How do I modify when I can't do an exercise properly?

How do I modify when I can't do an exercise properly?

Written by Elise Matthews

While exercises in the functional strength test are designed to test your strength in every plane of movement and every muscle group.  The exercises will reveal areas that need improvement but what do you do when you cannot do an exercise at all? At the start of my training career I struggled a lot with figuring out how to make exercises EASIER, not harder.   Over the last 12 years however, I have found that it is much more common to need an easier version than a more difficult version of a particular exercise. Fundamentally, if you are struggling to keep good form while doing an exercise, it won’t be the most beneficial exercise for you do to.  We talk often with our clients about taking a step back to take multiple steps forward in the future. While that can seem like a hard pill to swallow initially, the long term benefits of taking a step back FAR outweigh any short term knocks to your pride to continue to try to struggle with the exercise that is a bit outside your current ability.  

So what are the strategies for modifying an exercise?  

Keeping with the functional strength test, I’ll use the Squat, Push up, Hanging Knee Raise, and Pull up as examples.

Option 1 - Reduce the load

For exercises like push up and pull up, even the squat, using a band to reduce the amount of body weight you have to move is the simplest solution.  Assistance allows you to be able to do the exercise in true form and full range of motion but with a weight that you can handle. Bands are a great example of a tool that can help reduce the load. The goal is to find the resistance that allows you to do ALL of your reps with GOOD form having your last couple of reps be doable but challenging.  As you master form and get stronger with that level of assistance the next step is to slowly reduce the amount of help provided with the bands by either moving the band or changing to a lighter band. Don’t have a band? You can use a partner who can help give you assistance or choose one of the options below.

Option 2 - Reduce the range of motion.  

This is a great option for those who don’t have bands or a great way to attach bands to their equipment.  Often times, if the full range of motion isn’t in your wheelhouse yet, you can find a piece of the motion that you can do and build up from there. By reducing the range of motion, you can master one part of the movement then slowly increase the range of motion as you gain strength.   For example, a squat could be done to a higher depth for example, instead of squatting to a ball, squat to a bench. Once you can achieve the desired reps at that elevation, then find a slightly lower depth and start training at that level. Pull ups and push ups can be done in a shorter range of motion as well, starting at the top position and lowering down until your elbows are 90 degrees before pulling back up.  

Option 3 - Change the angle.

If the prescribed position is too difficult, you can modify the angle of the position to make the exercise easier.  Inverted rows are made easier by bending your knees and / or walking your feet back. Push ups are made easier by elevating your hands or dropping to your knees.  Knee raises are much easier when done on your back or an angled platform. Play around with the angle at which you are doing your exercise and find the angle that makes it easy enough to do the desired reps then work back slowly to the harder angle.  Another option is to do as many reps as you can at the prescribed position then modify the angle as the exercise gets to hard or your technique starts to falter.

As always, we’re happy to help you with the best options for modifying exercises!

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