Top 6 Exercise Hacks For Petites

If you’re wondering why certain exercises feel awkward for you, shorty…

It has EVERYTHING to do with limb length. As women under 5’3”, the distance between our knees and ankles is shorter than everyone else. Those few inches can really make all the difference on certain exercises. 

These hacks have been such a game changer for me.

I remember first getting starting with working out in a gym and just feeling super awkward about certain movements and it wasn’t until much later that I realized my height had a lot to do with it. For a while I just thought, oh well, it is what it is. But the first time I used one of these modifications I just felt sooooo empowered. Like “HA! I can make this work for me, too! I feel what I’m suppose to feel now!” No awkwardness, no pain… Just the correct muscle actually being worked.

I’m certain that you will feel that same sense of empowerment once you try these out for yourself – ESPECIALLY if you’ve been lifting for a few years.

So let’s dive into it…

1. Hip Thrusts

This when you sit on the floor, rest your back on a box/bench or step, place a barbell of a dumbbell across your lap and push your hips up to the sky. Most people will perform this exercise on a workout bench. The problem is, the height of a bench is slightly too high for us. The reason being that you don’t want your shoulders to be higher than your knees. Instead, you want your shoulders to either be at the height of your knees or below them. That means The short girl hack is to use a smaller box/bench/step – which is typically about 12 inches or less. You want the platform to be  at a height where when you’re sitting and leaning against it, the edge should be below your shoulder blades, not on them. It’s also usually about where your sports bra ends. Most gyms don’t have benches that low, but you have some options. 1, you could lower a decline bench and use the slope of that as well. 2, Some gyms will have 6-12 inch soft plyo boxes especially if your gym has a functional training area. 3, would be to use adjustable risers. These are typically found in the room where your aerobic classes are held. The nice thing about these is that you can truly adjust the height of it to your liking, the bad things about them is that they are usually harder than the plyo box or padded bench so you might have to place a cushioned exercise mat over it if you find the pressure is too much on your back.  And finally, the 4th option, If you don’t have any of the above, you can still use a bench BUT place the thickest weight plates you can find under your feet to increase the height of your knees.

2. Floor Bridges

Like the hip thrust, this is when you push the weight to the ceiling using your hips except your back is resting on the floor. Both exercises target your glutes however, the floor bridge puts more emphasis on your hamstrings rather than your quads. Funsized fact: The less shoulder elevation, the less quad activation.⁠ So if you are quad dominant, which I am and it’s pretty common for a lot of us tend to be, you might want to add more weighted floor bridges into your routine to take away any extra quad work. All depends on your goals, of course. But you might find that your range of motion in a floor bridge is less than a hip thrust and that’s probably why you like the hip thrust better, that’s how I felt for a long time. The reason for this is that as a shortie, we have short limbs which means shorter length between the ankle and the knee. Again, if you elevate your feet by placing them on top of weight plates, you’ll increase your knee height which will increase the range of motion & you’ll feel your glutes being worked more.

3. Bulgarian Split Squats

This is when you’re in a split stand with your back foot elevated and you go down into a lunge position – typically with weight but you can do it unweighted. Split Squats suck, no matter which way you slice it BUT they are super duper effective. Just like the floor bridge, the shorter distance between our ankle can make this exercise extremely uncomfortable if we conform to the way everyone else does this exercise. When using a standard sized bench, our ankle sits higher than our knee and that can cause a lot of pain. Instead we need to make sure that our ankle of our back foot is slightly lower than our knee height. There’s a couple different hacks here. The first is to use a lower bench, box or step. Again, about 8-12 inches is where I personally feel best and I’m 5’0” but you might need more or less depending on your ankle length. Also, you could step on weight plates on the floor too. However, I’ll do you one even better! The problem with a bench, box or step is that sometimes it puts our ankles in a really awkward flexed position or the edge will dig into the top of our ankle and with added weight, this can be not only extremely uncomfortable but could cause further pain. A great way to eliminate that is by using the bar of a smith machine to hook your back foot on. This way, you can not only adjust the height of your back foot to your liking, but you’ll also have your ankle at 90 degrees which – will take a lot of pressure off your back foot. Extra tip here: put a barbell pad around the smith machine where your foot will rest for even more comfort. 


