Within this blog, we will explore 6 important considerations to make exercise accessible for obese clients.
These considerations include removing mental barriers, selecting specific training environments, communicating with your clients in a polite and friendly manner, goal setting, developing core stability/balance and utilising appropriate equipment that caters for your obese client.
#1 Removing the Mental Barrier
A literature review in 2021 conducted by Baillot et al, reviewed 27 studies related to the mental barriers associated with physical activity within the obese population. The researchers’ main findings were a lack of motivation towards physical activity, with a correlating perception of it being difficult, uncomfortable and painful.
4 studies within the literature review suggested the preferred mode of exercise was walking.
The main aim of working with the obese population is to promote more movement, thereby increasing energy expenditure, muscle protein synthesis, modifying health and body composition, reducing joint pains, and increasing mood, energy levels and confidence.
The best approach for coaches and trainers would be to individualise the sessions to their obese client’s preferences because not everyone will enjoy walking solely, especially if they are paying for a service.
It’s down to you as a fitness professional to figure your client’s preference out.
Always review the session with your client to see if they enjoyed it.
Also communicate via text message and e-mail, as clients may not always be open to giving verbal feedback.
Use the feedback to improve your sessions based on the client’s preference if appropriate.
#2 Selective Environment
Another major barrier that the obese population may face, is a degree of social anxiety that stems from worry about how others may perceive their weight (Horenstein et al., 2021).
This often prevents them from even entering potentially crowded environments like the gym or group sessions, hence why they prefer being guided by a qualified trainer like yourself.
So as a coach or trainer, you must ensure the client feels comfortable with the environment.
You could train your client in the beginner-friendly areas of the gym, or an empty studio room or they may prefer to start their sessions within their own home. Where possible, encourage them to train at quieter times within a leisure facility whilst they become familiar with their surroundings and abilities.
Once the client feels more comfortable and confident, you may benefit from introducing them to other environments to exercise to provide variety and independence going forwards to exercise without you.
#3 Friendly and Positive Attitude
For the same reason as point #2, some obese clients may be timid around others and in a different environment.
Coaches and trainers must always be patient and communicate with their clients in an open, polite and friendly manner to make their clients feel at ease and welcomed. Don’t have preconceived thoughts or opinions about what someone will or won’t enjoy. Instead, work with this client as you would any other and develop a strong rapport that makes them feel at ease to communicate how they would like to train with your guidance throughout.
#4 Goal Setting
Setting S.M.A.R.T goals (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound) has repeatedly been shown to alter the behaviour and attitude of obese clients towards diet and physical activity (Pearson, 2012).
This intervention shows that the end goal is not farfetched, and can be achieved by setting smaller goals one at a time.
The goals a trainer sets should be specific within a time frame and achievable for the client.
Rewards can be used for achieving milestones which can aid motivation and adherence. The rewards should always be considered valuable and of interest to the client for them to be successful motivators.
Furthermore, make sure you are getting regular feedback from your client.
#5 Building Foundational Core Stability and Balance
Chances are that when you start working with your client, they will present weak core stability muscles and poor balance due to inactivity (Arman et al., 2021).
As a trainer, it’s important to help build a foundational level of core stability and balance by integrating standing and balance based exercises if possible.
As a guide, it takes around 6-8 weeks to develop some core stability (Arman et al., 2021), allowing your client to progress onto more advanced interventions like bodyweight exercises, resistance training and light jogging.
#6 Utilising Appropriate Equipment
It’s important to be aware of the weight limits on certain pieces of fitness equipment so you can ensure you chose safe and appropriate equipment for your client. Not being prepared or aware of this area will only feed into the client’s fears about exercise.
As a trainer, you must avoid equipment that does not cater for larger individuals as there is the potential to cause injury and negatively impact the client psychologically.
For example, your clients may not be able to sit comfortably on an exercise bike, move to and from the floor easily or perform advanced bodyweight exercises. Ensure you are familiar with the adaptation and alternatives available for a range of exercises to prevent any additional barriers developing.
Take home messages
As a trainer or coach, you must always remove any mental barriers around exercise, showing your client that exercise can be enjoyable.
The environment and the way you communicate with obese clients can make them feel more welcome and return for more training sessions.
Do not undervalue the power of goal setting, and the impact it can have on your clients’ behaviour towards exercise.
Do not forget to reward your client for reaching landmark goals and request feedback regularly.
When you are training your client, you must first establish a foundational level of core stability and balance and be considerate of the equipment being used.
Arman, N., Tokgoz, G, Seyit, H., et al. (2021). ‘The effects of core stabilization exercise program in obese people awaiting bariatric surgery: A randomized controlled study’ Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 43(1):101342
Baillot, A., Chenail, S., Polita, N.B., et al. (2021). ‘Physical activity motives, barriers, and preferences in people with obesity: A systematic review’. PLOS ONE; 16(6): e0253114.
Horenstein, A., Kaplan, S.C., Butler, R.M., et al.(2021). ‘Social anxiety moderates the relationship between body mass index and motivation to avoid exercise’ Body Image 36 (2):185-192
Pearson, E.S. (2012). ‘Goal setting as a health behavior change strategy in overweight and obese adults: a systematic literature review examining intervention components’ Patient education and counseling 87(1):32-42
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be an individualised prescription. No individual can be held liable for any injuries, damaged or monetary losses as a result of this information.