Goal-Focused Plans: Starting Out/Starting Over

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    Hi there,

    I have a question that I wondered for a while now. Let’s assume you have an athlete that is overweight and/or even obese (by the CDC definition), what would the ideal approach be to find the right zones?
    I would think that a 30min fast walking or 20min Running Threshold test would most likely not very representative as my expectation would be that an athlete that does not know how fast, how hard or what all out even feels, can do a threshold test.
    Would you recommend to do the talk test?
    In this specific case, I was asked to help an overweight/obese person not only to lose weight but also to help with overall fitness/running.
    I was thinking of using the talk test on a treadmill, but instead of running have the athlete perform the test by walking on 12-15% incline (the treadmill that is accessible to the athlete would work for that).
    As pace, especially when testing on a treadmill at an incline would be useless, I was thinking for this specific case to use HR until a threshold test at “running pace” can be performed.
    I was also wondering if a “Starting Out” plan could even be too difficult or risky as due to the obesity and therefore pounding on the body would be rather significant. My idea was to modify the plan from a walk/run to a walk on flat / walk on incline plan.

    Some numbers & facts:
    20 years of age
    223lbs at 5’4″ –> BMI 38.3 –> obese (actually extremely obese)
    Current fitness level is basically not even existing
    YMCA membership active but would prefer to workout from home

    I’m not a big fan of BMI but in this specific case I feel it is ok to use as, by looking that the person, one can tell that the athlete (or future athlete) is severely obese even if the body fat percentage would be measured.

    I would personally prefer to have her start exercising by utilizing a (stationary) bike but that’s not an option for her.
    Besides walking/walking on incline I was also considering aqua jogging to avoid any heavy impacts but I feel this is very difficult to execute correctly for an unexperienced athlete.

    I’m looking forward to thoughts and comments.



    Just curious from a completely unqualified perspective, but why do you think aqua jogging would be difficult. Is it simply the act of getting in and out of the water?

    I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more emphasis on putting overweight people in the pool to begin their weight loss. It seems to me that the added resistance coupled with the lesser overall impact is the perfect recipe for initial weight loss.

    I do know that I lose weight faster swimming than any other exercise I do, but that may be partially due to the fact that I’m an above average swimmer so my swim workouts may tend to be more intense than most.


    I feel that aqua jogging is not quite as simple as one would think. My personal experience is that you need to focus on your posture, leg motion, arm motion, etc. If you have running experience it can work well. But I think it can be more difficult if you don’t have running experience.
    It also requires access to a pool and overweight people do not always appreciate to go to a public pool and feel to be “looked at” which also causes some barriers.
    I agree that swimming is a great exercise but the way most people swim – and even more true for people who have no background in exercising – is usually a very basic breast stroke that prevents from drowning.

    Maybe I’m wrong and overthink it?


    The first goal is always to know yourself. What excites your friend? Is she ready to make a lifestyle decision? It needs to come from her. Help her to be successful whatever her goals are.

    On any given day I see couples walking in the park, practicing art with tablets or cameras, exercising with bicycles or jogging, or speeding by me preparing for the Boston Marathon. And they are doing it consistently, day after day and year after year. ALL of the local races have a large contingent of non-runners walking the course for charity and companionship. The possibilities are endless.

    My advice would be to help her explore the possibilities for an active lifestyle that are consistent with her interests, abilities and resources. She can take it from there…


    any wisdom on how to ideally test for zones under the above circumstances?

    Leyla Porteous

    Personally I wouldn’t introduce any zones or any testing to an athlete at this level. Focus should be on healthy habits and consistency. Start with what they can do – sounds like walking is it for now, combined with some very simple body weight exercises. You are starting from ground zero and that is going to take making this athlete feel safe, build up their confidence and then this will allow them to stay consistent which is what is going to bring results at this stage. Keep it simple for now.

    David Warden

    Agreed with Leyla, no Zones here, not even Talk Test, no RPE not even 80/20! Just exercise and habit forming. If walking is the only option, that is a great option. I don’t know the right BMI cutoff to transition from “exercise” to “training” but I suspect you and the athlete will know.



    Hi both,

    thanks for your thoughts and advice. I truly appreciate it.
    Makes sense to not use zones until a certain base level of fitness was built and weight is at a level that allows for training.


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