4. Leg Press & Leg Extension

For the leg press machine, I’m not talking about the 45 degree monster with the weight plates… I’m talking about the one with the push pin and the weight stack. There are 2 different kinds, the one where you’re upper half stays still while pushing into the foot board which moves ORRRRR the one where your body moves backward while pushing into the foot board that stays in place. This hack will work on both of them.  So you might have noticed that when you use this machine, it’s impossible to go really deep because you’re extending your legs so far just to push it off. What you actually want is for your legs to be at a 90 degree angle or slightly less so that you are getting a deeper range of motion. To do this, you have to be closer to foot board and if the back of the seat doesn’t adjust far enough, you can use a pad or a folded floor mat to put between your back and the seat. At my old gym that I used to work at, we had this extra long bench pad – that wasn’t attached to a bench, it was just the pad – that we would keep against one of the walls. It worked perfectly for adding just the right amount of booster for me and people would be like OMG THAT IS THE SMARTEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN. Since then, I always look for one at any gym I go to now but I’m really sad to say I only saw one out of the many other gyms that I’ve been to. The good news is, an exercise mat can do the same thing. You’ll want to fold it into 3s or in quarters. Hell, you can even use 2 if you need to!

Bonus hack: You can do the same thing with the leg extension machine. This should give you enough of a booster to reach the pad comfortably. 

5. Lat Pulldown Machine

I’m gonna keep this short and sweet: Stand on the seat, grab the bar, and let your bodyweight pull you back down to the ground. It’s as simple as that! P.s. people who see you do this mostly think it’s adorable af. If they laugh, it’s because they are impressed by how ambitiously cute you are.

6. Cable Machines

We’ve ALLLLLL been there. Either trying to adjust the adjustable head so that we can change the height of the pulley to where we want it OR just trying to reach the carabiner to attach a different handle or piece of equipment. Unfortunately I don’t have a hack for the first one, except for that I’m the kinda person who will just jump up there and climb that shit or if you’re really brave, you can as someone to adjust it for you. But I do have a hack for changing the cable attachment. You ready? Okay, all you have to do is take the pin out of the weight stack, grab any part of the cable that you can reach and push it either up or out until you can grab the carabiner bit and pull that towards you. Now you can attach any piece of equipment you want but make sure you hold onto it while pulling the cable back into place and pushing the pin back into the weight stack because the last thing you need is for it to fall on your head. 

Extra Tip:

Also, just in general, When it comes to actual exercise machines…like the fixed range of motions ones. I’m not talking about cables or smith machines, but the standard machines you find like the shoulder press or back extension. If you are ever in doubt, or it feels awkward or you feel like the target muscle is not being worked but another muscle is feeling even the slightest bit of pain… if that’s ever the case, stop and use dumbbells and free weights or even bodyweight to mimic the movement or find a substitute exercise . Reason being is that those machines are in a fixed range of motion and for people of our smaller size, it’s not always OUR range of motion. Instead, free weights will always allow us to move in our OWN range of motion. 9 times out of 10, the free weights are not only going to feel better but they will be safer and more effective for our short statures.

So there you have it, my top 6! I would love love love to hear which one of these hacks was the most mind-blowing game changer for you. Let me know (in the comments here or on Instagram) if you try them out and how much of a difference it makes for you!

P.S. If you are someone who wants to incorporate MORE petite-friendly movements into your workout routine and exercise in a way that truly aligns with your body type and the equipment you have available but you don’t want to think about what to do, when to do it, and how many reps to do? Well then, I have the EXACT program you need. Inside The Funsized Fitness App, you will get brand new workouts to cycle through each week of one month that list out exactly what to do, when to do it and how much to do. That means ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS FOLLOW what it says and you’ll never get bored doing the same workouts over and over again because every month you get a new program with new exercises, reps and sets goals to keep it fun and interesting. I have 4 different program options based on what equipment you have available to you.

  • The Anywhere program which is just bodyweight & bands,
  • The Home program, which is basic home gym set up like a few dumbbells, and maybe a small barbell, kettle bell, bench, and bands.
  • The Gym program which is for anyone who has access to a facility of equipment – I will include cables and a few machines but it is mostly free weights still.
  • And finally the Personalized program for those who feel they want or need total customization due to either an injury or any other unique situation.

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