As a fitness instructor I heart exercise modifications. I love that with a few small adjustments you can make an exercise accessable to someone who cannot do the traditional version for whatever reason. Sometimes modifications make exercises more difficult, sometimes they make them easier, sometimes they make part of the exercise easier while making another harder.
Unlike in personal training or very small group training sessions, fitness instructors have to provide an effective and safe workout for all of their participants. Some young, some older, some super fit, others at the start of their fitness journey. We have to quickly assess the form of everyone in our class. We need to provide options and modifications for everyone needing them to ensure they are getting a workout that will benefit them, not injure them.
There are very few things about teaching a strength conditioning class then when I offer the class a modification of an exercise, and see someone take that advice. See them recognize within themselves that for whatever reason, today they need to take it a little bit easier, or they need to modify in order to protect another body part. Whatever the reason, I love it when people allow themselves to do what will honour their body instead of pushing through in order to “keep up” with everyone else.
So often in the fitness industry, we are told to “push” ourselves further, that growth happens when we are pushed out of our comfort zone. And this is true. But there is a place and a time for that type of thinking, and that place is not while doing back strengthening exercises.
The situation that brought this topic to mind happened Monday night in my ABS (abdominal and back strengthening) class. Nearing the end of class we were doing some prone back exercises. We had started the set by arm opposite leg raises. I then moved on to lifting both arms but leaving the lower body relaxed on the mat, then just the lower body. To finish it off we went into a set of supermans where we were lifting both arms and both legs together.
Everyone had their heads down facing their mats so nobody could see anyone else. After 2 reps I gave the option for people to drop back to arm opposite leg raises if they felt that the superman exercise was too much for them today.
And someone did.
My heart sang.
Would this person have been left with a back injury if they had continued doing supermen? Probably not. But if their back was already fatigued and being adequately challenged by the modified exercise, then why push it?
They listened to their body and did what was right for them. I couldn’t have been happier!
And you know what else? I can promise you, the quality of the “modified” exercises this person did was much higher than they would have been if they had continued with the supermans.
Quality always trumps quantity in the exercise world. At least in my books! I’d much rather see you do 5 perfect push-ups than 25 half assed terrible pushups. If your technique is off you are just asking for an injury, and you certainly aren’t working your body effectively.
Listen to your body. Challenge yourself, but don’t push yourself to the point of injury. There is a huge difference between pushing past your fears, and pushing your body so far that you injure yourself.
It’s okay to push yourself when you are feeling muscle fatigue, it’s not okay to push yourself when your body is telling you, “STOP! There is something wrong here!”
Sitting on the sidelines while waiting for an injury to heal certainly isn’t going to make you stronger.
You know what else? The person who could only do 5 perfect push-ups while you were busting out 25 terrible ones will be able to do 25 perfect push-ups by the time you have recovered.
Something to think about…
When I took my fitness instructor’s course, one of our instructors gave us this advice:
As you get stronger, you can do more advanced strength training exercises, but that doesn’t mean that simple strength exercises should become ineffective. If you are doing them properly, an exercise never becomes “too easy.”
What do you think? Do you believe an exercise (executed perfectly) can ever become too easy?