Fitness Magazine

Throwing This Weight Around

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat
Photo by Richard Sabel

Photo by Richard Sabel

Amber Riley (best known as Mercedes from Glee) is on Dancing with the Stars.  I’ve not been a fan of the way that the show has become about dancing for its thin contestants and weight loss for its fat contestants, so I tuned in with some trepidation. I was thrilled to see Amber displaying body pride, with no weight loss talk.  She said that she thinks it will be good for girls her size to see her dancing and “throwing this weight around!”  I agree with her and all of my fingers and toes are crossed that even if she experiences some (likely temporary) weight loss that she stays body positive and weight neutral.

This got me thinking about weight and mobility.  I get lots of e-mails from frustrated fat people whose doctors/personal trainers/family members who watch Dr. Oz and think they are doctors told them that the only way to increase mobility/fitness is by losing weight.  This is patently ridiculous for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, is that they have no idea how to help people lose weight long term – the vast majority of people who diet end up gaining their weight back – and often more than they lost – within 5 years so if body weight is the source of mobility problems, then recommending weight loss is absolutely irresponsible.  The second reason that this is stupid is that the suggestion that body weight=mobility ignores the realities of mathematics, not to mention the fact that there are people with varied mobility and fitness at various sizes.

Let’s start here – mobility is not a measure of value or worth, there should be zero judgment of people based on their mobility.  People have different levels of mobility for different reasons and none of those are anyone else’s business unless the person wants it to be someone’s business.  Not everyone can icrease their mobility and nobody should be pressured to do so.  Everyone should have access to every mobility option including mobility aids from canes to scooters and anything that can help rated for whatever their weight is and there should be no shame or judgment in the use of these mobility aids ever for any reason.   Fitness is not a measure of worth, people who choose movement/fitness as a hobby are no more laudable than people who choose anything else as a hobby.  Fitness by any definition is not an obligation.

If want to increase mobility/fitness then I would suggest starting with the three pillars – strength, stamina, and flexibility.

Strength:  This one is often overlooked accidentally or intentionally by people who are doling out advice to fatties. Personal trainers are infamous for ignoring this for fat people because they don’t want to “put weight on,” telling us instead to focus on cardio.  I do not know how they can believe one half of the equation (if we lose weight then it will be easier to move at our current strength) but not the other half of the equation (if we gain strength then it will be easier to move at our current weight).

Strength training is the most important part of my fitness program  – it is what allows me to move my body around the way that I do.  I’m very lucky in that I seem to build muscle easily, as with everything, your mileage may vary.  I know that for a lot of fat people strength training has also been psychologically good for them because they excelled at it. As super heavyweight Olympic weight lifter Cheryl Haworth puts it – mass moves mass.  Strength training can include lifting weights, body weight exercises (wall sits, sit to stands from a chair, push ups – including modifications like wall push ups), using resistance bands, and strength work in the pool.


There are lots of ways to work on stamina – it’s essentially about elevating your heart rate.  One thing that people who have mobility issues can do is to separate stamina training from strength and flexibility work.  If walking is difficult then trying to walk fast enough and long enough to elevate heart rate could lead to lots of other problems, or be impossible.  Stamina work can be done with the upper body (like using a hand bike while sitting), or sitting down (chair dancing, chair aerobics, sit and be fit etc.),  stationary in the pool (holding onto the side and kicking), moving in the pool (swimming, aqua jogging, water aerobics).  A quick note about water work  – one of the reasons that it can be helpful is that a lot of your body weight is supported by the water.  This is great for people with joint issues, or those starting out on mobility work,  if your goal is mobility out of the water (being able to walk farther etc.) then you’ll want to eventually add work that has you support your own body weight out of the water and you’ll want to be ready


I think that flexibility is really important because it helps with mobility and general body resilience and can be super practical (the importance of being able to wipe with both hands is often underestimated by people who have never injured their primary wiping arm).  There are lots of ways to work on flexibility – from yoga, to martial arts flexibility work, to resistance stretching, pilates etc.  It can also be aided by things like massage, partner stretching etc.  For me flexibility takes the most time, I’m not naturally flexible – it took me a year of working about an hour a day to get my splits – if I wasn’t a dancer I would definitely still work on flexibility but certainly not to that extent.

In general I suggest choosing functional goals (I want to be able to walk to the mailbox, I want to be able to lift my grandkid, I want to be able to touch my toes) or goals that mean something to you (walk x miles, bench press x pounds etc.)  You can start with a baseline (for example how far you can walk now), set a goal based on that (walking 1.5 times/twice that far) devise a plan that will work for your actual life, be flexible with yourself, be compassionate with yourself, and celebrate every small victory like you won the Super Bowl.

I believe that every body is different and they aren’t comparable so, to me, there is really no point in comparing my body to anyone else’s in terms of how it looks or what it can and can’t do. For me it’s about having fun and throwing this weight around.

There are great resources out there for those who want to work on this stuff, here are some I’ve personally experienced and loved (I’m living in terror of forgetting someone here, apologies in advance if I did) – feel free to list others in the comments.

Jeanette DePatie (aka The Fat Chick) is a fat personal trainer who has a book and video on beginner fitness that are fabulous, as well as doing personal training live and by Skype for those who aren’t in the LA area, and doing two beginner level fitness classes a week that she livestreams.  Jeanette is a good friend of mine and I’ve taken class with her and she is fabulous.

Punk Rock Hoops  is run by two rocking sisters (Blythe and Rowan) and their new Chief of Making It Happen Alejandra. They offer classes, teacher certifications, workshops, and the amazing Hottie Hoop Camp.  I took a class from Rowan with my friend Heather and not only was she awesome, encouraging and patient (I got a serious workout from all the squats I did dropping the hoop and picking it up again),  we ended up in

Abby Lentz is a fat yoga teacher who has DVDs, live classes and trainer certifications.  Abby is fantastic at using modifications and props to make yoga work for every body (including those who utilize wheelchairs, live predominantly in bed and live with disabilities)  I met Abby when I lived in Austin, I got to take class with her and it was wonderful.

Anna Guest Jelley is a self-described curvy yoga practitioner and instructor who offers resources in the form of books as well as classes live, and online and trainer certifications.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet her online and I’ve taken some of her online classes and loved them.

The Fit Fatties Forum is a place for anyone who wants to talk about movement and fitness from a weight neutral perspective. Jeanette DePatie and I founded it and there is a general forum where people talk about everything from chub rub, to getting out of a movement rut, to finding plus-size activewear. There are groups (like newbies, runners, hoopers, strength athletes etc.) and there are photo and video galleries that are pretty awesome.  It’s totally free to join and use.

Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments!

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