Fitness Trail: Modify your exercises, enjoy exercise success |

Fitness Trail: Modify your exercises, enjoy exercise success

There is a significant difference between compensation and modification when applied to exercise performance. Compensation usually refers to “breaking form” during the execution of an exercise (i.e. momentum use, not achieving a full range of motion/line of pull, rocking/leaning the body, or not maintaining a neutral spine, etc.). Not only does this compensated movement potentially lead to injury, it negatively affects the training stimulus of the muscles involved.

Compensation may occur for many reasons such as muscular/structural limitations/imbalances (i.e. injury/congenital issues), lack of exercise knowledge and poor neuromuscular movement patterns developed over the years. Generally the neuromuscular system activates according to the information that the brain translates to the working muscles and if that information is flawed, then the performance may be as well, leading to injury, bodily imbalances, and diminished positive results.

A modification refers to creating a partial/small change in how the exercise is executed in order to enable the client to perform it safely/effectively within their limitations. For example a client with a chronic knee issue, may still be able to perform a squat/lunge exercise, but needs to perform it with a smaller hip/knee joint range of motion modification to prevent knee discomfort. They may still receive significant benefits from performing a modified version of the exercise and, over time, may be able to increase their range of motion as the muscles effectively strengthen. Follow a few of the many possible exercise modification guidelines below to address your needs and experience exercise success. As always, prior to performing any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Range of Motion/Line of Pull – Before beginning any exercise, consider your range of motion about the joint and the line of pull (i.e. the optimal position of the body relative to anchor points and ground forces such as gravity). For example, if you are performing a standing lateral raise with dumbbells, for your medial deltoids (i.e. middle shoulder), and you are unable to directly lift the arms abducting to shoulder height successfully, then your range of motion and line of pull are affected impacting exercise safety/effectiveness.

Exercise modifications

Lever length. In the previous example of a lateral raise, perhaps the range of motion/line of pull is impacted by the length of the lever. So, the client may shorten the length of the lever to a 90 degree flexion at the elbow joint and may then be able to perform the exercise with a full range of motion with the current level of resistance.

Resistance Level. In this same example, perhaps the reason that the client cannot manage a full range of motion is that they have chosen too much external resistance (i.e. dumbbells/resistive tubing). This is an easy modification as they may simply decrease the amount of resistance until they may safely/effectively perform the exercise with a full range of motion/line of pull.

Tempo Level. Many clients move through the range of motion too quickly which encourages momentum use (i.e. unsafe and ineffective in most muscular strength training exercises). Slowing down the movement, concentrating on the quality of the range of motion/line of pull, rather than quantity, is an ideal modification for most exercises.

Master It. Master each exercise, to a point of momentary muscle failure prior to modifying/progressing to a greater intensity.

Jackie Wright is the owner/manager Mountain Life Fitness, LLC located in Granby. She may be reached at her website at, her email at and her Facebook Page at Mountain Life Fitness.

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