Looking for a simple fitness challenge this summer? One writer vowed to do wall-sits every day for a month, to see if she could quickly build glute and core strength without breaking a sweat.
Like loads of people, I’m still mainly working from home – spending hours at my desk. Sure, I usually manage to squeeze 20 minutes of movement in before my 9am start and I’ll head on a 45-minute lunchtime walk if the weather permits, but other than that, my bottom is firmly glued to my chair.
According to NHS England, the average UK adult spends around nine hours a day sitting down. That’s worrying because being static can make us as low and tired as seven days of insomnia, to say nothing of the detrimental impact too much sitting can have on our long-term health. It’s been linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and some types of cancer. Research also shows that long-term inactivity is responsible for about one in six UK deaths.
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It got me thinking: what could I do to incorporate a little more activity in my day without making a big effort? After a quick Google search (I hastily rejected the 5-minute plank challenge and a crazy 100-burpees-a-day workout), I came across wall sits.
A wall sit is an isometric (static) exercise used to work the quadriceps as well as your glutes and calves, explains Lucy Arnold, personal trainer and founder of inclusive fitness clothing brand Lucy Locket Loves. “You place your back flat against a wall with your heels on the ground, form a right angle at your hips and knees. You should be able to feel a slight pulling of the quad area,” she explains.
Spending a few minutes leaning against a wall every day should be a doddle, right? So, I decided to challenge myself to 30 days of wall sits in a bid to up my daily movement.
Benefits of wall sits
According to Arnold, wall sits are great for gradually increasing strength and muscular endurance in your legs. “This can benefit your performance in the gym as well as in sports such as swimming, cycling or running,” she says.
As a runner, I’m particularly interested to see if my wall sit challenge will have an impact on my training, so I asked Anthony Fletcher, biomechanics coach and founder of Onetrack Run Club about their benefits.
“Isometric exercises such as wall sits are a great tool to keep our tendons healthy,” he explains. “Runners need to do slow, loaded movements in order to keep the tendons healthy because they do thousands of fast movements every time they hit the floor.
“A wall sit would mainly load the quads and therefore the patella tendon (which connects the bottom of the knee cap to the top of the shinbone),’ he continues. “Regular wall sits could help to decrease the stiffness of the tendon, which would be particularly beneficial for someone who suffers with quad injuries when running fast.
“The good thing about wall sits is that as they’re isometric, they’re relatively risk-free and can be incorporated within your training to build endurance without tiring you out too much,” he adds.
Running aside, physiotherapist, pilates instructor and fitness influencer Lilly Sabri, says wall sits are a great exercise for improving your core strength. “If your form is correct, you’re engaging your core and back muscles during a wall sit to stabilise the body,” she says. According to Sabri this will build abdominal endurance and help to prevent back injuries.
Sean Kazab, trainer and fitness manager at workout app Fiit, also points out that they’re perfect for those who want to build lower body muscular strength but don’t have access to exercise equipment. They can be done anywhere, they don’t require much space and they take just moments.
What is the correct way to do a wall sit?
Before I got started, I wanted to make sure I knew how to do a wall sit properly, so I asked Sabri for some advice. Here’s how to make sure your form is correct:
- Stand with your back pressed against a wall and place your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-distance apart, approximately two feet from the wall
- Engage your core by pulling your belly button back towards your spine and keeping your ribcage down
- Control your breathing as you slide your body down the wall until your knees and hips reach a 90-degree angle
- Check your knee alignment to ensure that your knee joints are in line with your middle toes and aren’t buckling in or out
- Keep your core engaged and your arms down by your side on the wall. Hold this position for the duration of the exercise
- Once the timer is complete, slowly push up through your feet to slide your back up the wall into a standing position
How long should you do a wall sit for?
According to Kazab, it all depends on your fitness level. “I’d suggest doing a max wall sit test to gauge what’s right for you,” he says. When your legs start quivering during the wall sit, you’re most likely at your max and should come back up to standing.
“Aim to work about 70% of your max time and do three sets of that with a one-minute break in-between each set for your first session,” says Kazab. So, if your max is 60 seconds, do a wall sit for about 40-45 seconds and repeat that twice. “As you get fitter, you can make them longer and even add in more sets if you like,” he continues. “After three weeks, give it a retest and you should see a vast improvement.”
The 30-day wall sit challenge
WEEK 1: FEELING THE BURN
I kick off my 30-day challenge by doing the max test. I find that I’m able to hold a wall sit for 75 seconds until my legs are wobbling, so I start off by doing three sets of 50 seconds with a 60-second rest period in between each set.
The first 50 seconds is OK, the second is painful and the third is like torture with my quads screaming out in pain. What had I got myself into? I’ll be honest, I chose wall sits initially because I thought they’d be relatively easy, but clearly I was severely mistaken.
