How to Modify Your Group Exercise Class


The BEST part about group exercise is two-fold:

  • A prescribed workout for nearly 1/4 of the price you’d pay for the direction and attention of a personal trainer.
  • The incredible sense of community, with a palpable energy that pushes you to perform at your highest potential.

The WORST part about group exercise is that it is often an environment that is NOT conducive to delivering specific information, to address individual needs.

BUT that doesn’t mean you should ditch class the moment a modification is required. The following guide is intended to accomplish the following things:

  • Empower YOU to make the most of your workout.
  • Help you feel comfortable in (respectfully*) breaking away from the mold.
  • Arm you with information on how to modify according to YOUR needs.

It’s important to caveat all this information is meant for SAFETY and not for your comfort zone. This information is intended to educate, not validate a choice to go easy when you know you have more to give yourself.

*This is critical to note. When you’re in a group environment and you break away from the pack to do a bicep curl when the rest of the group is doing a push-up, for no other reason than because you simply WANT to do a bicep curl, that makes you an asshole. I just to be clear about that. There’s a difference in taking a respectful modification and not trusting your trainer to give you a good workout, which is essentially the issue if you feel the need to do your own program in the middle of a studio class. 



In MOST group exercise classes, the HIIT methodology is accomplished by treadmill running. At Barry’s we prescribe jogging, running, and sprinting paces – all of which are aggressive. And we know that. It’s designed that way and NOT out of exclusivity to ONLY cater to high-performing athletes. Fitness is aspirational, and your goals reflect that. If you’re unable to hit a certain pace – THAT’S OKAY.

Regardless of your ability level, speed isn’t the magic – your heart rate is. Your rate of exertion is far more critical than any MPH you see the light up your panel.

  • Jogging: 30-50% max effort
  • Running: 65-75% max effort
  • Sprinting: 90-100% max effort

How to modify your runs:

  • If a trainer’s prescribed speed range is not realistic for your current ability, decrease speed using the rate of perceived exertion percentages listed above.
  • Decrease your speed to prioritize your form. It’s essential to build the proper running economy, and without it, you cannot get faster without risking injury.
  • If you’re unable to run due to injury, pregnancy, or a different season of life power walk on a flat road or incline instead. Recover the rest of the group does.
  • Start where YOU are regarding your pace, and increase with the trainer’s queuing. Even if you’re two points slower, you can still increase .5 if that what your trainer calls for and if it feels right.

Your body doesn’t know the difference between 9.5 or 9.8 on the treadmill (your mind does, tho!). Your body registers a spike in heart rate followed by a period of recovery. Don’t get hung up on numbers!


In MOST group exercise classes, strength training is a huge component. But seriously – how daunting is it staring at a weight rack knowing you have ONE opportunity to grab the perfect weights for the entire workout…without knowing what the workout entails?! I have anxiety just thinking about it.

At Barry’s, we prescribe light, medium, and heavy weights – but just like the runs, they’re just a recommendation!

How to modify your lifts:

  • If you grabbed a set of dumbbells or another piece of equipment that turns out to be too heavy for the prescribed drills, drop down to one dumbbell, or bodyweight. You can always pick weight back up!
  • Another option if your weights turn out to be too heavy is to alternate sides which are usually a bit easier than a bilateral drill.
  • Take the static drill of any plyometrics.
  • Swap out a drill that results in discomfort for a similar drill that doesn’t.
  • If you’ve grabbed a set of dumbbells or another piece of equipment that turns out to be too light or easier, decrease the speed of your reps. The slower you go the harder any drill will be! Play with pace and isolations, too!

Modifying for Pregnancy

I LOVE seeing pregnant mamas at Barry’s! There is SO much fear-based conversation when it comes to fit pregnancy, but with proper clearance from your doctor you can safely workout in your first, second, and third trimesters alike. In addition to my previously penned posts, here are a few helpful tips to modify your group exercise environment.

  • Substitute any core, ab, or rotational/twisting based drill with squats, reverse lunges or glute bridges. You’ll take the pressure off your abdominal wall, and build strength for pushing. Regardless of the type of delivery you have, a nice ass does ANY body good. Okey!?!
  • Swap out planks, push-ups, bear crawls, supermans or any other quadruped drill with cat cow, or bird dogs.
  • If you are no longer comfortable on your back or have instruction from your doctor to stay off your back use an incline bench.
  • Walk on an incline with a slight forward lean instead of running.

I tell my pregnant clients if they are uncomfortable with a drill I prescribe, to pick another, and move with my tempo. If I’m instructing the group to go to a negative chest press, but a client can’t be on her back, she’ll do a negative squat or the negative of another drill she feels comfortable with.

Modifying for a Pre-existing Injury

The same modifications for pregnancy can be applied to modifications needed for any pre-existing injury. If you’re working with a shoulder injury and your trainer is telling the group to do a hand plank, feel empowered to pop down to your forearms. If that still feels uncomfortable flip on to your back and do a glute bridge. You’ll still be on the same level (on the floor) as the rest of the class and won’t feel like you stick out like a sore thumb.

Remember, your trainer is NOT a doctor, so if you have an injury and have sought out medical care, or are on a treatment plan it is up to YOU to understand your limitations, and the protocol for rehabbing your specific need. Give your trainer a heads up before class to let him/her know you’ll be avoiding any certain drills.

Take a moment to think about this…

If you’re working on a shoulder injury, and you want to take a chest, back, and abs class (which can incorporate exercises that heavily impacts your shoulder girdle and rotator cuffs) I would carefully evaluate if that’s the best use of time. There really is nothing worse than being responsible for your own setbacks.

If you feel like it’s safe to work out, I would reach out to your trainer in advance to explain your situation and what you need to be mindful of. Not only will it give them time to prepare alternative exercises to accommodate you, but will help set you both up for success.

Determining the Need for Intervention

Fitness enthusiasts are, my nature, type A personalities and therefore usually very averse to rest and recovery. If you feel like something if “off” and you’ve…

  • Rested for several days, or a week plus
  • Stretched, foam rolled, gotten a massage, etc
  • Ensured proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep
  • Eliminated major sources of physical, emotional, and mental stress

…and are still feeling like something isn’t right…


Like I said, your trainer isn’t one. And that pain in your knee that you’ve been needlessly suffering through for three months isn’t something we can diagnose OR treat period, let alone in the 30 seconds before a class starts. All of the modifications in the world aren’t going to help you in you have a stress fracture, a tear, or a need that requires rehabilitation.

I’ve received MANY DM’s along expressing sentiments like,

“I’ve got XYZ problem and my doctor said to rest, but I just feel like I can’t, I’m scared I’ll throw away all my progress.”

My response is usually along the lines of,

“GTF over yourself and listen to your doctor. Your body can only do so much, and if it’s bandwidth SHOULD be going towards healing an ailment and you’re continuing to put additional stress on yourself because your ego is ruling your life then you’re going to be doing yourself one extreme disservice.”

That may sound harsh – but it’s completely true. Our lives ebb and flow. Sometimes we’re on top of our game, other times we’re trying to survive, and sometimes we’re making the best of a bad situation.

Regardless of where you’re at, you’ve got to start where you are with the energy you have IN THE MOMENT. Your choices should be made not out of impulse, but with your future in mind.

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