Exercise classes for fat people
October 21, 2012 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm fat. I want to take an exercise class that meets 2-3 times a week to help with weight loss and have fun doing something active. What class should I take?

I'm 300 lbs, 5'10", female, young, healthy except for the whole morbidly obese thing. I've adjusted my diet - I now eat 1800 calories a day, lots of vegetables and lean proteins - and joined a tiny gym, where I strength train 3x a week and do 30 minutes on the elliptical every day. I hate exercise. I want to learn to love it. I think a class might be the trick.

I want to do something fun and rewarding, where being fat won't be a huge hindrance in participating and not everyone in the class is going to be fit. I'm anxious about this. I have parts that jiggle and I'm weak and I get really, really sweaty. I want a safe environment, where all of that's okay. No cycling classes; the seat hurts my butt, and they're boring.

I've thought about kickboxing, krav maga, zumba, yoga, and a martial art of some kind. What martial art would be the best for a fat person? What else is out there? I have good joints and strong bones, if that matters. So far, kickboxing is the forerunner, but I'm open to whatever suggestions you guys might put out. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Zumba! I've been in Zumba classes with 80-year-old grannies in the front row - all shapes, sizes, and ages of people (although it is almost all women) - plenty of people who are not "gym people" will do Zumba. It's low-pressure and fun, the music is great, and you don't have to get up and down off the floor or use any special equipment. You go at your own pace, you do what you can, and no one cares if you do every move or not or what you look like.
posted by flex at 7:05 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yoga is great. It's low impact, and every pose can be modified for your flexibility and skill level. I found that even going to one class a week, my flexibility went way up, and I felt it helped me maintain my weight as well. I hate exercising too, and when I was in a yoga class, even on days when I was tired and didn't want to go, afterward, I was always glad I did, you feel so great when you're done, I usually wanted to do more. It's all about the teacher though, you need someone accepting, who lets students go at their own pace and modify poses to what is comfortable to them. Around here, most teachers will let prospective students attend a class for free to see how they like it before signing up. I suggest you try a few and find a teacher you click with.
posted by catatethebird at 7:07 AM on October 21, 2012

Something in the water would probably be better than any of those -- it's less difficult on your joints. A water aerobics class can be low impact (and seeing as how that's recommended pretty across the board, you won't be alone in size in the class).
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:07 AM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have no personal experience with any type of exercise class, but I have several (fat) friends who love, love, love zumba.
posted by crankylex at 7:07 AM on October 21, 2012

I'm putting in a vote for a martial art with this further recommendation: Finding the right group is more important than finding the right martial art at this stage. The right group will encourage you, support you working at the appropriate level for you and share your successes. They will not make you feel inadequate or that you don't belong there. You will love going for these reasons.

I started taekwondo as a fat and weak person who was ashamed of myself. It wasn't a martial art I was particularly interested in (I wanted to hit things with sticks) although I liked the idea of standing up rather than grappling on the ground to get started. I stayed with the group I found because they were so encouraging, positive and welcoming. Try out a few different places and find your group. I also like that there was no focus on appearance, just strength and functionality, and there is always a goal to work towards.

(Helpful indicators of a 'nice group' may be: people remain members for a long time, good gender balance, whole families training together, generally diverse bunch - age range, backgrounds etc)
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

How about belly dance? Basic moves are relatively easy to pick up and you develop relationships with the other people in your class, which also helps keep you accountable. The drop-in classes I've attended mix people of beginner to intermediate level, and most teachers can adapt to the ability of everyone in the room.

You might automatically think "no way am I showing my ab flab," but every single teacher I've had made body shape absolutely not a big deal. We've had girls of every shape and size, and the teachers just didn't mention it. Not even a passing reference to "everybody's beautiful here!" but rather, it just simply wasn't an issue. Yes, there will be mirrors and yes, everyone tucks up their shirt to see what's going on, but most people are too focused on getting the moves right for themselves to watch other people.

Belly dance works your lower and upper abs, your glutes, your calves, your arms, and some gentle cardio. It honestly doesn't feel like you're getting a workout, but after a hard session you'll feel it in your obliques. And anyone who dances knows about sweating!
posted by Liesl at 7:26 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Zumba is a great fun class. There are plenty of plus size women and men in my class. The fluffy people like me, step instead of jump some of the motions. Us fluffy people seem to have more fun, as we have more to "booty shake."

