Customizing online workouts to make them work for you

As a personal trainer and fitness aficionado, I spend a lot of time searching online for workout ideas and new exercise combinations.

I include them in my own workouts, as well as those of my clients.

I have Pinterest boards full of online workouts I’ve pinned for a later day (including workouts I’ve shared here, with my readers. Recognize any of them?).

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The thing is, most online workouts weren’t put together with YOU in mind. Your unique body. Your fitness level and experience. Your performance, aesthetic and lifestyle goals. Not to mention you may not have the equipment required to complete the workout in its entirely.

While they’re fun to do in a pinch (when you’re on the road or ready for a new exercise program) and may have been written by a personal trainer (someone who’s educated in the principles of workout design), chances are, you’ll need to modify most workouts you see online to address your own unique goals and needs.

Common reasons for modifying an online workout (with suggested work arounds) include:
  • arthritis in the hands and wrists: substitute supine bench exercises with dumbbells like triceps skull crushers and bench press for tricep dips and pushups, respectively. If you have access to a Smith machine, try placing your hands on the bar while you perform your pushups (this is also a great way to progress from knee to toe pushups!).
  • ‘achey’ knees that prevent pain-free squats and lunges: substitute supine hip thrusts, lateral band walks and hamstring curls on the ball to effectively target the legs and butt.
  • excess body weight, poor level of fitness or joints that restrict your ability to include high impact moves: substitute high knees walking-in-place for running or jumping jacks; step, rather than jump back into the high plank portion of a burpee; stationary cycling for the upright elliptical and treadmill (of course, losing weight will help reduce the stress of performing these exercises and may be all you need to improve the function and health of the joints 🙂 )
  • not enough time: shorten online workouts by reducing the number of sets by one or the duration of intervals by 25-30%, rather than skipping the workout entirely or by-passing much-needed post-workout stretching
  • limited equipment: substitute dumbbells for kettlebells, sandbags and barbells (you may need to modify the exercise slightly as well); use a stability ball in lieu of a workout bench; many cable and pulley exercises can be approximated with a resistance band; bottles of milk, water and diet pop can also work as hand weights in a pinch!
  • too many reps: lots of online workouts are high volume in nature. Performing hundreds of pushups, squats and crunches isn’t necessarily the best way to improve your fitness level. Reduce the number of reps and perform the exercises with heavier weights than suggested. You’ll not only shorten the workout, you’ll also build strength more quickly (and see muscle development faster).

One of the skills that I strive to teach my group fitness participants and personal training clients (both in person and those who belong to my online training group) is to listen to their bodies.

Pay attention to and avoid movements that cause pain. Choose more challenging versions of an exercise if it feels too easy. Substitute alternative movements for those that don’t serve you, rather than performing them incorrectly or skipping over them entirely.

Always make the workout your own.

Below is a sample of the types of workouts I share with my monthly #40plusfitness women’s online training group.

Each exercise has two modifications; one that’s slightly less challenging, one that’s slightly more challenging.

Make this online workout your own by choosing the modification of each exercise that allows you to (just) complete 12 good form repetitions. And feel free to mix and match from the three levels shown; chances are you’ll find some of the middle column options too easy while other will be too difficult.

If you’re brand new to exercise (and/or strength training), one set of each exercise pair is likely enough. More experienced? Need a bit more of a challenge? Try a second (and even a third) time through each super-set.

The key is to listen to your body and work at a level that’s challenging, leaves you feeling like your had a good workout and lets you walk up and down the stairs the next day without too much discomfort :-).

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My clients performed this workout 3-4 times weekly for an entire month. (I gave them weekly progressions, including the plyometric moves between the exercise pairs during weeks 3 and 4. Feel free to include these or not, depending on whether 60 s of jumping jacks, burpees or skipping rope meets your fitness needs and abilities.)

Not sure about the correct way to perform the above exercises?

Take a peak at the Demonstration Videos that I usually only share with my monthly peeps. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video? Closer to a million 😉

Do you regularly perform workouts you’ve found online?

If so, do you modify them to address your own unique fitness goals and needs?

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Looking for an inexpensive way to jump-start your journey to fitness and health? Join my online Bootcamp today! Get more info by clicking the image below.

Comments

  1. Such an incredibly helpful post, I really like the chart you’ve shared showing how to progress exercises. I joined a small group personal training class 1.5 years ago, so I rarely work out on my own except during vacation… then I try and fit in all sorts of Pinterest workouts! Haha.
    Danielle @ Wild Coast Tales recently posted…Alaskan Cruise Part 3: Mendenhall Glacier and Mount RobertsMy Profile

    • Pinterest is a great place to find workout ideas. I just like to caution people that there’s a difference between the workout an enthusiastic exerciser creates and that put together by a fitness professional who understands a lot more about the human body… 🙂

  2. What a great workout! I browse on-line workouts for ideas but typically modify them one way or another. I love all the options you’ve created here – and the videos were great!
    Coco recently posted…Suffering From Vacation EnvyMy Profile

  3. Great post, well written and helpfull! I always create my own workouts based on inspiration online. This will def improve my workouts. Thanks!

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