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November 09, 2022 1 Comment
Sitting is generally not seen as the epitome of exercising. You may think we're pretty lazy for even talking about an exercise that's primary movement is sitting. If that's the case, you have obviously never done a wall sit, as those familiar with the move are likely quivering at the mere mention of performing one.
Okay, so perhaps we're being a bit dramatic. But in all seriousness, the wall sit exercise can be extremely effective and very intense. Easily adjustable, it can be altered to meet the needs of most trainees. Whether you're looking to rehab injured muscles, strengthen your lower body, build up your abdominal muscles, or increase muscle endurance, the wall sit is likely the move for you.
And we're going to cover everything there is to know about it. This post will discuss:
If you've been dreaming about getting fit while sitting, the wall sit can make that happen.
The wall sit is an isometric exercise that involves sitting against a wall.
While it's called a "sit," your butt isn't actually resting on a seat. Rather, you must support your body weight while pressing back against the wall.
If you have ever had to hold a squat position, even for just a few seconds, you know how tough this can be.
The skeletal muscles can generate 3 different types of contractions. They include:
Generally, you will perform both concentric and eccentric contractions when training (you can review more differences between the two in our article on concentric and eccentric muscle contractions). In practice, this represents a single rep.
These muscular contractions are important for muscle growth, mobility, and human performance. But the isometric contraction is also very useful. In fact, it has several unique advantages that make it stand out.
However, the idea of just squeezing your muscle to get big and strong sounds like a gimmick, and we understand why you would think so.
That's why before we specifically talk about the wall sit, we'll take a quick look at the scientific benefits of isometric training. There have been numerous meta-analyses that have shown benefits in an array of fitness variables, including muscle mass, muscle strength, and power production¹⁻².
Let's take an in-depth look at three great benefits of performing isometric exercises.
The above studies found that isometric exercises can positively increase muscular hypertrophy.
When comparing short muscle length (closed joint) to longer muscle length (open joint), it seems clear that the longer length was superior. This is thought to be due to increased muscle damage and metabolic build-up.
In addition, there seems to be a significant difference in the duration of an exercise. When comparing an isometric hold less than 3 seconds and one held greater than 3 seconds, the longer periods of time created greater benefits.
Another finding was that the hold duration (volume) was greater than the intensity (muscle activation). You can think of lifting a light hold of more reps vs. performing heavy reps of >85% 1RM.
When examining the optimal duration for strength training, greater intensity is the primary factor when training with isometric holds.
This, again, falls in line with traditional resistance training, with maximal contractions that allow up to 5 seconds of training being superior.
However, if the intensity is equated for longer periods of time with isometric training, holds seem to create a greater improvement in muscle strength.
Another factor that plays a factor is total duration, with 80 seconds being the ideal isometric hold amount.
As you may see, isometric training seems to follow similar guidelines to traditional training. This is true for ballistic training as well.
Using quick bursts of maximum contractions replicates the actions of ballistic training. As a result, it appears that this can be an effective way to improve the rate of force development even though there is no movement.
The wall sit works the entire lower body. In fact, it pretty much trains the same lower body muscles as the squat. The primary difference is in the type of contraction these same muscle groups undergo, as we went over above.
Here's a quick rundown of the muscle groups you'll train.
The perfect wall sit position is relatively easy to perform. As you're not moving, you just need to nail the initial starting position and hold it. That said, you can follow a few cues to ensure perfection. Master this move, and add it into your leg workout ASAP!
How to do the Wall Sit:
Even though a relatively simple exercise, there are a few mistakes that will mitigate the movement's effectiveness. Avoid these.
When trying to perfect your form, a mirror or video is your best friend.
Use either method to monitor yourself as you perform your wall sit. This allows you to identify any errors in your form and correct them as needed.
If you don't have a location next to a mirror, you definitely have a phone with video capabilities.
