No fat chicks

August 24th, 2008  |  Published in Starting weight training  |  64 Comments

no_fat_chicks_treadmill_graphicI was sitting on a cold, paper-covered exam table when the doctor told me I was too fat. The sterile, crinkly surface rustled as I shifted awkwardly, trying to conceal my embarrassment and anger. I had gone in to find out why my hip hurt so much (I later figured out that it was exacerbated by my being a TV junkie in third year undergrad, and parking my ass in front of hours of TV every day). The doctor explained that my extra weight was putting pressure on the joint and was the likely source of the pain. Then he said simply, “Lose weight,” and left the room.

So I took up step aerobics. Guess what happened. The pain didn’t go away. It just found a friend. My knee started hurting too. I thought the problem was with me. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that a lot of conventional advice about diet and exercise is not geared to folks who are out of shape.

If you’re a significantly overweight beginner, the last thing you want to do is jump around like a fool on already overstressed joints (and let’s face it, who wants to endure a perky instructor who has no problems moving around?). Traditional advice about exercise for beginners seems to have been written by folks for whom running 10 miles a day is a pleasant pre-breakfast constitutional. It’s time to rethink everything you thought you knew about the right way to start losing weight.

Scroll to the end of this for a suggested routine for an overweight beginner.

rule #1: do what you can

You know the drill. “Do 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-6 times weekly.” The more aerobics the better! Sweat to the oldies! Get that heart rate up and keep it up!
Obviously the physicists in the audience never pointed out that for significantly overweight beginners, jumping up and down puts a great deal of stress on the joints. Overweight folks get the same joints as skinny folks, which means that the joint is already under significant stress. Adding more stress in the form of sustained impact is hard for a beginner to manage.
In addition, a body which is carrying a lot of excess fat is already working hard to move itself around. Overweight people who are avoiding moving around aren’t lazy, they’re sensible. It’s a lot of effort to get going when you have excess mass to carry along with you.
So, what should the overweight beginner do instead? She should work in short bursts throughout the day, within the capacity that she feels is manageable. Instead of getting up the energy to drag through an hour-long aerobics class, try incorporating a series of 5 or 10-minute bursts of activity into your daily routine. Climb a flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator. Park your car farther away from the store. There are many little ways to begin. Many overfat folks like water aerobics and swimming because of the reduced strain on the joints.
Do not, I repeat, do not, leap into a fitness routine if you are an overweight beginner. Take it slowly and do one new thing every week. Injury is very discouraging.

rule #2: cardio is overrated

I can hear the gasps of righteous horror from here. Cardio overrated?! Blasphemy!
Yeah, well, if endless bouts of cardio are so great, why do marathoners all look like beef jerky? What the heck happened to all their muscle tissue?
While doing cardio can contribute to the development and maintenance of aerobic fitness, cardio training on its own is not necessarily the best way or only way to lose fat. It merely assists you in creating an overall caloric deficit which contributes to your body burning more resources than it takes in. It is a sensible part of a fitness regimen, but it is not the be-all and end-all, and it should not stand alone.
And don’t believe that stuff about “low intensity burns fat for fuel, while high intensity burns sugar, so you should do a bazillion hours of low intensity cardio.” First of all, doing so much low-intensity work is as exciting as watching amateur shuffleboard on TV, and second of all it’s not true. While different activities utilize different fuels, it’s the big picture that matters to your body. Your body is a dreamer and visionary, not a nitpicker. Weight training, while it burns sugar-based glycogen for fuel in the short term, ultimately helps the body burn more fat. Building and maintaining muscle is much more metabolically demanding in the long run than a few turns around the block. Combining sensible cardio with weight training is the one-two punch that will keep fat loss going. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should immediately start into a sprinting program. See rule #1.

rule #3: weight training is a must for long term fat loss

One of the stupidest pieces of advice I’ve heard is that overweight people shouldn’t weight train because it will build muscle that will push the fat out more. It’s very hard to build that kind of muscle mass in a short time, or ever. In fact overweight folks are perfect candidates for weight training.
Any loss of bodyweight involves a loss of both fat and muscle. The key is to maximize the fat loss and minimize the muscle loss. You do this through both your diet and your training. In terms of training, cardio alone doesn’t cut it. Extended bouts of cardio are catabolic to muscle, which means they contribute to muscle mass loss. So you might lose some fat, but in the long term, your metabolism is compromised because you’ve lost muscle too. For long term body recomposition, nothing seems to get results that measure up to weight training combined with other activity (if desired) and sensible nutrition.
Weight training has other benefits besides retention of muscle. It helps keep you motivated as you see strength gains quickly, as most newbies do. Many folks report that strengthening the muscles results in less joint pain and less difficulty in moving around.
This doesn’t mean you should run into the gym and start killing yourself. The beauty of weight training is that it can be easily modified to every trainee’s needs, and adjusted as the trainee becomes stronger and more familiar with technique. Many overweight beginners are surprised to discover how strong they actually are.

rule #4: do something you like

Weight training is a must, as I said, but every other activity you do is your choice. Find something fun and do it. If you hate aerobics, don’t do them! Don’t listen to other people telling you what you should like. Get out in your garden instead, or walk the dog, or anything that gets you moving around. Try a variety of activities to see which ones you enjoy and can do. See rule #1 about not overdoing it and incorporating your activity into your day in short bursts. Of course, if you don’t like anything, then you are in deep sheeyat, my dear.

rule #5: whatever you do, stick to it

One common pitfall for overweight beginners is quitting after a few days or weeks when they don’t see results. Something is always better than nothing, and starting small will mean that your results are gradual.
This is another reason why weight training is a good idea: gains in strength occur almost immediately and can be observed easily by the trainee, unlike gains in muscle or fat loss. Focus on how much you’re lifting for the first 6 months, and meeting your process goals — ie. rather than losing X lbs, make “sticking to a healthy eating and activity plan” your first goal.

rule #6: don’t drop calories too low

So you have decided to lose weight, and you’re eating carrot sticks and rice cakes, and you feel like crap and don’t want to exercise. Then your fat loss stalls altogether and you can’t figure out why. Too low a caloric intake is the likely culprit. Yes, I said too low.
There are a few ways to calculate your daily dieting caloric intake, and they’re based on your existing level of bodyfat, as well as your overall activity level and age. In general, though, intake is based on bodyweight. The higher the amount of bodyfat, the lower the intake coefficient (the number that you multiply by your bodyweight to figure out caloric intake).

