The Guide to Male Lifestyle in Las Vegas

How to Substitute for Exercises Where You Lack the Equipment

February 6, 2015

Getting the most out of your workout sessions requires following a program. Whether your program is something you made up yourself, something provided for you by a certified personal trainer, or a free online training schedule such as the ones posted at bodybuilding.com, a well-rounded list of training exercises will help you work various muscle groups in tandem and provide overall better toning and strength development.

Whether you work out in a local gym or with a weight set in your own home, you may find that while following someone else’s program they may specify exercises that you can’t do exactly as shown, simply because you or your gym lack the equipment required to do the exercise the way shown in your program. Skipping the exercise may be the first solution to come to mind, but this is actually detrimental to your fitness progress. Instead, you should do a compatible exercise with the equipment available, and here’s how.

Strength and toning exercises are already two separate categories, but they can also be further broken down and labeled as “pushing” and “pulling” exercises, regardless of whether you’re working the arms or the legs. To find a suitable replacement for an exercise, you must research the muscles targeted by the exercise you can’t do, and then search for a replacement exercise from the same muscle group. This is actually quite a bit easier than it sounds given the vast resources available on the internet these days.

One of the best places to find strength and toning exercises grouped by body part and muscle group is ExRx.net. Though their Exercise & Muscle Directory may not be much to look at, the information is complete, thorough, and yet concise and accurate. So if you’re looking to replace an exercise that targets the triceps, simply go to the Triceps Brachii exercise section. Exercises are broken down by the equipment (or lack of) required for each. In this example you would simply do another triceps exercise. To match an “undoable” exercise even more closely, make sure that your replacement exercise matches in pushing or pulling, and also activates a close number of stabilizing (or “other”) muscles.

Now for a couple of examples of exercise swaps I made in my current plan. As I said previously I’m following the Lean Body Trainer program at bodybuilding.com by Lee Labrada. This is a basic but solid workout program that targets different muscle groups every day, and also features 2-2.5 hours of cardio a weak to help carve a leaner torso. After just a month I am definitely seeing gains in my chest, shoulders, arms, and thighs, and my belly is flattening, spreading and firming up. That’s not to say that I’ve given up on my calves, but I’m realistic.

Here is a leg and ab workout I did this week. I work out at home with equipment I’ve purchased, including essentials such as an adjustable weight bench, an Olympic weight set, dumbbells within my strength range and an Iron Gym pull-up bar. (I also just bought a new elliptical for challenging cardio that doesn’t ruin the knees.) This workout calls for some exercises for which I don’t have the equipment, namely the Seated Leg Curls and the Seated Calf Raises. For me, replacing the Seated Leg Curl exercise is easy; my adjustable weight bench includes a leg extension. So instead, I’ll turn around on the bench and do Lying Leg Curls. The Seated Calf Raise is a bit harder to replace. While it’s merely a toning exercise, which makes skipping it altogether tempting, I refuse to give up on my little chicken calves. The natural replacement for lack of equipment would be the Standing Calf Raise. However, that’s actually the NEXT exercise in my program list, so I need yet another calf toner. This is when I go to ExRx.net and navigate to the calf exercises. Unfortunately most of the other exercises listed are variations on the Standing Calf Raise. The one exercise that stands out is the Single Leg Forward Angled Calf Raise. I did these instead of the Seated Calf Raise while leaning on the back of a stable chair, and I really liked them. Bonus points, I think, for full flex of the foot in both directions, forcing me to work the calf both ways. This was a risk, but ended up being a great substitution.

A couple days later it was time to work the back and biceps. The two exercises I can’t do correctly for lack of equipment here are the Underhand Lat Pulldowns and the Preacher Curl. The great thing about bodybuilding.com is that most of the exercises are demonstrated with short videos. After watching the video, I realized what the best substitution was: Underhand Chin-ups from my hanging bar. Same muscle groups (the Lats), same stabilizers, same exercise action (pulling), just with bodyweight. To replace the Preacher Curls I actually chose an exercise I found while doing another program at bodybuilding.com, the Seated Close-grip Concentration Barbell Curl. Both exercises tackle the same muscle (biceps) with the same motion (pulling) with the upper arms raised at chest level; the concentration curl simply has you pointed downward.

Need to replace an exercise? If my tips and methods above aren’t clear enough or you’re really stumped and out of online resources, feel free to post the exercise you want to replace in the comments. Have a great weekend, and grind!

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