Top 6 Substitute Exercises for BUILD

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October 28, 2019

Top 6 Substitute Exercises for BUILD - Hero image

When it comes to skipping gym sessions or thinking certain Sweat programs like BUILD aren’t right for you, one of the most common excuses is not having the right equipment or assuming a training style like powerbuilding will be too difficult. 

In reality, some simple equipment swaps or substitute exercises can be an easy way to get started!

Substitute exercises for heavy-lifting

Powerbuilding - the style of training involved in the BUILD program - does require access to a gym, but there are plenty of alternate exercises, equipment swap-outs and recovery sessions to help you avoid missing a workout.

For those days when you need to swap out an exercise or piece of equipment in the BUILD program, here are some great substitute options!

Substitute exercises for your upper body

Exercises including bench presses, shoulder presses and lat pulldowns make up a big part of the BUILD program. But, never fear, there are plenty of alternative exercises available.

Exercise: Bench Press - Kelsey Wells

1. Bench press: Swap the barbell for dumbbells

The traditional bench press is a popular upper-body exercise as it works your chest, triceps and shoulders, making it an essential part of BUILD!

Because bench pressing is so popular, there is sometimes a  queue for the equipment. If the machine, barbell or plates you need aren’t available, swap the barbell for dumbbells! 

As a general rule, try to perform your dumbbell bench press  with a combined weight of roughly 70% of what you’d usually lift on the barbell. So, if you usually bench press 40kg on the barbell, use two 14kg dumbbells — a combined weight of 28kg. The more experienced you become with training, the closer this gap will become.

Exercise: Bent Over Row - Kayla Itsines

2. Lat pulldown: Try bent-over rows

Lat pulldowns are an important part of the upper-body workouts in BUILD, but they do have a high RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion), so they’re not for the faint-hearted.

If you’re finding them too tough, try a lighter weight. If they’re still too challenging or you don’t have access to a cable machine, you could try bent-over rows as a substitute exercise.

You’ll need a barbell or two dumbbells to complete this exercise. Your upper back and biceps are in for a solid workout.

Exercise: Tricep Extension - Kayla Itsines

3. Skull crushers: Do overhead tricep extensions instead

This exercise is nowhere near as crazy as it sounds! Skull crushers, also known as lying tricep extensions, stimulate the entire triceps muscle group in the upper arm and are an awesome isolation exercise. BUILD uses dumbbells for skull crushers, but other weights can be used, too.

If you experience pain while performing tricep extensions or are new to BUILD and find this exercise too intense, swap skull crushers for overhead tricep extensions.

Grab a single dumbbell or a plate, hold it with both hands and get set to go - or use a cable machine instead! Repeat for the specified number of reps. Word of warning: these BURN!

Exercise: Assisted Chin Up - Kelsey Wells

4. Chin-ups: Give yourself some support

Chin-ups are an amazing upper-body exercise that will work your arms, back, shoulders and core while helping to improve your overall performance. But they’re not easy. Practice (and patience!) makes perfect.

If you need help getting started, opt for assisted chin-ups instead. The chin/dip machine will be your best friend in the gym as it gives you as much or as little support as you need. If you don’t have access to a machine, you can also make chin-ups easier by using a long resistance band.

When your assisted chin-ups are feeling easier, you can either reduce the weight to give yourself less support or change to a thinner resistance band. Both options will mean you’ll be doing more of the hard work yourself. 

No assisted chin-up machine or resistance bands available, or simply want another option? No problem. Substitute this exercise for a lat pulldown, a front lat pulldown or an inverted row on a smith machine and you’ll be smashing chin-ups in no time!

Substitute exercises for your lower body

The two main lower body exercises in the BUILD program are squats and deadlifts. They are powerful compound exercises that work a large number of muscles in one hit and are a great way to build your strength. Here are some ways to switch it up! 

Exercise: Deadlift - Chontel Duncan

5. Deadlift: Swap for a kettlebell Romanian deadlift

The deadlift is one of the most powerful ways to build muscle and increase your strength, which is why it features so heavily in BUILD. 

Looking for an alternative? Try swapping regular barbell deadlifts for kettlebell Romanian deadlifts!

Hold your kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body) in front of your legs, planting both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Bending from the hips, allow the kettlebell to run along the length of your thighs and halfway down your shins, ensuring you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You’ll really feel the burn in your hamstrings!

Exercise: Box Squat - Cass Olholm

6. High-bar squat: Swap for a box squat

Squats are another one of the most superior exercises for increasing muscle strength in your lower body. 

Many women in the Sweat Community also love the mental challenge and empowerment that comes with lifting heavy and breaking past your previous limits! 

A high-bar squat is an exercise where the bar is balanced across the back of your shoulders and they’re great for your quads and glutes.

If you’re new to BUILD, are finding a barbell squat pretty challenging, or have bad knees, try using dumbbells instead or perform box squats, where you lightly sit on a box or bench at the bottom of your squat before standing up again.

The box allows you to sit further back in the movement, making it easier to engage your glutes, and pausing at the bottom of the box can help reduce stress on your knees.

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Focus on your goals, not your obstacles

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. When you’re focused on achieving your goals, you’ll find a way to get there — regardless of experience or equipment.

There are plenty of substitute exercises to help you get the most out of your lifting workouts. It’s about finding what works for your body and focusing on exercises that continually challenge you. 

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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