  • For a woman who’s fairly active and doesn’t have a lot of bodyfat to lose: multiply bodyweight (in lbs.) by 10-12 to get daily intake.
    For example: A 200 lb. person’s daily intake = 2000 to 2400 calories daily.
  • For moderately overfat and/or somewhat active and/or older women: multiply bodyweight by 8 or 9.
    For example: A 200 lb. person’s daily intake = 1600 to 1800 calories daily.
  • Very overfat and/or sedentary and/or older women: multiply bodyweight by 7 or 8.
    For example: A 200 lb. person’s daily intake = 1400 to 1600 calories daily.

These numbers are NOT carved in stone. If you are very overfat and still getting good results using 12 x bodyweight, great. Keep careful track of progress so that you know for sure. If appetite is a problem, try raising your intake slightly. And don’t forget to adjust intake upwards as bodyfat decreases. Men can use these formulae too. Their intake will often be slightly higher than women of comparable bodyweight. Men in general can often get away with a higher intake coefficient than women, and tend to lose bodyfat more effectively. What can I say, the rules of biology suck sometimes.
For more on proper dieting protocol, check out Dieting 101 and the rest of the articles in the “eating” section on this site.

rule #7: monitor progress closely

This goes for both positive and negative results.
Positive results include fat loss, increase in endurance, and strength gain. Adjust workouts accordingly to match your increased capacities.
Negative results include pain, fatigue, and discouragement. If you’ve started an activity that you’re not enjoying, or you had a bad workout, figure out why and try to solve the problem for next time.

rule #8: supplement wisely

As an overweight beginner you are at risk for joint problems, so head them off at the pass before injury happens. My suggestions:
1. A good multivitamin. You can’t go wrong here.
2. MSM, aka methylsulfonylmethane. This is a good all-purpose supplement and can be found at most drug or health food stores. Take 1-3 grams daily in divided doses with food. Start at 1g per day and work up gradually. If you’re already experiencing joint pain, you can take up to 5 g daily (but again, do this over a period of time, and pay close attention to the dose that works for you… you may be experience relief with only 2g daily).
3. Chondroitin and glucosamine sulfate. Used in conjunction with MSM, these help heal and keep joints healthy. You can usually find combination chondroitin and glucosamine products, again at drug and health food stores. Follow dosage instructions on the label.
4. Don’t waste the cash on diet drugs. Most don’t work, some are dangerous, and none are a long term solution. A few people may benefit from carefully prescribed medication, but this is something you should discuss with your doctor. Don’t self-medicate.

suggested workout plan for overweight beginners

Note that this plan is for weight training only. I assume that you’ll be incorporating some additional activity into your routine every day, as laid out in rule #1. This plan is intended for those folks who are overweight/sedentary beginners, who have bravely joined a gym or who have some equipment at home. I’ve planned this out so that you gradually ease into a workout program over several weeks. I’ve also planned it so that as your workout capacity increases, the workload increases. If you feel that you need more time to adjust before you go to the next level, then by all means take a few more weeks to do so. Conversely, if you improve very quickly, then you’re welcome to challenge yourself within your limits. Just don’t push it too far in the beginning. There is always time to improve.

week 1

Familiarize yourself with the equipment you have access to. If you’ve joined a gym, ask one of the trainers to show you around, and show you where everything is. Now, they’re likely to breeze past the free weights in favour of the foofoo machines, so this is where you have to get tough and tell them clearly you’d like to see their free weight section. Ignore them if they tell you that machines are safer than free weights (or, if you want to watch them squirm, ask them to provide clinical research which proves that machines are safer). Read the section on this site on free weights if you want some ammo.
Make a realistic plan of how much time you can devote to training. Even 2 days a week is good in the beginning. Once you’ve decided how and when you’ll incorporate this into your routine, write it down like an appointment and stick to it. You should allow around an hour, although you won’t use this hour up at first.
Read up on correct form for exercises. You can find this information on this site or at sites such as ExRx and Biofitness.
Get checked out by your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications to your beginning a fitness program.
Get a notebook, preferably the kind divided into sections. In one section, record your workouts, in another section your food intake, and in the third, the following measurements: weight, bust, waist, hip, thigh (taken at midpoint between groin and knee), calf, upper arm and forearm. Take a picture too, if you like. Write down the date. You’ll come back to the measurements page soon.

week 2

You’ve booked 2-3 days to get to the gym, now do it. Bring your notebook and record what weights you use, and how many reps of each you do, as well as how you feel.
Here’s your routine. You will do this at least 2 days a week, making sure to get at least one rest day in between. Remember good form. Most of these exercises, except the lat pulldown and calf raise, are designed to be done with free weights. If you don’t have access to machines, then do rows instead of lat pulls and single legged calf raises on a step, holding a dumbbell. These exercises require minimal equipment: all you need is a bench and a barbell and/or dumbbell (you can modify all exercises to be done with dumbbells).
If you get out of breath, take breaks as needed, but aim for about 1-2 minutes rest between sets.
1. Warmup: 2-3 minutes of light cardio (slow walking on the treadmill is good)
2. Gentle dynamic stretching: get the joints moving by gently bending them and slowly moving them through their range of motion
3. Squat with no added weight (hold on to something sturdy for balance if you need to), 1 set of as many reps as you can manage (work up to 20), through as full a range of motion as you can do
4. Lat pulldown, 1 set of 10-12 reps
5. Bench press, 1 set of 10-12 reps
6. Dumbbell shoulder press, 1 set of 10-12 reps (ideally do these standing, but you can do seated if you feel very unbalanced)
7. Dumbbell or cable row, 1 set of 10-12 reps
8. Calf raises, 1 set of 12-15 reps
9. Ab crunches, 1 set of as many as you can do
10. Cooldown: gentle static stretching for 5 minutes
Cardio is optional at this point, but if you feel up to it, do 5-10 minutes of gentle walking after your workout.

