How to Modify Exercises (A Beginner’s Guide)

how-to-modify-exercises-26I’ve been getting a lot of requests for beginner workouts, and I keep thinking of the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I could give you a beginner workout or I could teach you how to modify exercises so that you can turn all the workouts I post into beginner routines. I’m going to do both. Today, I’m going to go over the general rules for how to make exercises easier, and then later in the week I’ll post a beginner workout. Instead of writing off an exercise as “too hard,” use the following rules to modify it.

Change the Angle of Your Body

how-to-modify-plankYou can make an exercise harder or easier by changing the angle of your body. Exercises done in a plank position are the best example of this. Doing a plank with your hands on a chair or wall is a lot easier than doing a plank with your hands on the floor. Dropping your knees down (changing angle!) also makes it easier. Another example of this is boat pose. If your legs are straight, it’s harder; if you change the angle of them by bending your knees, it gets

Reduce the Impact

This is a modification I always stress for clients with knee or other joint issues. Take jumps, hops, leaps and bounces out of the equation. Instead of a jump squat, keep your feet planted on the ground and do a regular squat.


Instead of hopping side to side during alternating lunges, step your feet side to side. Similarly, when doing plank jumps, step your feet out and in rather than jumping them

Reduce the Range of Motion

If you’re doing exercises with a stepper or bench, simply don’t use one as high. Maybe you just step up onto the bottom stair of a staircase rather than onto a tall chair. In addition to using smaller equipment to make the range of motion of an exercise smaller, you can simply not move your body as far during bodyweight exercises.

How to Modify Step Ups (and other general rules for making exercises easier)In a side leg lift, for example, it will be harder if you lift your leg up to hip height. If you only lift it a few inches off the ground, it will be easier. For squats, if you only lower down a couple inches (vs. bringing your booty to the floor), the exercise will be easier. For push ups, if you only lower down a couple inches (vs. bringing your chest to the floor, they’ll be easier.How to Modify Exercises (reduce range of motion plus other beginner tips)

Increase Stability

If doing an exercise on one leg is too hard, make it easier to balance by using both. You can also increase the stability of an exercise with equipment. Stability balls, bosu balls and balance plates all create an unstable environment. To make the exercise easier, use steady surfaces instead (the floor, a chair, etc.).

How to Modify a Crunch (plus other tips)How to Modify a Deadlift

Reduce Speed

Power walk instead of run. Do 10 burpees during an interval of work instead of 15. Spin at a lower RPM. Going slower doesn’t always make things easier (in Lagree Fitness, for example, slow = hard), but for the sake of the workouts I post on P&I, speed typically makes things more intense and challenging.

How to Modify Exercises (A Beginner's Guide)

Reduce Time or Number of Reps

Hold a plank for 30 seconds instead of a minute. Do 10 bicep curls instead of 20. If I ever post an interval workout that looks too hard, just shorten the work interval (if I say do 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, maybe you change it to 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest).

How to Modify Exercises (a beginner's guide)

Reduce Load/Weight

I’m not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence by including this point; just want to cover all my bases! Use lighter kettlebells, dumbbells or medicine balls. You can modify further by using no added weight at all—just your bodyweight.

How to Modify Exercises (a beginner's guide)

Combine Them!

Let’s combine some of these rules and look at potential modifications for a burpee with a push up at the bottom. As you’ll see, there are so many ways to make each part of it easier that everyone, regardless of fitness level, can do the exercise in some capacity.


  1. Squat down and place hands on ground by feet.
  2. Jump feet back into plank position.
  3. Do a push up in plank position.
  4. Jump feet back up towards hands.
  5. Jump straight up in the air with arms overhead.


  1. Squat down slightly, bringing hands onto the seat of a chair or bench.
  2. Step feet back one at a time into an incline plank position.
  3. Do a push up in this incline plank position or, if it’s too hard, modify by dropping down to your knees for it.
  4. Step feet back up towards chair/bench one at a time.
  5. Stand upright.

