What is the best exercise for overweight beginners? That’s a question I repeatedly asked, having been obese and overweight myself for many decades throughout my adult life.
No matter what type of exercise I tried, whether it was swimming, the stationary bike, treadmill, machine weights, or lifting dumbbells in the gym, nothing made much of a change at all in how I felt or looked.
Even dyeing my hair from gray to black did not help my substantial double chin when I hit my late 40s.
And by the time I was 55, I had resigned myself to wearing extra-large clothing because of my 50-inch waist.
One day, I stumbled upon an exercise that I could do, which changed my body and life.
While you might think that you will never get your overweight under control, rest assured you can.
Your results will not happen overnight, but if you dedicate a nominal amount of time and follow a system, you will achieve your fitness goals, no matter what your age or weight is today.
This article will reveal the one exercise that made more of a difference than any other, to my great surprise.
Let’s get started!
1. Walking – The Obvious
You do not need me to tell you that walking is a safe and effective exercise for overweight or obese beginners. Walking is the undeniable first step you should take to start moving your body.
Walking alone can help you trim your body fat even if you do nothing else.
Your body is a walking machine and is designed to move. Of the hundreds of muscles in your body, not all are under your voluntary control.
For example, your heart muscle, cardiac muscle, is not under your control, which is a good thing for absent-minded people!
But, your skeletal muscles, on the other hand, function at your command. The muscles attached to your bones literally move your skeleton and provide you with locomotion from one place to the next.
A brilliantly complex system of nerves starting at your brain through your spinal cord and to all of your extremities helps you move your body.
Walking is one of the most useful exercises for overweight people and those who are not. For example, did you know that besides achieving your ideal weight and improving your mood, walking is also a weight-bearing exercise that will help strengthen your bones?
Everyone should do their best, weather permitting, to walk a minimum of 30 minutes a day, especially when you are overweight and unfit.
Start walking 30 minutes a day, stick to your schedule; I like morning walks the best, and enjoy the outdoors and the changes you will soon see on your physique. Of course, in the case of inclement weather, use a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical to get in your daily 30 minutes.
How should an overweight person start exercising? Walking 30 minutes a day will set the perfect foundation to transform your physique. Don’t give up!
See Walking for Weight Loss; Advantages, Benefits + How-To for more details on the benefits of walking and using walking to take off those layers of unwanted fat.
2. Two Leg Floor Bridge (Supine Bridge)
The two-leg floor bridge is also known as a supine bridge. Why is the supine bridge an excellent exercise for overweight and unfit beginners?
There are two reasons:
- Your start position is on the floor, so there is not too much effort or mobility required.
- This exercise will strengthen one of the largest muscle groups in your body, your gluteal muscles, which is comprised of:
- the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.’
Most people who lead a sedentary lifestyle have weak gluteal muscles. One great benefit of the supine bridge is that it engages your gluteal muscles, which should be among the most powerful muscles of your body.
Strong glutes produce the movement that helps you walk, run, and climb stairs, meaning your glutes, particularly your gluteus maximus, which is a prime mover muscle.
It keeps you mobile! Underactive or weak glute muscles cause muscle compensations, meaning other muscles such as your quadriceps and hamstrings that are assistants or synergists in an exercise are called on to work harder than their capability.
And that can lead to weak ankles, knee pain, low back pain, and tight hip flexors, which results in the opposite, a lack of mobility.
The two-leg floor bridge will help you activate and strengthen your glute muscles.
Here is how to perform the floor bridge
- Lie down on your back on the floor – this position is known as supine.
- Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Your toes should be shoulder-width and pointed straight ahead.
- Extend your arms straight to the side
- Brace your core – let out a quick breath and tighten your core and maintain it
- Push your heels into the ground
- Lift your hips (pelvis) until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders
- Your knees, hips, and shoulders should form a straight line.
- Keep your glutes activated in this position and hold for 5 to ten seconds
- Slowly lower your hips to the floor while maintaining a neutral spine
- Do not raise your hips too high and hyperextend your back because this will place excessive stress on your lumbar spine.
- Again, make sure to fully contract your gluteal muscles in the end position of step 9.
Do 2 – 3 sets of 10 good quality repetitions.
How to do glute bridges for squats, deadlifts & reducing back pain
If you can only do one repetition, start with one and build up from there. You are activating muscles you rarely use because of the long-term effects of prolonged sitting that pervades our society.
Learn more about the danger of prolonged Sitting and How it Hurts You Even If You Do Exercise.
3. Prone Iso-Abs (Plank)
Prone Iso-Abs or the Plank is an excellent exercise for overweight or unfit beginners, especially when you cannot yet do push-ups. But, even if you can do push-ups, do not neglect this exercise.
There are several benefits to doing planks regularly.
- Planks are a full-body exercise that strengthens your core abdominal muscles, not only your rectus abdominis (the visible ab muscles), but also the deeper core stabilizing muscles, the transverse abdominis, and your internal and external obliques.
- Stronger abdominal muscles can help reduce upper or lower back pain. ¹
- This exercise calls for no movement other than holding the plank position.
