Tips for Training Obese Clients

Oct 02, 2020 | by Jessica Bryant

For obese personal training clients, the first few weeks require an extremely high level of care to be exercised by their trainer. In doing so, PTs can minimise risk of injury and increase the likelihood of the client adhering to their new training program.

The personal trainer’s main objective in the early stages of training should be to familiarise the client with the basics of physical activity, and to prepare them for what they will experience during their fitness program as they endeavour to change their lifestyle. Here’s how to get them started in a way that won’t be intimidating or jeopardise their good intentions.

HOW IS OBESITY DEFINED?

You may be able to tell at a glance whether your client is obese, but it is useful to be aware of what differentiates this definition from that of ‘overweight’.

BODY MASS INDEX (BMI)

The most common way of categorising whether a person is considered obese, as opposed to overweight, is by measuring their Body Mass Index (BMI). This is gauged by dividing their weight (kg) by their height (cm). A BMI of 30 and over is considered an indicator of obesity, while 25-29.9 is classed as overweight, 18.5-24.9 as healthy weight range, and below 18.5 as underweight.

The system is not flawless, as it doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat in terms of weight (and is therefore unsuitable for use in muscle-heavy sportspeople). For the general population, however, it can be a useful indicator of health and lifespan.

WAIST CIRCUMFERENCE

Measuring waist circumference is another way of indicating whether a person is at higher risk of obesity-related chronic diseases, and can be used in addition to BMI. A waist circumference of 94cm for men or 80cm for women indicates an increased risk of chronic disease, and a measurement of 102cm for men or 88cm for women indicates greatly increased risk.

SCREENING

There are a number of health conditions that can be associated with long term obesity, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, so establish your client’s health background Ensure that they are effectively screened using a tool such as the Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool (updated in 2019) which provides an evidence-based system for identifying and managing health risks of exercise.

SMALL STEPS

The next step is to set a baseline physical activity unique to that client, such as going for a 15-minute walk every night. If they prefer to do another activity they enjoy then, as long as it falls within the S.M.A.R.T framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related), it can be used as a baseline.

CONNECT, EMPATHISE AND MOTIVATE

Next, help your client understand how the exercise you are engaging them in can be incorporated into their daily life. The 15-minute walk, for example, could replace a current three-minute daily drive to the local newsagents. Doing this will show empathy and help keep your client motivated. It will also help them reconnect with a life they desire, changing their psychological approach to a healthier life in synergy with their positive physiological changes.

To help obese clients acclimatise to the exercise regimen and feel comfortable about engaging in it, you can adopt a couple of different approaches:

BE A HUMBLE ROLE MODEL

You are someone your client admires and looks up to, so lead by example in a way that does not reflect negatively on them. Be wary of your language, as throwaway comments about how easily you can do the exercises that they struggle with can make them feel self-conscious. The aim is to be inspiring and supportive – not intimidating.

BE ONE STEP AHEAD

Proactively try to anticipate your client’s needs. Always try to look at things through their eyes. Never assume anything. Remember that in addition to physical limitations in relation to certain exercises, an obese client may also experience self-consciousness that affects their comfort in performing particular movements in front of other gym patrons. If you think this could be an issue, be prepared to suggest alternative exercise options or move to a more private area of the gym floor.

START WITH BREATHING

If you are training an obese client, consider including this simple diaphragmatic breathing/core awareness and activation drill in their next session. The exercise is performed at a very low intensity, but it is an important skill for your client to learn because heavier people will often breathe in a shallow and ineffective manner. This can impact both their heart rate and their blood pressure. After teaching them how to perform the exercise in a session, assign it as their homework – and then be sure to check on their progress at regular intervals to ensure they are practicing.

BREATHING/CORE AWARENESS AND ACTIVATION EXERCISE

  • Client lies in a comfortable and supported reclining position.
  • Place a light object on their stomach so they can watch it rise and fall.
  • Ensure they inhale through their nose and exhale through their mouth with deep, controlled breaths.
  • As the client inhales they need to expand through the chest and keep the stomach muscles drawn in.
  • They then count to 10 out loud as they exhale through the mouth. The counting regulates the breathing while the transverse abdominals remain isometrically contracted.

Ask your client to perform one set of three to five repetitions of this drill, three times a day.

It’s a simple but deceptively effective exercise that will start to retrain their breathing patterns and core awareness. As a bonus, it will also set the foundation for building core strength and increase their awareness of their transverse abdominis muscles.

FURTHER ADVICE FOR TRAINING OBESE CLIENTS

  • Avoid high impact exercises
  • Avoid repetitive lateral movements
  • Ensure your facilities cater for larger individuals and that selected equipment is suitable
  • Be aware of supine position exercises that may compress the chest
  • Use exercises in which body weight is supported
  • Initially prescribe low intensity exercises and increase the duration as they progress
  • Remember obese clients are especially susceptible to injury, fatigue and dehydration
  • Be conscious of their body image and possible self-esteem issues.

It’s important to remember that the client’s training needs will change as their body composition and fitness levels improve. This, in itself, can form a series of wins along their journey, as they graduate from ‘safer’ to more challenging exercises.

Training obese clients can be some of the most rewarding work a personal trainer does. To encourage adherence to their training in the early days, ensure you are empathetic and ease them into this new aspect of their life. Helping someone positively change their life to such a degree is an achievement you will both carry proudly for your entire life.

BECOME A PERSONAL TRAINER

The Australian Institute of Fitness offers a wide variety of personal training course options. You can choose from:

Jessica Bryant

Jessica Bryant

NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS
Jessica Bryant is the National Communications Manager at the Australian Institute of Fitness.
AIF

AIF

At the Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF), we are no stranger to the competitive and evolving nature of the fitness industry. That’s why we remain the #1 fitness educator since 1979. We continuously raise the bar by providing the best education and resources through dynamic and hybrid training methods that mould to your lifestyle. We are strong believers in evidence over fads, so you can be assured your training with AIF will solidify your career for the long-term.

Read more articles

View all articles

Gain your career advantage with the most recognised health and fitness education in the industry.

Speak with our friendly Careers Team on
1300 669 669 or enquire now online.

Enquire Now