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How To Scale Any Exercise To Match Your Ability

Imagine it's the first day of school and you're in the first grade. The teacher starts to write multiplication problems on the board like 4x6 and 12x9 and asks you for the answer. You haven't even learned to add or subtract and can barely count to 10. Would you be successful in answering those problems? No.

This is where most people go wrong with their fitness. They jump into honor's level geometry or physics without learning basic math.

In other words, they start with exercises or exercise routines that are too advanced or intense for their current level and injury history. This leaves them feeling defeated, like they can't keep up, or injured and they quit. 

Here at DSC, we're doing something very different. 

Our mission is to make it incredibly easy for people to start their fitness routine as this is the most important step in the process.

Every day new members join DSC who have struggled their entire life with starting and sticking to a consistent workout routine. Then they join and THRIVE!

How? We take no pressure approach to helping our member's get started.

We know how intimidating and overwhelming it can be to start a new fitness routine.

That's why we aren't trying to have them set fitness records or keep up with anyone. Our new member's first few weeks are all about getting comfortable at DSC, meeting our coaches, learning how things work, and having fun. 

One of the most important things we do over the course of our new member's first few weeks is to scale the exercises to their ability.

To help our members ease into their workout we initially slow the exercises down and work with them on proper technique.

Instead of going right to the most advanced exercises, we start our members with the beginner version of each exercise. This is the less complicated, lower impact version of each exercise. Starting slow is huge for helping our members build serious momentum and confidence. 

Instead of starting and feeling overwhelmed, they ease in, stick with it, and make incredible progress over time.

We do this a few ways like:

  1. Teaching them the technique of each movement

  2. Decreasing the resistance of the exercise (ie: using a lighter or no kettlebell)

  3. Decreasing the range-of-motion of the exercise 

  4. Slowing the exercise down

  5. Taking longer breaks between exercises

  6. Completing less sets or reps of an exercise

  7. Scaling the exercise to meet their level (examples of this below)

This less is more approach to helping our members get started, allows them to be successful no matter what their current fitness level is.

If you're someone looking to get started or back into a fitness routine, we've got you covered.

Today, we're taking a few of the most popular fitness exercises and showing you how to scale each exercise to match your current level.

Today's exercises are the squat, push-up, deadlift, and burpee.

We have broken down each exercise into 3-4 levels so you can start slow with the beginner version and increase the challenge of each exercise over time. We've included a description on each movement and why we love them.

Let's get into it!

1| The Squat

The squat is one of our favorite lower-body strength exercises. It works all the muscles in your hips and legs, making it a fantastic exercise to strengthen and shape your lower-body. It also works large muscle groups and multiple joints making it a great exercise to improve your fitness and burn fat.

The problem with the squat is, most people start their fitness routine and jump right to the weights or right to the most advanced version of the squat. Enter knee and hip pain. Instead, start slow and master your technique with our 4 levels of the squat. If you're new to the squat, we recommend focusing on each level for 2 weeks before moving to the next level. 

Click the video below to learn how to scale the squat.


(LEVEL1) Assisted Squat: The assisted squat is a great place to start. Holding the handles takes pressure and tension off your legs, allowing you to focus on technique without putting too much stress on your legs right away.

(LEVEL 2) Plate Press Squat: Once you've built proper squat technique, it's time to increase the challenge by working against gravity. Grab a 5-10 plate and press it out as you squat. The plate will help you maintain upright posture and help maintain your balance as you squat.

(LEVEL 3) Kettlebell Goblet Squat: The kettlebell goblet squat is a fantastic way to increase the challenge of your squat by adding the extra resistance of the kettlebell. We prefer kettlebell squats over traditional barbell squats as they place less stress on your neck, shoulders, and low-back.

(LEVEL 4) Double Kettlebell Squat: Once you've mastered the goblet squat, it's time to kick things up with 2 kettlebells. Holding 2 kettlebells allows you to increase the resistance even more. These really work your legs and core.

2| The Push-Up

The push-up is our favorite upper-body exercise and maybe even our favorite exercise for beginners. It is a great way to build the strength of your arms and shoulders as well as the stability of your core. Be sure to master technique and work from an elevated hand position. The biggest mistake we see beginners make when it comes to the push-up is progressing to the floor too quickly. This progression will allow you to get stronger over time and keep your wrists, elbows and shoulders healthy. As your strength and core stability improves, work your push-ups closer to the floor. 

Click the video below to learn how to scale the push-up.


(LEVEL 1) Incline Push-Up: This is the best place to start if you're new to the push-up. Here you can place the barbell at whichever height works best for you. The higher the barbell, the easier it is going to be. Over time lower the height closer to the floor for an added challenge.

(LEVEL 2) Kneeling Push-Up: Once you've mastered the incline push-up, move your push-ups to the floor from a kneeling position. Make sure to keep a big range of motion by lowering your chest close to the floor.

(LEVEL 3) Push-Up: Once your kneeling push-ups are feeling strong, take your push-ups from your toes. These are tough so start with just a few quality reps per set. 

(LEVEL 4) Push-Up 1.5: Our 4th level push-up is the push-up 1.5. This requires a lot of strength as you complete a full and half rep each time. These are tough!

3| The Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the best exercises to strengthen and shape your glutes and hamstrings. It is typically the most challenging exercise for our members to master so take your time! Beginners initially want to squat the movement by excessively bending their knees. The deadlift is a hinge movement where you want to move at the hips and allow your torso to fold forward. This movement not only teaches our members to safely deadlift in the gym but also how to safely pick objects off the floor outside of the gym. This is a great lead into the kettlebell swing.

Click the video below to learn how to scale the deadlift.


(LEVEL 1) Kettlebell RDL (Romanian deadlift): Think of the RDL as a partial deadlift. By only going half way down and keeping the weights light, you can work on building great technique. Make sure to keep your chest tall as you push your hips back and feel a gentle hamstring stretch. 

(LEVEL 2) Kettlebell Deadlift: The kettlebell deadlift is like the RDL but now we can add some greater range of motion for an added challenge. Make sure to push through your feet to stand the kettlebell up. Don't try to "pick it up" with your arms.

(LEVEL 3) Double Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift: Add an additional kettlebell here to increase the challenge.

(LEVEL 4) Trap Bar Deadlift: The trap bar deadlift is one of our favorite deadlift variations. It's a great way to increase the strength of your lower-body and add a good challenge to your deadlift to keep making progress. This is our level 4 deadlift because you can use the most amount of weight.

4| The Burpee

The burpee is one of the most popular fat-burning, cardio drills on the planet and rightfully so -- they are tough and tax the entire body. They work your arms, shoulders, back, legs, abs, and get your heart-rate way up!

They are tough and often advanced too quickly making them tough or a recipe for injury for those who are new. 

Click the video below to learn how to scale the burpee.


(LEVEL 1) Elevated Step Back Burpee: New to the burpee? Have injuries? Start HERE. This is a low impact version of the burpee that removes the need to get all the way to the floor and jump, while getting you moving and sweating!

(LEVEL 2) Elevated Burpee: Ready for the next step? Enter the incline burpee. This version gets you moving quicker but you still do not need to get all the to the floor and back up. Increase the challenge by making your elevated surface a bit closer to the floor.

(LEVEL 3) No Push-Up Burpee: Now it's time to get to the floor. This is a great next step to advance your burpee and fitness.

(LEVEL 4) Burpee with Push-Up: Level 4 includes adding push-ups in your burpee for a serious added challenge!

Ready to get started at DSC?

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