Exercise for Every Body: Modifications for the 10 Most Popular Body Weight Exercises

by | Apr 1, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Every body is beautifully unique, and different types of movement will feel good in different bodies. Whether you’re working up to your fitness goals or need some accommodations for an injury, you can make traditional exercise work for your body. The key is to work WITH those challenges as you use complex body weight exercises to strengthen your core and other muscle groups involved in each movement. If available, body weight exercises in a pool are another great option so that the water is making you more weightless and takes some strain off of the joints. Or on dry land, you can tweak the movements in the following exercises to only go through part of its range of motion and/or start with just a few repetitions and work your way up to your fitness goals!

1. Push-up: A traditional push-up is done on the floor and on the toes, but you don’t have to be on the floor or even push up your full body weight.

  • For those who are uncomfortable getting down on the ground, you can stand at arms length from a wall and do the same push-up motion against it.
    If you are more concerned about your hands/wrists bearing your body weight, start on your elbows so your forearm is bearing the weight. Then lower yourself to having your chest touching the ground, and repeat.
    Finally, there is always the option to use your knees rather than your feet as the point of contact for your lower body.

2. Sit-up/Crunch: Again, if there is an issue with getting up and down from the ground or back weakness, you can adjust to feel more stable.

  • There are many alternative ab exercises that don’t require getting on the floor such as a standing crunch, where you can use a weight or resistance cable as you do the same crunch movement standing.
    To protect your back, choosing a more stable sit-up position like having your feet flat on the ground will take that pressure off of the back.

3. Burpee: Instead of this high intensity, fast-paced exercise, you can work these same muscle groups by doing the motions slowly and step-by-step.

  • Instead of jumping, step your legs out behind you, slowly lower yourself into a pushup (using a modification above as needed), then step back to your hands, reaching up for a stretch without having your feet leave the ground.

4. Squat: It can be a challenge to balance and go through the full range of motion for some with a full squat.

  • For stability, holding on to the back of a chair or a counter can help as you lower yourself down into the squatting motion.
    There is always the option of going through a smaller range of motion or holding isometric parts of the movement to get more comfortable with it and stretch.

5. High-knees: It can be high-intensity to jump and quickly alternate bringing your knees toward your chest.

  • Making it lower-intensity by keeping one foot flat on the ground and more slowly bringing your other knee up to the chest can help.
    You can even turn this into a stretch by holding your leg up and hugging your knee – you will feel it in your glutes and hamstrings.

6. Single Leg Dead-Lift: This exercise requires balance and leg strength to stand on one leg and reach down to the toes, which can be built up as you practice.

  • If your balance is not quite there, you can hold onto something to stabilize yourself as with the squats and not go all the way to the ground with your reach.
    You can also put the non-planted foot behind you with your toe staying on the ground as you reach down as far as you can while maintaining that point of contact. Focus on tightening your back muscles to raise yourself up to standing.

7. Jumping Jacks (or jumping anything): Many people’s joints are not able to handle the forceful nature of getting the body off the ground and landing back down.

  • Any jumping or plyometric movement can be made low-impact by keeping at least one foot (or hand) on the ground at all times.
    For jumping jacks specifically, extending one side of the body out at a time with that same movement can help you get moving and stay planted on the ground.

8. Plank: There are many plank varieties including the traditional plank and side plank on the ground to strengthen your core.

  • Similar to the push-up, you can do a plank against a wall, on your knees, and using either your hands or forearms as the upper body support. The key is to engage your core muscles as you are doing it and keeping your back straight.

9. Tricep dip: Like many of these exercises, your arms may not be able to support your entire body weight just yet.

  • To make the dip easier when using a bench or chair, move your feet closer to your body so you are more stabilized and the lower body is supporting more of your weight.
    This is a great exercise to do on the edge of a pool so that the water is helping you feel more weightless.

10. Pull-up: Again, you may not be strong enough yet or maybe your shoulders are not able to support this full body-weight exercise.

  • Many gyms have assisted pull-up machines that have a counter-weight for your body.
    There is also the option to do a jumping pull-up, in which you support your upper body by assisting yourself so-to-speak.
    You can also keep your feet on the ground and pull yourself up to your tip-toes, then lower your heels back down so that you are getting a partial range of motion with low impact.

It’s time to start moving!
Lose weight for good

Author: Rachel Potter