Wall sits bring a host of awesome benefits. As you'll see, some of these benefits are really unique, making the wall sit an exercise like no other. If you have never done a wall sit, sit back (pun intended) and find out what you've been missing.
We'll go over the specifics below, but the wall sit is performed by sitting against a wall. Like all other isometric exercises, there is no movement after you get into the starting position.
While there may be some instructions needed to get into that position, there aren't any movement patterns you need to follow.
Of course, you need movements that bring you through the entire range of motion. However, there are plenty of times when an isometric exercise with low difficulty levels comes in handy.
Let's first start by saying back squats aren't bad for your knees. However, if your knees are sore, you probably want to stay away from the barbell for a while. Or, perhaps you just want a good exercise that gives your knees a break.
There are 3 reasons why wall sits are a great exercise for anyone who wants to give their knees a break, or for someone looking for leg exercises for bad knees.
While we can't say with 100% certainty, there's a very, very good chance no one has ever injured their knees performing wall sits.
While you can pick up some weight plates to increase the intensity (we'll go over a weighted wall sit below), the standard wall sit requires nothing but yourself, and of course, a wall. In other words, you can do it anywhere (other than the desert where there's no wall to be found).
This is why it's common to find it included in an at-home workout routine.
Training for rehab, like with these resistance band exercises to relieve knee pain, looks a little different than training for performance, as the primary goal is to promote healing and building muscle mass to the injured area. At the same time, you don't want to aggravate the injury any further.
In certain situations, this can be very difficult to do with traditional movements that include flexion and extension of joints. Due to an injury, a person may or may not be able to move the joint under a load, even if it's just their body. This is especially true when someone is just getting back to training.
And this is when the wall sit exercise comes to the rescue. The wall sits position is perfect for anyone that needs an ultra-safe lower body exercise to increase muscle strength.
Utilizing an isometric contraction stimulates the muscle without aggravating the joint or muscle itself. If you need to increase the intensity, you can simply sit for longer periods or hold extra weight.
This allows a greater stimulus while mitigating movement and decreasing the likeliness of further injuring the muscle or joint.
One area that just about every normal lifter needs to work on is improving muscular endurance.
That's amazing that you can squat 405 pounds, but can you go hiking without dying? In reality, we're much more likely to find ourselves in a situation where our muscular endurance is more important than absolute strength.
For example, walking around Disney holding your child vs. leg pressing a car.
To be clear, we are not saying muscular strength isn't important (see below). Rather, we're simply illustrating how important endurance is. Muscular endurance is an overlooked variable that affects our overall health and fitness.
Here at SET FOR SET, we strongly believe everyone should have a totally encompassed fitness program for true health.
Let's not forget that, at the end of the day, a primary purpose of using the wall sit is to improve muscle strength. This is primarily done by increasing the isometric strength of the lower body, especially in the rehab population.
As discussed in the studies we mentioned earlier in this article, the wall sit is definitely capable of doing so in these populations.
As you have seen, isometric training can be quite effective. Whether you need a great leg exercise while traveling, some low-impact training for your quads, or you just want something different, preferably in a seated position, wall sit exercises can help you reach your goals.
Here's what to consider when including it in your workout split.
Above, we went over the variables that can improve the effect of wall sits. Duration is one of the primary methods to control the outcome:
After duration, the intensity of each contraction is the next most important factor. Even if you don't have a significant amount of external loading, it seems that concentrating on the muscle and voluntarily creating an intense contraction is sufficient.
For example, contract your muscle to an intensity that will last the desired time. As you don't have any way to measure accurately, some guesswork is involved. However, the goal is to maintain a contraction for the prescribed time.
For example, if you want to do hypertrophy training so you can build muscle, you will contract your muscles at a force that you can maintain for 3-30 seconds.
Research shows that longer muscle fiber is optimal for maximal benefits. For instance, using right angles (90 degrees) has been shown superior to a 60-degree or 30-degree.
Therefore, the 90-degree angle usually used with wall sits seems to be the best choice. However, changing that up once in a while may provide some variability.
