In response to the last Smart Fitness column on exercise embarrassment, many readers wrote in to find out what more they can do to feel comfortable working out at a gym or other fitness setting. Specifically, they asked, how can overweight exercisers minimize thigh chafing and bouncing breasts? Where do you find plus-size clothes that fit? And how do you exercise with joint pain? We turned to some experts for advice.
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Q: We're supposed to exercise, but when you're overweight and out of shape, and your knees, hips and back hurt, and your breasts are so big they bounce and even hurt during physical activity, where do you start?
A: Even though you've got achy joints, you still can exercise safely, says Kelly Bliss, a fitness instructor in Philadelphia who specializes in plus-size exercise. You just need to choose activities that don't further aggravate the sore spots.
"No jumping," says Bliss.
Jumping can be hard on anyone's joints, but it's especially taxing for people who carry around extra weight. So focus on gentler activities such as walking, swimming, cycling or low-impact aerobics, advises Bliss, and be sure to get your doctor's clearance before starting.
Some fitness facilities now offer classes geared toward overweight exercisers that are designed with simpler choreography and a slower tempo. That's important because bigger bodies don't move in the same ways as smaller ones, and jerky movements could spell injury, she says.
Once you start moving and getting in shape, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that some of your aches and pains start to abate, says Bliss. "The human body functions better when your muscles are toned," she says.
As for those bouncing breasts, get yourself a good, supportive sports bra.
Q: Where can plus-size women find exercise clothing that actually fits? In most stores, an extra large is still very small.
A: Bliss maintains a Web site called plussizeyellowpages.com that lists retailers who sell a range of fitness clothing, shoes, videos and equipment for bigger bodies.
Q: It's not so much exercising in the gym that's embarrassing, so much as changing and showering in the locker rooms. What can you do to feel more comfortable there?
A: If you're really self-conscious, you could opt to change clothes in the restroom, where you'll have more privacy than in an open locker room.
As for showering, the towels the gym provides may be on the skimpy side. So consider bringing a robe from home or a towel wrap that covers your body, says Rochelle Rice, president of In Fitness and In Health, a fitness company in New York City that specializes in classes for overweight women.
She recommends a wrap made by the Voluptuous Woman Company.
Q: Help, I am 80 pounds overweight but even when I was at the correct weight, I still had big thighs that rubbed together. Now it is a nightmare. What should I do?
A: In a word: Spandex.
Now you may be thinking you wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of biking shorts, but Bliss recommends rethinking your strategy. "Spandex is your friend," she insists.
Spandex shorts not only prevent chafing, they also provide belly support, she says. If you don't like how you look in them, you can wear a pair of loose-fitting shorts or workout pants over top of them.
Q: What do you do if you are overweight and love to swim but are afraid of wearing a swimsuit?
A: An alternative to a swimsuit is a swim dress, which provides a bit more coverage. You also could wear biking shorts over your swimsuit.
Also, try to find a pool that doesn't require you to parade about between the locker room and the water, recommends Rice. Some facilities have the locker room exit just a few steps from the pool.
Bliss also suggests trying a senior fitness class, where the participants are less likely to gawk.
Beyond that, you can cover up with your towel while you walk to the pool, removing it just before jumping in. Once you're in the water, no one's looking at your thighs and you can focus on getting in a good swim.
Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.