For sweating, bring a hand towel into class. I wet mine first, then put it in a waterproof lunch box type bag. I wipe down every time we have a water break; 3x's in one hour class.
posted by JujuB at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2012

Seconding bellydance and zumba. I'm a fatty and both of those are awesome for me. Sometimes in bellydance the more meat you have, the better some moves look. :)
posted by sperose at 7:34 AM on October 21, 2012

Another vote for water exercise, especially water aerobics if you have access to that. I do water exercise because I have RA and it's easier on my joints. You'd be amazed what you can do physically without that damn gravity holding you down. You can start with basic water aerobics, move up to more advanced classes and there is even deep water aerobics, done with a floaty belt on in water so deep you can't touch the bottom, which adds a whole new layer of difficulty.

If you think you might be inhibited about wearing a swimsuit, there are lots of other options. I'm kind of a modest person and I wear a pair of swim shorts and a rash guard type shirt. Check out Junonia for lots of options.

Feel free to Memail me if you want more details.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to mention that strength training three times a week and elliptical every day is quite a good regime already. I think your program and your will is fantastic; I just don't want to see you burning out and quitting, say, six months down the track.

I've been at my gym long enough to see that the people with the best results are those who are still turning up regularly even after the enthusiasm of the first six months wears off. The people who are still here two years later normally don't do too much each time.

Zumba is a lot of fun. I'd be surprised, though, if the things you are already doing: your better eating, regular strength training, and moderate cardio, don't get you sustained and noticeable results.
posted by surenoproblem at 7:51 AM on October 21, 2012

I just wanted to say that no matter what you choose, it's going to be totally okay if you can't keep up at first. I have taken so many step or Tae-Bo classes back in the day where I had no idea what was going on and had to march in place for a while until I could figure it out. No one cares! The instructor is just going to be happy you're there and giving it a go, and everyone in those classes was new at one point and didn't know what was going on, no matter their size or weight.
posted by something something at 8:08 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would vote for yoga as something that focuses you on the nice ways your body can feel, on being non-judgemental and not comparing yourself to anyone else, and on gradual gradual progress. However, I don't think it's a great way of losing weight by itself. I do think it's good just for the body image improvements that I got! I used to belong to a gym where I could do an hour of yoga and then 30 mins of swimming and that was amazing. I used to come out feeling all loose and relaxed and on top of the world.

I love love love Tae Kwon Do and I suspect you would get similar benefits from kickboxing. It's fun and although it's competitive, you can make what you want of it. It's incredibly energetic. I agree with the above comment that this entirely depends on your teachers.

I've tried zumba a couple of times and strongly disliked it although I love dance and have danced very extensively. It felt pointless to me. Maybe if you've come from the aerobics side of things it would be better.

A side comment - I don't know how shy you are but every time I go to a new class or a new gym or anything I get incredibly nervous and convinced I'm going to make a fool of myself. So push through if this happens to you - it's normal and it's not because you're not in your best shape. Several of my friends have put off starting various classes because they want to feel that they could do it before they went and had a go - that way you just never start.

Good luck!
posted by kadia_a at 8:33 AM on October 21, 2012

Can you get in a pool? At my pool I was (just friday) talking to a lady who was told she needed knee replacement, but doctors wouldn't do it unless she lost weight. She lost 200 lb swimming and eating right over two years. She's part of a Senior Water Aerobics class (where the instructor is 89) and swims around at the deep end for 45 minutes beforehand.

Other advantages:
-*Everyone* looks like an out-of-shape asshole when they get into the pool for the first week back, so you don't have to feel particularly wimpy.
-Resting at the end of the lane is normal. Again, you'll feel less singled out.
-Your obesity is, perversely, a bit of an advantage here; scrawny out-of-shape people sink. Buoyancy being one of the hardest things to fake, you're one step ahead.
-Extremely low impact.
-You can pick up an extra session and it won't make you sore (or the slight soreness will go away the instant you start swimming the next time).
-I know you found cycling boring (and truly, there is nothing worse than indoor cycling for being boring). In swimming - water aerobics class or laps - there's a lot of repetition, but you can kinda zen out. When I'm in the pool, I count strokes, watch my form, and otherwise completely zen out. So (for me) there's a mental health aspect too.

One caveat: swimming makes you think you're hungry. You're actually sweating/respiring and very, very thirsty. If you don't rehydrate, you'll want to eat the entire refrigerator when you get home. Not just the contents - the entire machine, and maybe the stove as well.
posted by notsnot at 8:39 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a fatty too, and I generally hate gyms because I feel like the classes just don't accommodate people of size.

