How to Start Exercising When You’re Overweight and Out of Shape
Struggling to get started with exercise? Here's what you need to know about losing weight with exercise and how to make and exercise habit stick.
Getting started with exercise almost always sucks...
Unless you're exercising for sport or a Charity 5K, there's probably not a whole lot of excitement rushing through your veins.
But even if you are motivated to start, there's still the fact that you'll have to spend the first few weeks sweating enough to fill a lake, throwing out spoiled workout clothes, and feeling sore on a regular basis while your body adjusts to the new routine.
And the situation only gets worse when you have 20 or 30+ extra pounds strapped around your waist, making every exercise you do that much harder...
It All Just Sucks.
Of course, once you start seeing results from your hard work – be it benefits you experience physically, mentally, or with your performance – exercise can become less of a hassle and actually rewarding.
But getting there is the hardest part.
The only way you'll see positive results from exercise is through being consistent, and the reality is that a lot of people don't have the motivation nor the belief in themselves to stick with it.
Is Exercise Really That Important, Anyway?
I recently had a client tell me she'd been struggling to start working out.
Despite the fact that she had already bought a gym membership, scheduled her workouts ahead of time, and had a detailed workout plan ready for her, she just couldn't get herself to take action.
Instead of nagging her or try to explain the importance of exercise for her goals, I told her this:
"Okay, no problem. Let's just focus on your diet and not worry about going to the gym just yet."
I could tell by her response that she thought I was being facetious, so I emailed again:
"Listen, exercising and working out is important, but it's not everything. Sure, you may not get results as quickly right now, but I'm more concerned with helping you develop healthy habits that will aid you in losing weight and staying lean for the rest of your life!"
The 80/20 of Losing Weight
There's a saying in the fitness world that losing weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise.
In reality, there's no scientific reason for the percentages. They could be 70/30, 90/10, or even 95/5...the percentage doesn't matter.
The point is to show the importance of nutrition when losing weight is the goal. What and how much you're eating is far more important than what you're doing to burn it off. No matter how much you exercise, you cannot out-train a bad diet.
Or as one of my clients likes to put it:
"You can't outrun your fork!"
Most people put way too much effort and attention into their exercise routine and never really address their diet. Unfortunately, exercising is only a tiny fraction of how our bodies burn calories in comparison to just existing.
For example, If you are a 40-year-old man who weighs 250 pounds at 5 feet 11 inches, you burn roughly 2250 calories a day just to stay alive. You could literally sit at a desk all day, come home and lay on the couch till bedtime and still burn ~2250 calories from all of the different biological processes going on inside you.
Now let's throw in some exercise....
You'll burn ~100 additional calories from walking/running a mile. So, if you're running/walking 5 miles a day, you'll burn an extra 500 calories for the day.
But then you decide to refuel with a "healthy" Cliff Bar and poof! More than half the calories you burned are back in a matter of minutes...
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, consuming fewer calories is the best place to start. I suggest tracking your calories and making the majority of your food choices come from healthy whole foods, which will keep you full and energized throughout the day.
Exercise is an Additive Habit
What's that mean?
If you want to start exercising, there are a number of things you have to "add" to your life, such as:
- Buying a gym membership
- Buying new workout clothes
- Replacing Netflix with an evening run
- Remembering to bring a gym bag to work
These are all things that you are going to have to add to an already chaotic schedule of work and family responsibilities.
Diet, on the other hand, requires substitutive habits.
Think about it - you're going to have to eat regardless of what food choices you make. As a result, it's much easier to swap out the high-calorie and unhealthy foods you're already eating for lower-calorie alternatives.
Which sounds easier:
Spending an hour burning ~400 calories on a treadmill or eating fewer calories by swapping your cheeseburger and fries for a grilled chicken sandwich and a baked potato?
Is your 300+ calorie Mocha Java worth the extra 45 minutes of cardio needed to burn it off?
(there's no wrong answer, but I have a feeling most people will decide the easier choice is to swap for regular coffee with light creamer...)
The Bottom Line: If you need to lose weight, focus on your diet first, then worry about exercise.
How to Get Started Exercising
Oh, so your diet is already dialed in, and you're ready to start exercising to increase your results, aye? Fantastic!
Here are a few tips to follow that'll simplify your transition into exercising so that it becomes rewarding and routine instead of stressful and a constant hassle...
1. Don't Be An Overachiever
The more, the better...right?