Endurance and ignoring the pain are key to getting the most out of your wall sits. When your leg muscles are on fire, one second feels like ten, while 10 seconds can feel like a minute.
This creates a problem as exercise duration plays a major role in the effectiveness of wall sits. One proven way to get your mind off that burn is to utilize external focus of attention.
A study examining the use of external or an internal focuses during exercise had participants pretend they were driving a car rather than focusing on their form. The results found that the external group lasted 68 seconds compared to just 603.
Therefore, next time you perform wall sits, get your mind off it by listening to your favorite song. Bonus points if you try to sing along!
The wall sit is much more challenging than it looks. In its original form, it will be enough for the average gym goer to benefit for some time.
Of course, there will also come a time when your fitness level has advanced to a level where the standard wall sit position isn't challenging enough to continue producing results.
Here are some great wall sit exercises that increase the intensity of the wall sit.
Make this quad exercise even harder by throwing weight into the mix. The weighted wall sit position is the same as the standard wall sit position. However, you will load your body to increase the downward force, increasing the intensity.
To do this, place a weight plate (or several!) on your thigh, as close to your stomach as possible, or hold a dumbbell in each hand, letting them hang down by your sides. This will increase the torque on the accompanying force.
If you're using weight plates, the best way to do this is to have a partner help you. If you don't have a lifting buddy, place the weight plates close to your body before you begin the exercise.
As the name implies, the single-leg wall sit exercise is done by getting into the same position as the traditional wall sit. Once you feel stable, lift a leg off the ground, placing all the work on one leg.
This is a great method to increase the intensity when you're alone and can't pile many plates on your thighs. Further, your stability will be challenged, forcing the higher recruitment of your leg muscles.
In addition, more muscles will be recruited, specifically the stabilizer muscles, such as your gluteus medius. If that's not enough, you can also place a weight plate on your leg.
Anytime you make an exercise less stable, you will increase muscle activation. It's important to realize this doesn't necessarily mean the exercise is better. However, if you are limited in how you load your body, it's definitely a great option to increase the difficulty.
To perform the stability ball wall sit, you just need to grab a stability ball. Instead of sitting on the wall, you will place the ball between the wall and your back, then lean into the ball.
Every other part of the instruction is the same regarding leg placement and whatnot. You can also hold a weight or perform a single leg wall sit with a stability ball.
Now we're moving away from an isometric exercise and starting to get into actual movement.
To perform the wall squat, you will need a stability exercise ball. Get into a similar position as the stability ball wall sit. However, the starting position will have you in the standing position with your legs extended.
When ready, you will slowly slide down the ball, which will roll with you. This allows you to perform a full squat with a full range of motion. Again, you can load this exercise as needed.
Medicine ball exercises are great for workout variety. Get into the squat position of the wall squat. Next, pick up a medicine ball and pull it high above your head. When ready, you will explosively throw the medicine ball into the ground.
This is a great variation to create explosiveness in the upper body while also placing a greater stability demand on the upper body.
Perform a normal wall sit but place a medicine ball between your inner thighs. As you sit, you must contract your adductor muscles to keep the ball from falling. These are intense!
Just when you thought this move couldn't get harder, we're throwing an overhead press into the mix. This is an awesome yet very challenging wall sit exercise to increase mobility in your shoulders as well as the thoracic spine.
Using dumbbells is the most effective tool to use when performing these. To perform them, get in the standard wall sit position. Next, pick up the dumbbells and bring them up to a shoulder press position.
Have your elbows pulled forward by a few inches to relieve excessive pressure. Those with limited shoulder mobility can even bring their elbows in front of the body and use more of a neutral position.
The wall sit is an excellent exercise with plenty of variation to challenge anyone. You can increase endurance, strength, muscle mass, muscular hypertrophy, and even force production depending on your fitness level.
Combine this with a wall sit's simplicity, and it's clear every lifter should have the wall sit in their workout arsenal.
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