Strength training is an important part of a healthy life, and it’s not just about how you look! I know from my experience working with personal training clients that strength training for obese beginners is an obstacle that many feel they can’t face. For both overweight and obese beginners, it can be more intimidating than other forms of exercise, but the potential rewards really do make it worth the effort.

Let’s look at the what, why, and how of all this and I’ll share some tips for you to safely and effectively incorporate strength training for obese beginners into your fitness routine if you’re currently overweight or obese.

What is considered Obesity?

What is the difference between being overweight and being obese? Is obesity the same for everyone? Is there a normal range? Well, yes and no. We do have measurements like BMI, or body mass index, that help us screen for overweight and obesity and its health risks. While it’s not 100% accurate because we are all different. It is a helpful tool! There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all healthy weight range. But measurement systems like BMI get close enough to pay attention, for sure. Being overweight means that you are larger than normal for your height and build. This is something to pay attention to because it can lead to obesity.

How We Measure Obesity

Dr. Giles Yeo, a renowned researcher, geneticist, and professor at Cambridge University put it this way. He says we all have different “safe fat-carrying capacities.” That means I can safely, without causing disease in my body, carry a certain amount of fat and you can carry a different amount of fat safely. So your question now is probably “How do I know how much fat I can carry?” The BMI scale measures body mass index or what percentage of fat you have on your body.

Obesity is having a certain amount of excess body fat that goes beyond being overweight and into a category that basically probably guarantees health problems will develop. Dr. Yeo explains that it is difficult to measure biologically right now with our current level of science what a person’s safe fat-carrying capacity is, we still have a ways to go with the research for that genetic marker. But we do have some markers and we know when we are getting close to becoming metabolically ill.

Metabolic illness means we have a cluster of conditions happening together that will likely result in disease. Increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. These things can be monitored by your doctor with regular bloodwork. We can see when those levels begin to look abnormal and we can adjust our lifestyle to correct them.

We can measure things like waist-to-hip ratio and where you store your fat. Visceral fat or abdominal fat which lies beneath the surface, around your abdominal organs, is dangerous and a good indicator that you’re at risk for chronic disease. Visceral fat is found in the spaces surrounding the liver, intestines, and other organs.

Unhealthy excess weight, especially obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood. Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It can have an impact on your joints and cause chronic pain and more.

What is Considered Strength Training?

Strength training is a form of exercise that emphasizes the use of resistance to build muscle. This can be done with body weight, free weights, weight machines, and resistance bands. It can and should include a very wide variety of exercises and can even include cardio exercises as well.

Be careful not to confuse strength training with bodybuilding as many of my female clients have done in the past. This thought made them want to avoid strength training, but the two are very different. Bodybuilding is a form of strength training that specifically focuses on increasing muscle size and appearance. Strength training is more about functional strength in everyday life and having a strong, healthy, and capable body.

Who is Strength Training Right For?

Strength training is right for almost everyone!  Obviously, some injuries or diseases may prevent some people from being able to do strength training, but for the most part, everyone should do it. From your teenager to your grandparents and everyone in between! Strength training is not just a good option for better results in health and fitness for everyone, it’s essential to your health.

Resistance training will improve your physical performance in every aspect of life. Whether you’re underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese, the right strength training program will improve your health. Your muscular system supports your entire body. You couldn’t stand or move without it. So what do you think happens when it becomes weak, imbalanced, or atrophied? Lower back pain, joint pain, neck pain, loss of coordination, balance, and flexibility are all signs that you need strength training!

Health Benefits of Strength Training for Obese Beginners

The truth is, people who are overweight and obese tend to be quite strong, at least in their lower bodies. When you’re carrying around excess weight, your muscles will be strengthened. The problem is that the strength isn’t functional. The excess weight results in muscle imbalances, a limited range of motion and mobility, and of course the weight itself is very limiting. Here are just some of the benefits of strength training for obese beginners, and these actually apply to everyone!

  • Improved self-confidence and self-image (even before you see any physical results!)
  • Improved energy levels (again, almost immediate changes!)
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Increased muscular strength and stamina 
  • Improved mobility
  • Improved balance and coordination 
  • Reduced body fat and increased lean muscle mass
  • Reduced overall body and joint pain (both getting off some of the weight and strengthening the muscles that support the joints will reduce pain)

Why You Need a Personalized Strength Training Plan

Strength training for obese beginners should start with the right program tailored specifically to the individual. To get started with this type of exercise, this is very important! Once you’ve been strength training for a long time, you can safely use a program that isn’t personalized. But having a personalized strength training plan is essential for any beginner, especially if you are obese and have physical limitations because they are designed specifically to meet your individual needs. A personalized strength training plan takes into account your specific goals, fitness level, your current mobility, and takes into consideration any medical problems you have.

Working with a qualified trainer as a beginner will give you the greatest chance of success in creating a habit of strength training in the safest and most effective way! You don’t have to work with a trainer forever, but I highly highly recommend it to get started! I also suggest actually working one-on-one with a trainer, rather than just getting a personalized plan from them. An experienced trainer will complete an assessment of your current physical abilities and create a plan of effective exercises to not only increase your overall strength, but also improve your functional movement, balance, coordination, flexibility, and correct any muscle imbalances you have.

Always Get a Referral for Pain

If you have any pain when you’re working out that is beyond slight discomfort in movements that are just new and challenging for your body, you need to see a healthcare professional. Physical therapy is sometimes a very important part of your body’s recovery from obesity because of the stresses it puts on your muscles and joints and a lack of regular exercise over time. A good personal trainer will refer you to a physical therapist if you have pain. 

​Safety and Efficacy Tips for Starting a Strength Training Routine

Having a personal trainer to guide you through your first experience with strength training is key! But if you want to do it on your own, keep these things in mind!

Start slowly

Even if you have weightlifting experience, start with lighter weights or very low resistance and increase gradually. Don’t try to lift too much too quickly as this can increase your risk of injury.

Focus on form

Make sure you use proper form when lifting weights as bad form can also increase your risk of injury. If you’re not sure how to do an exercise, ask a trainer at your gym or do a video tutorial before you start.

Increase gradually

Don’t increase your weights too quickly, as this can cause injury and can lead to you getting discouraged with your workout.

Avoid overtraining

Aim to strength train no more than two to three days per week and give yourself rest days in between. This will help your body recover properly and reduce your risk of injury.

Warm up and cool down

Spend 5-10 minutes warming up and cooling down properly, as this can help reduce your risk of injury and ensure that you’re able to get the most out of your workout.

Progressive overload

Making sure you continually progress and increase the intensity of your workouts is key for progress. Keep challenging yourself with heavier weights as the weeks go on.

Listen to your body

It’s important to listen to your body and adjust your workouts accordingly. Pain should never be ignored and if something doesn’t feel right then stop and either modify the exercise if it’s just discomfort from lack of movement or see a doctor if it is actually painful. Low-impact exercise is the best way to avoid pain when you’re carrying excess body weight that is already putting stress on your joints.


Strength training is a great way to improve your health, all while boosting your confidence and self-image. If you are considered obese, taking action to make lifestyle changes is extremely important! Strength training will be an excellent addition to your life and you’ll see great benefits for your physical and mental health!

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