I love, love, love, yoga, but the classes I've taken have been geared towards people of size. I've taken yoga in a "regular" class and have felt very out of place and frustrated that the moves were difficult to do with large breasts and stomach in the way. One sugggestion is to look around at different yoga studios and see if there's one that caters to larger people. Or, before going you can visit the studio and ask if they can modify the poses - without specifically pointint out "hey, obese lady, this pose is for you!" There are also meetups (in my area) of plus-size yoga classes.

Love the suggestion of water aerobics. It feels good, most people in the class aren't trying to compete to run a marathon, and it's a great, gentle workout.

How about joining a dance class or two?
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:02 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have really enjoyed yoga (I have also attended a class aimed at older and less active people), but regular Hatha-yoga is about strength-training and balance, not aerobic activity/metabolism raising.

My mother, who is about your size though in poorer health due to her age, really enjoyed the program they have at a local women's gym call "Curves" - it involved moving from one machine to another in quick succession (1-2 minutes on each), with upbeat music playing. The key seemed to be breaking the monotony and the upbeat music. It sounds like a class like Zumba would be a good choice because of that.

The one thing I would look for is that if a class claims to be "beginner" that it really is a true-beginner class. I once took a "beginner" ballet class, and not only were all the women in the class much smaller that I was, but I seemed to be one of the few actual beginners -- most of them had had ballet as children and were just picking it up again. This may be less of a problem with something like Zumba which will be new to most people.
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2012

Based on my personal experience, joining a gym that has a wide variety of classes can be just the thing. If you can afford it (because I see you are already at a tiny gym), it's so great to be able to choose from a menu of classes and instructors. Some instructors suck, by the way, whether or not you're fat, so know that going in. : )

I hated Curves - found it way too boring, and when I get bored I just want to stop immediately. But I eventually discovered yoga, kickboxing, boot camp-style classes, even some old-school step classes. I finally realized that the harder the class was mentally -- meaning, choreography, or needing to follow a complicated list of instructions -- the more I enjoyed it. Having to concentrate so hard took me out of my sad-sack "I can't do this" mental state.

The main thing, though, is really the instructors. A good one is a gem, a bad one sucks all the happiness from the world. Don't give up on a particular style of exercise if you get a bad class; try two or three to see if you find a great teacher.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:34 AM on October 21, 2012

Oh, and if you want to try yoga, see if you can find Iyengar classes in your area. That style uses props -- straps, bolsters, blankets, etc -- to support the body and can be a great way for beginners (of all sizes, but especially those of us who are not slim) to get started. And though yoga isn't generally promoted as cardio exercise per se, I find that for those of us who are unfit, it is indeed a cardio workout.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:36 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend water aerobics to start. Really easy on the joints, and will help build up your strength to try other things a bit later. And the bonus is water aerobics classes are usually a hoot. And fun!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check your local park district. A park employee here is a certified personal trainer who leads a (seasonal) fitness class. We walk a two-mile circuit with several stops for exercise that range from yoga poses to pushups and crunches. We generally walk at our own pace, and pushing to keep up with the faster ones has helped my mild asthma and lung capacity a ton. Some folks don't do the exercise portion at all due to their fitness level. Coach always shows us several modifications so we can adapt them to our abilities. I went from doing literally one pushup from my knees to doing 30 regular ones plus 20 more from my knees over the summer. Still fat, but that'll come.
posted by Occula at 11:02 AM on October 21, 2012

Our local recreation department offers many different types of classes at different locations around the city. The classes usually run about 10 weeks at a time and there's a lot to choose from. They're cheap, too, so if you end up in something you don't dig a lot you can switch and get a different class when the new session starts or stick with it if you love it. It's a great way to try different things, and they offer yoga, Pilates, water activities, weight training, just about everything. Hopefully your area has something similar. We have several cities and suburbs around that offer their own programs.
posted by j03 at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2012

My sister is overweight and she loves zumba. I've only been a few times but I thought it was great. It might be worth finding a good teacher because you'll be fine with an okay teacher but you'll love it with a good one. The best teacher I had made sure that even if you couldn't do the moves, you could bounce in place and have fun. It's great in a class because it's fun to dance with a lot of people. And it's dance but it's not like dance classes where you're hopeless if you can't figure out the moves. It's very democratic. I really recommend.
posted by kat518 at 12:28 PM on October 21, 2012

I'm your size now (height and weight), but have been substantially bigger too. I'm in actually pretty good shape right now--in fact I just ran my first ever 5K from beginning to end, this very morning, and feel pretty ass-kicking. Here are the exercises I've enjoyed in the last several years as I've lost weight and got more fit.

