Pushups, Lunges & Squats Too Hard? Try These Gentle Modifications Instead

avatarJennifer Dene

If you’d like to feel stronger but find push-ups, squats, and lunges a bit too much, try these gentle modified versions instead.

Strength training can feel daunting when you’re first starting out, and doing advanced exercises that you’re not ready for can both increase your risk of injury and discourage you from sticking to it.

When you do these modified exercises, you’ll increase strength and maintain proper form, all while boosting your confidence and reaping the benefits of lean muscle mass.

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Grab your water bottle and join me for these nine easy variations of push-ups, squats, and lunges that will have you feeling fit and strong in no time! You’ll need a wall, a stable chair or step, a pillow, and a resistance band.

Here’s How To Do This Workout:

  1. Start with the first exercise in the first category.
  2. Rest for 60 seconds.
  3. If that exercise felt challenging, repeat the same exercise for two more sets, resting for 60 seconds in between.
  4. If you’re ready to advance, complete the second exercise in the series for the recommended number of reps.
  5. If the second exercise was challenging, repeat it one more time. Or, move on to complete the third and final exercise.
  6. Repeat with the remaining categories.

Once you are familiar and comfortable with all of these exercises, you can do them in any order that you like! Complete three sets of push-ups, three sets of lunges, and three sets of squats, with 60 seconds rest between sets.

Push-ups Modifications

Why modify push-ups? Traditional push-ups are performed from a plank position and require strength and stability in your chest, shoulders, arms, core, and even your legs. Take off some of that load with these progressions.

Wall Push-up | 12 reps


This modified push-up position strengthens the arms and mid-back while providing a nice chest stretch. It is suitable for all levels.

  1. Place your hands on a wall at shoulder height. Step back until your arms are outstretched. Engage your abs and squeeze your buttocks.
  2. On an inhale, bend the elbows to 90 degrees, bringing your chest towards the wall.
  3. Exhale to straighten the elbows to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 12 reps.

Incline Push-up | 10 reps


The incline helps to decrease the range-of-motion, so you can work the chest, shoulders, mid-back, and abs without too much resistance.

  1. Place your hands on a raised surface, such as a bench, couch arm, or stable chair. Step your feet back so you are in a modified plank position. Engage your abs and squeeze your buttocks.
  2. On an inhale, bend the elbows to 90 degrees, bringing your chest towards the incline.
  3. Exhale to straighten the elbows to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.

Knee Push-ups | 8 reps


This is the most challenging push-up modification, so be sure to keep your core engaged to protect your back. You can place a folded blanket under your knees for padding.

  1. Start in a plank position with wrists under shoulders and the knees down on the mat. Engage your abs and squeeze your buttocks.
  2. On an inhale, bend the elbows and lower your body halfway to the floor. Keep the elbows close to the ribcage.
  3. Exhale to straighten back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 8 reps.

Lunge Modifications

Why modify lunges? Traditional lunges require upper body stability and balance, as well as lower mobility and strength. These modifications will help you conquer the lunge!

Back Lunge | 12 reps


A front lunge or walking lunge puts a great deal of impact on the knees and requires more core balance and quadriceps strength. The back lunge is a lot easier, helping to tone your legs and butt while being gentle on the knees.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips or out to the side for balance.
  2. On an inhale, step the right foot back and bend both knees to 90 degrees. Distribute your weight equally between both feet.
  3. Exhale to step the right foot up to return to the starting position. Squeeze your buttocks throughout the movement.
  4. Repeat with the left leg, then continue alternating legs for 12 full reps.

Tip: You can always grab onto a wall for balance if needed.

Step Ups | 10 reps


This functional exercise strengthens your quadriceps at the front of the thighs, getting the right muscles ready for lunges.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of an elevated platform, like a low step, ledge, or chair.
  2. Set your right foot on the step. On an exhale, push through the right heel and bring your left foot to meet your right.
  3. Inhale to slowly lower the left foot to the floor first, followed by the right.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps, alternating the starting leg each time.

Static Lunge Pulse | 3 sets of 15 reps


These leg strengtheners teach your body to do a correct lunge position without the challenge of moving your feet!

  1. Stand with your feet staggered and hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips or out to the side for balance.
  2. Bend both knees to 90 degrees and evenly distribute your weight between both feet.
  3. Breathe with short, sharp exhales as you slowly pulse up-and-down 15 times. Move about one-inch per pulse.
  4. Repeat with the other leg in front.
  5. Repeat 3 sets of 15 pulses on each leg.

Joint pain tip: if your knees feel tender during these movements, you can straighten them slightly.

Squat Modifications

Why modify squats? Squats are great for strengthening the glutes, which help support the low back and core, and reduces pressure on the knees and ankles during everyday movements. However, incorrectly performed squats can lead to low-back and knee pain. These functional modifications will help you build your backside strength safely and efficiently.

Pelvic Bridges | 15 reps


This Pilates-based exercise directly targets your glute muscles while stretching the front of the thighs. When you’re ready to increase the challenge, try this exercise on a single leg.

  1. Start lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart. Place a pillow between your knees. Squeeze your buttocks and the pillow.
  2. On an exhale, press the hips up to the ceiling.
  3. Inhale, slowly lower the hips to the floor.
  4. Repeat for 15 reps.

Chair Sit-To-Stand | 10 reps


You stand up from a chair every day, but are you doing it correctly? Learning to use the right muscles to stand up from a seated position is an essential but overlooked functional exercise.

  1. Sit tall on the front edge of a chair. Place your feet hip-width apart.
  2. On an exhale, squeeze your buttocks and stand up.
  3. Inhale to stay standing, but relax your muscles. Then exhale to squeeze your buttocks again and slowly return to seated.
  4. Inhale, relax your muscles completely before repeating this exercise.
  5. Repeat for 10 reps.

Resistance Band Supported Squat | 8 reps


It can be challenging to find the correct squat position if you have tight ankles, but a resistance band provides the perfect support. Focus on your alignment as you strengthen your legs.

  1. Loop a resistance band around a pole or stable support. Hold one strap in each hand and step back to create tension in the band. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. On an inhale, sit your hips back and down to a squat position. Keep the tail untucked.
  3. Exhale to squeeze your buttocks and stand back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 8 reps.

Joint pain tip: Keep more weight in the heel of the foot rather than the toes, and visualize your buttocks tightening to move your body up and down.


Your Next Workout: 10 Easy vs Advanced Yoga Modifications

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