Q: Have you already answered the question of “What do I do in the gym when I’m 300lbs?”. What are the do’s and don’t do’s when you are a newbie to working out? (Of course I know I’m not going to jump on the treadmill and start jogging because I already know I physically can’t I tried lol) but what are your suggestions or what were some of the things you did when you started?

So, there are very genuine concerns for folks who start working out at higher weights, but it’s not as bad as you think. The advice basically boils down to the same thing I’d tell a person at a lower weight: don’t do more than you feel able to do. The only difference is, the person at the lower weight is able to get away with more risk without incurring much damage. This isn’t necessarily the case for the person at the higher weight.

The issues with being 300lbs and a newbie at exercise aren’t necessarily the “fat,” so much as it’s the lack of muscle to facilitate safe movement at that size. Running is hard, because there’s not enough muscle to support your joints as you leap forward diagonally from the ground and come crashing back down into it. The same could be said for most aerobics courses—movement is characterized mainly in the muscles being required to work hard in supporting your joints, to protect you from injury.

Your hips, knees, ankles, those are all joints protected by the surrounding muscle groups. We strengthen them to help support movement. If there isn’t enough muscle to support the intense movement you’re trying to engage in, injury happens. Soreness—the bad kind—happens. Frustration, disappointment, and ultimately quitting happens. We don’t want that.

The truth of the matter, is that the answer for what you can do will differ for everyone. For some, their lower legs are stronger than their upper body. For others, their arms might be strong but their back is weak. If you’re not active in a well-informed way, your body develops to accommodate the world around you. So, if you’re someone who works all day on their feet, your legs might be strong but, because you’re not lifting anything or using your arms or back in any real meaningful way, your upper body might be weak or poorly developed. It’s hard to give general advice in that regard, without it being horribly wrong or bad.

It’s much easier, however, to talk about what to avoid. Once you know that, the world is pretty much your oyster.

All exercise is characterized in three ways—low impact, moderate-impact, or high-impact—and it all depends on what it requires of you. Is it like basketball, where you’re constantly leaping into the air to score, or football where people are crashing into you at high speeds? Those are high-impact. Is it like a casually-competitive game of volleyball, where you leap into the air every so often to return the ball over the net? Moderate-impact. Is it yoga or spin, where you’re not running into anyone, and you’re not repeatedly banging into the ground to make something happen? Low impact activities.

The degree of impact an exercise requires is important because, as beginners, the demands on your joints affect you differently than they would a person who was more active.

Each joint in your body is supported by the muscles on either side of it. Your muscles operate in a sort of contract-expand relationship, where muscles on one side of a joint squeeze, and the muscles on the other side relax in a way that allows your joints to move properly and safely. Without that muscle ability, your joints can’t perform to the best of their ability and, the more high-impact an activity is, the greater risk you’re at for injury.

A sedentary person can be a couch potato and not be active outside of work at all, but have a physically demanding job on their feet all day that leaves them with strong legs, but a weak upper body. A sedentary person could have a desk job where they work somewhere where they sit often but spend a lot of time passing packages across a desk, meaning their arms are strong but their hips and knees are weak.

Make sense?

What I did at my heaviest weight, is I started out going for a daily walk. This helped solidify my commitment to this hour of the day being dedicated to my exercise, helped me relieve stress, and allowed me to start successfully losing weight. Once my legs and joints started feeling better, I added on yoga, and did it a few times a day. Once I started feeling stronger and my knees stopped making that weird creaking sound, I started trying to run and did so in intervals. From there, I stuck to running, added strength training, and the rest was history. Now, as I’m at my heaviest, I take spin classes and go for daily walks again.

See how I gradually increased the impact level of my activity choice? Walking and yoga, which are low-impact, to running, which becomes more high-impact the faster you go? See how I decreased my impact level post-baby, with spin classes, to help me re-acclimate to not only my post-baby body, but to help me get back to my old ability level?

The best advice I can give a newbie is to pay very close attention to how you feel during an activity. If it’s intense for you, it doesn’t mean the exercise isn’t for you—it means you need to scale it back a bit, find some workarounds for the things that are too hard, cross-train in ways that help you develop muscle memory and strengthen your joint health, and take it easy. Before long, you’ll realize that the things that were once super-challenging are now things you can blitz through, onward to the next challenge, and you’ll crush that, too.