Hopefully this post was helpful! Also, if there are specific exercises you aren’t sure how to modify, let me know and I can put together a more detailed tutorial for those moves.


WEARING | leggings: c/o Reebok / sneakers: New Balance / hoodie: New Balance c/o Kohl’s // tank: Athleta



45-Minute Treading Workout

45-Minute Treading Class WorkoutI know this picture makes the workout look totally overcomplicated, but I swear it’s not—bear with me…

Hope you all are enjoying the weekend! I’m off to Btone in a couple hours to take a class before teaching a couple. For all you Boston peeps, Michele’s class is worth waking up early on a Sunday for—kicks my ass EVERY time. Add it to your must-try fitness list.

Anywho, I’ve got a fun cardio workout for all you gym-goes and treadmill owners. The treading class at Hilton Head Health was probably my favorite of the many varied exercise classes I tried there, so I thought it’d be fun to share one of my own creation and talk a little bit more about the fitness aspect of my stay at H3. If you missed my first post about the blogger trip to Hilton Head Health, I talked about the education component, specifically a lecture on portion control I attended.

All throughout the day at H3 there are fitness classes offered, ranging from yoga to TRX to aqua boxing in the pool. Some have capacity limits and require sign-up the day before, but for the majority of them, you can just pop into whichever ones sound appealing. That’s something I really liked about Hilton Head Health’s programming—they don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to. Yes, the majority of guests are there to lose weight, and there is guidance and encouragement to do certain classes, but there’s no drill-sergeant mentality. You make your own decisions about what you want to do.

trx-hilton-head-healthSarah and I at a TRX class at H3

During my stay, I tried a bunch of classes: Pilates for Flexibility, Yoga Flow, TRX Circuit, Muscle Mobility (SMR with lacrosse balls) and Treading (twice). A lot of the guests at H3 are just starting out on their road to health, and the instructors do a great job of teaching to beginners while also offering modifications for those who are more advanced in the class. As someone who’s in the industry, trust me—it’s a sign of a damn good instructor if a group of people ranging from young fitness bloggers to 60+-year-old beginners leaves a class all feeling like it was an awesome experience. So let’s slow clap it out for Camila at Hilton Head Health—her treading class had everyone sweating (and dancing).

45-Minute Treading Workout

This workout is made for the treadmill, but you could easily adapt it to another cardio machine (stationary bike, elliptical, etc.) The numbers used are for a treadmill with a 0-15 incline range, so adjust accordingly if your machine uses a different scale.

All levels can do this workout! You’ll see I use the terms walk, jog, run and sprint to describe the speed you should go—these terms will mean different speeds to different people. If you’re advanced, sprint might mean 10+mph. If you’re a newbie, sprint might mean power walking at 4+mph. Both are great! These terms represent more of an effort scale than a numerical speed value:running exertion speed scale

As you’ll see, the workout is broken up into sections. The numbers always represent incline. For speeds, I use walk, jog, run, sprint. The image at the beginning of this post is super detailed (you can print it out and bring it to the gym with you), but if you’re a treading pro, the following summary might be enough to guide you.

WARM UP | 0:00 – 3:00
At a 0 incline, do a minute of slow walking lunges (set treadmill to .5-1mph for these) then jog for two minutes.

STEADY CLIMB | 3:00 – 13:00
Maintain a steady jog-run pace throughout the 10 minutes. Every minute, you’ll change the resistance up by two points, starting at a 3 and peaking at a 15. You’ll then decrease the incline by four points each minute, returning back to a 3 incline.

Using 30-second intervals, you’ll run, sprint, and then walk (recover). Do this at a 3 incline, then a 6, then a 9.

