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Putting the fun into fitness

I had heard of them before, but I’d never seen one until last night. I didn’t know if they were real, but I can now testify that they exist. Of what do I speak? Overweight aerobics instructors.

It started Sunday night when I finally watched the TurboJam DVDs I checked out from the library. TurboJam is the same thing as TurboKick, a fitness workout developed by Chalene Johnson in 1997 that incorporates kickboxing and dance moves. I took a class last year as part of a community education program, but I haven’t been since because the drive was too far. As I was bobbing around in front of my computer to the DVDs, I realized two things. First, it’s amazing how much more floor space I have around my computer than between my TV and my sofa. Second, exercise used to be so much fun! Fun! That’s what I’ve been missing! Bouncing around on the carpet learning a new routine stimulated my mind and forced me to think and concentrate in a way I haven’t had to when I’ve been running or doing the same old Pilates routine. Ironically, being stuck in a rut caused me to start losing my groove.

As I was watching the video, I was rather impressed with everyone’s physique. After watching the pitch they make on the DVD, I’m sure the marketing plan for TurboJam lists one of the main selling points as weight loss. They stressed that a lot in the ads and on the background featurettes, showing at least two exercisers who’d lost up to 50 pounds. While that’s great, I wish they’d actually shown some of those overweight people doing the routines. In all the footage of events at the beach and other places, they only showed the thin “after” people and not the fatter “before” people. I realize they’re selling an image and pushing the end results, but if people are really losing all this weight on TurboJam I’d like to see them as they’re doing it, not just afterwards.

I checked the Y’s class schedule and lucky for me a TurboKick class was scheduled at 6:30 last night. I got a bit lost on my way home, in a bad neighborhood, at twilight – but I have obviously lived to tell the tale. Behind schedule, I rushed in the door, fed my cat, changed my clothes and raced to the Y in lightly snow-covered streets without sliding into a ditch. Then I got to the parking lot. It was full. Damn those bastards who all join up in January! Oh wait, that’s me. I guess it was my own damn fault the lot was full. Sorry! I pulled around a long aisle and slipped into the last free spot before dashing into the Y and bounding upstairs to the classroom. The stairs are right next to the main entrance, before you enter the security gate, and no one even checked my pass. So, if you are an unethical person who is willing to rip off charitable Christian organizations for free aerobics classes, this might be the gym for you!

As I walked in the room I saw a woman with a battery pack belted around her waist doing audio checks on a microphone headset. She was fat. Not just overweight, but probably obese by BMI standards. And she was the instructor. My first thought? Awesome! I know some gyms don’t like to have overweight fitness instructors because they think it sends a bad image, but my philosophy is that if you can lead the workout then it doesn’t matter how fat you are. If you can do the job, you have every right to do it. And she did. She led an hour-long workout, calling out instructions the whole time. I admired her a lot because I doubt I would have been fit enough to complete that routine when I was her size. I doubt my knees would have been up to it either. If anything, I think it sets a good example because it shows overweight women that they can exercise and be in shape too.

I was glad I’d taken my previous TurboKick class though, because my instructor there went over basic form techniques, explained common moves and warned me about the Turbo sessions when the music speeds up and you double-time everything for a couple minutes. If I’d just wandered into this class off of the street, I’d probably have thrown my coat and hat back on after 10 minutes in frustration and confusion.

I did like that this class was held in a real studio and not a school gym like my old class. I was able to see myself in mirrors all around the room and check my form. I realized that when I’m standing straight up, I fell like I’m leaning backwards. This is probably why some people have critiqued my posture in my progress photos. I’m so used to tilting forward that it feels like I’m standing straight. I’ll have to work on that.

As I was looking at myself in those mirrors, I couldn’t help but think, “I look so great.” It’s been odd looking in mirrors this past week and a half since I’ve stopped weighing myself. Sometimes I’ll check the size of my tummy and my butt and think, “Oh God, have I gained weight?” Other times I’ll look and think, “No, I still look fine.” Seeing myself in motion in the YMCA classroom,as I was kicking and jumping and punching in mediocre form, I thought, “It’s so awesome that I can do this. I look awesome.” And I really believed it. I have no idea what I weigh right now, and as long as I can find fun in being fit (and my pants still fit), I can say I honestly don’t care.

