How to Create Exercise Variation with Minimal Equipment


Mix it Up With Minimal Equipment 

How to do my exercise with minimal equipment? Every semester I put alone a dumbbell and a bench in front of my class. I say you have 10 minutes to come up with as many exercises as possible. This year we came up with 109 exercises.

It’s a good drill to help students get creative with their exercises and it helps weed out some underperformers. The bottom 10% fail the class and are immediately asked to change their major to something like communication sciences.

Just kidding…


Given the current quarantine situation, creativity in training is important. Quantitative changes refer to changing load. Unfortunately, most of us are stuck with what my class is stuck with (1 dumbbell) or in some cases, nothing. Because of the limited ability to change load we need to make qualitative changes, that is changes in the exercises we do. 

Qualitative Changes

Qualitative changes are as simple as changing the exercise or adding some extra exercise variations to the current training program. The way that you change the exercise can be minor (i.e. low bar squat to a high bar squat), moderate (low back squat to a front squat), or major (i.e. low bar squat to barbell Bulgarian split squat).

Here is an example of a lunge for each category 

Minor changes: change forward lunge to reverse lunge 

Moderate changes: change the forward lunge a lunge to side lunge

Major changes: change the forward lunge to a rear leg elevated squat. 

Making the Changes

For most exercises (using the lower body as an example) there are bilateral (double leg) and single-leg options. There are also several different ways that you can load up the same exercise whether that means changes in where the load is being held or what mechanism of resistance is being used.

1. Bilateral

2. Single leg

3. Change the level of resistance

4. Change the mechanism of resistance

Let’s take a goblet squat and think of all the ways we can modify this exercise. The goblet squat is a bilateral exercise. Let’s say you are holding a dumbbell. The dumbbell could be held in a number of different places including:

1. In between the legs with the arms straight (1 dumbbell)

2. Held to the side of the legs (2 dumbbells or 1 dumbbell)

3. Held up at the chest

4. On the left shoulder

5. On the right shoulder

6. One dumbbell on each shoulder

Now we can take all these variations and change the mechanism of resistance. For example, we can use a sandbag. We now have 14 different variations of the same lift. You can also change the range of motion and tempo. Let’s take a lunge and come up with several different examples.

1. Forward lunge

2. Split lunge (feet stay in place)

3. Split jump (explode in the air, land on the same foot)

4. Alternating split jump (explode in the air, switch legs)

5. Lunge front foot jump (only front foot comes up in the air)

6. Pulse lunge (half range of motion)

7. Lunge isometric hold (hold at the bottom of the lunge)

8. 3 position lunge (hold at three different positions in the lunge)

9. Side lunge 

10. Side lunge to upward knee drive

11. Reverse lunge

12. Reverse lunge to upward knee drive

13. Reverse lunge to calf raise

14. Forward lean lunge (hips go back, torso leans forward) 

By changing the tempo and range of motion we have just created 13 different variations of one exercise. When getting creative think of all the different ways you might change where you load an exercise if you have loaded. Next, think about ways to change the range of motion of the exercise or also the tempo.

If you want to learn more about how to create your exercise movement with minimal equipment, just take a look at our social media networks or contact us via email.