Exercise Substitution List

Hey, you know how I said in my last email to you that getting a tan helps you look better?

Well, I posted a comparison shot of my abs with and without a tan on the TT Fanpage here:

=> http://www.TurbulenceTrainingFanpage.com

What do you think? The tan makes me look leaner, right?

After you’ve taken a look, c’mon back, because I have good news and bad news for you today.

Don’t worry…I’ll wait right here for you!

OK, so first, the bad news.

The truth is that sometimes you just won’t have the equipment, space, or strength to do some exercises in Turbulence Training.

Fortunately, there’s GREAT news about that, which I realized last week while writing up a new exercise column for Men’s Health magazine.

And the GREAT news is this:

Almost every single TT exercise can be substituted by an equally amazing exercise from my repertoire.

So let’s go through a huge list of exercise substitutions. This will be perfect for you to print out and keep with your TT program or in your workout area.

The Exercise Substitutions

This list will make your life a lot easier…

1) To replace Squats, you can do:

1-leg hip extensions
Deep Step-ups
Split squats
Reverse lunges
Forward lunges
Bulgarian split squats (with back foot elevated on a bench)
Reaching lunges
1-leg deadlifts
1-leg squats (use bands or straps for assistance if necessary)
1-leg squats standing on a bench

2) To replace Deadlifts:

The only “direct replacement” is dumbbell squats.

Otherwise, just replace deadlifts with a superset pairing of any lower body exercise paired with a row.

For example:

Barbell lunge supersetted with a DB row
Stability Ball Leg Curl supersetted with Inverted Row

3) If you have sore knees and need to replace lunges:

First, see a doctor and have them diagnose the problem. Second, see a therapist and have them treat the issue. Third, see a trainer and have them assess where you need to work on flexibility and how you can include some “knee-friendly” exercises in your workout program.

These exercises include:

Lying Hip Extensions (also known as Lying Hip Bridges)
1-leg Hip Extensions
Lying Hip Extensions with your feet on the ball
Stability Ball Leg Curls

4) To replace Bench Presses or Dumbbell Chest Presses (of any kind), you can do one of these:

Close-grip pushups
Decline pushup
Elevated pushups
Off-set pushups
Pushups with your feet on the ball
Pushups with your hands on the ball
Pushups with your feet on the ball and hands on the bench
Suspended strap pushups
Spiderman pushups
Spiderman climb pushups
Pike pushups
Decline close-grip spiderman pushups

By the way, if you have dumbbells but no bench, you can replace flat dumbbell bench presses by lying on the floor. And you can replace incline dumbbell presses with standing 1-arm dumbbell shoulder presses.

5) To replace any kind of row, here are alternatives:

Dumbbell rows
Dumbbell rows with elbows out
Dumbbell chest supported rows
Barbell rows
Inverted rows
Underhand grip rows
Seated cable rows
Renegade Rows (with flat dumbbells or kettlebells)
Dumbbell rear deltoid raises
Rows with TRX or blast straps
Chin-ups (these are done with an underhand grip)
Eccentric chin-ups
Sternum chin-ups
V-grip chin-ups
Pull-ups (these are done with an overhand grip)
Eccentric pull-ups
Sternum pull-ups

And in place of pull-ups or chin-ups, you can do:

Dumbbell rows
Dumbbell pullovers
Underhand grip pulldowns (kneeling) – replaces chin-ups
Overhand grip pulldowns (kneeling) – replace pull-ups
Assisted chinups/pull-ups using machine

However, if you have absolutely no equipment (i.e. no dumbbells, no barbell, no cables, no straps, and no bar) then unfortunately there is no way to train your upper back. The best you can do is to add a lot of prisoner squats, prisoner lunges, stick-ups, and WYT’s to your bodyweight program.