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Marla • January 15, 2008 at 7:38 am

That’s awesome! That’s one thing I liked about the Richard Simmons videos, he always has people of different sizes doing the workouts. Which also gives the opportunity to see different modifications for advanced moves.

I know everyone’s afraid that an overweight leader sends the message that the workout won’t help you lose weight! Because look! The TEACHER is fat! But I think it’s time we put some separation between the two things anyway, the benefits of exercise and losing weight. Everyone gets different WL results from exercise, but everyone gets the same health benefits.


Cathleen • January 15, 2008 at 8:49 am

I had an overweight aerobics instructor for a while and I loved it — I felt less intimidated and as if it was all possible.


eva • January 15, 2008 at 8:50 am

My kickboxing class is tonight…and the studio has mirrors for walls. Let’s just say, they give me insentive to finish the workout and go again next week! Can’t wait til they actually reflect progress like the mirrors at the Y!


Comrade GoGo • January 15, 2008 at 8:52 am

“If people are really losing all this weight on TurboJam I’d like to see them as they’re doing it, not just afterwards.”


I think that’s what I appreciate most about some of my favorite blogs (like this one): being allowed to share in that middle portion of the journey, rather than just being flashed two “Before/After” pics.


Heather • January 15, 2008 at 9:16 am

Good on that gym! I work in the fitness industry and the big gyms are less likely to hire overweight people as instructors or trainers than an individual person is… and I think that’s sad, because it’s good for people to know you can be healthy and fit now, you don’t have to wait for some arbitrary weight to love life. (I was 5’4, 163 lb, and a size 10 before I was pregnant.)

It’s also good because I read an article (not to mention saw for myself) that eating disorders are rampant in the fitness industry because the pressure to reach some certain ideal. I think the slack should be lessened a bit– the point it HEALTH, right? Hating food is not health. Been there, done that.


Jennie C • January 15, 2008 at 9:18 am

As an overweight group fitness instructor, I appreciate the post! (I think the other thing that makes a difference is the regulars at the gym have seen me slim down over the last several months, so there’s evidence that yes, this does work. It will help you shape up.)


Melsky • January 15, 2008 at 9:21 am

That woman in the photo of the article you linked does not look fat at all to me, or overweight or whatever. She looks healthy!

I would like to try a dance class again. The only one I tried was at my old gym, and it was supposed to be a beginners class but all she did was turn the music on, and start doing dance steps and everyone else just copied her, I was the only one who couldn’t figure out where my feet were supposed to go. There was no actual instruction.

I guess I need to find a sub-beginner’s class that will teach me some of the steps first. It was embarrassing to have to walk out of that class after five minutes, but I very obviously couldn’t keep up doing the movements.


E • January 15, 2008 at 9:46 am

You know, i think having an overweight instructor would be AWESOME! I feel so intimidated by the uber-fit women who lead the classes around here.

And those TurboJam DVD’s are good? Fun? I’m thinking about getting one, but our library doesn’t carry videos, so I’ll have to spring for it.

PQ – I have only watched part of the 1st one, but I liked it so far. They put up a timer onscreen that says how many minutes you have left, which I found reassuring.


Annie • January 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

Wonderful to see an overweight instructor at a gym! It gives me hope as I head to school to get my fitness degree–that I could possibly get a job prior to being in tip-top shape. That instructor is definitely an inspiration for me!

I have been avoiding gyms due to the Kens and Barbies that I have run into as instructors/trainers in the past. Nice to see that gym has a clue. Hopefully more gyms will follow suit.


Jen • January 15, 2008 at 10:26 am

Slightly off topic. If you like the dancing aerobic type work outs I’ve just borrowed a set called Hip Hop Abs. It is a bit too fast for me yet but that is the whole idea of doing it at home so you can look like an idiot to only yourself and the cat (who looks at me with great distain from the couch).

It seems like it will be fun.

Keep up the good work!

p.s. I still laugh when I feed my cat and think of accidently licking the spoon.


Dinah Soar • January 15, 2008 at 10:32 am

“Second, exercise used to be so much fun! Fun! That’s what I’ve been missing!”

Same here! I think if I found exercise to be more fun, I’d do it more….the Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies always appealed to me…they looked fun. I never purchased them though, because I’d already collected too many videos that were too hard to follow, or just plain booorrrrrringgggg.

