Exercise modifications for everybody

How many times have you heard that getting old isn’t for sissies? I’ve heard this a few times (maybe more), especially now as I approach the big five zero.


Unfortunately, as you and I get older, our joints (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists) accumulate a lot of aches and pains. Not only does this make life harder, it makes exercise harder also.

However, life doesn’t stop because you’re achy and neither should your exercise, even though it’s tempting to do so.  Movement is medicine and movement can help heal what ails you.

The following is a list of exercise modifications that I’ve used on myself and clients when the aches and pains become an issue. After all, you should always keep moving and smiling.

smile 2

1. Work in a pain-free range of motion

 Pain is a signal that the body is under threat, with the brain sending nerve impulse that let you know all about it.  The process of pain is a little more complex but for this article, this will suffice.

People often avoid exercises like squats and lunges because “it hurts my knees” or “it hurts my back.” (Note- I’m assuming you’re using good form. If you’re unsure what good form is for an exercise, please ask a professional.)

However, they’re also human movements that you perform every day.  For example, using the bathroom.

You squatted to get down there.


Rather than avoiding them all together, work in a pain-free range of motion instead. The moment the squat, lunge or whatever exercise you’re doing hurts, stop, return to the start and do your prescribed reps in a pain-free ROM.

For example, a box squat can reduce the pain you feel from squatting due to the reduced ROM.

Hopefully, after a while your body will realize that it’s not under threat anymore and you’ll be able to complete the exercise and increase your ROM without pain. However, if pain persists and you’re not getting any better, please see a professional.

2. Isometric exercise

 This is when a muscle produces force without changing length. Examples of isometric exercises are front and side planks. Your favorites, right?

When a certain movement hurts, isometric exercise is a perfect alternative to doing nothing at all. This will help strengthen your body without causing you undue pain or discomfort.

Here are some exercise examples.

Wall squats


 Push up position plank


 Towel row

 These exercises can be performed in a circuit, doing each for 30 seconds. Perform a total of 3- 5 rounds for a full body training that will help keep you on the fitness straight and narrow.

3. Exercise the opposite limb

Have you ever suffered a sprained ankle, knee, shoulder or wrist and quit exercising all together?

There’s research to indicate that training the non-injured area or limb will result in a “feed-forward” or neural effect (a term called Cross- Education) to the injured area/side which can aid in the boo-boo side healing faster. (1)

 Furthermore, when training unilaterally, you automatically throw your body off balance, causing your core muscles to fire a more than usual. Unilateral training helps strengthen imbalances that may exist between sides.

If one of your legs is hurt/injured, doing exercises such as single leg extensions, curls, leg press or hip extensions on the non-injured side will help the injured side heal stronger.

Or if one of your arms is out of commission, doing exercises such as one arm presses, rows, triceps extensions will strengthen your core, injured arm and imbalances.

And healing faster is always better.

4. Exercise the opposite region

For many years now, I’ve seen people exercise around obstacles such as missing limbs, being in a wheelchair or walking with a cane. However, they always manage to do something.

If they can do it, so can you.

If your upper body is hurting due to an injury, surgery or pain you can exercise your legs on machines such as the leg curl, leg extension or a seated leg press.

Or if your legs are hurting you can do seated upper body exercises such as rows, chest press, triceps extensions or heavens forbid biceps curls, because doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Wrapping up

Being in pain is no fun. Even though it’s tempting to shut up shop and sit on the couch, taking charge of your healing through movement is better for your mind and body.

The best exercise you’re not doing……

This is a weekly series on exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in and out of the gym. Today’s exercise is single leg kettlebell swap courtesy of Dr.  Joel Seedman. 

You should do this because– our feet and ankles are in shoes most of the day and we can lose a little strength and mobility in the ankles because of this.

Makes your everyday life easier because–  stronger ankles and better balance can mean less ankle, knee and hip problems.

Form tips – This is best done with a kettlebell but any weight will do. However, keep the weight light and  your eyes on the horizon. Do 3 sets of 6- 8 reps for on both sides at the start of your workout


Plan B

Do you know the saying “everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth”? It’s probably the smartest thing ever uttered out of Mike Tyson’s lips. Please don’t tell him I said that.

Mike Tyson

He may get upset.

Most people who lift have grand fitness plans to get ripped, lose fat, get as strong as an ox or to date Kate Upton. Then they suffer a setback, have too many deadlines at work or the court issues a restraining order and their best laid plans go down in flames.


Sorry guys, she’s already been snapped up.

Unfortunately, nothing ever goes according to plan, especially when it comes to our health and fitness. Rather than chucking in the towel when plan A fails to materialize, having a Plan B to keep you on the fitness straight and narrow will work better.  Use the following strategies as your Plan B.

Problem All the benches are taken on national chest day, otherwise known as Monday.

Walk into any gym on a Monday and you’re probably wishing for an empty bench.  There is something about lying on your back and pushing heavy weights above your chest on a Monday that makes you feel alive.