week 3

This week you will focus on making sure you get to the gym regularly. Bring a notebook and write down what you do (weight, reps) and how you feel. If you feel up to it, add some more cardio. If not, don’t worry about it.
You will also begin to keep a food diary. The point of this is not to be obsessive, but to figure out what you eat during the average day and when, so that you know where to make changes. Record what you eat, how much (portion size), when you eat it, how you’re feeling when you eat it.

week 4

This week you will focus on your diet and getting to the gym regularly. Read Dieting 101 and make one small change in your eating habits, such as eating 5-6 small meals daily or decreasing portion size.

week 5

This week you will increase the difficulty of your workout routine. Changes as follows:
1. Warmup: 2-3 minutes of light cardio
2. Gentle dynamic stretching: get the joints moving by gently bending them and slowly moving them through their range of motion
3. Squat with added weight if you’re strong enough, or continue with no added weight if you’re not. 2 sets of 10-12 reps in good form. Use a light bar or hold a couple of dumbbells.
4. Lat pulldown, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
5. Bench press, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
6. Dumbbell shoulder press, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
7. Dumbbell or cable row, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
8. Calf raises, 2 sets of 12-15 reps
9. Ab crunches, 2 sets of as many as you can do
10. Cooldown: gentle static stretching for 5 minutes
You should be adding in some cardio at this point. Aim for 10-15 minutes.
Continue to focus on diet and regular gym attendance. Make another small change in your eating habits, such as getting more lean protein.

week 6

Same as week 5. Slightly increase either the duration or intensity of your cardio, and/or of the daily bouts of activity if you are able to do so.
Make another small change in your eating habits, such as eliminating some regular junk food.

week 7

Same as week 5. Slightly increase either the duration or intensity of your cardio and/or daily bouts of activity if you are able to do so.
Make another small change in your eating habits, such as switching to water from sugary juices and soda.

week 8

Time for a progress report. Take the same measurements you took on the first week. If you see little improvement, don’t panic. Your strength will be the first thing to show noticeable progress, while fat loss will take longer.
Also take this opportunity to address any problems which have cropped up, such as missed gym time. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just get back on.
Workouts are the same as in week 5. Increase cardio time and/or daily bouts of activity if you are able to do so.
Make another small change in your eating habits, such as adding a multivitamin supplement.

week 9

Time to increase workout difficulty again!
1. Warmup: 2-3 minutes of light cardio
2. Gentle dynamic stretching
3. Squat with added weight if able, aiming for 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps in good form.
4. Lat pulldown, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
5. Bench press, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
6. Dumbbell shoulder press, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
7. Dumbbell or cable row, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
8. Calf raises, 2 sets of 12-15 reps
9. Ab crunches, 2 sets of as many as you can do
10. Cooldown: gentle static stretching for 5 minutes
You should definitely be adding cardio to the end of your workout at this point. Instead of making the session longer now, try making it harder (you can even try cutting the time down and do 10 challenging minutes rather than 20 moderate ones). Increase the incline of the treadmill, or the level of resistance on whatever machine you’re using.
Make another small change in your eating habits, such as cutting down on caffeine or alcohol intake.

week 10

Same as week 9.
Make another small change in your eating habits, such as adding an extra piece of fruit or vegetable every day.

week 11

Same as week 9.
You’re probably well on your way to good eating by now!

week 12

Congratulations! You stuck with it for 3 months! Reward yourself.
Take progress measurements and pics again.
Continue with this workout routine for another 4-8 weeks, then select another one of your choice from the workout section. You should be able now to handle much more activity. If you like the workout you’re currently doing, simply increase each exercise to 3 sets.
Continue to increase the difficulty and duration of your cardio, up to 30 minutes per session (or you can split it into several sessions per day of 5-10 minutes).
One reader liked this page so much she emailed me to say:
What a smart, wild woman you are. I am a 37 year old woman who loves to lift. Been keeping extra pounds on for too long and am finishing the BFL thing. Much better shape now. Anyway, love your site and
your advice for the overly fat. I suppose I’m not fat anymore but your suggestions are so right on. Lift and forget about intense cardio until you feel better and, well, just plain physical again. Then cardio can begin to feel fun or at least tolerable. Push yourself to lift more and more and just get in 20 minutes of something that moves your legs throughout the day. You’ll burn more fat when you are packed with muscle anyway. Anyway, I used to model and eat NOTHING and that is when I let my weight training go. I steadily got fat over several years even though I was eating NOTHING. At 31%BF I got sick of being sick and started to lift again. The fat fell off. Just fell off. Eating 1800-2000 cals a day. I felt like I was stuffing myself compared to what I had been doing and now that I ripple with muscle instead of fat I kinda like those silly step classes again just to watch the other, younger girls wince with pain when the burn kicks in. Hee, hee!


  1. Suchitra says:

    February 12th, 2009at 8:17 am(#)

    Wow, this is the best advice ever! I really liked the article…especially the way the opinions have been expressed! Impressive…

  2. Celia says:

    February 12th, 2009at 8:50 am(#)

    OUTSTANDING! I’m a reformed obese couch potato, who is now getting ready to take the ACE certification for Personal Training. Much of my inspiration came directly from this website. My dream is to inspire obese folks to embrace a healthier lifestyle, and your advice is absolutely perfect! I’ve been there. I know. Weight training was the answer for me. I knew I’d never be skinny, but I also knew I COULD get strong, and as my metabolism increased, so did my desire to MOVE. I am in the best condition of my life at the age of 51, but always a work in progress.