That problem continues even today…right now I have several DVD’s that are just so darn boring…I can’t even bring myself to get out and take a walk in a boring neighborhood…if the scenery’s not good, like beautiful antebellum homes (think Charelston, SC), landscaping, gardens, porches, door wreaths, interesting fences, and the like, there’s no way I’m going to endure much foot time.


April • January 15, 2008 at 10:53 am

Proof that overweight people can be in great physical shape. That’s wonderful.

I’m joining the Y too, I like their flexible schedules plus it’s where my friend works out and she’s dragging me in by my hair.. :)

And I agree with the above commenter that I’m too lazy to scroll up and credit, that being a part of someone’s journey, not just seeing the before and after is really inspiring. Too many ups and downs on the road, it’s nice to see others have those same battles and still get there.


Cyndie • January 15, 2008 at 11:03 am

Queenie – thanks for the post. After losing a little over 100 lbs through diet and exercise I decided to become a personal trainer. I still have a roll around the middle that I think everyone in the world talks about (although I know it is not true!). Many people at my gym have seen my progression and know my background. I became a trainer for probably the exact same reason as the aerobic instructor – to motivate people and show them, “you too can make a difference in you body and your health”.

A tip for your posture. Stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Roll your palms forward, thumbs pointing outward. That little pinch that you feel in your shoulder blades should always be there. Pulling your shoulders back is the first step in better posture.


VerseFameBeauty • January 15, 2008 at 11:30 am

re: your posture – have you ever gone to a chiropractor? A good chiropractor who does a lot of hands-on adjusting can do wonders for the way you feel when you stand up straight. (They usually cost whatever the “specialist” copay is on your insurance but oftentimes a good chiropractor will make an exception for you if you have bad/no insurance, etc.) I would also recommend Pilates because that should help put the muscles in the right place with your newly-aligned spine, but obviously that didn’t do the trick. ;-)


Lora Ramirez • January 15, 2008 at 11:36 am

We have a couple of large bellied male trainers at my gym and they are the most popular! I thought it was rather unusual but they themselves are trying to get back to their former “strongman” status. :) Very motivating.


Red • January 15, 2008 at 11:53 am

You know, I’ve always kind of wanted to be an aerobics instructor on the side, but I always thought I’d get laughed right out of my legwarmers if I applied because I’m not 80lbs (or a blonde). It’s good to hear that this is not always the case.

*gets legwarmers ready*


sheddingpounds • January 15, 2008 at 11:54 am

I think that’s terrific about the overweight instructor. I’m glad you actually enjoyed yourself and realize how great you look. :)


Mia • January 15, 2008 at 11:58 am

Yay! I’m glad you found a gym. I think you made the right decision. I used to have a membership at the YMCA and LOVED it!


psychsarah • January 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

When I first started exercising a few years ago(at a place not unlike the Y) my instructor was overweight-like size 16 or 18. She was incredible! She was training for a marathon, she taught 3 or 4 classes a day, and then still went for her workout (since teaching wasn’t intense enough for her to continue to improve her fitness level!) and she had a ton of knowledge that she shared with us at the end of each class. She was an inspiration and did make me see beyond the benefits of exercise beyond losing weight, which honestly, has kept me going through various plateaus and rough spots. I hope this trend continues!


Laura • January 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I don’t know, I seem to be in the minority, but I probably wouldn’t attend a class with an overweight instructor, and I definitely wouldn’t hire an overweight personal trainer. To me, there’s just some element of being a hypocrite in there – how can you teach me to get in shape if you’re unable to do that yourself? I understand that it takes time to take the pounds off, but I’d rather be taught to work out by someone who’s finished that journey successfully than someone else who’s still in the middle. YMMV.


anji • January 15, 2008 at 5:33 pm

I agree — if the instructor can do it, it doesn’t matter what size they are. You can be thin and can’t teach a class to save their life.

I never was “thin” but – I used to be an awesome instructor. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get the initial “You’re fat, how can you teach?” look… but – I was also one of the fastest swimmers in the entire pool so once they realised not only could I teach but I could swim pretty good, they gave me more respect. Hell, I was only a volunteer and I was having parents and kids ask for me to teach them.

There are such things as fat FIT people. They are the epitomy of health but – it’s inspirational and who knows? Maybe they already lost 100 pounds and are on their way… who is it for us to judge them? I feel bad for those who wouldn’t go to a class because of an instructor’s weight… you may very well be missing out on one of the best classes you may ever have.


