Four Exercises You Should Change Right Now
How Exercise Alterations Can Improve Your Health
I got a real kick out of a comedic music video making the rounds on the internet called “Modified.” It stars former-SNL comedian Melanie Hutsell as a “middle-aged lady in aerobics class doing everything modified.” As a group of impressively tight-bodied dancer types kick, twirl and stretch around her, Hutsell marches to the beat of her own drummer, doing the same moves with ease (and a hilarious lack of effort).
But there’s something to be said for the importance of modifying difficult moves. We often assume that certain exercises are simply essential to basic fitness, and we beat ourselves up because we can’t execute them. But instead of giving up, strategize a different approach. We all have weaknesses in certain areas of the body that can be strengthened. And it also helps to understand how you can adapt workouts to your specific body type.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Not every exercise works for every body. (The key word here is “body.”) We all have the potential for optimum fitness, regardless of our body type or current fitness level…but our bodies also come in an enormous variety of shapes and sizes. So why would we assume that every exercise fits every body?
Your own body mechanics determine how difficult or easy an exercise is. Here are some tips on tailoring classic moves to fit your body:
The squat is the gold-standard of lower body exercises, targeting the glutes, quadriceps (front-of-thigh muscles) and hamstrings (back-of-thigh muscles), as well as your overall core strength. Not only is it the key to shapely buns and thighs, but because it works your largest muscle groups so efficiently, the squat also has the potential to boost your metabolism. But many people struggle to master the form, and that form is vital for making the move effective, AND for protecting your body from injury.
In order to do a successful squat, you’ve got to sink your hips back as you lower the body down, keeping your weight in your heels (as opposed to your toes). The goal is to lower your body back as if you’re about to sit in a chair, so that your thighs almost come parallel to the floor (without straining the knees). If you have tight hips, you may find it difficult to lower down with proper form.
Start with a modified squat: Take hold of a chair, door handle, rail, or counter — something you can hang onto that will give you stability as you practice lowering down. Another option: Instead of imagining there’s a chair behind you, try using a real one until you’ve mastered the form in a slow and controlled way. You can also perform the move against a wall, sliding your back up and down the wall as you squat to help you maintain balance (just make sure your knees stay behind the toes).
Successfully executing a basic crunch can be more complicated than it sounds. Men or women with more weight in their shoulders or chest may find it difficult to lift their upper bodies up off the floor. Those who have limited spinal flexibility, diastasis recti or a tight lower back know that a crunch can be painful or even risky.
There are safe alternatives. Start by mastering the form: Lie down on a mat, feet flat and knees up. Pull your belly button into your spine, nice and tight as if your belly button is anchoring your body to the floor. Now hold onto that feeling, maintaining the engagement, and with your hands on the floor at your sides, slowly try to just lift your shoulders off the floor (keeping the shoulderblades touching the ground if necessary). Every time you lift up, feel as if you’re initiating the entire move from your belly button (rather than your neck and shoulders).
If that’s too difficult, try placing your hands around your thighs, and physically pulling yourself off the floor. It may feel like cheating, but this is a great way to practice the form (especially by maintaining that tight tummy feeling described above). Just give yourself a little lift using your hand and arm strength. And, just like training wheels, you’ll be able to move without them soon enough!
The pull-up is one of the toughest moves, which is why even the Marines only require that recruits do three. Having long arms, greater height, additional weight in the lower body, and a lack of upper body strength are all factors that may get in the way of our pull-up potential.
There’s no reason why you can’t do some form of the move. Try negatives: Place a stool or sturdy box underneath the pull-up bar, and start up at the top position, chin over the bar. Keep your abs nice and tight, and carefully step off the box, so that you SLOWLY lower yourself down. Another more active option is the jumping pull-up. If it’s not too high, you may be able to hop up to grab the pull-up bar, using the momentum of your jump to propel your body upward. When you are at the top of your lift, slowly lower yourself down.
The mechanics of some body types make the common pushup a significant struggle. But there are some simple modifications that will deliver similar strength results.
Start standing, and place your hands against a countertop or desk, leaning into it at a 45-degree angle. Without your full bodyweight on your hands, you may be able to perform the pushup from here. For a slightly tougher variation, get down on all fours and keep your knees on the floor while you push upwards. When you reach the top, try popping up on your toes and slowly lower yourself back down. No matter what angle you’re doing a pushup from, the most important thing is that you do it with nice, slow control, and that you keep your abs nice and tight (not letting your belly droop toward the floor).
Remember: There’s no reason to stress if you can’t do a standard pushup, a pull-up, or squat. Modify your approach, find your style, and try and have some fun while you’re at it.