Tips for Training Obese Clients

Jun 26, 2014 | by AIF

It’s vitally important for the fitness professional to understand that, for the obese client the first few weeks require a high level of care and thought, or else the client may be injured. Gary Wagner Course Crusader at the Australian Institute of Fitness in Victoria explains more.

The Personal Trainer’s main objective should be to apply what the client already knows about their condition and to prepare them for what they will experience during their fitness program as they endeavour to change their lifestyle


There are a number of health conditions that can be associated with long term obesity so establish your client’s starting point. Ensure that they are effectively screened using a tool such as the Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool, which provides an evidence-based system for identifying and managing health risks of exercise.

Small steps

The next step is to set a baseline unique to that client. For example, 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 use that as a baseline.

Now help your client to understand how the exercises you are engaging them in can be incorporated into their daily life. Doing this will show empathy and help keep them motivated. This will also help the client reconnect with a life they desire, changing their psychological approach to a healthier life in synergy with their positive physiological changes. Help them acclimatise to the exercise regimen and feel comfortable about engaging in it.

The following are just two of the approaches you can adopt to can help obese clients:

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 back on them. Be wary of your language as throw-away’ comments about how easily you can do the exercises that they struggle with as it can make them feel self-conscious.

Be one step ahead by anticipating needs: Always try to look at things through the eyes of your client. Never assume anything.

Start with breathing

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

Execution: The 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 ten out loud as they exhale through the mouth. The counting regulates the breathing while the transverse abdominals remain isometrically contracted. One set of 3 to 5 repetitions of this, repeated three time a day, will start to retrain their breathing patterns and core awareness.

As a bonus, this drill also builds the foundation for building core strength and increases awareness of the 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 positioned exercises that may compress the chest.
  • Use exercises where bodyweight is supported.
  • Initially do 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 esteem issues.

Note: This will change as their body composition improves and training age increases

Training obese clients can be some of your most rewarding work as a Personal Trainer. Helping someone positively change their life to such a degree is an achievement you will both carry proudly for your entire life.



The Australian Institute of Fitness
The Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) is the largest and longest established fitness training organisation in Australia, with dynamic training methods and expert course coaches nationwide - spanning fitness, massage and nutrition. The AIF qualifies more fitness professionals than any other provider in Australia, as well as offering a broad range of continuing education courses (CEC), upskilling resources and partnership programs for existing industry.

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Disclaimer: Where Certificate III in Fitness, Cert III/Cert 3, or Fitness Coach is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Fitness, Cert IV/Cert 4, or Personal Trainer is mentioned, it refers to SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Program™ is mentioned, it refers to Fitness Essentials and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Plus+ Program™ is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Massage or Cert IV/Cert 4 is mentioned, it refers to HLT42021 Certificate IV in Massage Therapy. Where Diploma of Remedial Massage is mentioned, it refers to HLT52021 Diploma of Remedial Massage.