- And despite having little to no motion (until you start shaking), planks will build overall body strength.
- Additional benefits include better posture, balance, as well as bone and joint health. (Yogi Approved)
- Planks demand very little of your time. You can do one to three sets of planks a day for 30 seconds to one minute.
- You can start doing planks on an incline using a chair or bench and progress to the floor.
- Finally, holding the plank will teach you how to engage and brace your core muscles that stabilize your spine.
Bracing is critical for the proper performance of the surprise best exercise for overweight beginners coming up.
How to do Prone Iso-Abs (Planks)
- You can begin at the top position of a pushup supported by your hands with your arms extended or forearms on the ground.
- Hold your body in a straight line from your head to your toes.
- Maintain a flat neutral back throughout this static exercise.
- Do not arch your back.
- Squeeze your abdominals and tighten your gluteal muscles and quadriceps of your legs to keep your body in line.
- Brace your entire body, meaning tighten your body from your shoulders to your legs.
- Do one to three sets of planks a day for 30 seconds to one minute.
Start where you are, so if you can only hold the plank for 10 seconds, great. Keep at it, and eventually, you will build up to 60 seconds.
How to Plank for Beginners
4. Modified Push-ups
The push-up is a classic way to test upper body strength and conditioning. It is an excellent weight-bearing exercise that will engage your entire body while building your muscles and bones.
For this reason, it is a best practice to include a push-up test assessment when you begin your fitness journey. (NASM)
However, if you cannot do traditional push-ups on the floor, you can start doing push-ups on a chair, bench, or your knees.
You can even start doing push-ups against the wall.
While the Prone Is0-Ab involves little motion, a standard or modified push-up will tax your upper body pushing muscles to the max.
Push-ups target an extensive array of muscles, such as:
- Chest, arm, and shoulder muscles
- Serratus anterior
- Abdominal muscles, your core
- Back muscles – upper and lower
- Gluteal and leg muscles
See What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work? for more details.
All in all, the push-up is an excellent full-body exercise that you can do anywhere there is a floor, chair, bench, or even staircase (for incline push-ups.)
And you will see the result of doing push-ups in your upper body over time.
The point is to get started doing even one modified or regular push-up and increase the number of push-ups over time.
Start with one to three sets of however many push-ups you can do, and keep adding push-ups when you can.
When I first started exercising as an obese beginner, I could not do one push-up.
But, I kept at it and eventually could do more than I thought possible.
The same will happen for you, stay the course and build up to 100 push-ups a day.
See what I have learned doing 100 Push-ups a Day will do for you, even if you’re over the age of 60 (like me.)
And now for the shock best exercise for overweight beginners, here it is –
5. The Deadlift – The Not So Obvious
While you might not ever think of doing deadlifts, neither did I.
Deadlifting is the last type of exercise I ever imagined trying in a gym. When I went to the gym during my overweight and obese days, I did the treadmill and used the weight machines.
Venturing into the free-weight area is something I shied away from because I thought that only bodybuilders, powerlifters, or athletes could benefit from deadlifts.
I do not recommend squats when you start exercising because of knee stress and the mobility required.
I found that out the hard way. When I first tried squats at 55, I couldn’t walk for a week afterward!
However, the deadlift is a different story. From the first time I ever tried deadlifts, I immediately felt the difference.
I didn’t have the mobility to do squats, but I could do the deadlift with a light amount of weight.
The big plus is that deadlifts work all the major muscle groups of your body, so you gain the maximum benefit possible from a deadlift workout.
As a result, deadlifts build a sheath of armor around your entire body, from your shoulders and arms to your abs, back, and legs.
See 37 Remarkable Benefits of Deadlifts to Unleash Your Fitness Fast for more details about all of the incredible benefits of deadlifts.
I spent years walking the treadmill or elliptical and doing dumbbell shoulder presses and curls, but nothing ever changed my body like deadlifting.
Of course, any exercise you start doing will help you get more conditioned, but few activities can impact your body like deadlifting.
When you finish a deadlift workout, you will not likely want to binge on junk food. You will feel like you are in training!
Also, you can set up a simple deadlift studio in your home with a minimum amount of equipment.
Between walking, push-ups, and deadlifts, you have the essential cardio and push and pull compound exercises to get leaner and stronger than you ever thought possible.
I believe in the minimum effective dose, and the above exercises can change your body and life. They did mine!
6. One Effective Workout for Overweight Beginners
- Walk, bike, treadmill, elliptical for 30 minutes.
- It is vital to stretch out your legs, foam roll your calves and hamstrings, do good mornings with resistance bands as described in One Great Beginner Deadlift Workout Routine for Powerlifting and Fitness.
- Even with the walk above, a further warm-up of stretching out your legs is necessary.
- If you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to train!
- Do 3 sets of 12 – 20 repetitions of the supine bridge described above.
- 3 sets of 12 – 20 push-ups.
- 1 – 3 sets of holding the plank 15 – 30 seconds. During the plank hold, practice bracing your core, which is critical for your safety during the deadlift.
- Do a deadlift workout as described below.