Instead of standing in the squat rack doing curls while waiting for a bench to open, overload your chest and triceps with these exercises.

Plan B

Barbell floor press


Single arm dumbbell floor press


Chaos push up


Single arm cable chest press

The advantages of these exercises are

  • More mid-section engagement
  • Don’t require a bench
  • Safer for cranky shoulders
  • Make you look like a badass

Problem You’ve eaten a whole cheesecake and totally blown your diet.

You’ve had a bad day and you’ve scoffed a

  • cheesecake
  • couple of donuts
  • pint of ice cream
  • bag of potato chips
  • All the above

And you’ve totally blown your diet. You think to yourself “Oh well, I’ve gone this far I may as well order a pizza.” And then it snowballs from there. The endless cycle of yo-yo dieting begins and the only one who profits from this are the ones who sell you the latest and greatest miracle diet.

Because the weight loss industry is full of unscrupulous characters.

“According to the Federal Trade Commission Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on weight-loss products and services, and much of this stuff is bogus.

The FTC has conducted numerous surveys of consumer fraud over the years and determined that Americans were more likely to be taken in by weight-loss scams than by any other type of fraud.” (1) (2)

There is only one winner and it’s not you.

Plan B – Move on

I could wax poetic about how to put your mistakes in a box, that you’re only human and all you need is to move on and put it behind you.  However, Jordan Syatt says this so much better than I ever could with a few cuss words thrown in for good measure.

Please watch this video.

Problem – All the squat racks are taken on leg day

I have a confession to make. Barbell squats are not my favorite exercise. I’d rather go to a Mariah Carey lip syncing concert in Time Square than put a barbell on my back. However, I suck it up because my chicken legs need the work.

When you walk into the gym on squat day and all the racks are taken, rather than standing behind someone looking impatient and making ugly faces, work on your single leg strength instead.

Plan B

2 KB Bulgarian split squat

Goblet split squat

Barbell reverse lunge

Split squat with 1.5 reps

Problem – You’ve got no time for the gym

Going to the gym is time consuming. By the time you drive there, workout, shower, get dressed and drive back home or to work, that’s fair chunk of time you’ve invested in your health.

Let’s face it, we don’t always have that time and life will get in the way eventually.  That’s when the lazy devil taps you on the shoulder and says ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to train today. Have some chocolate cake instead.


Now cake is always a good idea but you can have your cake and eat it, too (guilt free) with a little sweat equity at home. You need minimal equipment, space and time but maximum motivation to exercise at home. But isn’t your health worth it?

Plan B

There’s plenty of distractions when it comes to exercising at home, so I like to keep the trainings short, sharp, effective and intense enough to burn off cake. Here are some suggestions.

Bodyweight circuit

1A. Pushups – 10 reps

1B. Side planks- 15 seconds each side

1C.. Bodyweight squats 20 reps

Do one exercise after the other with minimal rest between exercises. Rest one minute after each circuit and do four to five circuits.

Cardiovascular Training

Find some open space and get your Usain Bolt on.

Do a two-minute walk/warm up, then a 15 second sprint followed by 15 seconds of rest. Repeat this cycle for five work/rest intervals. Then walk for three minutes to cool down.

100 body weight squats and 50 push ups/incline push ups

Incline push ups

You can break this training up into manageable chunks. For example

  • 5 push-ups/10 squats x 10 sets
  • 10 push-ups/20 squats x 5 sets
  • Or if you’re advanced, 25 push-ups/50 squats x 2 sets

Get this done as quickly as possible for best results. Rest when needed.

4 minutes and you’re done

Pick an exercise below and do it for 20 seconds on with 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds (4 minutes total). However, be warned this will be intense but you’ll be done in just four minutes.

Examples of exercises you can use

  1. Bodyweight squats
  2. Incline push ups
  3. Jumping jacks
  4. Front planks
  5. Mountain climbers
  6. Alternating reverse lunges

Wrapping up

Don’t get punched in the mouth when it comes to your fitness. Having a backup plan for life’s inevitable setbacks will keep the mind, body and scale happier.

The best exercise you’re not doing…..

This is a weekly series on exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in and out of the gym. Today’s exercise is the Quadrupled Rockback Floor Press courtesy of Tony Gentilecore.

His cat makes a special appearance.

You should do this because– this moves works on your hip mobility and shoulder stability which are kind of important. Pushing your hands through the floor and bringing your shoulder blades apart helps keep your shoulders healthy and has posture benefits also.

Makes your everyday life easier because– If you spend your day sitting down, hunched over a computer or smartphone, this will help loosen your hips and reverse that quasimoto posture that may have developed throughout your day.



Form tips –  Keep your head up and keep your hands pressed through the floor through the entire movement. Do 10 reps daily. Cats are optional.