  3. Sarah says:

    February 16th, 2009at 3:30 pm(#)

    I liked this one. As an overweight beginner myself, it was hard to find programs that I could actually do. Like the pilates class I tried where the teacher could put her feet behind her head and said it was great for your abs. I couldn’t even begin to consider to even get half way there. I didn’t enjoy rolling around on the floor either. Other tortures I’ve found are step classes like the one mention here where the teacher is 110lbs, and 20 years old. Jumping around doesn’t cause her breasts to give her a black eye.On a different note, I find it kind of interesting the gimmick weight loss products all seem to have weight limits. It’s like you’re fat, so you need to exercise, but you’re too fat to use this product. Find something else fatty! :)

  4. Lynn says:

    February 17th, 2009at 7:09 am(#)

    I wish there had been options listed for people who, for whatever reason, can’t use a gym. You can acquire all the weights you need at home, but then the workout descriptions throw in bits about treadmills and machines.

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    February 17th, 2009at 7:42 am(#)

    You can check out no-gym options here:

  6. Cath the Canberra Cook says:

    February 18th, 2009at 7:44 pm(#)

    Hey, Krista, nice site redesign. But the links to the “crap list” and “workout page” in this article are broken – they point to the old site, and so just take you to the front page.

    I was doing home weights for about 6 months until I had a very bad winter of illnesses, and somehow couldn’t get myself motivated back into it. So I’ve just started going to the gym and using machines in a class setting (guided warm up, then weights program ad lib, guided abs, cool down & stretch). It’s run by the YMCA and mostly targets older people. I’m pushing 50, and am one of the youngest there. It’s a very nice and accepting setting; I’d recommend it to fellow fat chicks.

    The trainer there wants me to try for moderately high reps with lighter weights – start with single sets of 16, aiming for 30. She says it’s to build endurance first before increasing the weight. I know you object to the fluff about toning or avoiding big muscles, but this has a different rationale. Does this make sense to you?

  7. Cath the Canberra Cook says:

    February 18th, 2009at 7:46 pm(#)

    PS: also the free weights link is broken.

  8. Mistress Krista says:

    February 19th, 2009at 1:15 am(#)

    Starting that way is fine with that rationale — generally it’s best for beginners to start with higher reps to learn technique and condition the joints. On the other hand, there is a big difference between 30 reps of a real exercise like squats and 30 reps of a pointless one like triceps kickbacks. 30 reps of squats is a good workout. 30 reps of kickbacks is 60 seconds of wasted time.

  9. Cath the Canberra Cook says:

    February 21st, 2009at 12:26 am(#)

    Thank you!

  10. jackie says:

    February 21st, 2009at 10:01 am(#)

    Bad link notification: The link to Dieting 101 in this article simply takes you back to the home page…

  11. Mistress Krista says:

    February 21st, 2009at 10:49 am(#)

    Thanks Jackie — also noticed the format was screwed up too, so I fixed that.

  12. Strenua says:

    February 27th, 2009at 1:50 pm(#)

    Love this article and so glad I can finally comment about it!

  13. Kettlebell lifter says:

    March 10th, 2009at 8:45 am(#)

    Very interesting article…
    thank you for link

  14. Beth Barany says:

    March 21st, 2009at 7:45 pm(#)

    I just found this site, and yours is the first article I read. Thank you so much for this information. I don’t want to be *thin,* I want to be *STRONG.* I’m 40 years old, and 30 lbs overweight, to my chagrin. I had lost over 20 lbs, and did 4 sprint triathlons 2 years ago, then recently gained it back. I’ve stayed active through the weight gain, but lost my focus somewhere… Starting a business can do that to you! So, I’ve joined 24 HR Fitness, and have lots of options I’ve started taking advantage of. I’m already lifting, cardio kickboxing, and treadmill twice a week, but without direction. I’m going to print out your 3 month program and have with fun with it! I can’t weight to take advantage of the rest of your site’s resources. Thank you for the all the guidance, and for providing a place where women can stand tall and be strong.

  15. Stella says:

    April 19th, 2009at 6:14 pm(#)

    Er, I’m a fat chick and have been weight training for years. I have strength and stamina and hey, I’m still fat. Am I some kind of failure or something because of my BMI? The whole “TEH FATZ = Unhealthy” thing severely bothers me.

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    April 19th, 2009at 7:23 pm(#)

    Stella: Are you healthy? (As measured by various indicators such as blood pressure, blood triglycerides, glucose, general state of wellbeing, etc.) Are you fit? Are you regularly active and careful with your nutrition? If so then you are not a failure. Fitness is a lifestyle and a set of choices, not a size.

  17. Judy Sombar says:

    June 2nd, 2009at 8:02 pm(#)

    A fabulous article! I linkied to it and expect my own readers to become fans of yours immediately! Thanks for the truth…

  18. Kari says:

    June 10th, 2009at 3:00 pm(#)

    Thank you so much for this. I’m very overweight (5’7, ~250 lbs) and ready for some significant change in my life. There’s a lot of fitness advice out there, but little of it seems geared towards someone like me. I’m going to print out these workouts, get myself a notebook, and hit the free weights at my gym.

    You’re an inspiration. Thanks again.