Donna • January 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm

I think the priority would be the instructor’s qualifications or certifications for training people or leading classes. Are they watching and correcting the exercise form of the participants to prevent injury? Do they know how to handle injuries? I would ask questions of the instructor first.


Sally Parrott Ashbrook • January 15, 2008 at 9:16 pm

I took a step aerobics class in 8th grade and loved it. In 9th grade I was a cheerleader and, over time, trained my brain to pick up on dance moves quickly. But as I’ve gotten older, well, I’m the person who moves the same direction as the instructor (not the mirrored direction) and bumps into someone, or who flails the wrong arm. I don’t want to pay to join a gym but would enjoy a class, but I get embarrassed just thinking about it. I need a class specifically for beginners, I think. Yoga is my July to-try activity, so that’ll be something then. I may switch out another activity sooner to try a group dance-ish exercise program.


Zandria • January 15, 2008 at 10:40 pm

I think it’s awesome that qualified people of all body types can lead fitness classes. :)


ofatcat • January 16, 2008 at 1:02 am

Wow! You have lost a substantial amount of weight congrats. By the way, after I had my son, I weighed 190 lbs. I did the turbojam and lost about 40 lbs in a few months. At first, I had a difficult time with balance, but with time it got easier. With regards to the larger size instructor, I feel more comfortable because they seem to have a realistic body type. Continue with your workout program, you are doing great!


Lauren • January 16, 2008 at 2:24 am

sounds like fun, How long did it take before you stopped really having knee problems?

PQ – Well, they’ve never completely gone away. After TurboJam I could definitely feel some wear in my knees. It’s generally just not as bad anymore.


Melanie • January 16, 2008 at 11:05 am

Thank you so much for writing this. It was just what I needed to hear. I have been debating the Y membership thing for a while now and hearing about your fun experience made me want to just do it! So thanks for the breath of inspiration!


wendy • January 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm

I just read about your blog in Glamour. Way to go!


staci • January 16, 2008 at 2:32 pm

If you would like some really fun workout dvds that feature people of all sizes participating, you should try the yoga booty ballet series. It sounds really silly, but the workouts are very dance-oriented and so much fun. And, every dvd features both men and women of a myriad of fitness levels…


Lindsey • January 16, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Hey PQ,

That was so funny. I was catching up on your last few posts and saw the one just before this about aerobics classes and thought, “Geez, she should really try TurboJam.” And then lo and behold, the very next post is about TurboJam. I usually just do the DVDs at home for convenience and time saving, but I really do like them. They’re the only at-home fitness thing I’ve found that I actually continuously like. And when paired with weighted gloves or wrist weights, can be pretty impressive for building and toning upper body areas.

As a suggestion, since you have access to the tapes, try Cardio Mix 2 for a good, fun cardio workout—it’s my favorite—and TurboSculpt for more resistance training as you get to use free weights. I’m also checking out one of the new ones that uses a ball, but haven’t gotten all the way through it—appears a little more advanced. If you ever do try any of these, you’ll have to let me know if you like them.

TJ is a great default exercise option when you’re short on time or don’t feel like being that creative/adventurous.

Oh, and as a last suggestion, ever try rock climbing? I live in SF and we have some interior wall facilities in the city and my roommates finally have convinced me to give it a try this weekend. I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough upper body strength for it (we have nearly identical weights and heights), but they said it was more about lower body strength as unlike real rock climbing, the artificial walls place things close enough together that you’re mostly using your legs and not arms to move upward. Just thought you might give this a try if there is anywhere in the area where you live that has such a setup. Keep up the good work!


Mrs. Duffy • January 16, 2008 at 7:06 pm

I am SO DOWN with the big instructors! Sadly, one of my old bosses was once a fat weightlifting instructor, and she was fired, so ever since she told me that story it’s been in the back of my head that YES! The fat folks can indeed instruct, learn in their classes now!

There used to be a gym on Chambers Street in Manhattan that had this incredible, large, strong female hip hop dance instructor who was in the process of losing over a hundred lbs. She was an amazing inspiration to everybody & definitely one of the favorites. That gym closed but I sure wish I knew where she wound up teaching, because I’d go back in a heartbeat. If I knew enough, I wouldn’t mind instructing myself — and I hope everybody would judge me on the quality of the moves rather than my belly roll, LOL!

