Exercise Substitution List

This is long overdue, and for that I apologize, but here’s the Ultimate Exercise Substitutions List.

Feel free to add your suggestions or follow up questions below, and we’ll keep building this out as a  great resource.


Exercise Substitutions

For Squats –> You can do split squats, lunges, step-ups, reaching lunges, 1-leg deadlifts, or 1-leg hip extensions

For DB Incline Press –> You can do DB Chest Press, DB Floor Press, DB Standing 1-Arm Shoulder Press, Dips with Knee-ups

For DB Chest Supported Row -> You can do DB Row, BB Row, Seated Row, DB Renegade Rows, DB Rear Deltoid Raise

For Dips with Knees-up –> Any version of close-grip pushup, DB Floor Press, DB Close-grip Press, DB Close-grip Floor press

For DB Chest Presses (of any kind) -> You can do one of these:

– pushups
– close-grip pushups
– decline pushup
– elevated pushups
– off-set pushups
– pushups with your feet on the ball
– pushups with your hands on the ball
– spiderman pushups
– pike pushups
– or possibly the hardest two hand pushup of them all, decline close-grip spiderman pushups

For DB Split Squats -> You can do:

– 1-leg lying hip extensions for beginners
– high-rep Bulgarian split squats for advanced
– high-rep split squats with your front foot elevated 4-6 inches for intermediate
– 1-leg deadlifts
– 1-leg squats onto bench
– 1-leg squats standing on the bench
– deepstep-ups
– reaching lunges

For DB Rows -> Using the smith machine, you can do…
– inverted rows
– underhand inverted rows
– inverted rows with your feet on the ball
– inverted rows holding the ends of a towel hung over the bar (advanced grip strength there!)

For DB Rows -> Using the pullup bar, you can do…
– eccentric pull-ups
– regular pull-ups
– sternum pull-ups
– chinups
– side to side pull-ups

Not strong enough for Stability Ball Leg Curls -> You can do:
– Lying hip extensions and 1-leg hip extensions
– Then progress into hip extensions with feet on the ball.

If you have pain during squats & Lunges -> You can do:
– lying 1-leg hip extensions

For Step-Ups -> You can do:
– 1-leg hip extensions

Have other ideas or questions?

Please comment below.

To your success,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training

  • 3
  • mike

    These are great Craig, thanks! Do you have any substitutions for kettleball swings as I have lower back issues and these cause me back pain? Also any substitutions for inverted rows? Are pull ups and chin ups more or less the same or better?

    • Hi Mike,

      You can do regular intervals or bodyweight squats in place of KB swings.

      For inverted rows, you can do any dumbbell row or the db rear-deltoid raise. Pullups would be an okay sub as well.

  • Silvie

    Great list, Craig! Thanks a lot for creating and sharing it!

    And how about the substitution for “the interval workouts,” for example, the burpees, skipping (rope)…etc.
    Do you have a special list?

  • Jim

    Great stuff Craig. I’m not a big fan of deadlifts. Can’t think of a real good substitution there, other than straight leg deads, or power cleans. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Jim, for our purposes, we can do reverse lunges instead, that will hit the glutes and hamstrings. Or you could do a superset of stability ball leg curls and your favorite rowing exercise.

  • steve

    Hi Craig —

    Great substitutions here. Do you have one for the Turkish get up? Or maybe a way to break it down; can’t master it (yet).

    • You could do bodyweight squats followed by side planks.

    • jd marcum

      hi there folks,

      I have an athlete at my gym, who after years of college and pro ball, has no posterior capsule in his right shoulder. Both phases of the TGU are very painful for him, so I have him perform this as a substitution. TGU sit, followed by 2 air squats, and a 15 sec elbow plank. I feel that it covers all the planes of motion that the TGU uses, and keeps the athlete aerobic, which the tgu does quite well. I personally don’t feel there is a substitution for this movement, but this is pretty darn close.

  • wolverine

    Hi Craig, after searching high and low for my ultimate substitute, i have realised that all types of lifting and pressing just make me big regardless of diet, and i hate being big, i dont even need six pack abs etc, just want to be firm and slimmer, i now do intervals using the elliptical machine, set at a high resistance, i push and pull at the highest speed i can muster for 30 secs then slow for 30, i repeat this for 10 mins, then switch to bike and do same, then rowing machine, i have never felt this good

    • wolverine

      well i guess no one knows the answer to this!!!!!