It often seems like there are only two body types in any given gym: the lean, lithe athletes who glide for hours with whirring legs on the treadmill or spin cycles, and the muscle-popping, buff-bodied weight lifters who can lift any weight, any time, in any position.
The idea that you have to be skinny and toned or bulging with muscles to be fit and athletic is a myth perpetuated by fitness magazines, workout DVDs, and athletic-wear clothing lines that simply aren't made for larger body types. But fitness is for everyone. And more often than not, if you look a little closer at the gym or on the running trail, you will see athletes in all shapes and sizes.
If you are a plus-size person looking to get fit, here's how to get your sweat on and unleash your inner athlete:
It's the classic catch-22. You don't feel comfortable with your body so you want to lose weight before you hit the gym or even try on workout clothes. But it's kind of hard to lose weight before you've made it to the gym. Don't wait to make exercise a part of your life. Sure you can make a goal for where you want to be, but start with where you are now. If that means buying some workout clothes so you're comfortable when you walk or cycle or lift weights, do it. Don't wait for a different body; use the one you have right now to get healthy.
Keep it fun
If you make exercise into a form of punishment, it's never going to be something you want to do. Instead of trying tortuous exercises that don't feel right for your body, look for healthy ways to get fit that are fun and interesting for you. In other words, don't spend hours walking or running on the treadmill because you feel like that's the only way to burn calories.
If you love the outdoors, skip the gym and try a run or walk through town or a cycle on the local bike path. Or skip the "workouts" altogether and sign up for a dance class, a naturalist-led hike, or a rec-league basketball team. In fact, if you're just starting out, it's a good idea to try a whole bunch of things to find a good fit for you. When you enjoy exercising, it's much more likely to become a part of your life.
Get good gear
If your workout clothes don't fit right, you could wind up with the kind of chafing, bouncing and jiggling that turn you off of fitness forever. As Mirna Valerio, a.k.a. Fat Girl Running puts it, "When I put on athletic apparel, I feel strong. I feel powerful and capable. I feel beautiful. I am free to move through space in the way that my body is able, without being constrained by poorly designed clothing."
You don't need much, but you do need workout clothes that are comfortable, supportive and fun to wear (so you'll feel inspired to put them on). Fortunately, there are now companies that focus on making high-quality fitness gear in larger sizes. Check out this post from Shape magazine for ideas.
Keep the girls happy
Nothing can turn you off of fitness faster than getting smothered by your own boobs during yoga class. Get a good bra. Get fitted if you need to and purchase a sports bra that's designed for your body and your level of activity. Criss-cross the straps in the back for extra support. If necessary, you may want to double up on your sports bras for extra coverage, particularly for high-impact activities like running.
Think outside the (CrossFit) box
Work with your body to find workouts that are right for you. If you don't feel comfortable running or doing box jumps, don't do them. Try activities such as swimming, cycling, yoga, hiking and weight lifting that help you get strong and healthy without any extra bouncing. That said, if you want to run or do box jump and they make you feel good, do them!
Conquer the chafe
Here's a little secret: Everybody chafes. Larger-sized athletes are sometimes ashamed of that chub rub that hits between the thighs or under the bra strap. But take a look at any Facebook group or Instagram page dedicated to fitness and you'll see that exercisers of all shapes and sizes have issues with chafing. Body Glide is your friend; use it wisely.
Don't shoot for skinny; shoot for strong
A consistent exercise routine can give you energy to chase your kids around the playground, tackle your garden in the evening rather than plop on the couch, enjoy the outdoors with hikes or bike rides or even just after-dinner walks with your kids. None of that has anything to do with your pant size.
According to Louise Green, author of "Big Fit Girl: Embrace The Body You Have," the scale holds the least value when it comes to fitness achievements. If you want to get healthy, focus on goals that will make you strong, such as making it to yoga class three times this week or food-prepping healthy lunches for the week. It's also important to track fitness measurements that have nothing to do with the scale. Have you improved how far or how fast you're running? Are you lifting more weight at the gym? Can you run up and down the stairs while getting ready in the morning? These fitness targets are just as important — if not more so — than that number on the scale.