Lately I’ve actually been thinking about what it takes to become a credentialed instructor or trainer or what have you. The Bikram yoga chain around here has an apprentice program, but that’s pretty specific. How much do they make? Do you need special insurance? How do you get clients? How do I lose this last 50 lbs so I appear to be credible? Etc., etc., etc…


Bella • January 16, 2008 at 10:28 pm

I find this so refreshing that your Y has an overweight (fat) aerobics instructor. I actually wrote a post on my own blog a few weeks ago saying how much I wish I could find an overweight teacher to teach yoga. Or, even a slim teacher to teach overweight(fat) people yoga. It’s not that I mind having a slim teacher, because I’m not intimidated by stuff like that, but I do sometimes think someone who is overweight would understand the physical restrictions that another overweight person might have, and help to modify the poses/moves.

Another great post. BTW, which issue of Glamour is the blog featured in? I’d love to read what they had to say.

PQ – It was the January 2008 issue with Carrie Underwood on the cover. I scanned a copy you can read here.


The Muse • January 17, 2008 at 10:54 am

Speaking up as another (slightly) overweight fitness instructor. I’m a pole dancing fitness teacher (not strip-tease-style, but actually learning spins and the dance moves), and I’m working towards my own weight-loss goals, including starting to run for the first time in my life!

Let me tell you, I get plenty of looks from girls at the beginning of a session – all of them wondering “how can this chubby white girl dance?” (Our students are generally black females, in their mid-20s to late 30s… and yes, I’ve actually heard the exact phrase above spoken before class.) The next thing they know, I’m climbing up 16-ft of brass pole, inverting, holding with one leg, coming down into handstands, etc…

I love teaching, and am not shy about my size, because if I can do it, hopefully I’m an inspiration to other girls to prove that they can do it!


Samantha • January 17, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Oh, that’s great! I would definitely go to a class taught by an overweight instructor – as opposed to my not going to any class, I guess. :)


Jane • January 18, 2008 at 10:24 am

I would echo Bella’s comment on the idea of an overweight yoga teacher- the nearest I have come to it was a pregnant yoga teacher who was explaining the modifications she was making to poses to allow for her baby belly (which helped me find ways to deal with my belly blubber). Sadly- although inevitably- she is now on maternity leave…


Chris • January 18, 2008 at 8:36 pm

FYI: I looked up this video to buy, and apparently it’s fine if you buy from amazon, but beachbody.com is scamming people. See http://www.infomercialscams.com/scams/turbo_jam


Chris • January 18, 2008 at 8:39 pm

P.S. PQ, I *love* your blog and read it regularly! So fun and inspiring! I will be getting your book for sure.


littlem • January 19, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Meghan Garcia has “Yoga For the Rest of Us” DVDs. She is a plus size model.


NurseAllycat • February 2, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Just FYI, one of the people in the turbojam videos, Angela, the former laker girl, is pregnant or losing baby fat in some of the videos. Also, in the advanced workouts, there are all sorts of body shapes and sizes. It’s really encouraging.


ionela barton • October 25, 2008 at 9:07 am

@Annie –

I can’t believe what i’m hearing!!!!!!!!!!! O my god!!!!!! To have a fat/overweight aerobic instructor? Is this for real? Fat people are not fit and are not healthy either cause if they were that means they wouldn’t be fat….. so my recomandation is look at fit people and try to lose the weight and then you can say you are fit and healthy. I am FAT and i would never ever go in a gym where the aerobic instructor is fat…that means what she’s doing is not going to make me loose wieght because she is FAT!

So guys lets be seriouse stop making excuses to stay fat!!


PastaQueen • October 25, 2008 at 10:00 am

@ionela barton – Actually, it is a myth that you can’t be fit and be healthy. According to mortality tables, people who are slightly overweight live longer than people who are underweight. If you do some googling on the subject you’ll find a lot of the latest research says your eating and exercise habits are a better determiner of your health than your size.

Of course, if you weigh 500 pounds, it’s very unlikely you’re in good health. We’re not talking about extreme ends of the spectrum. And there are also plenty of people who are fat and don’t eat well or exercise who are in bad health. However, your size is not an absolute determiner of your health.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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