Exercise Modification: How to improve your workouts with compassion

Exercise Modification isn’t just for beginners, seniors, or those who are injured. Instead, learning how to modify exercises is the key to enjoying an active lifestyle for your whole life.

Do you ever feel guilty when you’re not able to lift as heavy as someone else around you? Or do non-stop negative thoughts enter your mind when you’re not able to do the exercise as long as the person you see across the room?

I’ve been there too. Out of breath, trying YOUR very hardest, but not feeling good enough. It can be uncomfortable and upsetting not performing at the same level as the person who looks the way you dream of looking. Or maybe it’s not even about the looks. Maybe you just wish you could move with less pain.

You’re not alone, and today I want to share:

  • why modifications are the compassionate approach to exercise, and
  • how you can let go of the guilt around having to modify
  • so your workouts become more effective because they're tailored to you (not to mention, more fun!)
Exercise modification is the compassionate approach to a personalized workout

Why do we feel bad about doing things differently?

Too often, especially when new to a fitness routine, we place unfair expectations on ourselves. Even though it is our first day, shouldn’t we be able to lift as much as the instructor is demonstrating for the class?!

Even veteran fitness enthusiasts suffer from raising the bar too high at times, getting hurt from lifting too much or too often just because they see others doing it.

Imagine if instead of frustrations from comparison, we focused on realizing that each body is built uniquely. What if we celebrated what our bodies can do because of the amazing journeys they have been on?

This is where exercise modification comes in. There is no ONE form of exercise that is superior to another. The best form of exercise for YOU is the type of exercise that fits YOUR body - and that means modifications are necessary and should be looked at as a way to help find YOUR fitness niche.

Benefits of Exercise Modification

Let’s talk about 2 reasons modifications are your best friends:

  • Tailored-to-you workouts
  • Less injury and more fun

Who doesn’t enjoy customized and well-thought-out gifts? Well, exercise modifications are just like personalized fitness packaged, wrapped up just the way you want it. Instead of doing one size fits all workouts, you can feel confident in knowing that thanks to modifications, you can achieve your very own fitness goals. On top of that, when an exercise routine is more in tune with your needs, it’s more fun, leading to more consistency and results. Hooray for more results!

The second reason exercise modifications are so great is their ability to prevent injury. Fitness-related injuries often occur due to overexertion, and sometimes this overexertion occurs because of not properly modifying the exercise. Injury is the opposite of fun. It often delays and sometimes prevents progress. It’s not worth it, be safe and modify when necessary for you.

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When are modifications necessary?

Say you are new to exercising or taking a new class. Don’t feel bad grabbing a variety of weights and going at a slower pace. When you are new, sometimes modifications will allow you to get into your groove, safely and pleasantly.

Another reason you should modify is if you have an injury. Recently I hurt the ball of my foot. It’s a minor injury, but I learned quickly that certain moves made the injury hurt worse. I’m grateful to know of modifications, so I can shake things up while my foot heals and not damage my foot more. So, if you are working out and randomly something doesn’t feel right, it would be great to back off and know how to find a variation that feels better for your body. Work smarter, not harder is the saying, right? It’s so true here too!

Ideas on how to modify exercises

Since exercise is a celebration of what our bodies can do, let’s review some common exercise modifications, so you can better enjoy your next workout.

Exercise modification techniques is a big part of how to have the most effective workout

It’s common for people to either love or hate push-ups. Push-ups are a no-equipment-needed upper body movement that can be a fast and effective way of building strength. I’ve come upon many who struggle with doing push-ups and therefore don’t enjoy this great move. There are quite a few variations to a push-up, starting with as simple as standing and pushing against the wall, or doing them on your knees instead of your toes while on the floor. Honestly, if doing a push-up on your knees allows you to maintain better form and complete more of a range of motion than on your toes, then it’s totally worth it.

Another common exercise that needs modification is burpees. Did I just hear you groan? Burpees can be a fantastic full-body exercise, but often the jumping causes some to steer clear. If you don’t like to jump, take it out. You can easily get similar benefits from putting your hands on the ground and walking your feet back instead of hopping to a plank, then walking them back in. If you don’t like going to the floor, put your hands on the chair to make it doable for you.

Another way to modify is to adjust the amount of weight, or use no weight. “This is your workout- so please use the weights that work best for you!” I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for over a decade, and I share this phrase in every class. I hope that it provides the class with the courage to use the weights or modify the exercise in a way that is appropriate for them. This shows compassion and value for their bodies.

Reconceptualizing exercise modification

So let’s REDEFINE modifications. Modifications aren’t the easy way out, in fact, they can be equally challenging. Exercise modifications are COOL. They’re the key to your customized workout plan.

Modifications are the compassionate approach to exercise. Next time you have to dial it down a notch because maybe that day you’re not feeling so great, realize that you are not cheating. Using smaller weights, or choosing to modify because it’s uncomfortable for you, shows that you understand your body’s needs. That kind of knowledge shouldn’t be full of shame or guilt, but instead, it is beautiful and vital for a long and active life.

Exercise modification examples of what a forward fold looks like for different people

Focus on the good of the moment, that you are there, trying and doing your best. Give yourself credit for that effort and know that it matters. Show love to your body through exercise modification the next time you work out!

Did you like any of these ideas? Let us know. If you want more information like this follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Sweet and inspiring, Britt Nelson is a wellness coach and mom of 4, devoted to helping women redefine what wellness and fitness looks like to them, in a balanced and compassionate way.

When she is not coaching or chasing after her children, you can find her spending time with close friends and family, trying new recipes with one of her brothers, or listening to music, a good book, or a podcast.

Find other articles written by Coach Britt on her coach profile. She will help you ‘tune in’ to your body, and find a balance amidst the chaos.

  • Sara says:

    Saw the talk on Facebook about 2 minute workouts throughout the day. You mentioned this article, and I wanted to check it out.

    I always thought modifications were cheating. It’s funny how you can believe something like that and not realize how much that thought holds you back. I stopped exercising because I couldn’t do what everyone else was going in the group class I went to.

    Thanks for the article. And the idea of just two minutes. I do believe it is more manageable.