6) To replace dips, you can do:

Any version of close-grip pushups
Dumbbell floor presses
Dumbbell close-grip presses
Close-grip bench press

7) To replace dumbbell split squats, you can do:

1-leg lying hip extensions
Bulgarian split squats (use higher reps or the 1 & 1/4 rep method)
Split squats with your front foot elevated 4-6 inches
1-leg deadlifts
1-leg squats (holding straps or cables for assistance)
1-leg squats standing on the bench
Deep step-ups
Reaching lunges

(NOTE: For many exercises, including pushing and pulling too, you can play around with the 1&1/2 rep style – lowering to the bottom position, coming halfway back up, and then lowering again, and then coming all the way back up.)


Whew…now after writing all that out, I think I need to make some new youtube videos, huh?

Stay tuned for that!

And I’ll cover ab replacement exercises in a future email.

In the meantime, let me know what other exercises need replacing in your program.

(And please forward this list to your friends or print them a copy.)

To your success,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Creator, Turbulence Training

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  • Craig,

    Awesome substitution list. No excuses for any of us now!

    Good point on the tan as well.

    Every shade darker you get, you ‘appear’ that much more muscular.

    That’s why all the fitness physique competitors get as dark as they can 🙂

    Great post as usual.

  • Kitty

    Thanks for posting an amazing list!

  • Melissa

    I have really weak wrists, and doing too many things on my hands can really cause me pain, like push-ups, mountain climbers, spiderman climbs, etc. Any good replacements/changes to get the pressure off my wrists?

    • You will need pushup handles or you will need to use the dumbbell chest press exercises.

    • Hey Melissa,

      I’ve dealt with weak wrists as well.

      For pushups I switched to pushups on my knuckles.

      • Diane

        I don’t have weak wrist by I do have tendinitis in my forearm that comes and goes. But like Melissa, push-ups and other exercises that put weight on my arm with my wrist bent causes discomfort and eventually pain. I have tried using dumbbells as push-up bars and this works for a few but it’s uncomfortable. The same with doing push-ups on the knuckles–this begins to hurt after a few reps. It seems the only alternative is chest presses. Although, that just doesn’t seem to replace ‘body-weight’ though. I guess we just have to do the best we can with what we have to work with.

      • You need to see a doctor, physiotherapist and Active Release Techniques expert.

      • Lena

        In response to Melissa’s wrist statement…it’s foolish to even put your wrists in a position to bear weight. Don’t do them. Doing them as an alternative on your knuckles will not be any better. I was told before by Craig when I posed this question to see an injury expert and I do not have an injury. Some people, especially females, cannot do things that bear weight on wrsits, period. I have many clients that I would never even suggest this to, so find another way to work those muscles; but maybe give up going to a ‘doctor’, that doesn’t make sense.

  • Awesome list.

    It’s especially great that there’s such a great variety of substitution exercises.

    Without a list like this you tend to just find *one* replacement exercise and stick with that – and that ends up being a bit boring.

  • Curtis

    Thanks for posting this Craig – this is some of the best info / help I have seen in a while!!

  • Annie

    What do you think about this to replace spiderman chin-ups: Ican<t do much more than 7 chin-ups in a row and in the Gauntlet you put like 10 spiderman chin-ups so I thought if I did spiderman underhand inverted row with feet on ball it would probably work me pretty hard and be pretty close to the same movement! So I figured I would start by doing max-2 spiderman chin-ups and then finish off the remaining amount as spiderman underhand inverted rows with feet on ball!
    What d'ya think?

    • I don’t recommend that. I recommend working on your regular chinups and pullups instead.

  • jetes

    I jsut want to know how to make the bodyweight exercises harder and keep them interesting like I know the different lunges any way if no DB’s to make them harder–I would also like to know how to do more chin ups and pull ups there has to be a way to help me increase the number I cna do–I am stuck on three for both of them and cant seem to increase them.

  • Hey Craig. Great substitution list… this should help a lot of folks that may be limited in what they are able to do for whatever reasons. Some may find this vid helpful as well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LvxHhpmV5Y

  • Nick Carter

    What is the best replacement for a lat pulldown?

  • Roger

    After a knee replacement, I was left with a right foot drop and I am unable to run nor to do lunges. I have been able to substitute the elliptical machine for running. What can I do to replace lunges?

    • One leg lying hip extensions or step-ups.