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Exercise Regression Explained (For Coaches)

What is Exercise Regression?

Exercise regression is the act of modifying a movement to make it easier for an athlete or coaching client. It is a necessary part of fitness, as it allows people to perform movements that better suit their fitness abilities or account for limitations, such as an injury. This could mean tweaking the tempo, range of motion, rep target, external road, or overall complexity of the activity.

Examples of Exercise Regression


Transitioning to a kneeling push-up, which reduces the resistance the trainee must overcome, is a potential regression from a regular push-up.

Other options include doing incline push-ups (such as with hands on a flat gym bench) or eccentric-only (only doing the lowering portion of each rep).


Performing band- or machine-assisted pull-ups instead of regular ones reduces the resistance, allowing beginners to build strength and improve their skill with the movement.


A simple regression example of the squat would be to remove the external weight and do the bodyweight version if anything else feels too challenging. 


Similar to one of the push-up regression examples above, trainees can perform the movement with their knees on the floor. That way, it takes less effort to maintain a static position, making the activity more beginner-friendly.

When is Exercise Regression Appropriate?

Exercise regression is appropriate in many situations. Popular examples include:

  • Injury recovery – reducing the difficulty of certain exercises can allow athletes and everyday trainees to stay active while recovering from an injury.
  • Working with beginners – every new trainee has unique abilities, so it’s important to see what a person can handle and modify movements appropriately.
  • When fatigue increases – a trainee might be perfectly capable of handling a particular movement at a specific intensity early in their workout.

    However, suppose fatigue affects their form or makes it impossible to continue exercising in the same way. In that case, you can apply exercise regression to allow them to continue training and provide the necessary muscle stimulus.
  • When building a skill – let’s say your client wants to learn a new training skill (such as how to hold a position in calisthenics). In this context, regressing the goal movement to something simple and beginner-friendly would make sense.

Rules to Follow for Effective Exercise Regression

1. Safety First

Safety must be your number one priority when coaching athletes and everyday folks. If it makes sense to apply exercise regression to improve technique and reduce the risk of an injury or accident, do it. 

You can always progress when the trainee is ready to handle greater complexity or more resistance.

2. Consider Individual Needs

Every exercise regression you apply should consider the trainee’s unique strengths, limitations, and abilities. 

3. Maintain Proper Form

Staying true to what makes any movement pattern safe and effective is crucial when applying exercise regression. Making a movement easier doesn’t necessarily translate to better technique, so monitoring each athlete, providing feedback, and continually modifying movements are important.

4. Plan for Progressive Overload

When scaling back movements, consider how you can eventually move in the opposite direction and apply overload. 

For instance, when regressing to a kneeling push-up, decide when it would make sense for the trainee to transition to full push-ups or other, more complex push movements.


1. What’s the difference between exercise regression and progression?

Exercise regression is when you modify an activity to make it easier and less complex. In contrast, exercise progression means changing a movement to increase its difficulty and stimulative effect.

2. Is exercise regression only useful for injured trainees?

Exercise regression is beneficial for injured trainees, but it can also work when coaching beginners with limited abilities, making workouts less fatiguing, or helping an athlete build a new skill.

3. Can trainees still build muscle through exercise regression?

Exercise regression can lead to muscle growth. In fact, by making a movement easier or less complex, trainees can better focus on the target muscles and provide the necessary overload.

Related Terms in Recovery and Overtraining Category