Effective Alternatives for Your Favorite Exercises

You know that feeling, when the only thing getting you through a “bang your head against the wall” workday is that 6 p.m. workout. Heavy presses, heavy pulls — the ultimate stress relieverAnd then you walk through those gym doors. Primetime has hit, and it appears your intended routine is shot — every last bench is taken, while there’s a group of guys huddled around the squat rack each one ready to pounce once the bar opens.

You caught that, right? We said appears because there’s always a way to salvage a workout when a key piece of equipment is unavailable. Two of the most sought after pieces of equipment in the gym are unarguably benches and the squat rack, so when either of those are taken we’ve got a few exercises you can sub in to keep that routine moving.

When there are no benches

man lifting weights at the gym as an exercise alternative

Man lifting weights | Source: Thinkstock

We know you had your heart set on getting in some chest presses. Whether you were looking to go heavy with the bar or fine tune your stability with single arm presses, there are alternative moves.

BOSU push-up

Focus: Stability/strength

  1. Grab a BOSU and flip it upside down so that the black hard surface is facing up.
  2. With hands shoulder-width apart, grip the sides of the BOSU stepping your legs back and positioning your chest over its center with your hands in line with your chest, not your shoulders. Your body should now be in a straight line, stomach parallel to the ground.
  3. Take a deep breath, brace your core, tighten your glutes, and slowly bring your chest down to the BOSU to then quickly explode upwards squeezing through your chest.

Box push-up

Focus: Stability/strength

  1. Grab a plyo or stepper box and place it in line with where your chest will fall when performing push-ups.
  2. Begin with a regular body weight push-up to the left of the box, about 6 to 10 inches away.
  3. Now take your right hand and place it on the box, be sure your hand falls in line with your chest not your shoulder, while your left hand remains on the ground, and perform a push-up.
  4. With your left hand on the ground and your right hand on the box, begin to laterally shuffle your feet in line with the box and bring your left hand onto the box. With hands directly under the chest and close together, perform a push-up.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Weighted push-up

Focus: Strength

  1. Grab a buddy and a few plates.
  2. Get into push-up position and have your friend place the weights across your upper back, directly above the chest. You don’t want them to be too close to the neck or too low toward the back.
  3. Take a deep breath, brace your core, tighten your glutes, and slowly bring your chest down to the ground to then quickly explode upwards squeezing through your chest.

When the squat rack is stacked

man performing squats as an exercise alternative

Man performing squats | Source: iStock

Looking to load up the posterior chain and hit the glutes? Well, barbell back squats aren’t the end-all be-all. As long as you can get your hands on a few free weights, you’re set.  

Weighted bridges

Focus: Strength

  1. Grab a couple of weight plates or a reasonably weighted barbell.
  2. Lay on your back positioning your feet hip-width apart, now draw your knees back placing your feet flat on the floor with your heels about a hand’s length from your butt.
  3. Place the plates or barbell over your hips.
  4. Take a deep breath, brace your core, and tilt your pelvis as you extend your hips upward driving through your heels and squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement as you exhale.
  5. Slowly lower your hips back down the floor.

Reverse lunges

Focus: Stability/strength

  1. Grab two reasonably weighted dumbbells.
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart and dumbbells at your sides. Take a deep breath, brace your core, and step your left foot backwards dropping your knee into a 90-degree angle, while the right front knee drops to a 90-degree angle. Be sure that the right knee sits behind the toe.
  3. Hinge slightly forward at the hips and drive through the right heel as you power upward, left leg trailing behind, and squeezing through the glutes at the top of the movement.

What crucial pieces of equipment do you find are always taken at your gym? Let us know, and we’ll help you out with a few movements to do instead.

Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as head trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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