Stress placed on joints during everyday activity for overweight individuals can lead to injuries and unnecessary chronic pain. As a rule of thumb, anyone more than 30 pounds overweight should not run or perform excessive jumping activities, which will increase the joint load, and could accelerate the chance of injury.

The main focus of exercises should target the larger muscles in the lower extremities to lower the body fat to muscle ratio, which will increase the amount of calories your body metabolizes at rest.

Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle in the human body and the most underused. This massive muscle is targeted in daily movement by either running or walking up hill. Weak Glutes can contribute to low back pain while causing muscle imbalances, especially for overweight individuals.

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The smaller assisting muscle is the Gluteus Medius, which sits above the Maximus and is active when walking or climbing stairs. When performing lower extremity exercises, your heart rate will elevate due to blood supply demand required for the larger muscles. Based on this information, my suggestions for 5 safest exercises for overweight women and men are as follows:

Bridging

Begin this exercise by lying on floor facing up, bend knees and place feet on floor shoulder width apart. Then, lift your hips up so your body is in a straight line from shoulders to knees. Squeeze Glutes, hold for 2 seconds, then relax as you lower hips to floor. Note: when lowering hips, tap the floor opposed to resting hips on floor. Begin with 3 sets of 20 repetitions and work your way up to 3 sets of 50.

Variations: Feet together to target muscles surrounding hips; Feet wide to target inner thighs; 1 leg bridging to intensify exercise; Add a weight on lower abdominals for added exercise intensity.

Straight leg extensions

For this exercise, get on all fours, hands & knees on a mat. Extend one leg with toe on floor, flexed toward knee. Raise leg up and squeeze Glutes for 2 seconds, then lower leg to starting position. Begin with 3 sets of 10 repetitions each leg and work your way up to 3 sets of 30 repetitions.

Variations: Bend lower leg to 90 degrees with foot flexed toward knee. Raise bent leg up, squeeze Glute for 2 seconds, then lower leg to starting position. Begin with 3 sets of 10 repetitions and work your way up to 3 sets of 30 repetitions; Add ankle weights for added exercise intensity.

Fire hydrants

This exercise name was influenced by male dogs lifting their leg to urinate on fire hydrants. To begin this exercise, get on all fours, hands and knees on a mat. Bend lower leg to 90 degrees with foot flexed toward knee. Raise bent leg to the side up as high as possible. Hold for 2 seconds, then return to starting position. Begin with 3 sets of 10 repetitions, working your way up to 3 sets of 30 repetitions.

Variations: Add ankle weights for added exercise intensity.

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Walking up hill

Walk in a hilly environment or on a treadmill at an incline. This is a great exercise targeting the Glutes. Begin with an incline of level 3 at a pace you can comfortably exercise for 20 minutes. Work your way up to 40 minutes. Increase the incline level as your Glutes become stronger.

Note: Do not hang on, holding your body upright to avoid additional upper body assistance.  If you have to do this, lower the incline.

Variation: Mix it up with alternating days at a lesser incline and exercise at a faster pace.

Recumbent bike

I recommend recumbent bikes to overweight individuals and those with chronic back pain because it supports the back, opposed to an upright bike.

Important:Make sure your knee is bent at a 5 degree angle on full extension. If your knee is fully extended or bent at an excessive angle, it can cause chronic knee issues. Begin at a resistance you’re comfortable with for 20 minutes. Work up to 40 minutes. When you are able to exercise on the bike for 40 minutes, increase the resistance.

Final tips to battle overweight issues: Target the larger muscle groups to reduce body fat, decrease risk for chronic back pain and increase resting metabolic rate. Perform resistance exercises first, followed with cardiovascular exercise.

The primary fuel source for resistance training is carbohydrates, which allows the body to utilize more fat stores during cardiovascular exercise when done after resistance training. If you are overweight, the most important thing to remember is consistency. Set an exercise schedule, be consistent and turn your back to being overweight!

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