Substitute Exercises For 5 Popular Workout Moves

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June 12, 2020

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If you think you might have reached a workout plateau, you have an injury to work around or you don't have the equipment you need, you might find you need to substitute some exercises in your workouts.

You might also occasionally find that some exercises are too easy or too challenging for you to perform. There is no shame in either of these — it’s just a matter of finding the movements that work best for you and your current training experience.

You can access substitute exercise in the Sweat app by tapping the circular arrows next to an exercise. You'll then have the option to select a different exercise for your workout — to help you decide which will best suit you, here are substitutes you can make for some of the most common exercises that you can do at home.

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Try these alternatives for 5 common exercises

Let’s take a look at some alternatives to popular exercises found in Sweat workout programs.

Box jump alternatives

A typical box jump is a challenging, explosive exercise that requires a large amount of muscle recruitment predominantly from your lower body, including quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. They are typically used to increase the power of your leg muscles.

Try these alternative exercises to box jumps when you’re next working out.

Make it easier with broad jumps

If box jumps are too challenging for you right now, you can gradually work your way up to them by increasing your confidence in performing the explosive jumping movement. A great way to do this is by replacing box jumps with broad jumps. 

Start by standing on the floor with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your knees and hips, as you swing both arms back behind you. Push your feet into the ground and swing your arms forward. Jumping forward explosively, land softly on your feet into a squat position.

Make it harder with single-leg box jumps

If you’ve mastered the box jump and you want to try something even more challenging, the next step might be trying a single-leg box jump.

Start with a plyometric softbox positioned in front of you, and stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart. You may like to start with a shorter box or step than you would typically use when you are first trying this exercise.

Lift your left leg off the ground and bend it so that your shin is parallel to the floor. Make sure you feel stable on your standing leg. 

Swing your arms back, and explosively jump up onto the box with your standing leg, as you would with a conventional box jump. Pause at the top after you land, then step back down to the floor.

Change it up with pistol squats

For when you’re looking for some variation when performing box jumps, you can change it up by doing pistol squats instead. Unlike box jumps, pistol squats are a unilateral exercise. This means that they are a great option for correcting any muscle imbalances between the two sides of your body. 

Start by standing up with your feet hip-width apart. Extend your left leg out in front of you so that it is straight and your foot is hovering above the ground. This is your starting position.

Bend at your hips and begin to lower down as you would with a squat. Keep your left leg off the ground and extended straight out in front of you as you lower down. Lower as far down as you can, and then powerfully push through your standing leg to return to the starting position.

Medicine ball slam alternatives

Medicine ball slams are a powerful exercise that work your entire body, primarily legs, shoulders and core. They can be a great exercise for relieving stress as you slam the ball down to the ground.

Make it easier with dumbbell woodchoppers

If you’re not quite ready to do medicine ball slams, you can substitute them for woodchoppers. These are performed with a single dumbbell. This exercise will work your upper body and core in a similar way to medicine ball slams. 

Start by standing with your feet planted firmly on the floor just wider than shoulder-width. Hold the dumbbell with both hands, your left hand on top of the right.

Activating your core, lift the dumbbell across your body and bring it up over your right shoulder.

Rotate your body as you bend your knees slightly to bring the dumbbell down over your left knee. Repeat this movement for the specified number of reps.

Make it harder with battle rope slams

Battle rope slams are another great variation for a medicine ball slam that can be more challenging, as you have to continuously work to move the rope (whereas medicine balls can bounce up if they are made of rubber).There’s also no time for a break, as you never release the rope.

You may not be able to perform this movement at home, as this exercise requires a set of battle ropes.

Start by standing in front of the battle ropes with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the battle ropes with either hand, your palms facing inwards. Bend your knees slightly as you lift the ropes up, and slam them down to the ground, repeat this continuously, maintaining a strong core and neutral spine as you move. 

Change it up with single-arm kettlebell swings

For when you want to change things up, try doing kettlebell swings instead. Single-arm kettlebell swings work out your legs, core, and shoulders for a full-body workout. 

Start by holding a kettlebell in your right hand. Plant your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, and position the kettlebell in front of your body.

Bend your knees slightly, tilt your body forward from your hips. The kettlebell can swing gently between your legs. This your starting position. Activate your glutes and hamstrings as you straighten your legs and extend your hips, swinging the kettlebell in front of your body and bringing it up to shoulder height.

Hinge at your hips once more to bring the kettlebell back toward you, returning to the start position. Repeat the specified number of reps on your right side before performing the same number on your left.

Note that the power in this movement should come from your glutes and hamstrings, not your arms and shoulders. 

Hamstring curl alternatives

A conventional hamstring curl is done with a prone leg curl machine. However, this movement can be performed in a number of different ways, while still building strength in your hamstrings. 

Make it easier with glute bridges

Glute bridges are a great starting point for those who want to build strength in their hamstrings and glutes. 

Start laying down on your back on a mat. Bend your knees so that your feet are close to your glutes, planted firmly on the mat. They should be about hip-width apart. Your arms can lay down by your sides.

Press your heels into the mat as you activate your glutes. Lift your pelvis up off the floor, keeping your core and glutes engaged. Raise up your pelvis until your body is in a straight line from your chin to your knees. 

Slowly lower your body back down to the mat. 

Make it harder with single-leg ball curls

To do a ball leg curl, you need a fitball. This mimics the movement of a hamstring curl on a machine, but is done while lying down on the floor. This exercise also helps build stability in your core. You can make this a more challenging exercise by only using one leg at a time.

Start by laying on a yoga mat on the floor. With your fitball in front of you, place both feet onto it, with your toes facing upwards toward the ceiling and your back against the floor.