Summer exercise plan

Failure to plan is planning to fail, and if you’re planning to let it all hang out this summer, you’ll need to exercise to maintain your health and fitness.

However, one of the last places you want to be is in the gym slaving away while the water and sand call your name.

You don’t need fancy gym equipment or a lot of time to get your sweat on during the summer months. All you need is your bodyweight, a towel and a stopwatch. Whether you’re on vacation or looking for a little exercise variety, the following trainings will keep you in tiptop shape.

1. Sun, sand and sprints

 Ideally this is done in the sand, but any open space will do. Draw two lines in the sand about 20 yards (24 footsteps) apart and sprint to one end and do one pushup, then sprint down the other end a do one squat. Add one push up and squat with each sprint until you get to 10 of each.

beach 4

2. Bodyweight Tabatas

Let Prof. Tabata explain to you what Tabata interval is.

“The Tabata training is an exhaustive, short lastinghigh intensity intermittent exercise, which consists of 6-7 sets of 20 second exercise at the intensity of 170% Vo2max with 10 second rest between the exercise bouts.”

This protocol can be followed with bodyweight exercises such as squats, jumping jacks, alternating forward/reverse lunges, planks, push-ups and jump squats/lunges. You’ll be sweating and smiling and done in less than four minutes so you can enjoy the finer things in life.

3. Spoke training

 Combining strength exercises with cardio gives you the best of both worlds.  With spoke training,  you’ll be alternating between these two with little or no rest in-between so you can be a lean mean calorie burning machine. Let the good times roll.

1. Bodyweight jump squat 12 reps

1B. CardioHigh knees or ice-skaters 20 reps

2A. Towel row( alternate legs) 30 second hold

2B. Cardio- High knees or ice-skaters 20 reps

3APush-ups 8- 15 reps

3B. Cardio- High knees or ice-skaters 20 reps

4A. Single leg hip extensions 12 reps on each leg

4B. Cardio- High knees or ice-skaters 20 reps

5A. Reverse lunge with kick 12 reps on each leg

5B. Cardio- High knees or ice-skaters 20 reps

* Rest 90 seconds and go back to repeat the circuit one more time for a total of two circuits.

These trainings will leave plenty of time to enjoy the sand, surf and sights while looking like you live in a gym but we’ll keep that little secret between us.

Now go and work on your suntan.

The best exercise you’re not doing…….

This is a weekly series on exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in and out of the gym. Today’s exercise is the hip flexor rocking courtesy of Tim Anderson of Original Strength. 

You should do this because–  Good hip mobility is needed for most of your leg training and this will make your lower back very happy, whether you train or not.

Makes your everyday life easier because–  having good movement in your hips will make your life easier in and outside of the gym, especially if your lower back is an issue.

Form tips –  Keep your head up and make sure to squeeze your glutes and not over-arch your back.  Do 10 reps daily or include this in your warm up before you get after it


Summer exercise tips

During the summer, exercise is probably the last thing on a lot people’s minds. With parties, work, family and vacations, exercise is often pushed down the to-do list.

However, after overindulging in the good stuff thoughts may drift to exercise out of food guilt. “I have to run that many miles to work off that piece of pie?” Hopefully, that pie was worth it.


The summer is a time for enjoyment, but with so many things going on, it’s difficult to follow any exercise routine consistently. Instead of slaving away on the treadmill, use the following strategies for when your time is limited, so you can have your pie and eat it, too.

1. 10-minute exercise bursts

 When you’re at home and have a spare 10 minutes, do this bodyweight training so the calories will go to your muscles instead of the hips.

1A. Front plank 30-60 seconds

1B. Bodyweight squats 20 reps

1C.  Push ups (or incline Push ups) 8-12 reps

Note- Any incline surface will do.

1A. Plank to pushup- 10 reps

1B. Reverse fly’s – 20 reps

1C. Reverse lunges- 10 reps on each leg

Rest one minute after each circuit and do four – five circuits total.

2. Use your imagination

 During this holiday season when time is your enemy, it’s the time to get creative with exercise. You need to think outside the dumbbell. Here are some examples to get you fired up.

  • Use cans of food for these arm and shoulder exercises
  • Fill an empty milk jug to do these exercises
  • Or use the couch

3. Be more active

 Even when you don’t have time for formal exercise, just being more active throughout the day will have an impact on your waistline. There’s a little thing called N.E.A.T (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) which can account for up to 50 % of daily calories burnt in highly active individuals.

To increase N.E.A.T, find more opportunities to move and include them into your daily routine. For example

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park further away from the entrance when you go shopping
  • Do some house/yard work
  • Play with your kids
  • Take the animals for a walk
  • Stretch or do some body weight exercises on the hour, every hour while sitting at your desk.

Doing any kind of movement and being more active is the key here.

The summer are a time to be spent with family and friends and not worrying about everything you eat or drink. The only things to be concerned with is where the nearest beach is and how much sunscreen you have.