  19. minervaK says:

    June 25th, 2009at 12:25 pm(#)

    Krista my dear, I have always loved your website, for your wonderful humor, but I’m dismayed by this ‘no fat chicks’ thing. What kind of Tool of the Patriarchy outfit are you running here? There are many of us weight-training gals who are ‘fat chicks’ (google Cheryl Haworth) who endure this kind of shit all day long, 24/7/365. It’s no fun to come here and get another dose. Thanks — MK

  20. minervaK says:

    June 25th, 2009at 12:28 pm(#)

    Mistress Krista says:

    April 19th, 2009at 7:23 pm(#)

    Stella: Are you healthy? (As measured by various indicators such as blood pressure, blood triglycerides, glucose, general state of wellbeing, etc.) Are you fit? Are you regularly active and careful with your nutrition? If so then you are not a failure. Fitness is a lifestyle and a set of choices, not a size.

    Aha, maybe I spoke too soon in my previous comment… if you truly believe what you’ve stated above, what’s with the ‘no fat chicks’ crap?

  21. Mistress Krista says:

    June 25th, 2009at 2:38 pm(#)

    I used to be a fat chick, as you will read in the opening lines of the article. Psychologically and probably genetically, I’m still a fat chick inside. The “no fat chicks” is a satirical reference, used in the same vein as any other term of reclamation. And it’s used to imply that mainstream fitness isn’t friendly to bigger women. Which is why you should take my advice instead.

  22. Sara says:

    July 14th, 2009at 8:37 pm(#)

    I have two really quick questions…

    1. I am doing this routine and the 100 pushups challenge at the same time. Bench presses and pushups seem to target some of the same muscles though. Can I do both? Should I alternate from workout to workout? Or should I just do one or the other (and which would you recommend in that case?)

    2. Many of the routines have the lat pulldown – here you say that if you don’t have the equipment, to just do a dumbbell row. Does that apply to the lat pulldowns in any of the routines on this site? That is the best substitution? And it doesn’t matter that you essentially end up with two sets of dumbbell rows?

    Thank you very much for this informative, no nonsense site. It has been great for motivation – now I just have to put it to practice!

  23. JC says:

    July 24th, 2009at 9:55 am(#)

    This is a lot of new information that I never knew about…that a lot more people should know, that I will definitely pass on to friends and loved ones.

    I would also like to mention that a personal comfort zone is very important. I’m still not at the top of my game, but I lost 30 pounds 2 years ago when I bought my treadmill (and I have free standing lightweight dumbells that I have a routine). I am not someone who is inspired by those around me at the gym – I feel like I’m not proving enough by my own activity – but that does not allow me to do justice to myself, as I have severe asthma and wear a knee brace. I push myself too hard and cause injuries or illness when I am around others. When you have physical limitations, you need to work within those restrictions and gradually build up your endurance.

    The best purchase I have ever made (for ME) was opening a credit card, buying my treadmill and paying off the balance. Better than my computer, anything. And work-out equipment, if you know you’re going to USE it, is the best investment you can make for yourself (or a gym membership if you DO find motivation being around others).

    The point I’m trying to make is don’t overwhelm yourself, do something you know you will do. Set an expectation but also set an environment where you can do it – which a lot of people fail to consider, and then fail at their attempts. The only one you are letting down then is yourself – which is more costly emotionally and physically.

    A vitamin regimen that works for you is also crucial. Days when I miss mine, I am so tired and weak. Taking care of yourself will give you more energy and more life.

  24. Kelly says:

    August 25th, 2009at 8:56 am(#)

    Thank you so much for this advice! What do you think about water exercise for obese women in addition to weight training? Kelly =)

  25. manic MONDAY: 31 aug 2009 « ambrosia says:

    August 30th, 2009at 10:10 pm(#)

    […] virgin. I don’t know my squats from my thrusts or my presses. And, as Mistress Krista writes, “a lot of conventional advice about diet and exercise is not geared to folks who are out of […]

  26. Harry says:

    September 9th, 2009at 12:50 pm(#)


    Just stumbled across this article – great intro to training – and had a couple of questions/comments:

    1. I don’t think that, when doctors etc recommend “do aerobic activity” that they necessarily mean “do aerobics”. It could just be a suggestion to go for a 1/2 hour walk every day, rather than jumping into a high-impact step class.
    2. I strongly agree with the value of weight training, but isn’t the statement “Extended bouts of cardio are catabolic to muscle” a bit misleading in the context of this article? I believe this effect is only likely at very low body fat levels – I don’t have any physiology background to back that up though.

    Nice site – very helpful for men and women – and great article!


  27. Mistress Krista says:

    September 10th, 2009at 6:47 am(#)

    Hi Harry,

    Well, I originally wrote this article back in the 1990s (eep!), when the tail end of the aerobic years was still going pretty strong. Step was the spin/Pilates/Body Gump of its time. Now, I do imagine that recommendations are more civilized. Personally I think the recommendation of walking is excellent and I heartily endorse it.

    Extended bouts of cardio do indeed generate a catabolic environment, which is perhaps not entirely relevant to all subjects, but on the other hand, a catabolic environment is a broad-spectrum thing with many diffuse effects. For example, stress hormones are elevated (which can be correlated with things like increased visceral fat deposits), appetite can be disrupted, and on a very basic level, tissue repair doesn’t occur as effectively, which can lead to things like joint injuries. It’s easy enough to fall off the wagon when you’re starting an exercise program, and an injury can really derail you.

    So, while the strength effects of extended cardio are perhaps only relevant to folks like powerlifters, the overall catabolic environment is important for nearly everyone.

    That all being said, something is ALWAYS better than nothing. For an overfat beginner, just being active is a great victory. If folks decide that they absolutely lurv extended endurance cardio AND they feel good when doing it AND their body is happy with it, then go for it!

  28. Heather says:

    September 22nd, 2009at 2:16 pm(#)

    It’s funny how you end up place. I came here through, by way of where I was looking for healthy recipes that I could make gluten-free. Due to a recent diagnosis of gluten intolerance, I have been changing my diet around.

