Exercise Modification Tips for Every Fitness Level from an Openfit Live Trainer
When you’re just starting your fitness journey or trying a new workout program, it can be tempting to skip any exercises that are outside of your comfort zone. That’s where exercise modifications come in — you can adapt the exercise to your ability level until you build the strength, confidence, and coordination to try the advanced version.
“There’s zero pressure to duplicate the movements as you see them on our demo videos,” says Openfit Live trainer Mary Beth Rockwell. You can customize any move — from burpees to push-ups — to make it right for your body, she adds. Need an alternative to burpees or an easy push-up modification? Here are tips for modifying some of the most challenging exercises.
How to Modify Push-Ups
The mod you learned in grade school isn’t necessarily the best. “Push-ups on your knees are okay, but they’re not the best if your goal is to do a full-on, straight-legged push-up on the floor,” Rockwell says.
- Start with your hands on an elevated surface, such as a wall, a countertop, a bench, or a bottom stair. Choose the lowest surface on which you can still maintain a straight line from your ears to your shoulders to your hips all the way down to your heels, without popping your booty or letting your belly sag.
- Once you master a push-up on one surface (like a wall), move your hands to a slightly lower surface (like a countertop). As you get stronger, keep working your way toward a lower surface until you’re able to do a full push-up on the floor.
- If you feel discomfort in your wrists, or you can’t maintain good form, move back up to a higher surface to finish your reps.
How to Modify Burpees
“I can see the deer-in-the-headlights look on some teammates’ faces when they try to do burpees for the first time, but there are lots of modification options!” Rockwell says.
- Slow down the move until you get the hang of each part of the exercise: squat, plank, squat, jump.
- If you need to decrease the impact, try stepping between the squat and the plank (instead of hopping) and standing at the end of the move (instead of jumping).
- If your plank needs work, do that portion of the move with your hands on an elevated surface until you get your form down. Once you can comfortably transition through each part of the burpee while maintaining good form, lower your plank closer to the floor.
- If your knees bother you, try a more shallow squat.
You can also modify burpees to bump up the intensity: Speed up each burpee, cut down on rest time between reps, or add a push-up to the plank portion.
How to Modify Lunges
“Moving in a pain-free range of motion is always our goal, and this especially applies to lunges,” Rockwell says.
- If stepping into a forward lunge bothers your knees, try a reverse lunge instead.
- For a lower-impact option, opt for a split squat: Start in a stationary lunge with your feet planted, and then bend both knees as far as you feel comfortable.
- As you start to feel stronger, bend your knees more with each lunge. (If you feel any discomfort, go back to a more comfortable modification.)
How to Modify Squats
“Knee position is everything for squats,” Rockwell says. Modifications can help when you’re still trying to master proper squat form (with your thighs parallel to the floor and knees over your ankles rather than extended past the toes).
- Start off conservatively with your range of motion — you don’t need to squat as deep as you possibly can, especially if you feel any discomfort.
- If you have trouble with your knee placement, stand in front of a wall with your toes touching the bottom of the wall. Move through your squat, turning your head to the side so your nose doesn’t bump into the wall. If your knees extend past your toes, the wall will stop you and you’ll learn to sit your glutes back more.
- Once you get the hang of it, try to duplicate that motion without the wall.
How to Modify Crunches
“You want your abs to do the work, not momentum,” Rockwell says. That’s why modifications are key while you’re still building core strength.
- Start by lifting just your shoulder blades off the floor, then lowering them with control. Instead of clasping your hands behind your head, touch your ears with your fingertips to ensure you’re lifting with your core and not pulling on your head. Keep your low back and hips supported on the floor.
- As your core strength improves, see if you can come up a little higher in your crunches, even if it’s just a millimeter at a time.
How to Modify Plyometrics
- Simply remove the “jump” from an exercise — for example, replace squat jumps with basic squats, or stand up at the top of a burpee instead of jumping.
- Step or march rather than hopping or jumping.
- When you’re ready — and when you can do so safely without any joint pain — you can add intensity by picking up the pace, or by adding a small hop.