How exactly should we go about losing the pounds if you’re significantly overweight, starting from the absolute beginning and don’t want to go to a gym or health club?
It’s very important to start slowly as you don’t want to do yourself an injury, so patience is probably your greatest asset going forward at this point.Yes, I know you want to lose the weight and yes I know you want to get cracking and lose it asap, but making sure your ‘house’ has rock solid foundations before you start any visible building, is the safest and most reliable mindset to adopt at this stage of your journey.
When you are overweight, for each and every extra pound you carry, it equates to a transferred loading of an extra 2.7kgs onto each one of your knees and this weight transfer situation is technically known as ‘referred torque’.
One of my clients is a lady who was originally 16kgs overweight and at first joined a club; one of a very well known national health club chain. She received very cursory and totally inadequate testing of her body beforehand and then to make matters worse, one of their ‘in house’ personal trainers had her doing star jumps from day one! Because of this grossly inappropriate exercise for someone in her physical condition, on the third visit at the end of the second week, the outer rims of her feet ( known as the lateral arches) were scuffed and actually bled inside her training shoes! Thankfully, this bleeding feet scenario isn’t common, but wherever you go for your guidance and whoever is providing it; if it hurts and you’re instructor is still encouraging you to ‘grin and bear it’ for progress sake; immediately find someone somewhere else to help you.
People naturally assume they need to get out there immediately and really ‘go for it’ in order to start burning off the calories to lose the weight, but if you do that, you will almost certainly negatively affect your body, mainly your knees, pelvis and back either subtly when you’d be actually unaware of it ( called sub clinical damage) or obviously so, when the affected regions hurt big time! It’s vital to always start slowly and carefully.
1) Before you lift a finger in any structured exercise or exertion, always see your GP and have your blood pressure and heart rate etc checked.
2) If your GP says it’s fine to start exercising, get your walking gait tested. Some sports shops offer this basic service and a personal trainer qualified in Biomechanics can do so, although unfortunately very few personal trainers indeed have the requisite depth/ level of Biomechanics training necessary to provide the full service, so do properly check the level of their qualifications if you approach one. Your heel to toe movements would be assessed, to make absolutely sure you have the correct exercise footwear and/or select the correct cushioning insoles that are right for you.
3. Strengthen your core muscles and perform something called a ‘Half Plank’ on the floor of your home. This is where you lie face down on the floor and suspended on your elbows and knees, raise your body off the floor and hold it there parallel to the floor for 5-10 seconds. You can extend this time gradually, until you are able to hold your mid section suspended parallel to the floor for 45 –60 seconds. Once you can do that; then and only then, do you lift your knees off the floor and this time… straightening your legs, suspend your body from your elbows to the balls of your feet in a longer arch called a ‘Full Plank‘; again gradually increasing your holding time as you get stronger.
Please note that it can often be a very big mistake to go for suspending the body from the elbows to the balls of the feet in a ‘Full Plank’ at the very beginning, as you are more likely to overwork your lumbar spine and shoulders, actually causing problems, not improving matters. Always start with the shortened version, which is a lot safer and more manageable.
4) Start to work on your flexibility – stretching your muscles will make them stronger and help you get more mobile. Basic stretch books are plentiful and stretching every other day for two weeks and then daily if possible is very good news. Yes, getting your Biomechanics properly assessed makes constructing what is literally a body-specific stretch structure possible and is by far the very best way forward, but in the absence of a professional qualified in Biomechanics, the stretch books offer a way forward if you make absolutely sure that any stretch you perform is never painful or feels significantly ’not right’ in a distinctly negative way.
Shut your eyes when you’re doing the stretches and tune.. ‘listening’ to your body. Each stretch needs to reach the AA – ( Annoying Ache) or a mild pull felt in the muscle. When you reach that AA/mild pull feel in the muscle, you need to stay there for 15 seconds before anything developmental actually begins to happen! So staying in the AA/mild pull point for 45 seconds for example, will give you 30 seconds of effective flexibility development and this gentle approach will safely ease your body into activity mode. Remember that you’re gently ‘persuading’ your muscles into a greater level of flexibility, NEVER forcing them.
