The 5 Best Strength Exercises for Beginners With Obesity

All you need is a pair of dumbbells to start these best weight training exercises for beginners with obesity.

Credit: Tony Anderson / DigitalVision / GettyImages

One of the best parts about weight training? There is no perfect way to do an exercise. Sure, you want to move in good shape. But different exercises look a little different for everyone – after all, no two bodies are the same.

And that is how it is supposed to be. Every body moves differently and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, explains Morit Summers, CPT, certified personal trainer and founder of the Brooklyn-based training studio Form Fitness.

But prioritizing compound movements – exercises that move multiple joints at the same time – is ideal for most beginners. Rep per rep, these movements are most effective at building overall body strength, mobility, and health.

Push, pull, squat, hip (deadlift), and sling exercises every week are a great way to ensure you are getting the most of your fitness and body, says Samuel Becourtney, PT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City .

And remember, while these basic exercises (like the movements below) are beneficial for bodies of all shapes and sizes, customizing the movements to suit your needs is key when you start out.

Every single exercise has a progression, regression, and hundreds of variations, says Summers. For example, beginners with larger bodies can modify a squat, a popular strength exercise for beginners, by broadening their posture. This gives your legs and stomach a little more freedom of movement.

Also, remember that regardless of the exercise you are doing, an easy way to change it is by increasing or decreasing the weight of the dumbbells (or other tools) you use. When choosing different weights, consider your own body weight. With movements like squats or deadlifts, you not only lift the weight that you are grasping, but also the weight on your frame.

A good general rule: choose a pair of weights that are really comfortable to start with and that won’t tire your muscles. Focus 100 percent on movement and shape and test modifications if necessary. (You will find many of these below.) Then, when you can do all of your 8 to 10 repetitions of 3 to 4 set movements with ease, move on to a heavier weight.

Do you have your dumbbells Here, Summers reveals the top five weight trainers for beginners living with obesity.

Although this movement is focused on your chest, it hits your shoulders, triceps, and important core as well, Becourtney says. It teaches all of these muscles to work together, and is a great way for those with heavier bodies to practice push-ups.

As you do this, focus on ensuring that your feet are firmly on the floor and your back is flush with the floor.

For your information, some people choose to do chest presses on a bench. But lying on the floor instead of lying on a bench can be more comfortable and stable for some plus-size lifters. Do what feels best to you.

Chest press

Chest press

Credit: Morit Summers / LIVESTRONG.com

Skill level

All levels

body part

[
“Chest”,
“Arms”,
“Shoulders”,
“Abs”
]

  1. Lie on your back on a weight bench (or the floor) with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights across your chest with your arms straight. Put your feet firmly on the floor and tone your abs.
  2. Bend your elbows and lower the weights until they are in line with your chest.
  3. Take a break, then push the weights back over your chest.

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2. Bent over row with dumbbells

This movement targets the muscles in your back that support your spine – which makes it especially helpful for beginners with obesity or large breasts who may have back pain or discomfort.

This variation of dumbbell row is a great alternative to bench row (where you lie face down on a bench) for anyone with a big belly or big breasts.

Do this exercise to improve your posture, strengthen your upper body strength, and train for your first pull-up.

Bent over rowing with dumbbells

Bent over rowing with dumbbells

Credit: Morit Summers / LIVESTRONG.com

Skill level

All levels

body part

[
“Back”,
“Arms”,
“Shoulders”,
“Abs”
]

  1. Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Shoot your hips back and bend them forward at least 45 degrees (and up to 90 degrees), keeping your back flat. Start with your arms outstretched towards the floor, palms facing each other.
  2. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together, then pull your elbows toward your ribs to pull the weights up next to your lower abdomen.
  3. Pause, then lower again in a controlled manner to start.

Show instructions

top

During this exercise, focus on keeping your hips flat back and forth. It will help keep your back comfortable. Feel free to take breaks and come back to a stop as needed to keep in good shape.

To make this movement a little easier, use just one weight and place your free hand on a bench for added stability.

Whenever you get out of a chair or sit on the bathroom, do squats and exercise your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, Becourtney says. You use the squat movement pattern in so many activities (both inside and outside the gym), it is perhaps the most important beginner strength exercise to learn.

Some athletes with larger bodies prefer a wider stance to make squats feel more comfortable. This gives your legs and stomach a little more space while exercising the same muscles.

Cup squat

Cup squat

Credit: Morit Summers / LIVESTRONG.com

Skill level

All levels

body part

[
“Legs”,
“Butt”,
“Abs”,
“Shoulders”
]

  1. Hold a dumbbell by one end at chest level.
  2. Start with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart. (Your toes can point forward or twist slightly outward.)
  3. Keeping your chest up and core tensing, pivoting your hips back and down to drop into a squat so your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably with good shape) .
  4. Push through all four corners of your feet to return to standing.

Show instructions

Movement 4: Deadlift with dumbbells

The deadlift is great for everyone because it builds the largest and strongest muscles in your body. They also teach you how to lift with your legs rather than your back, Becourtney says.

To begin with, choose to deadlift with dumbbells. While tools like the barbell stay in a fixed position, dumbbells allow you to keep your shoulders and arms in the way that is most comfortable for your anatomy.

When you step back into a hip joint (the bottom of the deadlift), it’s perfectly fine for your thighs and stomach to touch. But if you feel like it is preventing you from really sinking into the exercise, go ahead and keep your feet off.

If it still doesn’t feel good, try a sumo deadlift, where your feet are more than shoulder width apart with your arms hanging between them.

Deadlift with dumbbells

Deadlift with dumbbells

Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Morit Summers

Skill level

All levels

body part

[
“Butt”,
“Legs”,
“Back”,
“Shoulders”,
“Abs”
]

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing your body.
  2. Pivot from your hips and soften your knees as your hips drop far enough to lower the weights toward the center of your shins.
  3. Check your posture: your spine should be straight and long, your chest up and open, your shoulders back.
  4. To maintain this position, contract all of your core muscles as you press your feet into the floor as if trying to push the floor away from you using your glutes and hamstrings to pull the weights up and return to standing .
  5. Reverse the movement to lower the weights in a controlled manner and repeat the process.

Show instructions

Have you ever carried a bag of groceries in each hand? Then you did a Farmer’s Walk.

This full-body strength exercise is super functional and strengthens your body for the tasks you probably do every day, says Becourtney. And you can expect a surprisingly large nuclear fire. It’s actually one of the best core exercise for beginners (and lifting veterans) out there.

Once you’ve mastered the basic movement, try variations such as suitcase carrying, which involves holding a single dumbbell in one hand. (It really responds to your slants!)

Farmer’s Walk

Farmer's Walk

Credit: Morit Summers / LIVESTRONG.com

Skill level

All levels

body part

[
“Abs”,
“Legs”,
“Back”,
“Shoulders”,
“Butt”
]

  1. Hold a dumbbell (or one on one side) in each hand. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to challenge you but also light enough to maintain good posture while walking.
  2. Engage your core, pulling your shoulder blades down and back, and standing up straight.
  3. Take a step forward and start walking. Go forward while keeping your spine high, shoulders back, and head up.
  4. Continue walking for a specified time or number of steps.

Show instructions

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