BREAK | 17:30 – 19:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

ROLLING HILL | 19:00 – 29:30
Maintain a steady jog-run pace the entire time. You’ll change your incline every 60 seconds climbing up to the top, staying at the top for 30 seconds. Incline changes are in increments of three and get less steep with each of the three hills: 6, 9, 12, 15 (first hill); 3, 6, 9, 12 (second hill); 0, 3, 6, 9 (last hill).

BREAK | 29:30 – 31:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

SPEED INTERVALS | 31:00 – 36:30
These are done at a 0 incline. You recover for 30 seconds between each of the five sprints. The first two sprints are 60 seconds long and the last three sprints are 30 seconds long.

BREAK | 36:30 – 38:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

FINAL PUSH | 38:00 – 41:00
Run for a minute each at a 10, 5, and then 0 incline.

COOL DOWN | 41:00 – 45:00
Walk for three minutes, gradually slowing it down. Finish with a minute of those slow walking lunges we started with.

hilton-head-health-blogger-tripAndie from Can You Stay For Dinner?, Beth from Beth’s Journey, Monique from Ambitious Kitchen, Sarah from Sarah Fit and I before our first treading class at H3. Not pictured is Lisa from Snack Girl who joined us for our second treading class the next day. :)

In addition to taking classes, I also got a tennis lesson (I LOVED it!) and went for a couple beautiful runs on the beach by H3. The sand there is hard so it’s perfect for running and even bike riding. If you follow me on instagram, you’ve already seen the view, but it’s just too pretty not to share again:hilton-head-beach hilton-head-beach-sunrise tennis-lesson

Have you ever taken a treading class (or something similar) before? I find running on a treadmill painfully boring alone, but in the group setting it was so fun!


Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats with Tofu

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats (perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving dish!)As the country becomes collectively more health-conscious, holiday meals have gotten a little more difficult. Your aunt is vegan; your cousin doesn’t eat gluten; Grandma is lactose-intolerant; your sister doesn’t eat meat; Dad invited Michael Pollan to dinner—sh*t just got complicated and that Stop & Shop turkey ain’t gonna cut it.

While that scenario is a little dramatized (Me? Exaggerate?? Never…), we probably all have a person coming to dinner this Thanksgiving who doesn’t want to eat turkey. In my family, it’s my mom and I. Luckily, there are countless ways to incorporate holiday flavors into a main course without meat. As part of my collaboration with Nasoya, I experimented around with tons of vegetarian recipes in the kitchen, and these spaghetti squash boats were a home run. They’re filling, use seasonal flavors, and make for a perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. If you’re vegan, just leave out the goat cheese!

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats (perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving dish!)

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats with Tofu

Yield: 2

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats with Tofu


  • ½ container Nasoya lite firm tofu (about 7oz), crumbled using a fork
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • ½-3/4 lb Brussels sprouts, halved
  • ½ cup cranberry sauce (I used whole fruit sauce because I love the chunks!)
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper for seasoning


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise; scrape out the seeds and stringy guts; brush with olive oil, salt and pepper; place face-side down in a pan; and bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of your squash. If you’re unfamiliar with spaghetti squash, use THIS TUTORIAL as a reference—it’ll walk you through the baking process using pictures.
  2. When the squash is cooked, flip the halves over and partially scrape out the inside with a fork. You want to leave at least a ½-inch of the meat attached to the skin so that your boats hold their structure. Add the squash you’ve scraped out to a bowl with the Brussels sprouts, crumbled tofu, cranberry sauce, and pecans. Stir it all together.
  3. Fill the two spaghetti squash halves with the mixture and sprinkle the top with the goat cheese.
  4. Reduce your oven’s temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Enjoy! Make sure to scrape out the sides of your bowl as you eat so you don’t let any delicious spaghetti squash go to waste.

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats (perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving dish!)Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Boats (perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving dish!)This post was sponsored by Nasoya. I was giving full creative control over the content and all opinions, as always, are my own.

Do you have any vegetarians coming to Thanksgiving dinner this year? What are you planning on serving?