    Anyway, this article, and your site in general, give me great hope that once I have a handle on my diet, I will be able to start losing weight. And I’ll be able to do it without the stick figure personal trainer I had the last time I tried to do the gym thing. She was heavily cardio oriented and even with a diet change then I just didn’t see results. This looks like it is much more likely to work and I thank you for tailoring beginner advice for the overweight starter.


  29. Mistress Krista says:

    September 22nd, 2009at 3:28 pm(#)

    Heather, I think you’ll find that life changes greatly for the better when you get your nutrition under control. So congratulations on finding a solution that works for you! (Paleo style eating rules!)

    Forget the death-by-cardio. Have some fun with heavy weights and celebrate getting strong. :)

  30. Jon says:

    October 1st, 2009at 7:35 pm(#)

    Great adivce check out as you progress

  31. Gaby says:

    December 18th, 2009at 8:34 am(#)

    Thank you for such a wonderful page! I found it on yahoo answers as a cited reference.

    I used to weight lift back in the day when I wrestled in high school, and controlled my weight that way. However, now that I’m in college, I hardly work up the courage to go to the gym, and when I do go I do hard cardio for a few hours, kill myself a little, and then feel so crappy the next day that I don’t try it again for a few months. Your article has inspired me to really try to weight lift again- and that its okay to start off slow.

    Thanks again- Gaby

  32. Mary O'Donnell says:

    December 23rd, 2009at 6:06 pm(#)

    I guess I wonder, I really don’t like much of anything. I’m sorry; but gym teachers were all so DUMB. You were supposed to come in, knowing it all on your own, and when I didn’t, I just had to suffer through getting booed down when I struck out at softball, or being picked last for almost any sport. I guess there’s less of that now, but that’s how it worked for me. Am considering a gym now, but am unemployed and no prospects for a job. My family tells me to join the Y and go swimming, but really I’ve been sick two weeks already with a chest cold. I would try, money or now,but I still hesitate on it. Much of my recent weight gain is from medicines–my depakote never affected me that much, but now that I’ve hit my late forties, it seems to have really gone for a ride. Nothing I can do about that–I need the drug. It seems to be the only, or the best, anti-convulsant I’ve used in at least 10 years.

  33. Velvet says:

    December 28th, 2009at 4:29 pm(#)

    Great article! One question–due to a fall down some stairs I took while 9 months pregnant a few years ago, I now have several chronic pain areas and damage from the injuries I sustained. Notably, a very bad knee and ankle, NOT on the same leg and a lower back that are all now painful, quickly deteriorating joints.

    Any suggestions for people with chronic pain/disabilities?

  34. Bianca says:

    December 29th, 2009at 5:39 pm(#)

    hi! thankyou for this article… this will really help… i dont wanna be fat anymore… i HATE being fat!!!

  35. GoGreen says:

    January 20th, 2010at 5:46 pm(#)

    I dislike doing weight training and discontinued it recently. I do moderate intensity cardio 6 days/week 30 mins each session burning anywhere b/w 170-250 calories. what do you think?

  36. Mistress Krista says:

    January 21st, 2010at 1:10 pm(#)

    GoGreen: I think you could do worse, but I think that incorporating some resistance training is essential. Moderate intensity cardio does not help you build the strength and lean muscle that you need for healthy aging, overall wellness, and a well-functioning metabolism.

  37. Hot Mother says:

    January 23rd, 2010at 6:21 pm(#)


    I ventured into the gym for the first time today, and ran into a few hiccups:

    When I do dumbbell shoulder presses, I hear a crunchy noise in my left shoulder. No discomfort, but definitely noisy. Do I need to run off to a doctor now, or am I okay as long as it doesn’t hurt?

    Any advice for doing calf raises without a machine? I tried using a Reebok step, but it felt *really* unstable.

    Finally, the squat: I’m a big girl. I’m using your first step on learning to do big-girl squats (holding onto a bar). While I can definitely get all the way down and all the way back up, and it didn’t bother my knees at all (at the time), I have two concerns: my knees are now a bit sore, and I’m not sure if I have the form down pat (it’s hard to tell when looking in a mirror). How do I identify normal post-workout stiffness, which really seems to be *around* my knees rather than in my knees – if that makes sense – from a problem? And how can I know if I have the form right without someone to watch and let me know?

    Phew – sorry for hijacking your post. :-) Thanks for all you do.

  38. Dr. Fatbody (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the gym) « Operation: Hot Mother says:

    January 24th, 2010at 9:34 am(#)

    […] who is, like, the goddess of all things weight-training related, has set out some guidelines for us big girls who want to start weight training. Because she […]

  39. Ashley Smash! says:

    February 17th, 2010at 8:44 pm(#)

    Thanks so much for this article. I just started getting back into the gym this week after falling off the wagon so to speak and now I’m even MORE motivated to stick with it. Going to give this work-out plan a shot. Wish me luck! :)

  40. The World Surrounding Me » Blog Archive » Workout plan for March says:

    February 27th, 2010at 9:10 am(#)

    […] at sites like Stumptuous (especially their “Dork to Diva” workout form tips, and “No Fat Chicks” basic workout) and devised my plan for next month, which will be one notch more difficult. It will […]

  41. Mistress Krista says:

    March 12th, 2010at 8:31 am(#)

    Velvet: Do what you can with what you have. That is the most important rule. Whatever you can move, move it. Whenever you can add resistance, add it. If you need to modify common exercises, do so. This may include doing some things seated, doing them only with one arm/leg, doing shorter workouts, etc. Warm up well and work within the limits of your abilities, seeking gradually to expand them. Build the workout around what you CAN do without pain, and throw in a few movements that you can do with mild/tolerable discomfort.

    Just keep moving.

  42. Browny says:

    July 22nd, 2010at 6:07 pm(#)

    I’m having a hard time overcoming my gym anxiety. I hear the voice say “you belong here just as much as they do”, but the anxiety is still there, it’s kept me from taking on free weights many days.

    Any advice?

