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Exercising When You’re Overweight

When you're overweight or obese, working out can be uncomfortable in more ways than one. Here's help.

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“Most obese people just don’t think they can do anything,” Endress says.

Endress recommends going to your doctor to make sure he or she understands what kind of exercise you’re planning to do.

Stevens did just that. Her doctor’s advice? “Just try. But if there’s pain, you’ve got to listen to your body,” she says.

To stay motivated, it often helps to work with a trainer who has experience with obese people or to go to a wellness center affiliated with a hospital that offers low-impact classes such as chair or water aerobics for special populations.

Endress also recommends recumbent exercise, which is done lying down, such as on a recumbent bike or recumbent stepper, because it “supports the back and is easier on the knees and hip joints.”

Easy Does It

People should embark on a fitness program gradually because they may have underlying health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes or be prone to shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and overheating.

You can gradually work up to elliptical trainers. The key is to not sign up for a boot camp workout like on television’s The Biggest Loser because that may be too much, too soon.

It’s best to get to the point where you can exercise 30 minutes comfortably three or four times a week before progressing to something more intense. It’s OK to break things up. If you can’t exercise 30 minutes at one time, aim for three 10-minute segments, Endress says.

Dos and Don'ts

Ready to get started? Endress recommends doing the following:

  • Get fitted with good shoes. For instance, running store staff can analyze your gait and make recommendations. “The support makes all the difference,” Endress says.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Chafing is common in the leg and groin area. Shorts and a T-shirt are fine in the pool if you’re self-conscious or can’t find a suit.
  • Include strength training eventually. But to lose weight, focus on aerobic training in the beginning.
  • Consider a monitoring system to track weight, what you eat, and exercise. Many smart phones have applications or you can use online systems. Pedometers are helpful to get you moving.


  • Don’t do high-impact exercise in the beginning. It’s fine to build up to, but jumping in with both feet landing on a hard surface “is usually going to hurt something,” Endress says.
  • Don't compare yourself to others in your class or gym or let feelings of self-consciousness overwhelm you. When people used to say, "Hey, you’re doing great!” Stevens says she often had the nagging thought, “If I were a thin person, they wouldn’t notice me.”
  • Don’t be impatient. Don't look for radical change in a short time or get fixated on big weight loss results like on The Biggest Loser. Although such shows can be motivating, they don’t help set realistic expectations. “You see people who lose two pounds in one week and they’re crying,” Endress says.
Reviewed on November 14, 2010

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