fitness coach should also be able to guide you about the breathing pattern to be followed during each exercise rep; when to engage your core; correct range of motion to follow; rest duration between two sets, etc.

The trainers need to always bear in mind that for an overweight or obese individual standing at the start line of her weight-loss journey, the transformation starts from her mind rather than her body. Therefore, as her trainer you need to first win over her trust in your ability to help her in her weight-loss effort. The first few interactions between the trainer and the trainee are the most crucial ones in building this trust. The trainer will need to help the trainee to break the mental barriers she holds related to exercising by trying to understand her inhibitions, fears, likes, dislikes, triggers that led to the weight gain, etc. Once the coach gets to know her pupil inside-out and makes her feel at ease, the pupil’s ebbing self-confidence would take flight once again, and then, she would be ready to trust her fitness coach.

So, have you met your ultimate coach yet? If yes, go on! Your goal is waiting at the finish line to welcome a slimmer and fitter you!