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A woman doing a modified pushup at home.

It’s no secret to most that exercise can support weight loss, build lean mass, and help lower the risk of many diseases, such as diabetes and heart conditions. However, if not done properly, exercise can also cause injury — leading to discomfort, frustration, and setbacks in your training.

From working with 40,000-plus clients in Life Time’s suite of new digital weight-loss programs, there has been a common theme of movements that either cause people pain or invokes a feeling of hesitancy to try. Below are the top three exercises we see clients struggle with, with guidance for how to modify each of them to build up to the main exercise, as well as advice for how to create challenge once you’ve nailed the original.

Pushups

Pushups are a great total-body movement. Though they mainly activate muscles in your arms, shoulders, and chest, they also engage muscles in your core and legs.

How to Build Up

Wall Pushup

  • Start with your feet and legs shoulder width apart, standing about two feet from a wall with your arms straight out in front of you. Place your palms on the wall at about shoulder-level height, a little outside of shoulder width apart, with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling.
  • Bend your elbows and begin to bring your body toward the wall until your nose almost touches it. Ensure your back and hips stay straight (like as if in a plank position).
  • Push back to the starting position. Repeat.

Incline Pushup

  • Start with your feet and legs shoulder width apart, standing about two feet from an elevated surface, such as a bench or a box, with your arms out straight in front of you. Place your palms on the surface at about shoulder-level height, a little outside of shoulder width apart, with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling.
  • Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows at a 45-degree angle from the side of your hips.
  • Lower your body, trying to get your chest close to (or touching) the bench or box.
  • Push back to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Note: The higher the surface, the easier the move will be. Choose a lower surface for yourself as you feel you’re progressing.

Eccentric Pushup

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands a little wider than shoulder width and your feet placed just outside your hips.
  • “Eccentric” is the lowering phase of a movement. Your goal is to lower your body all the way down to the ground as slowly as you can (five seconds is a good goal).
  • When lowering, keep your body in a straight line, with your elbows at a 45-degree angle from the side of your hips.
  • Once you reach the ground, feel free to drop to your knees to push back up before repeating again.

Once you’ve mastered pushups (a good barometer is when you can comfortably do 10-plus reps with minimal effort), give one of the challenge variations below a try.

How to Create Challenge

Deficit Pushup

  • Place your hands on two stable, elevated surfaces of the same height. The higher the surface, the harder the exercise will be. If you’re new to deficit pushups, start with a low surface — you can increase the height over time. For a surface, you can use bumper plates, boxes, or heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. Having elevated surfaces of varying heights can also add a challenge here.
  • Put your hands on the surfaces, with your shoulders over your wrists and arms straight.
  • Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle and lower your chest to go lower than the elevated surfaces.
  • Push into the floor to return to the starting position, extending your elbows. Repeat.

Decline Pushup

  • Place your feet on a stable, elevated surface. The higher the surface, the harder the exercise will be. If you’re new to decline pushups, start with a low surface — you can increase the height over time. For a surface, you can use a bumper plate, a bench, or box.
  • Put your hands on the floor, with your shoulders over your wrists and arms straight.
  • Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle and lower your chest to the floor.
  • Push into the floor to return to the starting position, extending your elbows. Repeat.

Band Resisted Pushup

  • Place a resistance band around your back, just under your armpits, and loop the band through the palm of your hands. Make sure to place your hands securely on the ground to limit band movement.
  • Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle from the side of your hips. Lower your body, trying to get your chest close to (or touching) the ground.
  • Push back up, fully extending your arms (this should be the hardest part). Repeat.

Lunges

Not only are lunges good for building your legs and glutes, but they can also improve your balance, stability, and mobility.

How to Build Up

First things first: A lunge technically requires your leg to travel (forwards, backwards, or to the side). If you experience pain doing a forward lunge, an easy first solution is to remove the forward step (like in the case of a split squat) so you’re not decelerating, which takes pressure off your knees and joints.

Suspension-Supported Reverse Lunge

  • Ensure that your suspension system (such as a TRX) is set up properly. Hold a handle in each hand and step away from the anchor until the bands are in line with your forearms. Your feet will be about shoulder width apart and your arms will be at the sides of the body with a 90-degree bend in the elbow.
  • From standing, take a step backward with one leg so that you create a 90-degree angle in the front and back knees. Your arms will lift slightly and elbows will extend as you perform the movement.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat. You can stay on one side or alternate sides (depending on what your workout plan asks for).

Hand-Supported Lunge

  • Find a surface you can stand next to and comfortably place your hand on without having to bend over or lean.
  • Start with your feet about shoulder width apart, keeping your hand on the supportive surface.
  • From standing, take a step forward (or backward) with one leg so that you create a 90-degree angle in the front and back knees. Use the supportive surface as much as needed while trying to keep your chest up.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat. You can stay on one side or alternate sides (depending on what your workout plan asks for).