You see, a lot of people make the mistake of going from sitting on the couch to exercising 2+ hours in the gym every single day.
While you may be able to get away with that much intensity one day (though, I would personally never recommend that much exercise), trying to go from "Zero to Exercise Hero" in one swift step isn't a good idea.
It'll likely lead to injury, burnout, or stress you out enough to where your diet suffers...
You're better off starting small and working your way up over time.
Instead of running 5 miles every day, start by walking a mile 2-3 times a week. Instead of lifting weights for 2 hours at a time, commit to at least 20-30 minutes a few times a week.
It's much better to leave the gym feeling like you could have done a little bit more than like you just walked out of a UFC octagon...
2. Stop Worrying About What Others Think
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Truman Show.
It stars Jim Carrey as an insurance salesman who comes to find out that his quiet & comfortable life is actually being broadcasted out to millions of viewers on live television.
I love the concept of the show because it portrays the complete opposite situation of most people's' reality...
You see, we like to think of ourselves as the star in our own life movie. Our friends and acquaintances are the supporting cast, and everyone else is the audience.
As a result, we often think that every single move and decision we're making is being watched and discussed amongst all the people around us.
Well, I Have Good News & Bad News...
The Bad News is that everyone else thinks they are the star of their own show too, and they couldn't care less about your story...
The Good News, though, is that everyone thinks they are the star of their own show, and they couldn't care less about your story...
You see, most people are way too concerned about what other think of them to worry about what you're doing. In fact, if someone is giving you a strange look, it's likely they are seeing what you're doing and wondering if what they're doing is wrong.
3. Do Something You Actually Enjoy
If you don't enjoy your exercise, you'll only increase the likelihood of quitting. If there's a particular form of exercise or activity that you are drawn to, do it, and don't worry about if it's the best way to burn calories....
"But Carter, what if I hate all kinds of exercise?"
Then you are like the majority of us. 😉
Most people don't wake up every day thrilled to go to the gym or run on the treadmill. If this is you, and you don't enjoy a particular style of exercise, try and find a style that you hate the *less* than others.
There's actually a benefit to being indifferent about what type of exercise you do. If you don't care either way, then you should focus on exercise that'll give you the most "bang for your buck."
Which brings me to my next tip...
4. Exercise in a Way That Maximizes Your Results
All exercise is good, but some types can be better depending on your goal.
For example, Resistance Training is perfect for dieters because it helps build and retain lean muscle mass. By doing this, you'll:
- Ensure the majority of the weight you lose is coming directly from fat
- Increase your Metabolism (since muscle burns more calories than fat)
- Turn into a Sexual Tiger and avoid looking "skinny fat." (If you're a guy, you look leaner and more muscular. If you're a girl, you'll look leaner and more toned.)
Here Are 6 Reasons Why Lifting Weights Burns More Fat While Dieting
5. Make Time ⏰
Want to know the biggest complaint I hear from folks struggling to start exercising?
"I just don't have the time..."
I get it, we all have hectic schedules.
But the reality is that it'll always be that way, and though it may change over time, you'll always need to "make time" for exercise.
Stop waiting for your schedule to slow down or the "perfect" time to exercise and make it a priority now.
Like we talked about in the first tip, it doesn't have to be "all or nothing" from the start. If you can only justify two or three 30-minute blocks of time to go for a walk or workout at the gym, do that.
My two-cents on exercise (especially for beginners):
Some it better than None, and Too Little is better than Too Much.
Before you worry about exercise, focus on your diet. What you eat is far more important for losing weight than what you are doing.
Once you have your diet dialed in, only then should you start strategizing an exercise plan, and when you do, remember the 5 tips:
- It's better to start slow and feel like you could do more than start with too much and burn out.
- Choose a style of exercise your enjoy. If you hate all types of exercise, then find a style that you hate the least
- If you don't have a strong preference for what style of exercise you do, then choose one going to provide the most benefit for your goal. (If you're trying to lose fat, I recommend doing this)
Getting started is always the hardest part, especially when you're overweight and trying to make exercising a part of your life...
But if you can get started on the right foot by following my advice in this article, your chances of sticking with your exercise regimen will increase dramatically.
Your ability to make real, lifelong, and meaningful changes to your body and health will be much higher than if you were to take a 0-100 approach.
The best part is that taking the "slow" approach to exercise will allow it to become a habit in your life. What's more is that the consistency you have will yield greater results and motivate you to keep going.
Before long, exercise won't feel like a chore, but instead a reward for your hard work.