Scroll through social media these days and you’ll be inundated with workout content. Personalization is limited or nonexistent, which can be overwhelming and lead to injury. While there’s simply no substitution for working one on one with a trainer, growing your own exercise library can help you take ownership over your workouts and keep safety as the highest priority. Not only will you tailor your workout to your abilities and comfort, but to your preferences (although we all LOVE burpees, mountain climbers can be much easier on the knees).

Below is a rundown of common exercises and their substitutions, safe for a myriad of fitness levels, including progressions and regressions. Your trainer can offer more personalized guidance and appropriate substitutions for your body’s abilities. We’re always here to help. If you have questions, just ask!

Running Substitutions
Want to up your cardio game but have knee pain? Substitute a long bike ride or a beautiful hike. Choose the route with some incline for added intensity, and don’t forget a water bottle. Limited on space or it’s a rainy day? High knees, jump rope, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and burpees all get the sweat dripping from the comfort of your home. Try a 15 minute circuit of 30-40 seconds high intensity exercise/20-30 seconds rest for a cardio burner!

Jump Substitutions
Most jump exercises can be swapped for simply removing the jump. Perform a bodyweight squat instead of a jump squat. If lunges don’t work for you, try squats from a split stance position or a simple hip hinge (deadlift) to take the stress off your knees.

Overhead Press Substitutions
Overhead pressing can be a tough exercise without proper shoulder mobility and strength. Before you try to go straight overhead, build up correct form by changing your angle. Try a floor press, or single arm bench press, build strength with a bent over row, or a banded chest press. Ask your trainer for an exercise demonstration and how to properly utilize whatever equipment you have available.

Pushup Substitutions
The pushup is a complicated exercise, and doing it right takes time. Start by keeping your knees on the floor, or placing hands on an elevated surface (like a chair or bench). Or, take movement out completely and get comfortable with holding a forearm plank for 30 seconds, or try a variation of a dumbbell press, as mentioned above.

Equipment Swaps
No kettlebell? Use a dumbell. No dumbbell? Use a heavy household item (backpack filled with books, bucket of rocks, cans, water bottles, get creative!). Invest in a set of resistance bands (they’re affordable) and the possibilities are almost endless. See our top picks for at home equipment here. Or, check out our favorite bodyweight workout here.

While growing your knowledge and exercise library is a valuable part of living a healthy life, we always advise to collaborate with your trainer for the best workout suited to your goals. Exercise should increase your confidence and capabilities, it should be a positive, not punishing, experience. Always listen to your body’s cues. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right! Don’t be afraid to modify and make a workout your own. Offer your trainer ample feedback on how something feels, what’s working and not working for you, and what you’d like to try in the future.


Author Reva Oleszczuk is a NASM certified personal trainer, licensed esthetician, and personal trainer at Hyatt Training. She believes that the mind-body connections developed through movement, strength building and nutrition are crucial for mental health and wellbeing. She aims to make exercise deeply personal, enjoyable and accessible for all, regardless of lifestyle or limitations. Learn more about Reva, or get in touch with her by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.

Hyatt Training is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon.