How to Modify Exercises to Meet Your Needs
Author: George Barker
Whether a seasoned gym-goer or a complete beginner, fitness classes can cause apprehension. Due to their more generic, large group based nature, not all exercises, sequences or class layouts will be a good fit for every individual’s body. On top of that, past experiences of group fitness instructors not being skilled at providing exercise modifications for your needs can exacerbate this feeling.
Whether this apprehension is rooted in feelings that “everyone will be fitter than me” or a fear of being made to jump or run on a chronically painful knee or back; rest assured everybody walks in worried about something, so you are not alone. If you are not comfortable modifying exercises on your own, at Body Complete we offer Semi Private Coaching classes available to those of you who find large group classes intimidating. We can provide the right personal instruction so that we can modify every exercise to meet your needs. It is important to remember that it is our job to make fitness accessible to all bodies!
Whatever point you are at in your fitness journey, there are always exercise modifications you can make to ensure you are getting the best out of your workout. Below are a list of eight common ones to keep in mind.
- How to Customise Timed Activities or Stations
Timed activities or stations can be demoralising if you are unable to keep up with other members of the class. But, the best way to customize timed activities is to rest as often as you need to. Instead of cranking out as many repetitions as you can whilst letting your form drastically deteriorate, ignore the clock, rest when you need to, and perform quality repetitions. This is far more important, will give far better results, and reduce your risk of injury. It is important to realise that your workout is about you and your body. By doing this, each workout, you will be able to improve, and achieving personal goals is the best feeling of all.
- How to Customise Jumping
Activities that involve jumping can be uncomfortable and painful for people for a wide variety of reasons. Anything from knee or foot pain to past spinal injuries can make jumping an inaccessible experience. Furthermore, due to the high forces involved, if the prerequisite strength levels are not developed, jumping can be of more harm than good.
If a class involves skipping, jumping jacks, or any kind of jumping, feel free to experiment with what feels best for your body (or ask for exercise variations!). If the repetitive impact of landings are a cause of discomfort due to back or knee issues, bouncing up and down on the balls of your feet mat be a helpful alternative. But, this may hurt worse if you have plantar fasciitis. For some tips on how to relieve this, and strengthen the feet, read our recent web article all about the feet by clicking on the link: https://bodycomplete.co.uk/feet-fundamental-to-improved-performance-often-overlooked/ .
Exercise selection should also be goal dependant. Are you trying to develop strength and power, or the cardiovascular system with jumping? If it’s about developing power, some explosive kettlebell deadlifts may be more appropriate. If you’re looking to develop the cardiovascular system, grab a kettlebell, sandbag or dumbbell and do some swings for high repetitions. Swings are also a great way to develop strength and power, just use a heavier kettlebell for lower repetitions! These exercises will remove any impact on the joints, but still get the heart rate up and develop muscular strength.
- How to Customise Lateral Lower Body Movements
Lateral lunges, skating movements, or hopping side to side may not be the best idea if you’ve had recent ankle sprains, or weakness around the knee and hip joints. If moving laterally in a dynamic manner doesn’t feel right, increasing the stability of the movement is a great way to still be able to do the exercises in a safer, more effective way whilst building strength and mobility in that plane of movement.
A lateral squat is likely a good place to start. Simply stand with the feet apart, begin outside shoulder width and as strength increases, you can move the feet further apart. Next, hinge at the hips slightly before lunging over to one leg, keeping the opposite leg straight. Push up off of the bent leg, and pull up with the inside of the straight leg to return to the centre, then repeat on the other side.
If that’s too difficult, no problem! Normal split squats or lunges are another good alternative to develop leg strength and stability, without giving the body that lateral instability.
- How to Customise Knee-Dominant Movements
Lunges and squats can often be an inaccessible movement to those with knee pain or dysfunction. Whilst squatting to depth is actually good for knee pain in the long term, (keep an eye out for an article on this topic in the coming weeks) due to reductions in shear forces at the knee and increased activation of other lower body muscles, it may not be appropriate or possible for everyone to achieve. Some good alternatives to help develop the squat pattern whilst reducing stress at the knee are either using the TRX handles, or using a Swiss ball against a wall. When using the TRX, simply hold onto the handles, lean back slightly, and use the tension to help increase range of movement whilst taking pressure off of the knees as you squat down. Similarly, by leaning back into a Swiss ball against the wall, this removes the need for the knees to travel as far forward, whilst allowing greater depths to be achieved.
- How to Customise Overhead Movements
Similarly to lateral shoulder movements, if you have any shoulder impingements, range of motion restrictions or previous injury, overhead movements can be problematic. Customise the movements by changing overhead pulling motions such as pull-ups, to horizontal ones, like inverted rows. Similarly, if pressing dumbbells or kettlebells overhead, grab a bench or a mat and press them horizontally in a bench or floor press. Alternatively, through the use of the landmine attachment, it is possible to press at a 45 degree angle, which can help to develop the strength and mobility required prior to pressing straight overhead.
- How to Customise Lateral Shoulder Movements
If you have any shoulder impingements or range of motion restrictions, movements that bring your arms out to the sides such as jumping jacks, woodchoppers or arm circles, may be uncomfortable. These can be modified by thinking about the purpose of the exercise. With woodchoppers for example, the goal is to promote core stability whilst the arms and thoracic spine rotate. In this case, performing Russian twists on the ground whilst aiming to keep the belly button pointing forwards may be a good alternative. With jumping jacks, you’re trying to elevate your heart rate. Instead of engaging your shoulders laterally, pretend you’re jumping rope so you can keep your shoulders near your body. Arm circles are meant to activate your shoulders, but you can get similar effects by shrugging in circles, first forward, then backward. It’s a more subtle movement, but it’ll do the trick!
- How to Customise Bodyweight Movements
Bodyweight movements such as push ups and pull ups are actually fairly advanced movements, and require a large foundation of strength to complete correctly. If these are a struggle, finding similar movements will make the movements feel better, and provide better results! With push ups, you can keep your knees on the ground, but you can also push up while leaning on an inclined surface (a wall or bench, etc.). As long as you keep your core tight and your hips in line with your shoulders, this will activate the same muscles as other kinds of push ups. With pull ups, placing a resistance band around your feet can help take some of the weight away and allow correct form to be maintained. Alternatively, performing only the eccentric (lowering) portion of the pull up will have huge carryover into the full movement. For movements like the squat, both the TRX and Swiss ball are great alternatives as mentioned before.
- How to Customise Vertical Changes
Sometimes, instructors will have you get on the ground and then back up: think burpees, Turkish getups, or squats. That change in height can be disorienting and even dangerous for people who experience vertigo, who have high/low blood pressure, who are new to exercise, or who are recovering from a cold or flu.
To modify this, choose a part of the exercise and stick to it! For example, during a Turkish get up, only move from lying flat, to propping up on the elbow, and repeat. Or, during a burpee, complete the parts that are on the ground (push up, squat thrust, plank), or stick to the parts you can complete standing up (jump or jumping jack). By breaking a complex movement into its component parts, you can achieve similar outcomes without the need for rapid changes in the heads elevation.
If you have any questions about the content of this article or if you think we can help you get the most out of your body, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We have all the experience you need to ensure your workout is right for you to see the results you desire.
Stay strong and move well,