Exercise Substitution Guide For Common Complaints

By Asha

The Rise of Online Workouts

Online workouts are awesome! Quick, convenient, 24 hour access and all from the comfort of your own home… what is not to love?

Training at home is not without some draws backs however. Aside from issues in finding motivation or time away from your ‘home schooled’ children, injuries, stability or mobility issues or movement dysfunction may make some exercises unsuitable. 

In this blog we unpack a range of joints in the human body that can be problematic during training.  We will be offering up great substitute exercises that can be used whenever an unsuitable exercise is given during live streams or recorded workouts. The exercises are listed to give you alternates that work the same muscles, however it is important that if you ever feel pain or discomfort you stop and make suitable adjustments!

Everyone’s body is different! If you are experiencing issues with a particular movement pattern it is important that you see an appropriate healthcare professional to have the issue accurately diagnosed and treated. We always promote investing time in your wellbeing with a proper diagnosis and treatment of injuries or movement issues- this is the best way to ensure the fastest road to a full recovery.

Disclaimer: Not all exercises listed will be suitable for all of you. Assess what positions or movements work best and choose accordingly. 



The following exercises are lower body substitutes that take the strain off your knees and promote working through your lower body without experiencing knee pain.

  • Glute bridging (single or double leg)
  • Seated or standing abductions (single or double leg)
  • Side lying leg raise – hold a weight against top thigh to increase resistance
  • Banded donkey kicks
  • Banded fire hydrants
  • Monster walks
  • Seated single leg extension with resistance band
  • Front lying froggy pumps (lie on a bench or bed for great ROM)
  • Calf raises (single or double leg)
  • RDL (single or double leg)



The following exercises are useful substitutes for if you experience hip tightening or overworking, issues with glute activation that cause your hips to overwork, pain through your hip joints or issues with accessing a full range of movement. 

  • Clams
  • Side lying leg raise
  • Side lying leg sweep
  • Banded donkey kicks
  • Banded fire hydrants
  • Glute bridging (single or double leg)
  • Static lunges
  • FFE split squat
  • Bulgarian split squat 


The following substitutes should be used if you experience pain or insufficient range of movement when performing overhead exercises and to take pressure off the shoulder joint whilst still being able to work your upper body effectively.

  • Lying overhead reach with light dumbbells
  • Reverse fly (chest supported)
  • Supine Y raise
  • Light banded ext. rotation at 90 degrees
  • Banded box pulls
  • Banded high pulls
  • Reduced ROM shoulder press at 45 degree angle. 
  • Negative push ups (add a band to increase resistance) 
  • Reverse tricep extension
  • Side plank variations


The following exercises should be substituted for ones that cause irritation, over working of neck muscles, pain and aching down into your traps or any other discomfort from holding your head stiff or still. 

  • Chest supported reverse fly
  • Chest supported Y raise
  • Polar bear press
  • Single arm shoulder press. Elbows at a 45 degree angle – in a triangle position.
  • Standing banded row
  • Standing banded chest press


The following exercises should be used to take the strain off your lower back while promoting effective engagement through core and glutes to help prevent or rehab issues with tightness and overuse.

  • Glute bridges (single or double leg)
  • Seated/standing banded abductions
  • Toe taps (legs at 90 degrees)
  • Side lying leg raise, clams, leg sweeps and kicks.
  • Banded fire hydrants and donkey kicks
  • Static lunges
  • Side plank variations
  • Standing straight arm banded push down. Tuck pelvis, draw in belly button, push band from shoulder height to hips.
  • Supine banded pull over. Band attached at a low height behind your head, feet planted, arms pull the band from behind the head towards hips. 



The following exercises are substitutes for when you experience pain, irritation or inflammation through your wrists and forearms and are unable to bear load through them without experiencing pain.

  • Forearm plank toe taps
  • Dolphin planks
  • Forearm plank with alternate arm raise
  • DB tricep extension w rotation (effective with a lighter load 2-3kg)
  • See saw press (effective with a lighter load, wrists remain straight)
  • Forearm reverse plank
  • Forearm reverse mountain climbers


The following exercises are good to substitute in when you are experiencing issues with grip strength, forearm pain or ailments like carpal tunnel or arthritis in fingers and hands. Practice racking DBs and KBs onto your shoulders so you only need to have a supportive hand on them and not need to hold the entire weight. 

  • Push up variations – tricep, negatives, conventional or wide.
  • Commandos
  • Front to side raise with light DBs
  • Banded lat pull down
  • Standing straight arm banded push down (tuck pelvis, draw in belly button)
  • Lying plate press
  • Lying plate flys – keeping wrists straight. 
  • Banded pull aparts (band across back of the hands between thumb and index finger)
  • Superman extension
  • Supine Y raise
  • Plank variations – dolphin, shoulder taps, see saw, toe taps etc.

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Our founder

Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.

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