I’m a HUGE fan of exercise – I am an avid walker (6 – 7 times per week), enjoy working out with my Bowflex machine, kettlebells, and a rowing machine I have in my home gym. Now before you start to click away from this blog post, give me just a couple minutes more…
I did NOT start out exercising like this. Yep – I was NOT a “gym rat”, a “iron maiden” or any of the other nicknames given to that crew of focused, athletic and dedicated women who’ve created an exercise habit for themselves that goes above and beyond simply getting some activity a few times a week. For much of my teen years and into my early adulthood, my main exercise was swimming. I was working as a lifeguard, so the pool was RIGHT THERE.
When I had my first child, I no longer had access to the pool. I gained 50 lbs in the 6 months AFTER having the baby, and my continued struggle with my weight loss became an all-out-battle. When I was cleared by my doctor to return to exercising, I had to start nearly from scratch. I wasn’t sure what to do or how to do it. If you’re in that predicament, please keep reading.
After undergoing weight loss surgery in my 40’s, I was right there again – hadn’t been exercising for quite a while, and to make things more difficult, now I was much heavier that any previous time in my life. With extra weight comes additional issues. Plus-size people have specific challenges – we need to work out and increase our activity level to help us lose the weight we need to lose. It’s part of creating that healthier lifestyle I promote here on my blog.
The specific additional challenge is that your – OUR – heaviness can help lead to more numerous injuries. Prevention magazine (one of my favorites) has a terrific article with tips to help overweight exercisers HERE. Dr. Stuart Miller, an orthopedist in Baltimore, says “Joint and foot pain are common problems…” Dr. Miller oversaw a recent survey of 6,000 adults that linked high BMI with foot and ankle woes. I can definitely relate – my knees, feet and ankles were a concern when I started walking with an eye toward running.
So what on earth are we supposed to do? Here are some of the recommendations from Prevention’s article:
Go Slow at First
“Start with just 10 minutes a day,” says Miller. As your chosen activity becomes more comfortable, set a goal to achieve half an hour to an hour of activity every day. Start slowly, then increase a couple of minutes each week as you gain strength. Realize that your lung capacity MAY increase faster than your body’s ability to hold your weight – you may be ready to go farther and faster, but pushing for too much too soon can encourage an injury that will sideline you for weeks. Much better in the beginning to end each session feeling like you could have done more than to be literally exhausted and feeling pain later on.
Mix It Up
Try non-weight-bearing activities such as cycling and swimming to give your joints a break. Many fitness centers and gyms have upright and recumbent cycles to accommodate different levels of ability with patrons. Some also offer more padding or wider seats if needed. Take a moment and get one of the staff to show you how to adjust the machine, cycle or bench to fit YOU. Don’t worry about taking extra time – once you’ve done the adjustment a few times, you’ll know how and it will take less time. This is also an excellent way to determine if you really want to invest in that particular kind of machine for home use.
Stretch Yourself Before and After
Don’t forget about stretching – both before and after exercise. When you first start exercising, be careful not to over-stretch cold muscles. The videos you may have seen that show people bouncing enthusiastically while trying to get lower into a stretch or to extend range of motion can cause injury – especially if done while cold or just at the beginning of training. Your body needs time to warm up and to “learn” the lengthening action of the stretch before you take it to the next level.
One of the most common heel pains endured by exercisers is plantar fasciitis. To avoid setting yourself up for this discomfort, follow the recommendations below:
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall and place one foot behind the other, keeping heels down and knees straight.
- Bracing yourself with your arms, lean into the wall so that you feel your calf stretch.
- If standing an arm’s length away is too much in the beginning, take a half-step closer to the wall and try again. Work on getting further away from the wall as time goes on and your flexibility increases.
Support Yourself – Body and Sole
If you haven’t bought athletic shoes in a while, make an investment in your future health and go get measured for athletic shoes. Think about what your activities will likely include over the next 6 months, and shop appropriately. Walking shoes, running shoes and cross-training shoes all have different functionality and features. Prevention magazine’s website – Prevention.com – has an annual Sneaker Buying Guide that should help narrow your search. If you find that a standard, off-the-shelf shoe doesn’t quite meet your needs, consider insoles. My husband swears by his Superfeet insoles – and brands like Spenco or Superfeet help distribute weight evenly over your foot, easing impact.
Proper workout attire can also help when you’re just starting out. I am very full-busted – and it took me quite a while to find a supportive bra suitable for workouts, but the UnderArmour brand does have possibilities. One additional way to help support yourself is to wear a cropped, close-fitting athletic top under another shirt. I’ve also become quite adamant about purchasing leggings, sweatpants and other apparel in Tall sizes (I’m 5′ 10″ tall). I don’t like my ankles being cold in the fall and winter when I go out for a walk! When you find an apparel line (try Old Navy if you’re on a budget), purchase multiple garments so that you’ll have enough for a week’s worth of activity without having to worry about laundry.
And there you have it – four great principles (and linked resources) to help you start (or re-energize) your workouts as part of your plan to live your healthiest and strongest life.