First of all, Damn you rule 34 of the internet. I just wanted a picture of a piggyback..
Anyway, while I'm getting out the brain bleach, my friend Tony posted a very smart blog post about training obese clients. Because I'm an unoriginal bastard.. or because I have been there, I wanted to put in my two bits on the mental side of training very untrained individuals.
When you are obese, you feel trapped, but at the same time you feel comfortable. It's a strange dichotomy. I am stuck in this body, but this body is me and I am (at least to an extent) comfortable in that identity (or at least afraid to change it.)
This is what I call "big guy syndrome."
As a trainer this can be very hard to shake. This syndrome causes people to negotiate their way out of diets, or make what to an outsider is a very lame excuse why they can't do this or that, and really sets what seem to be insurmountable limits on what they can do physically. Trainers and coaches who are Mesomorphs or Ectomorphs don't really understand that this isn't pathological. This client is afraid. Change is scary, and changing your identity (even if the change itself is positive) feels like walking outside naked.
So as a coach:
First thing when someone who is afflicted with BGS comes to me to train I tell them "the Big guy/gal you were, is dead. S/He's over, right now. We're replacing him with an athlete."
I tell them to picture themselves not as thin or skinny, but doing things: running stairs like Rocky, or rowing, or biking, or rock climbing.. or whatever it is they like to do, and doing it well.
Second thing is set them up to succeed. When training highly motivated athletes the easiest way to get them moving past their mental governor is challenge them. With untrained individuals you have to build confidence. Lay on the positive feedback, and never set a "finish line." If I tell an athlete do 5 reps, she'll do 10 just to show me up. If I tell an untrained athlete with BGS to do 5 He'll try to negotiate down to 3 at 1/2 the weight. So I say we're going to work on your technique, and we do reps and I queue technique. Once I see their form break from fatigue, then I end the set. Tony touches on this in his post, but I cannot stress enough do not allow these clients to fail even for a set or an exercise. Training has to be a 100% positive experience.
Finally, I often have clients do "homework" usually mobility drills or light work on weakpoints to do at home, away from the gym (also works with logging diet, or anything the client has to do on their own). This is huge for BGS sufferers because it keeps them in the "I'm an athlete I am working to be the person I want to be." mindset. It also this is an indicator of when they're about to push back or relapse into old behavior. Using these as a canary in the coalmine will allow you as a trainer to know when this is going to happen and head it off before they get into major self destructive behavior.
As a client:
Change is scary, but trust me when I say: you're still you. You will always be you. The choice is: you can be the you that can't do things, that has to carry the burden of being out of shape, or you can be able to do anything you want, unencumbered. Redefine yourself, and be the person you want.