Word of Caution
Please consult with your physician or a physical therapist before starting an exercise program, especially when it comes to deadlifting. While the deadlift is a fantastic compound exercise, it has its inherent risks.
I know, I have had at least four significant injuries from deadlifting –
- a pulled hamstring,
- bruised shins,
- lower back pain, and
- Believe it or not – lateral epicondylitis, aka tennis elbow!
Every injury slows down your progress, so make sure you get clearance to deadlift, and when you do – warm up properly and use proper deadlift form and technique.
7. How to Deadlift
If you have never deadlifted before, a hex bar or trap bar could be a better choice because it puts less strain on your back. On the other hand, the hex bar deadlift works more of your quads than the regular deadlift.
See 9 Hex Bar Deadlift Benefits to Get Fit Without Barbell Deadlifts for more details on the benefits of and how to hex bar deadlift.
Nevertheless, the below instructions are for the classic barbell deadlift –
Deadlifting at the age of 62
- place your feet under a barbell loaded with light weights, such as 10-pound bumper plates.
- line the barbell up with the middle of your foot
- If you got the minimum deadlift equipment necessary to lift at home, you could lift using deadlift socks only
- But, if you are in a gym or competition, you will need to wear deadlift shoes
- If you use shoes, make sure you use flat-soled deadlift shoes, not regular tennis or running shoes. The closer you are to the floor and the more stable, the better, as described in the 5 Best Deadlift Shoes On The Market Today In 2021.
- Stand straight over the bar
b. Lower to the Bar and Grip
- Hinge your hips, which means to bend by moving your hips backward. Imagine trying to touch the wall behind you with your rear
- After you can not hinge any further, lower yourself to the bar
- Grip the barbell using an overhand grip just outside of your legs. Many exercisers use an alternating grip, but that should not be necessary when you first begin deadlifting. An overhand grip is better because it helps you engage your lats and is less risky for a biceps tear.
- Think of your arms and hands as hooks holding the barbell
- Do NOT try to lift the barbell using your hands or arms; that is an excellent way to get injured fast.
- Instead, you will be deadlifting using leg drive and hip extension powered by your quads, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles
c. Get ready to lift
- Make sure you are wearing shin protection, for example, deadlift socks or deadlift shin guards. I like deadlift socks with jeans over them these days since I’m lifting at home.
- Touch your shins to the bar
- Take a deep breath and lift your chest – this will flatten out your back.
- Your back MUST be neutral or flat to prevent back strain
- Make sure that you are bracing, your abs and core should be tight
- Engage your lats by pulling the bar into your shins
- Stay flat on your feet; you might need to shift a bit back on your heels to keep your shoulders directly above the barbell
d. Click and Push the Floor
- Take out any slack of the barbell by pulling it up slightly
- You will hear the click of the barbell against the bumper plates or weights
- Imagine doing a vertical leg press
- Focus on pushing the ground away from you while keeping your upper body braced
- When the barbell reaches about your knees, drive your hips forward to stand up straight
- You power your lift by pushing the ground away and then pushing your hips forward using your glutes while your arms are straight, lats engaged, and back straight
- Do not hyperextend your back when you stand up; only stand up straight, no more, no less
- To lower the barbell, hinge your hips back as in step 7 b.
Do a few sets of five repetitions with lighter weight to warm up.
Then, do three work sets, the first two do five reps, and the last one do as many reps as possible (AMRAP) as long as your form is still good.
When you reach 8 to 12 reps for your AMRAP set, increase the weight of your work sets by five pounds.
Deadlift 2 to 3 times a week.
Note that after the first time you deadlift, you might be sore for a week or so; wait till your body recovers and start deadlifting again.
Exercise for Overweight Beginners – Wrapping Up
What is the best exercise for overweight beginners? Just asking the question is a step in the right direction because you are serious about taking action to get fitter than you are today.
While you might think that you will never get your overweight under control, rest assured that you will.
Your results will not happen overnight, but if you dedicate a nominal amount of time and follow a proven system, you will achieve your fitness goals.
And surprisingly, you can achieve this with a handful of exercises without running a Ninja Warrior obstacle course.
You can change your body faster than you think, but to do that, you need to use a powerful full-body exercise.
Fortunately, there is one that you can perform even if you have limited mobility.
That exercise is the deadlift.
This post proposes a sequence of walking, floor bridges, planks, push-ups, and deadlifts for a complete full-body workout that should be appropriate even if you’re an overweight beginner. I speak from experience. I used the same sequence to lose 75 pounds in 6 months at the age of 56.
However, be sure to consult with your doctor first before starting an exercise program, as noted above.
Learn all about the deadlift with the following related posts:
- What Is A Deadlift And Why You Need Them
- 37 Remarkable Benefits of Deadlifts to Unleash Your Fitness Fast
- 7 Greatest Deadlift Muscles Worked That Can Change Your Life
- 27 Sensational Ways How Deadlifts Change Your Body
- How to Deadlift for Beginners – A Step by Step Guide
- 50 Essential Deadlift Tips and Tricks Every Beginner Should Know
¹ Build a Stronger Core for a Stronger Back – (Spine Universe)