Swimming. Being in the water, moving through the water, is incredibly sensual, so swimming is just incredibly lovely. I have never been particularly embarrassed about showing my body, so the whole suit thing didn't bug me; YMMV widely, but it's really worth getting over that shit. The biggest challenge: when I took up swimming (at probably 340 lbs or so) I did have to reckon with my limitations and come to grips with them. Breathing rate and movement through the water are so tightly coupled in the forward crawl that I really needed to just slow.down.enough. to be able to make the breathing work. I regarded this as a necessary step of self-acceptance, of beginning-where-I-am. Again, the experience of sluicing through the water was so delicious, and the practice of swimming so meditative, that it definitely offset any angst about being a big ol' slowpoke.

Biking. I've always loved biking. Your point about the seat is well taken. I don't think there's much you can do on a stationary bike in the gym (unless they offer the choice of recumbents) but for road biking on your own bike--be aware that there are a WIDE range of choices for womens' bike seats. If your bike seat is uncomfortable, try others til you find one that works for you--it makes a world of difference. Biking is fantastic in that it's so practical to (get to work! go to the drug store! meet a friend for coffee!) and you can feel all eco-superior and shit. It's kind of like flying, actually.

Dancing. So much fun. 'Nuff said.

Running. I *never* in a million years though I'd ever do this, as I am both fat and have horrendous feet which require orthotics, whichout with I am crippled. But goddamn if I don't love it now, see the 5K thing above. I tried doing this when I was heavier than I am now (about 330) and it was doable but a struggle--I was, again, super-slow, and didn't enjoy it too much... but I tried it again last summer at about 295 and it was a whole different ball of wax. I'm still super slow but I absolutely love the experience and it makes my body feel great. My legs and butt and back and abs are so much stronger than they used to be and this makes a difference in so many aspect of my life. Importantly, I've never enjoyed walking before--the idea of walking as exercise made me want to poke my eyes out with a fork--though now that I'm a whole lot more fit due to running, walking is way easier and more appealing to me.

YMMtotallyV on these specific activities, of course. What I'm describing here is change in the right direction over the course of several years. If that seems too long-term, remember that you're going to wake up one of these days and it'll be several years from today. You may as well get started in the right direction, and keep it up--do what you can today and a little more, be appreciative of small achievements, keep moving in the right direction and you'll really accrue benefits in the long run. Good luck!
posted by Sublimity at 12:32 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a strength training class at your gym? Ours has a lifting-for-women class that might be more fun than lifting on your own. I agree with surenoproblem -- if you're doing both strength training and aerobics you're already set up for success, so the ideal thing would be to find classes which retain that balance.
posted by vorfeed at 12:58 PM on October 21, 2012

My old gym had a circuit class that I loved so much. The instructor set up 15 or 20 different "stations" and each person would do one station for one minute, and then move to the next. Because everyone is doing a different activity, there wasn't any choreography issue, and the person next to you is doing something completely different, so there's no comparing. Also you are so focused on doing pushups or burpees or squats or whatever that nobody really has the bandwidth to do anything but focus on your own station. It was a great workout, and there was a real camaraderie in the class, and every class was slightly different so it never got boring.

In the long run, I'd encourage you to just try a bunch of different things until you find something you love. Exercise is so much easier to do if it is something you really enjoy. But it is such a personal and subjective thing, I'd suggest you maybe make a point of trying one or two new classes or activities every month, until you find something you fall in love with. I know people who will get out of bed at 4:30 am to go surfing before work. I know people who feel that way about rock-climbing. And I know people who build their free time around their fencing tournament schedule. And when those people work out, it's something designed to make the activity they love go better, so they stick with it, because the benefits are more tangible to them than just the exercise equivalent of eating their vegetables.
posted by ambrosia at 1:43 PM on October 21, 2012

Try zumba - I personally liked it ok, but felt uncoordinated and like I wasn't strength-building or getting my heart-rate up as much as I liked, and it was hard on the knees. But if you have any affinity for dance, it does tend to be fun and supportive and positive.

