How To Modify Exercises For Your Needs

How To Modify Exercises For Your Needs

A lot of people start exercising in a group fitness class, or with a home video, and assume it's supposed to be "Simon Says."  They assume that you need to be doing all of the repetitions, the same amount of weight, the same speed, the same version of the move, etc., and if they aren't doing that it means that they are a failure and they should give up (either turn off the video, or walk out of the class).  I'm here to tell you that it's time to change your mindset, if that's you.

If you do a program and you can complete it all the way through, without too much effort, the first time around... then, honestly, it's not hard enough for you.  Exercise should give us the option to improve upon what's given and, when we can't keep up, the option needs to be there to be able to modify.  On top of that, your instructor should NOT bully you into moving past your current comfort level, and they should help you with modifications (either during your class, or you can approach them after the class to ask for some to use).  If they do, try a different class with a different instructor.  A lot of home videos I've used have a modifier in them, which is great.  Some don't have this, unfortunately, and for some people even what the modifier is doing needs to be modified a bit further.

I want to help you understand that it's OK to modify.  There are a number of reasons someone may need to do so, and it has nothing to do with how bada** you are or aren't.  You may be a newbie to fitness and need to modify.  You may be recovering from an injury and need to modify.  You may just be tired from your earlier in the week workouts and need to modify.  Age can affect your need to modify.  Disease can affect your need to modify.  Just remember, it's OK to modify!

Here are ways that you can modify during your home fitness video OR your group fitness class:

1.) TYPE of exercise.

The majority of all exercises are derived from base moves like push-ups, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, jogging, etc.  One of the easiest ways to modify is to go back to the base move from which the current move is derived.  So, for example, if your class has you doing some weird push-up variation that is currently too hard for you (or, in my life, the "plyo line push-ups in P90X3... oy!), revert back to doing standard push-ups (on your toes or knees; and do it with your hands on a step riser to make it a little easier), or whichever variation of the push-up you need to help you build the strength up for the full move.  If your class has you doing a jump squat, you can revert to just doing a squat with no jump.  If your class has you doing walking lunges, you can do stationary lunges.  If your class has you running in place, walk in place.  If your class has you doing jumping jacks, either march in place, or do a side to side tape with alternating feet.  That's just a small handful of suggestions, but you get the idea.

2.) WEIGHT of exercise.

If the exercise is being done holding hand weights, a band, a medicine ball, etc. then the easiest way to modify is to either hold a lighter weight OR no weight at all.

3.) RANGE of motion.

You can modify moves by decreasing the range of motion.  Make your squats less deep.  Only go 1/4 of the way down in a push-up.  Don't lift your knees so high up when jogging or marching in place, etc.

4.) SPEED of motion.

Guess what?  You don't have to go super speedy.  If the rate at which you are squatting, lunging, marching, bicep curling, etc. is a little slower than everyone else... who cares!?  You're still moving and you're still burning calories and working on endurance and strength.  This, of course, becomes a little more challenging in classes that are based on choreography to music (like a lot of the ones I teach), but you can modify in those as well.  I'll usually tell people to either make the move smaller/less intense, or just jog or march in place and hop back in when they are ready.  The key is to do your best, and don't let it bother you if your speed doesn't match everyone else's.

5.) LENGTH of workout.

In general, if you go to a class, it's best to stay for the whole thing, because the cool-down stretch is very important.  BUT, if you are new to fitness, it's ok to set a goal to last for 20 minutes.  It's best to let the instructor know of your goal, as well.  Then, work your way up to staying for a full 1/2 hour, then 45 minutes, and then the full hour!  BAM, you've got this!  However, if you DO leave before the cool-down, be sure to take yourself through some stretches after you step out of the class.  If you are doing a video at home, fast forward to the cool-down and do that.  Your body will thank you for this.

I'll be doing various videos that break-down specific moves and show you how you can modify those moves in the weeks and months to come.  However, if you have requests, please leave a comment in the COMMENT section below and let me know what moves you'd like me to cover.  I believe fitness can be accessible for everyone, and I want to help make it so!


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  • Lunges, especially traveling lunges- I always hurt my lower back. Not sure if I'm stepping too wide or what.

  • In reply to Bean80:

    I'd be happy to help and see your form if you'd like. If you can record a video of yourself doing a lunge from both the side and the front I can view the video and see your alignment and offer suggestions. If you want to do that, email it to - happy to help!

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