Exercise Modifications Can Keep You Moving

If you're hurt—or just feeling bored with your workout—it may be time for a change. Before you start looking for a new gym or personal trainer, slow down. Sometimes just taking the intensity down a notch is all that's needed. A one-size-fits-all fitness plan doesn't work for anyone and most exercises can be modified to fit your specific needs.

Being fitness savvy means knowing how to tailor your workout to protect yourself from injuries or work different parts of a particular muscle or muscle group. Tight hamstrings? Walk around the track instead of running. You're still burning calories and benefiting your heart. Shoulder pain? Work your arms doing pushups from bended knees instead. Keeping proper form is the important part.

Of course some people need to be more mindful than others about how they perform certain activities. For example, pregnant ladies should do exercises lying flat on their backs. People with arthritic knees may not be able to do deep squats or lunges or sink low into certain yoga poses.

Mike Ceja, certified personal trainer in Portland, Oregon explains that every classic exercise has an easy, medium and difficult version (and everything in between). He recommends starting with the "easy" version of any new activity. Once proper form and technique have been mastered, then it's okay to advance. "For example, a seated curl on a weight machine is straightforward. A standing curl with dumbbells works the same muscles but requires more training and skill to perform properly. That's a modification," Ceja says.

How do I know if I need to modify?

Before starting any new fitness regime, Ceja recommends checking with your your physician. Talk about your specific health issues like the shoulder that keeps "acting up," or your trick knee. Then consult with a professional fitness expert who has experience working with clients who have your condition. For example, if you're pregnant and want to do yoga, get a thumbs up from your doctor before signing up for the prenatal series of classes. (Note: All pregnant women should avoid high-impact and jarring exercises such as aerobic dancing which can weaken the pelvic floor. Hot tubs or steam baths can cause miscarriage and fetal damage so expectant moms should void them, too.)

If you're nursing a back injury, talk to your doctor and consider consulting a physical therapist of personal trainer who knows his way around back pain. If you're brand new to exercise or not quite up to a full-throttle workout, talk to your trainer or class instructor about a dialed-down routine until you're ready for more. The important thing is to avoid reinjuring vulnerable parts of your body and prevent new injuries from occurring.

Low-impact aerobics, balance exercises, tai chi, self-paced walking and lower leg resistance training (using elastic tubing or ankle weights) is recommended for older, sedentary people. Additionally, a stress test can determine the risk of an exercise-induced heart problem. Anyone with a heart condition or history of heart disease should have a stress test before beginning an exercise program.

Some health care professionals also recommend a stress test—which can be expensive—before a vigorous exercise program for seniors who are sedentary, even in the absence of known or suspected heart disease.

Does modifying an exercise mean you're not fit?

No way, says Ceja. Sometimes all you need to make a modification is adjust the weight and settings on a machine or change the resistance. "Don't think of modified exercise as taking a short cut or doing something wimpy," says Ceja. "Think of it as doing the right thing for your body."

Not all athletes know their limits or know when to make changes. That means that no matter where you are on your fitness path, it's 100 percent acceptable to use props, change equipment, try a different form or completely delete a specific activity from your routine.

Mike Ceja reviewed this article.