Be honest. How often do you modify your workout? If the answer is “only when I have an injury” you might want to think again. Even though modifications are perfect for those with wrist, knee, or back issues, many adjustments actually work well for almost anyone looking for low-impact, low-intensity exercise options on a regular basis. Here’s why modifications can benefit your workout routine, and how to get started today.
Ditch your ego.
“People think modifications are for beginners for two reasons,” says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “They don’t want others to think of them as ‘weak,’ or they want to challenge themselves and doing a modification makes them feel like they’re incompetent.”
Chase says those mindsets are wrong, though, and Candice Cunningham, another trainer at Aaptiv, agrees. “When someone has been working out,” Cunningham explains, “they think they ‘should’ know how to do everything right.”
However, both trainers agree: since form and stability are critical to injury prevention during exercise, everyone should technically explore modifications for any workout at the beginning in order to make sure they’re doing it correctly.
Build strength and prevent injury.
According to Cunningham, exercise does nothing for you unless you’re doing it correctly. You won’t get stronger by picking the “hardest” versions of each workout every time, either.
“If you do a push-up and your lower back or hips drop, then you should take it to an elevated position until you can master that,” she notes. “Then, you can progress to doing it from the ground. This goes for every exercise: if you’re not doing it right, the wrong muscles will overcompensate and you can end up with an injury.”
Instead, Cunningham says to master proper form, which often means beginning with body weight before adding resistance. “None of us are perfect, and we all have to start somewhere. Some of us are stronger in our lower body than upper, and some of us have better cardio than strength—build on wherever you need to start.”
Look out for your future self.
Beginner, intermediate, advanced: no matter your athletic level, modifications are always helpful, says Chase. By frequently incorporating modifications into your exercise routine, you’ll actually get stronger over time due to different muscles being targeted. You also won’t get bored—which is key to staying committed to working out in the first place.
“For instance, when you’re doing pushups in plank position, after ten reps, you may feel as though you can no longer perform the movement with correct form,” she says. “Therefore, to continue with the workout, you could come down to your knees or perhaps try a different variation of push-up, like a wide stance with the arms or tricep pushups.”
Also, modifications can provide some much-needed rest. If you’ve been hitting the gym hard lately, maybe you need to swap the jump in a traditional burpee for a squat, or trade walking lunges for reverse lunges—listen to your body, and let modifications serve your workout for whatever you need on a given day. And of course, anyone who is recovering from an illness, healing from a true injury, or pregnant should check in with their doctor as well as modify appropriately.
Here are the three easiest movements to modify, according to Chase and Cunningham:
If you can’t do a push-up from plank position, start on your knees, says Chase. Then, as you get stronger through your upper body, you can transition to plank position. Cunningham suggests doing push-ups from a bench or ledge for another modification. When your body isn’t parallel, it can be easier to push yourself back up while focusing on form and strength.
“If your heels are rising off the floor, and/or your knees are turning inward, this means you’re unstable,” says Chase. “Find a chair or bench and literally perform the squats in the action of sitting down, then standing up. Just tap your booty on the chair/bench using your glutes and quads to lift you back up. This will help to perfect your stability and form.”
Planks are one of those exercises with endless options for modifications. Cunningham shared three main types: on your forearms, on your knees, or elevated on a bench or chair.
Need more modifications? Try these on for size.
- Shorten your range of motion to reduce impact, such as rising up to your tiptoes instead of jumping into the air.
- Slow down instead of rushing for lower intensity.
- Walk or step instead of jumping to give your lower muscle groups a break.
- Think about the main purpose of the movement, and try to find a way to do that while making the exercise easier—like holding a boat pose to work your core instead of doing a bunch of sit-ups.
All in all, don’t feel bad about modifying your workouts. Use modifications as a stepping stone for strength and endurance, instead!