I used to do strength and cardio alone, and now almost entirely rely on classes. I like boxing and kickboxing better than zumba - a little more strength, a little more feeling like a badass. Lately I'm really enjoying bootcamp classes, and my Y has a beginner bootcamp that is really great about different ability levels. I'm also a fan of yoga, and took tai chi for years. Basically, what I've found that it doesn't matter so much What class I'm doing, I always tend to push myself harder and do things that I'd Never do alone if I'm in a class. So if there's a Y or other non-competitive gym in your area that has classes, go in and try Different classes. There are often deals for trying out new classes. Find a good spot, and whatever the class, it'll be awesome.
posted by ldthomps at 2:08 PM on October 21, 2012

You might look into Boabom if you're in the Boston area or otherwise have a school near you. It's not quite martial art or yoga but kind of in between, and easily adaptable to students of varying ability.
posted by mds35 at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2012

I am in a Zumba-type class that I really love, and I actually look forward to going. This is a big deal for me because I don't generally find exercise enjoyable; I do it because it's good for me. But these classes are fun and interesting, never boring. I do not feel judged for my fitness level, ever; the people in the class are very friendly and warm. There are people of all shapes and sizes in our class, and although it's a good cardio workout you can definitely adapt it to your own level of fitness.

If you have never tried Zumba or its equivalent, I recommend it! These are the first cardio classes I've not had to drag myself to.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:51 PM on October 21, 2012

Zumba, yes. Swimming, yes.

What about Crossfit? If you find a good box with a good coach, every Crossfit exercise can be scaled to your ability. It's not boring, it will get you in with a group of very fitness-minded people who will keep you working hard and eating right.
posted by slateyness at 9:04 PM on October 21, 2012

Not a class but I like exercise videos because I can look at silly as I want at home and not worry about other people seeing my fat jiggle. Sometimes for fun I even channel an 80s aerobics vibe by tying my hair into a high side ponytail and wearing skimpy cycling shorts. Yeah.

Out of all the DVDs I've tried (30 Day Shred, Hip Hop Abs, Biggest Loser Boot Camp, even Zumba), the Leslie Sanson power walking videos have surprised me as the one I've stuck with the most. The most motivating for me is the 4 Mile Super Challenge (1 hour), where your "classmates" are people from their 30s to their 70s(!) She mentions that a couple of the ladies are already grandmothers, and wow are they in great shape. It shames me in a good way.

But my personal inspiration is this one guy in the back row, a 70-year-old with this fantastic dentured grin, doing the exercises like he's having a blast and strutting down the street to the beat of his own Big Band. When I start to get tired I just focus on him and think "Look at that smile! If this grandpa can do it, so can I!" or "I'm gonna getcha, Alton!" And this really gets me huffing to "catch up" with him.

Might be something to throw into the mix in lieu of your daily elliptical, just so things don't get boring.
posted by pimli at 9:32 PM on October 21, 2012

Try a bunch of stuff. There probably aren't many classes that are completely out of your reach - probably only the specifically "advanced" ones, and those that are uber-cardio focused (I would avoid "boot camps" for example).

I used to be about your BMI (I'm shorter), and I found that my comfort level had less to do with the class itself, and more with the teacher and general culture of the class. If you can sneak a peek at the class first, it helps. I find I prefer the classes full of a range of shapes, ages and genders (friendly too if possible). They generally have teachers that teach to a wider range of abilities.

Other things that help - being convenient, going with a friend, hiding in the back, and also introducing myself to the teacher at the begining of the class if possible. (Not always an option for giant classes, but definitely worth it).
posted by kjs4 at 10:50 PM on October 21, 2012

One note to add to the awesome ones above: Try a clas more than once! Some people have mentioned that no two classes are the same and it keeps things interesting; also keep in mind that the same class taught by two different instructors can be very, very different.

In Zumba for example I have one instructor who I will re-arrange my schedule for: he picks good music, he has good personality, and the dances in that class are a combination of fun, good movement, and very athletic. Another at the same gym uses music I don't like, with dances I do not find challenging, and a personality I find grating. But they both go by the same name of "Zumba."

You may also find the intensity level varies by day or time of day: The daytime aerobics classes are tailored towards a lower energy level and older age than the ones offered at 6-9pm when the hotties get off of my work (my gym is mostly hotties and retirees).
posted by whatzit at 3:38 AM on October 22, 2012

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