Why Modifications Are the Most Important Thing You Can Be Doing in Class

Raise your hand if you go to fitness classes already in the shape you want to be in.

Raise your hand if you are 100-percent injury free and never get sore.

Raise your hand if you never get tired in class or need to take a break.

Raise your hand if you never get sick. Never miss a workout. Never go on vacation. You never have to reclaim your fitness because you never take a day off.

Those of you that raised your hands can stop reading. Everyone else, come with me.

Let’s say someone walks into a HIIT class. They haven’t done a lick of exercising for a long, long time – or maybe ever. Maybe that someone is a she, a new mother even, and is engaging in what I like to call “Operation Take Your Body Back.” You go girl! The drill sergeant instructor has decided that today is push-up day, and every other set is going to be push-ups.

Should she just gut it out and begin fighting her collapsing form about five push-ups in and spend the rest of the class not only struggling, but doing the exercise incorrectly and risking injury? She’s going to leave feeling discouraged and probably won’t come back. Not our problem, right? It’s not our fault she’s out of shape. Shouldn’t she just work out at home until she can come to a class and keep up with the rest of us super fit exercise maniacs? Heck no.

My job as an instructor is to enable your success. And instead of singling anyone out, I am going to encourage everyone to consider doing their push-ups on their knees if they are struggling with the full-range version. Because I guarantee our new mom isn’t the only one needing a modification.

And here’s the thing. It is not your job to know four different push-up variations. It’s mine, but it’s your job to let me help you. And if I don’t, you should call me on it. What good is all my training if I keep it to myself?

Come up to me before class starts. Say hi, I haven’t taken this class before, but I wanted you to know I have a wrist/shoulder/knee/back/neck injury that I am working with. Can you provide a few modifications if anything in class might aggravate this? It’s also encouraged to let me know that you’re new to working out, and you need me to provide lower-impact, lower-intensity options.

Instructors aren’t mind readers: we don’t know what we don’t know. Most of us will be grateful you said something and will work hard to accommodate you. And if you ask for the modification and you don’t get it? That’s not your fault. Failure to provide modifications is bound to happen, probably pretty regularly. I promise you it isn’t intentional. Instructors sometimes forget that not everyone is on the same page.

Give your instructor the benefit of the doubt, but just in case they forget to provide a range of options, here are some easy modifications to help you get through almost any class, from bootcamp to yoga:

Tempo Change

If the intensity or speed of an exercise is too intense for you, drop it down a level: take out any jumping activity, walk at a slower pace, do less reps as needed. Turn a squat jump into a squat. Step your feet to the side, one at a time instead of performing a traditional jumping jack. Do alternating knee raises instead of a high-knees. Once you build your tolerance, you can add a hop here and there – only if it works for you. It’s better to live to work out another day than to force yourself through an activity that injures you.

Take a Knee (or Elbow or . . . )

The best way to take some of the pressure out of your upper body while doing push-ups or planks – or any similar weight-bearing exercise – is to drop to your knees. The key is keeping your back straight and making sure to squeeze your butt. My students know, “when in doubt, squeeze it out!” You can also plank on your elbows, drop to your knee in side plank, and alternate sides when doing bicep curls or shoulder presses. For most moves, there is almost always a way to modify.

The Option of an Option

When people come to my classes, I encourage them to have a potpourri of weights at hand. Translation? Light, medium, and heavy options. If you pick something up and it’s too heavy, you have something to drop down to without missing a beat. And if it’s still too heavy, do the move without weights. Alternatively, if you picked up something too light, don’t wait until the next round – or worse yet, the next class – to pick up a heavier option. Do it now. Set yourself up for success by having options right at your fingertips.

Please be honest with yourself if you start losing form; that’s your signal to transition to the next weight down. Bad form leads to poor performance, creates an opportunity for injury, and worst of all – encourages incorrect muscular development. If your shoulders start slouching forward because your weights are consistently too heavy, guess where your shoulders will be when you aren’t lifting weights? Unless the knuckle-dragging look is for you, take the option. You will build up to those heavier weights, just give it time and repetitions.

One Last Thought

Modifications are your key to success. If the instructor isn’t cuing one, and you need it, take it. Don’t wait for us. If you know how to adjust an exercise for your own optimal experience, do it. You don’t need our permission! One more idea, for you visual learners: check out this great Bootcamp-style workout from POPSUGAR Fitness, where our trainers show you how to modify throughout.

Watch and then tell me if you think they missed out on a challenging workout by taking those modifications. I’m not going anywhere. But you are. So get out there and do it right, every step of the way, day one to day 100. You can do it! Check those egos at the door. You’ll get there, just don’t give up, and don’t give up on doing it right.