How do I modify exercises to suit my fitness level?

June 2, 2012

Q: I sometimes get confused on how to increase the intensity of my workout to get results. Do I accomplish this by adding new exercises? If so, what is the protocol for doing this, and could you give me examples of some different exercises that would be a step up from what I’m doing now?

A: Sometimes, learning to be successful in the weight room is as simple as mastering an exercise and then progressing to something harder. I like to break exercises down to three different levels: beginner, advanced and pro. Here are three different examples of how you can modify any exercise to fit each level. Try them by starting at the beginner level and working your way up to mastering the pro, and you will be well on your way to greater results.

The beginner level would simply be a regular plank, where you get into a push-up position with your toes on the floor, elbows in tight to your body and forearms resting on the floor out in front of your body. Do not allow your midsection to sag; instead keep your abs tight and your hips slightly elevated. Hold this position for as long as you can for three individual sets, and once you can hold it for 90 seconds each, you’re ready to go to the next level.

The advanced level of the basic plank is the Swiss ball plank. Instead of resting your forearms on the floor, you will elevate them on top of a Swiss ball. This version of the plank is a lot harder because it incorporates balance and forces some of the smaller stabilizing muscles to kick in and keep you from falling off the ball. Once you master this exercise, go for the pro level.

For the pro level of the plank, instead of putting your toes on the floor, try elevating them on a bench. This makes the plank even harder because you have to keep your balance as well as hold the entire weight of your body in a fixed position.

The beginning level of this exercise is the basic chest-touching push-up. To do this exercise, get in a horizontal position with your hands and toes touching the floor, slowly lower your body until your chest touches, and then push back up until your arms are straight again.

The advanced version of this exercise is the medicine ball push-up. To try this version, get in the same position as the chest-touching push-up but put one hand on the floor and the other on top of a medicine ball. Slowly lower your body until one side of your chest touches the floor. This version is much harder because your body is uneven, forcing one side of your body to work harder than the other. When you finish, switch hands and do the same amount of reps for the opposite side.

The pro level of this exercise is the rotating medicine ball push-up. This exercise is the same as the regular medicine ball push-up with one major difference. Instead of doing a separate set of push-ups with each hand on the medicine ball, simply roll the ball back and forth from hand to hand and do a rep for each without resting. This exercise is a lot harder because it takes strength, balance, coordination and endurance, and if you can master it you have truly reached the pro level.

The beginner level of this exercise is the dumbbell squat. because it requires very little experience and a lot less weight. For this exercise, cradle the barrel of a dumbbell in both hands in front of your midsection, push your hips away from your body as if sitting in your favorite chair and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Ascend to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.

The advanced level is the barbell squat. Instead of holding a dumbbell in front of your body, you’ll place a weighted barbell across your shoulders and perform the same technique. This exercise is much harder because it requires more form, balance, and upper and lower body strength to do it correctly.

The pro level of this exercise is Bulgarian split squats. To perform this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow them to hang at your sides. Take a long stride out in front of your body with one leg and elevate the opposite foot on top of a weight bench. Squat down, bending both legs equally, until your depth reaches 90 degrees, and then ascend to the starting position and repeat until the desired amount of reps is finished and then switch sides. This exercise is very difficult because it requires unilateral strength by making each leg work independently. It also demands balance, strength and coordination.

The above examples are just three ways exercises can be modified to suit your current fitness level. Learn to do this with your daily routine and you will always be moving in the right direction.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

Welcome to The Cape Gazette Archive.
This content is provided free of charge
thanks to our sponsor:

Close ad in...

Close Ad