Over the next few days, I tackle the exercises in my living room at around 11am during my short coffee break. Like on day one, the first set is fine, the second is uncomfortable and my face is screwed up in pain during the final set. I get a bit nervous beforehand because I know that I’m about to feel the burn but I feel great afterwards, physically and mentally.
After seven days of wall sits, I finally start to feel like it’s getting a bit easier. The second set isn’t so bad and it’s only the last few seconds of the final set that I really struggle with now. Seeing the progress is pretty motivating and I can’t wait to see how much stronger I’ll get by the end of the challenge.
On the final day of week one, I go on a run and it happens to be the fastest I’ve done a 5k in a month. I’m not sure if the wall sits played a role in that, but either way, I’m feeling fit and strong.
WEEK 2: BOREDOM STRIKES
Now that I’ve done a whole week of wall sits, I find myself struggling with boredom during each 50-second interval. After all, I’m literally leaning against my bedroom or living room wall staring at my bed or TV for two and a half minutes. It’s not particularly exciting.
On day two, I feel like giving up halfway through, so on day three I play my favourite workout playlist on Spotify, which really increases my motivation. I decide to keep this up throughout the challenge.
The rest of the week is a sunny one so I take the challenge onto my little balcony, which also helps to keep me interested. On the weekend, I even rope my boyfriend into doing wall sits in our local park when we’re out for a walk. My tip to anyone who wants to do this challenge is to find ways to distract yourself so you can keep it up and hold your wall sits for longer.
At the end of week two, I think back to the start of the challenge and realise how far I’ve come already. My legs are still quivering by the end of the exercise but I feel like my strength and endurance is improving.
WEEK 3: UPPING THE INTENSITY
As I enter week three, it’s probably time to step up the challenge so I start holding each wall sit for five seconds longer, as per Arnold’s suggestion. My quads feel very sore afterwards but it does feel good to push myself and to feel like I’m progressing.
This week is a particularly busy one but I still manage to fit wall sits into my day without any issues. After all, they only take five minutes. I actually find myself looking forward to my mid-morning or lunchtime exercises because they help to combat that sluggish feeling you get after sitting at a desk for hours which is an added bonus.
WEEK 4: THE FINAL STRETCH
As my challenge comes to an end and I can get through three sets of 55-second wall sits without bursting into tears, I feel ready to try out some wall sit variations.
First up, I try a single-leg wall sit which involves extending one leg out in front of your body. Sabri tells me this makes the other leg work even harder and also helps with your balance. It’s challenging but it is fun to try something new, and I can definitely feel it in my quads and my calves afterwards.
Next, I put a 5kg dumbbell on my lap to increase the intensity, and intense it certainly is. I can barely keep it on there for 30 seconds! I switch to a 3kg plate for the remaining two sets which is more manageable but still killer. My legs are like jelly by the end and I collapse on the floor as soon as the timer goes off.
For the last few days of my challenge, I alternate between single-leg and weighted wall sits. They aren’t getting a lot easier but as I know it’s coming to an end, I feel motivated to push myself. With my music blasting, I’m able to sit through the burn and weirdly, I kind of enjoy it.
On day 30, I redo the max test to see how far I’ve come. I’m thrilled to find I can hold it for 90 seconds before my legs are shaking. That’s a huge improvement! I finish off by doing a regular wall sit for 60 seconds, a weighted wall sit for 50 seconds and a then single-leg wall sit for 30 seconds on each leg. And just like that, the challenge is complete.
Come the end of the month, I feel incredibly proud of myself. I haven’t gained crazy amounts of strength in my legs but I can feel myself getting stronger and my lower body muscular endurance has definitely improved. The fact that I can hold a wall sit for longer than I could 30 days ago feels like a big achievement. If I make this a habit, I know I’ll continue to see progress.
I can’t say I’ll be doing daily wall sits from now on but I certainly will incorporate them into my day as often as I can. Why wouldn’t I? They’re such a simple but effective way to get your body moving.I’ll aim for three times a week to begin with, just to take the pressure off and to make sure I keep enjoying it.
If, like me, you want to make your sedentary days a little more active without too much effort, I’d seriously consider wall sits.
Wall sit variations for beginners
Wall sits are a difficult exercise to master, so if you want to start slow, Sabri suggests starting with a wall sit at a 45-degree angle between your quads and torso, so you’re not going down as low. Hold this for between 10 and 15 seconds before coming back up. You can gradually increase this as the days go on and you feel stronger.
FOR AN EXTRA CHALLENGE
“Variation is one of the key principles to elicit muscle adaptations,” says Kazab, who believes it’s important to keep challenging yourself in order to reap the rewards.
Aside from the single-leg wall sit and placing a weight on your thighs, Sabri recommends the following adaptations to increase the intensity:
- Bring your hands straight out in front of you to decrease your stability a little. This will encourage the muscles in your legs and core to work even harder
- Add some upper body moves such as a lateral raise or shoulder press with weights to make it dynamic. Make sure to keep your core engaged and your back pressed against the wall to avoid injury
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Images: author’s own
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