  43. Mistress Krista says:

    July 24th, 2010at 5:12 am(#)

    Browny: Feel the anxiety and do it anyway. That’s the most important step. Acknowledge the anxiety, recognize it, wave politely, say “thanks but no thanks” and then move on. Other strategies can help avoid the anxiety, but ultimately, you must confront this fear directly — and what it implies, which is that you are not good enough nor valuable enough to deserve this — or it will not leave you.

    Other strategies: bring your iPod and most inspiring music then tune out the world; train with a friend; train at times when the gym is quieter; practice some basics at home so you’re confident with the movements; get a pair of dumbbells and start at home.

  44. Mistress Krista says:

    July 24th, 2010at 5:17 am(#)

    Hot Mother: Check out my shoulder rehab article. You may be hearing some cartilage grinding in there.
    I suggest adding 2 or 3 of these exercises to your daily routine as a preventive measure.

    Calf raises: Find a staircase and stand on the step; do them one-legged, holding a dumbbell (use the other hand for balance).

    Squats: Try filming yourself or snapping photos at various points. You may experience some knee tenderness in the beginning — simply ice after training and as you get stronger, and the connective tissues adapt, you should be OK. Don’t push the weight for the first few months; give the ol’ girls time to adapt. Go for higher rep sets instead of heavier ones for the first while.

  45. Beni says:

    October 17th, 2010at 5:13 am(#)

    I started to do walks and yoga exercises on a daily base. I am still over 200 lbs at the moment and I never went to a gym before, because I am literally too scared to go. (I heard and read so much info on false advice and health risks and I want to avoid injuries to spine and joints).

    Is there a good workout or exercise programme you can do at home that would have a similar effect as a gym workout? What about Pilates?

  46. Mistress Krista says:

    October 18th, 2010at 4:41 am(#)


    See here:

    Trust your body to guide you. Whatever you can move, move naturally against resistance. Over time, increase that resistance gradually. That’s all. Movement is your birthright; you were born knowing how to move; there is no reason to fear it.

    Pilates is helpful if you have a back injury, and it’s better than nothing, but otherwise I wouldn’t say it’s time well spent.

  47. Caoimhe says:

    January 9th, 2011at 5:03 pm(#)

    I would just like to thank you sincerely for this article! Very well written and one of the most helpful I’ve ever come across for developing fitness, especially now I’m just learning how important lifting is for women! A very enjoyable read, apart from everything else. Thanks :)

  48. SungaiKecil says:

    March 28th, 2011at 7:49 am(#)

    Well cheers, I’ve LOVED reading this. I’m a big chick ( I have no idea what I weigh in pounds, I’m an Australian) but I have just started my 6th week of weights/cardio mix and I am LOVING EVERY MINUTE of it. Seriously, I can’t think why I was so fearful or dismissive of weights training before. It just makes so much sense, and the difference has been incredible. Like 30cm (12 inches) in 5 weeks. Mad! My core strength has increased so much that I have seriously less lower back pain, and I am now at a good set of reps each set and feel the change happening right there and then. AWESOME.
    This article really just re-affirmed everything I have been teaching myself for the last three months, and with the help of an ace PT, weights are my new drug of choice.
    Love your way people. Keep on with the choice blog.

  49. Dreanna says:

    April 8th, 2011at 12:54 pm(#)

    I loved this article^^ Simply amazing!

  50. Kolby says:

    April 20th, 2011at 8:07 pm(#)

    I’m so grateful to have found this site and this article. I’m a big girl and that’s probably me being really nice. (5’8 272 lbs) I’m so excited to finally have found some advice for someone with my beginner status. Now I’m off to the nutrition section. Thanks again and keep up the great work.

  51. Michelle says:

    June 13th, 2011at 3:42 pm(#)


    I have been doing my cardio in the morning before breakfast (I’m a fat chick – 5’11” last weighed at 390lbs, so I can only manage 15 minutes at this point) I have read on various bodybuilding sites that working out first thing in the morning is best if your goal is fat loss. That is definitely a goal, but as out of shape as I am, is morning cardio beneficial, is it B.S., or is time of day irrelevant at this point? (I lift weights also, but I save that for the evening after I’m off work.)

    My other question is if there is anything extremely overweight people like myself should do differently than lighter obese people, or is it just a matter of adjusting the exercise so I don’t do something my body can’t handle at this weight?

    My last recollection of exercise was when I weighed less than half of what I do now and could exercise for an hour or two without getting anywhere near as exhausted as I get after 15 minutes currently – I am not sure what to expect of my body when I am starting from nothing. (I have no medical conditions other than an elevated blood pressure, but the doctor has not deemed medication necessary thus far).

    Thanks for any advice, and the site. Special thanks in particular for all the instruction on the squat. After reading through all the pages I realized I have NEVER done it correctly, even when I trained for basketball in high school!

  52. Mistress Krista says:

    June 13th, 2011at 6:09 pm(#)

    @Michelle — Ignore all the details for now. Exercise when it works for you, and when you’ll do it consistently. Exercise in a way that brings you joy and keeps you free of pain (but a little discomfort is OK). Start small and gradual; don’t ever be afraid to slow down. You have all the time in the world, and all you have to do is punch your card every day to see the results.

    I know that many overweight folks are very self-conscious in the water, but if you aren’t too shy, head to a community pool and see if you can get some swimming or water jogging in. That’s a great way to get a super workout without loading the joints. Plus swimming always makes me feel like a little kid playing in the water. :)

    Whatever you do, do something every day, even if it’s 10 minutes. Rock on!! Congratulations on starting.

    P.S. Stop reading bodybuilding sites for now and spend that time just moving as much as you can.

