How to Embrace The Gym As a Plus Size Woman

During the work week, I love training at the gym because it’s convenient and works with my schedule.   But when I talk to other plus size women who are interested in improving their fitness, or taking on a new athletic challenge, there’s a lot of resistance to joining a gym.  You can definitely use the outdoors but it takes some creativity, you don’t have the same amenities and support and you are reliant on good weather.

The #1 reason I hear is that women feel self conscious, embarrassed and even ashamed about their size.  They feel they are being looked at and judged for their body shape.   As someone who has worked out at a gym for over 15+ years and trained others, I can tell you that most members are so focused on their own workouts, they rarely notice when a new member joins.  Which means any anxiety felt is created in our minds due to lack of self-esteem and inner confidence.

I believe that our  job in life is to be happy and experience joy on a daily basis. We control our emotions, our thoughts and we only need to be concerned about what we like, and not worry about what others think of ourselves.

Having said that, yes, there’s probably going to be some less-enlightened people who do judge but that can happen anywhere.  Ignore them, they are in the minority.  We’ve seen lots of support from people of all body shapes and sizes for the body-size acceptance movement over the last few years.  Organizations such as HAES, fashion bloggers like Karyn Johnson of Killer Kurves and life-coach Rachel Estapa with Move to Love, have all risen to popularity with great support.

But in case I still haven’t convinced you yet, here are some additional strategies to consider:

Strategy #1: Know Your Goal, Set Your Objective

It’s good to have goals, but what you really need isto  set objectives otherwise it’s difficult to stay focused, because you don’t know what you’re working towards.

Objectives need to be specific,measureable, achieveable, realistic and within a specific time-frame – it’s known as the SMART system, and you can read more about it in the my blog post How to Action a Fitness Goal.

When you have an athletic objective, you’ll have a training plan to achieve that objective.  This means each workout has a specific purpose in mind. For example, if you want to complete a 5km in 45 minutes, you may do 3 walks each week: One (1) endurance walk and two (2) interval-training walks to build speed and power.

Also, use a training log to track and “check off” each completed workout, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment, which leads to an increase in self esteem and inner confidence as you see yourself get closer and closer to achieving your objective.  Eventually your focus will shift and you’ll no longer worry or wonder what others are thinking about you.  In fact, you’ll probably find others are drawn to you because of the positive and dynamic energy that you possess. They’ll start asking questions about your training, what are you doing, how long have you been doing it and before you know it, you may have found a set of training partners with similar goals and objectives.

Strategy #2: Find a Fitness Mentor

The staff at your gym are there to help you, they honestly want you to succeed in achieving your objective, because a happy customer is paying customer.

Start talking with the fitness staff, class instructors, and ask them any questions on technique, form and how to make the workout more challenging etc. Let them know what you are trying to achieve and you’ll be amazed at the response you’ll receive.

I’ll never forget the day I told my spin instructor I was training for my first triathlon.  It was the middle of July, and I was watching the Tour de France after work at my gym.  He was getting ready to take the triathlon club out on a run. We were sitting on the couch talking, and I congratulated him on qualifying for Ironman Canada and told him I was going to do the Milton Super Sprint at the end of August.  His eyes lit up and this huge smile came across his face.  I can still feel the those same emotions today, his positive response, as he immediately started asking me questions about how I was training, offered up advice and an invitation to swim at his gym, for my long swims.  I still had insecurities back then, but in that moment I started my transition, as this was someone who saw me, and not my body shape.   It was a life changing moment.  He coached me for over 5 years in triathlon, duathlon, rowing and all my 5kms, 10ks and half marathon.  I learned so much from him not just in training but also in life, that I was inspired to be a Johnny G spin instructor and get my Can-Fit Pro Personal Trainer certification.  We are still friends today, I still attend his spin class and Born to Reign Athletics is definitely a result, of his influence.

So, fitness professionals are definitely NOT judging you for being plus size. In my experience, it’s completely opposite, they respect you for setting an objective and going after it.  The more determined you are to achieving it, the more they are willing to help and everyone can benefit from coaching support.

Strategy #3: Dress the Part

If great looking clothes always make a woman feel better, why do I see so many big baggy t-shirts and shorts that are falling off of you? Plus, baggy shorts bunch up and that can cause chaffing on your inner thighs.

I understand the desire to want to minimize certain areas, and accentuate your strengths, but baggy clothes won’t hide your overall body shape.  Lovingly accept who you are, where you are and focus on the positive aspects of achieving your goals.

Christel Deborah, an Associate Professor at the University of West Virginia, wrote a research paper titled “Physically Active Adult Women’s Experiences with Plus-Size Athletic Apparel” in 2012.    In her paper, she states “Societal messages suggest that overweight women are lazy and therefore would not be interested in athletic apparel. The purpose of this study was to determine overweight adult women’s experience with athletic clothing.”  Her study included women from 30 - 65 years old and her data collection was qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys and journals.  Overall, the study showed various findings including participants having negative emotions and anxiety due to limited bricks and mortar stores for shopping, limited selection in colours and quality and feel marginalized and discriminated against in the media and wanted to see larger women modelling clothing.

Her research study also concluded with this major finding “Proving high quality athletic apparel to plus size women provided an opportunity for them to experience their bodies in a new perspective.”

You will definitely feel better if you choose workout wear that is designed to fit and flatter you plus-size frame, and are made of technical fabric to allow your skin to breathe, making the sweating process easier to deal with. I know many women say they hate to sweat, but you need to in order to make a difference so you might as well do it with the right workout clothes.

Check out my Plus Size Athletic Wear section to find a listing of brand names and retailers who make plus size athletic wear.  There are some well known household brand names but over the years I’ve discovered a few gems you may not have heard of.

Years ago, I was very frustrated not being able to find the clothing I needed to race triathlon, to the point where I asked a company (DeSoto Sport) if they created custom triathlon suits.  The owner asked what my size/measurements were and after sharing this info, he offered to send me a pair of his men’s XXL tri-shorts.  If they fit, I could use them and if not, I’d eventually get there through my healthy habits.   Fortunately they did fit and I became a loyal customer from that experience.  I now always wear some form of compression short when working out. Compression shorts are used to separate groin and hamstring muscles.  They also provide warmth to the muscle which makes them less prone to strains and pull, and they provide protection against chafing and rashes on your inner thigh.

I hope my point of view and strategies have shown that the gym can be a great place to get support and achieve your goals.

Check out a gym today.
It's a power move.

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3 Responses to How to Embrace The Gym As a Plus Size Woman

  1. Jack Williams August 11, 2018 at 12:55 am #

    This is a wonderful article I have ever read on this topic. Please keep posting more info on the same topics.

  2. Tendai Muzambi July 20, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I just wanted to say Thank for that I am really trying to move and motivate myself. I am very scared about joining the gym but I need to start somewhere. You mentioned spin classes. Do You just go for a class despite being a beginner.

    Many thanks again

    • Krista H. July 20, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      Check with your gym as sometimes they offer clinics for beginners. If not, show up to class 5-10 min beforehand to introduce yourself to the instructor and get the basics set up: handle bar height, seat height, horizontal position of seat and how to add resistance and brake. Ease in with your effort if you are a beginner to fitness overall.

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