Engage your core by drawing in your belly button. Gently, activate your glutes and hamstrings to bring your hips up toward the ceiling. Your legs should be extended straight and your arms can stay resting by your sides. Your body should form one straight line.

Inhale, then exhale. Keeping your hips elevated, lift your left leg up so that it is extended straight into the air above you. 

Then, bring your right foot in toward your glutes by bending your right knee, rolling the fitball toward you. Inhale, and then extend your right leg to straighten it back out again. 

Make sure that your hips stay elevated throughout the entire movement, and your left leg stays extended above you. Repeat the movement on the other side for the same number of reps.

Change it up with romanian deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts primarily build strength in your hamstrings and glutes and are an alternative to hamstring curls that you can do at home. You can do this exercise with a barbell if you have one or a set of dumbbells.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell or dumbbells in front of your thighs in an overhand grip (with your palms facing your body).

Draw your shoulder blades back and down, with your chest pushed out. Inhale, and bend your knees slightly. Set this as a fixed angle.

Hinging from the hips, let the barbell or dumbbells slide down along your legs until it is just below your knees. As you do this keep your chest proud and your spine straight. You should feel this exercise in your hamstrings, not your lower back.

As you reach the bottom of the movement, slowly exhale as you use your glutes and hamstrings to push through your heels, straightening your knees and standing up tall to return to your starting position. 

The barbell or dumbbells should stay in contact with the front of your legs throughout the movement. 

Pull-up alternatives

Pull-ups are a challenging upper body exercise that builds strength primarily in your lats. It will also strengthen your biceps, rhomboids, traps, and forearms. While this is a great exercise, it can be challenging to master for beginners. 

Make it easier with renegade rows

Renegade rows are an easier exercise to master than pull-ups, and you can set the weight to whatever suits your training experience. You will need a set of dumbbells to perform this exercise.

Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand. Place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders, with your legs extended out behind you in a plank position. If you need, you can also do this exercise with your knees on the ground.

Lift your right hand and dumbbell off the ground, bending your elbow as you bring the dumbbell in toward you. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do this, and engage your abdominal muscles. Your hips should not rotate as you move, and should remain parallel with the floor. 

Return your right hand to the floor, and repeat this movement on the left side. 

Make it harder with weighted pull-ups

If you have well and truly mastered the art of pull-ups, then you may be ready to move on to weighted pull-ups. Note that you should only try to progress your pull-ups once you can confidently perform multiple reps of a bodyweight pull-up.

To perform a weighted pull-up, you can hold a dumbbell or a medicine ball in between your feet as you come up. This can be tricky to hold onto, so if you have access to a dip belt, you can use this to hang the weight from your body without having to use your feet as you move.

Change it up with dumbbell pullovers

An alternative exercise to pull ups is a straight-arm dumbbell pullover. This movement is performed with a bench and a dumbbell.

This exercise primarily works your triceps and lats.

Start by lying down flat on a bench with a dumbbell in both hands. Your feet should be planted firmly on the ground or alternatively up on the bench. 

Straighten your elbows so that your arms are extended straight in the air above your chest. This is your starting position. 

Inhale, and lower the dumbbell back over your head without changing the angle of your elbows. Continue this movement until your upper arms are in line with your ears.

Exhale and bring the dumbbell back up to the starting position, keeping your arms straight throughout the movement.

Sled push alternatives

Sled pushes are a strength-building exercise that is performed with a weighted sled. It works your entire body, including your legs, arms, core and shoulders. While this is a great strength-building movement, most people don’t own a sled — making this hard to perform at home.

Make it easier with a farmer’s walk

If you find conventional sled pushes too difficult for your strength level, you can build up to them by substituting them for farmer’s walks. The farmer’s walk is a strength training exercise that builds strength throughout your whole body, including your upper body, lower body and core. 

To do the farmer’s walk, you’ll need a set of dumbbells or kettlebells. Start with your feet planted on the ground hip-width apart, with your dumbbells placed either side of your feet on the ground.

Inhale. Hinge from your hips and bend your knees to pick up the weights, keeping your back straight. Engage your core and push evenly through your feet as you lift up the weights. At the top of the movement you should be upright with a weight in either hand.

Roll your shoulders back and down and keep your core engaged as you take small steps forward to perform the walk. Keep your grip tight on your weights as you move.

Make it harder with overhead walking lunges

Typical walking lunges primarily work your glutes and quads, but by adding an overhead weight you can make this a full-body exercise. 

Start by holding a weight plate or dumbbell with both hands above your head, and plant both feet on the floor at about shoulder-width apart. 

Inhale, and step forward with your right foot. Bend your knees so they are both at about a 90-degree angle, and your back knee is hovering just above the floor. Your front knee should be in line with your front ankle.

Exhale, and push through your feet to straighten your legs. Inhale, and take a step forward with your left foot, repeating the same position you just did but on the opposite side. Continue this walking lunge pattern for the specified number of reps. 

Change it up with uphill sprints

If you want to try something different to sled pushes at home, you can do uphill sprints. All you need to perform this exercise is a steep hill. 

Simply run up the hill as fast as you can, and walk back down. You can replace the run up the hill as a length of pushing the sled.

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Keep motivated to work out at home

You should never feel disheartened if you have to substitute exercises — whether that’s because of lack of equipment, because the exercises are too challenging, or even because they’re too easy.

If you’re trying to get stronger and fitter with strength training at home, there are always substitutes you can make to suit your preferences — the Sweat app has a range of alternatives depending on the equipment you have available and your needs. Ensuring your workouts are tailored to you can help with staying motivated while working out at home.

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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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