4) After three or four weeks, you should be feeling more loose and flexible and your core muscles inside you will be more supportive, so now it’s time to work on your strength. One of the best starter exercises is simply doing moderate Squats which will strengthen your legs, but don’t do this if you have clinically diagnosed ‘bad knees’ or a related clinically diagnosed orthopaedic condition.
Always make sure your shins are vertical when performing squats.
You can ensure this happens by putting your feet under a sofa/solid chair and place your shins firmly against it. Then sticking your bottom gently out, slowly squat down to just a manageable depth where you feel your leg muscles working and slowly stand up again, all the time ensuring that your shins are staying in contact with the sofa or solidly weighted chair. Squat down 5-10 times and this is called a set. Perform 5 sets in all, resting in between each set as much as you think is appropriate for you on the day. Only do these squats every two days, so your legs get a chance to rest properly in between, and be very sure to in particular, stretch your front thighs and buttocks afterwards.
5) After a couple of weeks, you can start power-walking. A power walk is simply a determined walk, and you’ll build up your fitness safely this way, with your body dictating your pace and level. Your power walking shouldn’t attract significant attention from other people when you’re doing it, as it’s certainly not a headlong race walk or a military arm driving style at all, just a determined, purposeful walking style. Start with a moderately paced 15 minutes every other day and increase gradually, as it feels appropriate for you.
6) Once you can power walk efficiently you can start ‘taking on’ some very gentle hills, but be very sure that you’re around 4 weeks or so into your development before doing so. For gauging how much effort you make, once again, always ‘listen’ to your body, as it will tell you that you have more to give some days than others, so follow its lead when it ‘tells’ you.
7) After that, introduce some very gentle jogging for three minutes, followed by power walking for two minutes. It’s something called ‘intervals’ and done properly, it is safely developmental.
Overweight and want to join a gym?
Check it out very thoroughly and make sure you are asked to fill in a credibly comprehensive health questionnaire, not just a single sheet. Around 3 sheets is acceptable but less doesn’t allow the instructor to know enough about your health status and exercise background.
They should give you a professionally thorough check up, including assessing your flexibility, strength, VO2 Max (your lung/oxygen capacity) blood pressure and body composition. If you are visibly very overweight indeed, they should always without fail, absolutely insist that before any exercise is undertaken, you provide written evidence/approval from your GP, that they’ve officially sanctioned you to begin receiving exercise prescription. This last point is crucial.
If any of these requirements are missing, walk away and find another premises, as overweight people are very prone to lower back and knee problems and lack of efficient professional attention and testing at the outset, can result in some significantly nasty orthopaedic problems later, something I’ve personally witnessed many times over the last 46 years.
If you attend 3 times or more in every seven-day period, make sure your workout is properly adjusted for your specific personal development every four to six weeks, not just generally moved around a bit, just to justify a change being made! Over the last 11 years, this incompetent practice is and has always been, an all too common occurrence in a great many of the health clubs that I’ve ’discreetly’ assessed on behalf of companies who wanted to know what was behind the health and wellbeing packages that were being offered to them by the health club chains and private ones.
Directly ask your instructor what their qualifications are and how long the training was for those qualifications, and then how long they have been working since they qualified. It usually pays to find an older more experienced person, as long as they’re credibly qualified (not from a two, six or twelve week course) and have been in practice for at least 8-10 years plus.
Be absolutely assured that you are not being awkward or in any way, asking inappropriate questions. If your physical health and wellbeing is being entrusted to someone, you have the 100% right to know what expertise is going to be looking after you. Never automatically assume because the instruction person is standing in a nice hi-tech gym in a smart uniform, surrounded by efficient looking shiny equipment, they are well qualified. Ask your totally appropriate questions.
If anyone ever says to you ‘no pain no gain’, walk away from that person immediately, as it could prove physically disastrous for you and unfortunately, it is generally the credo of boots camps etc which is not good news at all! Exercise effect discomfort sometimes does happen yes, (it’s called DOMS, standing for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) but actual deeply rooted or very sharp pains are never ever acceptable within any exercise prescription for people seeking to lose weight, or in pursuit of any other physical goals either for that matter.