How to Modify Workouts for Your Needs and Abilities

Unless you are doing one on one personal training, then it is likely that the workout being done isn’t fit for everyone. You cannot tailor one workout to several different fitness levels at once if it is online, unless modifications and scales are given. That is why it is always good to know the basics of modifying workouts for your needs and abilities, so you are never turned away from a workout because you “can’t do” a movement or 2.

And let’s not forget, modifying workouts does not mean you should be ashamed or discouraged. Modifying allows you participate and workout in a way that you haven’t before. It allows you to challenge yourself and gives you a goal to work towards in the future. – you know how we all like to strive for perfection!

If you ever find yourself doing a workout, program or class and need a modification, I wanted to share with you how to modify workouts for your needs and abilities!

Benefits of Modifications

There are a lot of benefits to modifications for workouts. For starters, you aren’t going to injure yourself. Sometimes we try to do everything everyone else is doing and we forget that they may be further along than us. Just like anything in life, you cannot compare your day one to someone else’s day 100. So, take it at your pace and make sure you aren’t sacrificing form just to “keep up”.

Another benefit of modifying is that it allows you to keep up. You can still go to that class that fits perfectly with your schedule. And you can still go to class with your friends rather than having to choose something easier. Because no matter where you go, if they are good, the instructor will give you a scale or modification so that injury does not occur! There have been plenty of times in my own journey that I have had to scale back and add assistance or decrease weight that was prescribed so that I didn’t hurt myself but could still keep up with the other athletes.

And the final benefit of modifications (that I think) is being able to constantly change up your workouts and beat the boredom/monotony. When you are just starting out it can be easy to just to do the same thing over and over again because you are used to it and it’s “easy”. Well, that isn’t going to benefit you. You need to constantly be changing your routine and workouts so that you are working all the muscle groups, and challenging your body enough so that it changes! Because without challenge there is no change! So trying new movements and exercises with modifications allows us to build on that strength and change it up!

Rule of Thumb for Modifying

The number one rule when it comes to modifying your workouts is…keep it safe! You want to make sure the movements you are doing are not going to injure you, or cause any damage. So if you are doing movements and they are causing pain or discomfort, maybe you need to scale back and start with something simpler. This also goes with doing the movement CORRECTLY. Meaning, full range of motion with great form. For example, a lot of women tend to do pushups from their toes and hands (regular position) but they only go down 2-3 inches and then back up. This is NOT going to help build strength of any kind. So make sure the movements you are doing are benefitting you to the fullest, and not causing damage!

Basic Guidelines for Modifying Workouts

Getting into the nitty gritty of how to modify for your needs and abilities now…

I will talk through a few basics of modifying movements in general, and then include some specifics with popular exercises and modifications!

• We modify to decrease the risk of injury, but also to perform the move correctly. By making the movement easier, we are essentially allowing the exercise to do what it is intended to do for your body. Doing 1/2 range of motion or sloppy form isn’t benefitting anyone.

• If you feel unsafe or unsure, modify. There is no need for anyone to do a box jump unless they are an athlete training for a sport. So don’t just jump if it terrifies you, find a scale that works the same muscles.

• Changing the angle of your body will make things easier or harder!

• Reduce the impact of the exercise. So by eliminating a jump or hop you can make things easier on your joints.

• Limit your range of motion, to start. I mean this in the case of outside sources..so for step ups – a shorter box is easier than a taller one. In terms of learning a proper squat – sitting and standing from a taller box is easier than a smaller one. I do not mean only going halfway on a pushup or halfway up on a dumbbell shoulder press.

• Increase the stability of the exercise! This means if the movement is a single leg movement, do it with both feet on the floor instead. If the movement is on a stability ball, do it on the floor!

• Reduce reps/weight is always going to make things easier and is a great modification to work your way up. Form should never be sacrificed just to do more reps or lift more weight!

Specific Exercise Modifications

Now that we have covered a few basic guidelines that can be used on most exercises, I thought I would share a few exercise specific ones so you get the idea!

• Pushups – modifying pushups can look like

1. Dropping from your knees to your toes.

2. Elevating hands on a chair or bench.

3. Place hands on a wall to decrease angle more.

• Air squats – using no weights..

1. Adjust the angle of your feet – not everyone needs to have their foot placement the same. It depends on your hips and knees.

2. Sit down onto a box or stool (higher is easier and then slowly decrease the height).

• Jumping jacks – step tap instead of jumping.

• High knees – take out jump and march.

• Jump squats – take out the jump and just toe raise.

• Burpees…

1. Stop at the plank position and don’t lay all the way down.

2. Step your feet back into plank instead of jumping out and in.

3. Elevate hands on chair or box instead of going to the floor.

Those are just a few popular exercises that people typically need modifications for. But no matter what, the guidelines will never steer you wrong!


A community of women who gather online to support each other in the at home workout journey! Full video workouts, recipes and stretching can all be found in the portal!


author: Haley Perry