Why it’s Okay to Modify Your Exercises

By Caitlin O’Brien, Fitness Specialist

Since the addition of virtual training to our fitness routines, it’s been great seeing my clients and peers going strong, now six months into our “new normal.” Online workouts are a great way to stay active in between visits to the gym, but have you checked your form lately?

The Push-Up Challenge

Many of us jumped on the push-up challenge that became viral on social media earlier this year. We nominated friends and family and posted our results to our social accounts.

As a trained professional, I couldn’t continue watching these videos because people were performing push-ups incorrectly. I kept thinking, “Ouch! Your lower back!” or “Oh no! Your shoulders.”

Push-ups are one of the most widely recognized exercises, but that doesn’t make them easy. You’re essentially pressing your entire body weight to and from the floor, which means your whole body has to be engaged. For me, this would be the equivalent of walking up to a squat rack, throwing on 130lbs of weight, and going right to it with no warm-up and no regard for my form—it’s not safe.

It’s Okay to Modify

To this day, I still see people online and in my group exercise classes trying to do the most challenging version of an exercise because they want to get in a good workout, but as a result, their form suffers.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to accelerate your heart rate or sweat buckets to get a good workout; that’s when people end up performing exercises their bodies aren’t yet ready for.

By doing an exercise with improper form, you’re doing more harm to your joints and body.

Repeat that Again: It’s Okay to Modify

Progression is necessary for our fitness journey, as are modifications to our workout routines. Simply put, modifications can:

  • Help your body build up at a slower and more sustainable pace
  • Prevent injury
  • Help you perform an exercise correctly with proper repetitions and intensity

If you are performing a push-up, here are different ways to modify the exercise:

  • Against a wall
  • Elevated
  • On your knees
  • Full plank form

Modify your exercises: Plank or push up

But it’s Too Hard

Something I hear from time to time is, “That exercise is too hard, I’ll just skip it.”

If this is you, don’t give up – just modify! Find a personal trainer or try a live group exercise class so you can learn to adjust appropriately from a trained professional.

A good group exercise instructor can develop a routine that works best for your body and is still challenging, even when you are working out in a group. Plus, you have the added benefit of a community encouraging each other to do better.

How to Modify Exercises that Still Challenges You

Believe it or not, modifying an exercise can increase your intensity. With push-ups, you can complete one uplevel (full plank) push-up, where you go down 50% of the way, or you can complete one modified push-up on your knees, where you go down 80% of the way.

50% compared to 80% range of motion (ROM) is quite the difference. It’s similar to a test, your body registers what you did and will remember more with an 80% score versus a 50% score.

Modify your exercises: lunge with support

If you’re working out on your own and feel confident modifying your exercises, try any of the following modifications:

  • Reduce impact (for example, eliminate any jumping)
  • Reduce speed (speed is great, but only if you have an established base first. Take your time and allow your body to familiarize with the exercise)
  • Increase stability (for example, if you’re in a plank, widen your stance for a broader base of support)
  • Reduce load/weight (for example, start off with bodyweight and progress from there)
  • Rest more (If a move is new to you, allow more time to recover since you’ve just introduced something new to your routine)

It’s important to never feel that you are inadequate or not getting a good workout because you can’t do the most challenging version. If you need help, talk to a personal trainer!

Find the modification where it’s difficult for you with proper form—you’d be surprised how challenging this can be. Remember, where it’s hard is where progress is made!

Follow us on Instagram for fitness tips and more!

Anschutz Health and Wellness Center