  53. Ines says:

    June 14th, 2011at 5:53 am(#)

    Fantastic article, but a bit disappointed with the following advise:

    “Chondroitin and glucosamine sulfate. Used in conjunction with MSM, these help heal and keep joints healthy. ”

    I did research this widely as i am suffering from early onset osteoarthritis. There isn’t a single study out there that actually shows any benefit from taking Chondroitin or Glucosamide. They are advertised widely, and many people believe in them being beneficial…I myself have taken them for a while and spend a lot of money on them (don’t come cheap here!) and there was no difference to my joints whatsoever after I stopped taking these.

    And even the advertisers don’t claim joints are being healed – cartilage that is gone cannot be replaced with supplements. And as I said, there is no evidence whatsoever that it stops cartilage deteriorating any further…

    Anyway – otherwise, great article, thanks!

  54. Kim says:

    June 14th, 2011at 3:52 pm(#)

    Does anyone know any internet group to which fifty-something females interested in weight-lifting can post, something of a forum? I discovered weight-lifting in my 40’s and really got into it, but then due to to many obligations, stopped it about age 51 (and of course gained 20 lbs.). At the age of 54 I’ve just started again this year. I enjoyed reading and taught myself how to lift free weights in part from that site (especially Alwynn Cosgrove). However, while I can still use some of its information, now it seems I’ve aged past it. Is there an internet group of 50 and 60-something woman who take weight-lifting seriously but don’t make any sort of career from it (figure modeling is not in my future)?

    I mean average middle-aged women who work fulltime, are maybe helping provide care for a parent while still raising kids, but want to talk about how they are progressing on their clean and jerk in the workouts they relentlessly manage to squeeze in three times per week. Is there an internet group for us in existence?

    Of course the stumptuous site was vital when I was first learning to use free weights in my mid-forties. I’d be grateful if Krista could point me to the right internet group. No other 50-soemthing women I know are interesting in lifting free-weights. A few go to Curves, but that is not at all what I’m talking about.

  55. Mistress Krista says:

    June 15th, 2011at 3:32 am(#)

    @Kim: Start with our Facebook group.

  56. Jenni says:

    July 21st, 2011at 9:12 am(#)

    I just wanted to say thanks. This article was posted by a friend on Facebook and basically got me started. 6 weeks and 30 pounds lost and I am so pleased that I started. I have a long way to go but this article gave me the balls to go to the weight training everyone told me was for the “advanced.” (Of course those hours of cardio were prescribed.)I’m loving it! I feel better every day and I’m not starving at all. I feel stronger too, which is empowering after a lifetime of being the girl who gets picked on. Anyway, thanks. Thanks doesn’t seem enough to cover it somehow, though.

  57. Mistress Krista says:

    July 21st, 2011at 9:18 am(#)

    @Jenni: Awesome! YEAH BUDDY!!!!

  58. Casey says:

    August 13th, 2011at 7:47 am(#)

    Just finished day 1 of what I’m calling the “No Fat Chicks 3 month get your tubby ass off the couch and moving for at least 3 days a week and eating better program”…

    Once the three months is up I’ll post (can I post?…how would that work) before and after pictures and stats.

    Thanks for the kick in the ass Stumptuous!

  59. Kim says:

    February 25th, 2012at 1:22 am(#)

    I’m going to do this. Or as much as I can. I just joined Planet Fitness, and while an hour on the treadmill (at 3mph) is no problem, things like squats and all that fun stuff are… perhaps I’ll modify the program to add an hour of cardio in every other day.

    I do love the treadmill.

  60. Michael Anders says:

    March 11th, 2012at 8:49 pm(#)

    This is really good article. I like how you broke it down. Finally a post pointing out the importance of resistance training to any decent weight loss program.

  61. Lynne says:

    June 26th, 2012at 2:56 pm(#)

    I am in the process of losing a lot of weight (going from 380 to 150, currently about 1/3 of the way there) and have been reading online about the problems I am going to have with loose skin. Is a lot of loose skin inevitable? I don’t have anywhere near the money to have the surgeries to fix it once I get it, and from what I have been reading, insurance will not cover it. It has me really discouraged.

  62. Mistress Krista says:

    June 26th, 2012at 3:21 pm(#)

    @Lynne: Well, think about this. You could be living in a healthy, fit body with some loose skin. Or you could leave things exactly as they are now because you’re afraid of what could happen. The truth is that you don’t know. So keep on your awesome path of caring for your wonderful body and building a foundation of health. Once you reach your goal weight/size and stay there for 6 months or so, then decide how things look and what you want to do. For now, focus on what you can do today to live healthy.

  63. Solaire - Praiser of the Sun says:

    July 15th, 2012at 4:43 pm(#)

    You have some excellent suggestions here. I have also heard another good reason to weight train as your primary exercise whilst losing weight: loose skin and avoiding it. Apparently, quite a common cause of loose skin is because your muscle tone disappears if all you do is diet like mad.

    Good excuse for me anyhow (since I love lifting)

    But again thank you for this. Although I am not as heavy as some people might be when they start out (given your advice on starting slow; I already walk around an hour every work day, so I’m probably more active than some heavier ladies) I’m still around about 250lb and tall. So that’s a damn lot of weight for my poor joints to haul.

    Some of these tips will come in handy considering I killed myself squatting on what I later found out was a damn smith machine. My newbness showed itself that day and my legs hated me for at least 3 days after.

    Much as some people might turn their nose up at her, Rosemary Conley has some great advice during her aerobic stuff. “Only do what you can, don’t force the issue!” I guess there’s a reason she still looks damn good at 60+.

    (Although I’d rather lift than do aerobics!)

  64. Lauren says:

    September 19th, 2012at 3:18 pm(#)

    WOW! I really loved thi advice! After week 3 I started taking Zumba at this studio across the street from my house (I live in Mesa AZ, if you’re curious about the studio I’ll post a link;)) and with your advice and the classes I lost weight so quickly! I even invested in some weights for my house so I didn’t have to drive to the gym!! Thanks for all this GREAT advice:)

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