Exercise Modification Basics

Regardless of age, gender or fitness level, just about every one has some form of physical limitation that requires exercise modification.  And, modifying exercises to address specific physical limitations generally requires the expertise of a physical therapist or fitness professional.  However, there are some basic exercise modifications that just about anyone can implement which are featured below.  As always, consult a physician prior to beginning any exercise program.

Changing the body position

Example:  Pushups 

-Pushups may be performed from a wall, bench, or countertop, addressing some lower back/shoulder limitations by reducing the pull of gravity on the body until you have adequately increased your core and upper body strength enough to change your position. Once you have mastered elevated pushups, you may eventually be able to perform a pushup from the floor in a modified position with the knees down or to a full pushup.

-This is just one example of a body position modification.  Obviously, not everyone will be able to perform a pushup, but the concept remains regardless.  Changing the body position may enable you to perform several exercises without compromising the limited segment of the body.

Range of Motion

Example:  Squats and Shoulder Abduction 


-Every joint has a specific range of motion. Therefore, adjusting the range of motion for the limited joint may enable you to perform the exercise still reaping the benefits without the risk of pain or injury.

-If you experience knee discomfort when performing a full range of motion freestanding squat whether it is a wall squat, at the Smith Machine, or holding onto a countertop or chair, try widening the base of support by placing the legs further apart, making certain that the weight remains in the heels with the knees tracking over the heels. 

-Additionally, a slight external rotation at the hip joint, perhaps ten degrees, may alleviate knee discomfort enough for you to perform the squat pain free.

-If this does not address the knee discomfort, instead of lowering to a desired 90 degrees of hip/knee flexion, attempt a partial-squat instead, perhaps 45 degrees of hip/knee flexion or less.  Many of my clients with knee limitations begin with a small range of motion and eventually, as their lower body musculature strengthens, they are able to increase their range of motion, pain-free.

Shoulder Abduction

-When performing a lateral raise at the shoulder joint, if you experience shoulder joint discomfort with a full arm-extended raise, then flex the arms 90 degrees at the elbow joint and attempt to perform the lateral raise with a shortened lever.  In fact, many full lever exercises that create joint discomfort may be modified to shorten the lever lessening the stress on the specific joint.

Changing the body position and modifying the range of motion are effective methods of exercise modification which may address your exercise limitations.  If you find that these modifications are not addressing your needs adequately, then consult your physical therapist or fitness professional for more specific direction.

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