Alternative Exercises for the Moves You Hate Most

Your best friend is a burpee devotee. She regularly hypes the move for its all-over muscle-building power and has been begging you to give it a shot by trying a four-week burpee challenge. You finally decide to see what the fuss is all about, but after the first day and just five burpees, you can't imagine ever having to run through the motion again. In time, you try other things, finally coming to the conclusion that this popular plyometric move just isn't for you, but other bodyweight strength moves feel like a perfect match. As the old saying goes, "Different strokes for different folks."

Developing a workout routine you enjoy can be a process of trial and error. Oftentimes, it can be a long process. Most people try a variety of activities and find that there are some they like, and some they definitely do not. Certain exercises (both moves and specific workouts) have developed a reputation of being fundamental to any challenging and well-rounded workout routine, though. Does that mean you have to struggle through even though you dread them, just because they are exercises you think you should be doing?

Certainly not! The good news is that if you don't like burpees or if pushups give you painful gym class flashbacks, there are plenty of alternative moves designed to target the very same muscles in the same way.
 

9 Exercises We Love to Hate


1. Mountain climbers

This classic heart-rate-boosting move is a challenge, especially if you have difficulty getting up and down from the floor. Standing versions can still get your heart rate up effectively while putting less pressure on your arms and wrists. Elevating your heart rate to a comparable level is what matters most when finding alternatives for this exercise.  

Alternatives: high knees, standing mountain climbers, jumping jacks

2. Running

Running is often viewed as the gold standard when it comes to cardio exercise, primarily because it requires no equipment and burns a lot of calories in a short period of time. Whether you've tried running and just don't like it, your knees say "No, thank you," or you'd prefer only to run when being chased by a grizzly bear, rest assured that there are lots of other cardio options out there. Try an activity that's a little more low-impact, or something like kickboxing if you want to stick with a high-impact challenge. 

Alternatives: swimming, biking, kickboxing

3. Planks

Planks are an effective core exercise because they work your muscles in the way that you actually use them in everyday life. However, they can be quite challenging and frustrating if you can only hold the position for a few seconds before your arms give out. Lucky for you, there are so many variations of this powerhouse move that you might not need to cut the plank out completely—just experiment until you find the right variation that works for you. If you really want to make planks a part of your routine, try planks on your elbows or with knees down, add breaks in between or slowly increase your time each week. If none of those ideas sound appealing, though, rest assured that there are different exercises you can try instead.

Alternatives: boat pose, dolphin pose, lying straight leg lowers 
4. Burpees

Ah, burpees, one of those exercise that most everyone loves to hate. It's not necessarily because you can't do them, either, but rather because they are hard and take you out of your comfort zone. Remember that exercise is supposed to be a challenge, so it's important to do your best not to shy away from something just because it's difficult. It's easy to fall into a cozy routine, but stepping out of that routine to push yourself is when change and improvement happens. The burpee is a great way to work many of your major muscles while increasing your heart rate. Best of all, there are beginner versions (step the feet back, no jump at the top of the movement) all the way up to super advanced (use dumbbells, add a pushup, tuck jump at the top) so it's a great way to gauge your fitness progress. However, if you're not warming up to the idea of joining the office burpee challenge, here are a few exercises you can try instead.

Alternatives: skaters, modified burpees, squat thrusts

5. Lunges

Some people aren't comfortable with the balance challenge of the split-leg position of a traditional lunge or just don't like how their body feels while doing them. If lunges aren't for you, find another exercise that targets the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. There are a wide variety of squat options which also work the same muscles effectively.

Alternatives: step-ups, deadlifts, wall sits

6. Pushups

While they target multiple muscle groups at once and can give you the chiseled arms of your dreams, pushups aren't for everyone. They put pressure on the wrists, and, let's face it, they are really hard! Whether you want to work up to a traditional pushup with different exercises or want to avoid them forever, there are many options from which to choose.

Alternatives: bear crawls, chest flys, up-down planks

7. Jump Squats

The primary purpose of a jump squat is to get your heart rate up quickly and condition your body for explosive movements. Other plyometric exercises serve the same purpose, so if jump squats aren't for you, try another jumping exercise like jumping lunges or box jumps. Not ready or not interested in jumping? Other lower-impact alternatives can still get your heart pumping and your muscles working hard.    

Alternatives: squats with knee lift, burpees, plank jacks 

8. Pullups

Pullups aren't just for the ultra-fit. In fact, anyone can progress to a pullup if it's one of their fitness goals, but it does take consistency and determination. If you'd rather leave the pullups for your kids playing on the monkey bars, other exercises that target your lats, upper back, biceps and forearms will substitute nicely. Keep in mind that because pullups work all of those muscles at once, you might need to substitute a few exercises (such as the three below) to target all of those same muscles effectively.   

Alternatives: renegade rows, preacher curls, inverted rows

9. Spinning

If you're not into the idea of exercising with a group of like-minded sweaters in a loud room, spinning might not be the activity for you. While some people are motivated by working out in a group where someone else picks the music and tells them what to do and when, others prefer that their workouts be a solitary experience, a time to be alone with their thoughts and their favorite playlist. If spinning and other group fitness classes aren't your thing, try getting outside for a solo workout in the fresh air or hop on a new piece of cardio equipment at the gym that looks interesting.

Alternatives: outdoor biking, elliptical, HIIT

Whether you're a fan of heavy weights, long runs, plyometrics or high-intensity intervals, the best activities to help with weight loss and improve your fitness level are the ones you truly enjoy. Exercise is never going to feel easy, but if you pick activities and exercise moves that you like, you'll continue coming back and will keep up with your routine consistently. Never do exercises because you "think you should" because you won't stick with something long-term if you hate it.

For every exercise out there, you'll find someone who loves it and someone who dreads it. For every exercise out there, you'll also find numerous alternatives, though, so don't be afraid to try something new. Having preferences is what makes each of us unique, so get creative and embrace your workout preferences instead of fighting them.   

 
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Member Comments

DRAGONFLY631
Thanks for the ideas. Report
Good article
Report
interesting article and comments Report
Thanks for the ideas! Report
I dread push ups. Everytime I come up, my right elbow pops. The only way to alleviate the popping is to have a wider stance, which makes the push up even more difficult. Good to learn of some alternatives. Thank you! Report
I hate burpees! Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks Report
Great Report
Great ideas! Report
Great suggestions Report
Great alternatives. Thanks Report
How about side crunches? Where you lie on one side, and crunch between shoulders and hips, raising your legs and upper torso but keeping hips and waist on the ground? They work the obliques, but my exercise partner has trouble with them.

And reverse push ups? I seem to have VERY little range of motion doing those. What would sub for them and help strengthen the same group of muscles? Report
Sometimes, we need to challenge ourselves, SparkFriends. There will always be something we don't like that makes us better and stronger Report
So glad to find an alternative to pull ups! Report


 

About The Author

Jen Mueller
Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist, behavior change specialist and functional training specialist. She is also a RRCA-certified running coach. See all of Jen's articles.