Stationary Lunge

  • Start with your feet hip width apart. Take one big step forward (or backward).
  • You should be in a wide, staggered stance. Your feet won’t move until the reps are completed on one side.
  • Lower your back knee down so that you create a 90-degree angle in the front and back knees.
  • Return to the staggered stance. Repeat.

Once you feel comfortable with a forward lunge (being able to complete 10 lunges on one side, pain free), consider trying one of the challenge options below.

How to Create Challenge

Offset Weight Lunge

  • Grab a weight (a dumbbell or kettlebell works) in one hand. You can hold it to your side or on your shoulder. Let your other arm hang down at your side.
  • Start with your feet about shoulder width apart. From standing, take a step forward with one leg so that you create a 90-degree angle in the front and back knees.
  • Depending on what the workout calls for, you will continue to lunge forward (walking lunge) or push back to the standing position, alternating which leg lunges.
  • Complete reps with the weight on one side, then switch arms and legs and complete reps on opposite side.

Plyometric Lunge

  • Start with your feet hip width apart. Take one big step forward (or backward). You should be in a wide, staggered stance.
  • Lower your body down, creating a 90-degree angle in the front and back knees. As soon as you reach this point, explode back up as high as you can off the ground.
  • Land softly on your feet with a bend in your knees, immediately drop back down into a lunge, and explode back up.
  • Depending on what your workout plan calls for, you will either repeat on the same side until the reps are achieved or alternate your legs.

Back Foot Elevated Lunge

  • Begin by standing a few feet in front of a step and reach one foot back so your toes are on the surface. (Bumper plates or a short box are great step surfaces to start with. Keeping the surface lower then knee height is best.) You should be in a wide, staggered stance. Your feet won’t move until the reps are completed on one side.
  • Keeping your chest up slightly, lower your back knee down toward the ground. The elevation may create more than a 90-degree angle in the knees (which is why this movement is more challenging).
  • Complete reps with the weight on one side, then switch arms and legs and complete reps on opposite side.

V-Ups

V-ups aren’t as familiar to most people as pushups and lunges, but are a common core movement. You begin by lying flat on your back with your arms reached overhead and legs out straight before lifting your legs and arms at the same time to meet in the middle above your stomach, making a “v” shape.

This full-body move works your core, legs, and back, and challenges your flexibility, mobility, and coordination.

How to Build Up

Bicycle Crunch

  • Lie on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor, hip width apart. Place your hands lightly behind your ears (not pulling on your head), pointing your elbows outward.
  • Lift your knees to a 90-degree angle so your shins are parallel with the floor and raise your upper body, looking at your belly button. This is your starting position.
  • Begin by moving your right elbow and left knee toward each other as you simultaneously straighten your right leg. Hold for one second. Return to the starting position.
  • Next, move your left elbow and right knee toward each other as you simultaneously straighten your left leg. Continue to repeat, alternating sides.

Alternating Leg V-Ups

  • Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead and legs out straight.
  • Start by lifting one leg straight up while simultaneously raising your upper body and straight arms off the floor.
  • Your leg and arms should meet above your belly button.
  • Gently lower back down to the starting position. Raise the opposite leg and repeat with the opposite arm.

Bent Knee V-Ups

  • Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead, legs bent, and feet on the floor.
  • Start by lifting both bent legs up while simultaneously raising your upper body and straight arms off the floor.
  • Your legs and arms should meet above your belly button.
  • Gently lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.

Once you feel strong and balanced with 15 v-ups, try one of the challenge exercises below to really feel your core work.

How to Create Challenge

Banded V-Ups

  • Securely attach a resistance band to a surface two to four inches above the ground. Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead, grabbing the band handles and extending your legs out straight.
  • Start by lifting both straight legs up while simultaneously raising your upper body off the floor, pulling the bands with you.
  • Your legs and arms should meet above your belly button. (This should also be the point at which the band is the tightest and resisting you the most.)
  • Gently lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.

Tempo V-Ups

  • Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead, legs bent, and feet on the floor.
  • Tempo is how fast or slow you perform a movement — you can add challenge by going slower up or down or both.
  • Start by lifting both bent legs up while simultaneously raising your upper body off the floor.
  • Your legs and arms should meet above your belly button.
  • Gently lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.

Weighted V-Ups

  • Securely hold a weight (such as a plate, medicine ball, or dumbbell) overhead or at your chest.
  • Start by lifting both straight legs up while simultaneously raising your upper body off the floor, bringing the weight with you.
  • Your legs and arms should meet above your belly button.
  • Gently lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Training Facebook group.

Lindsay
Lindsay Ogden, CPT

Lindsay Ogden is a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and is the digital manager for content and coaching at Life Time. She’s known to many as “Coach Lo” and believes sustainable health is an ongoing process and that finding joy in your daily habits yields the best long-term results.

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