For many of us, wall sits bring back memories of gym class and after-school sports. And while you may have hated them as a teenager, wall sits give your adult self plenty to love.
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"Wall sits are a great well-rounded exercise that can help strengthen the entire lower body, as well as the abdominal muscles," says Jessica Mazzucco, a personal trainer in New York City. This isometric (stationary) move forces the glutes, quads, hamstrings, abdominals and calves to support you (with help from a wall) in a seated position for a period of time.
The result? Greater strength and endurance in most of your major muscles. And since they only require your body weight and a sturdy wall, wall sits are also a handy move to keep in your back pocket when you don't have equipment or are trying to squeeze in a workout on-the-go.
But how long do you really need to hold a wall sit to see benefits? There isn't an easy answer to that question. So, we turned to a couple of trainers for advice.
Many beginners will last 30 seconds, while more advanced exercisers can often make it 60 to 90 seconds, says Jessica Mazzucco, a personal trainer in New York City.
Short Wall Sits vs. Long Wall Sits
So, is it better to do more sets of shorter wall sit holds or fewer sets of longer holds? That depends. There's no optimal length of time to hold a wall sit that applies to everyone, Mazzucco says. The time varies according to your fitness level and goal.
Test Your Wall Sit
To test your fitness level, Mazzucco recommends holding a wall sit until your legs begin to shake. Then, try to hold another 10 seconds. Whatever your timer reads whenever you can no longer hold yourself up or your form breaks down is considered your baseline.
If you're a beginner, it may be more beneficial to perform more sets of shorter wall sit holds. More breaks mean more time for your muscles to rest and recover. "With proper breaks, people may be able to perform more total seconds of wall sits than if they held a wall sit until their legs gave out," Mazzucco says.
If you're at the advanced end of the range, aim to do 3 sets of your max time. "Longer wall sits force the body's muscles to not only strengthen, but increase endurance as well," Mazzucco says.
Regardless of where you sit on the fitness level spectrum, keep track of how long your sets last. Try to add 5 to 10 seconds when it starts to feel too easy, Mazzucco says.
Check Your Fitness Goals
The other piece of the puzzle is figuring out why you want to hold wall sits for longer periods of time, according to Lindsay Ogden, personal trainer and small group training experience manager at Life Time.
If you're hoping to strengthen your legs, exercises like lunges and squats will likely be a better option, she says. Wall sits are typically ideal for building muscular endurance, which is helpful for runners, skiers, surfers and soccer players.
So, if you're trying to shore up the staying power of your legs, Ogden suggests doing more sets and either holding for longer periods of time or cutting back on rest. According to Ogden, a four-week program may look like this:
- Week 1: 1-minute hold, 1-minute rest; 3 rounds
- Week 2: 1-minute hold, 30-second rest; 3 rounds
- Week 3: 1-minute hold, 30-second rest; 4 rounds
- Week 4: 90-second hold, 30-second rest; 4 rounds
But whether you do longer or shorter sets, always be sure your form is on-point. If you can only manage a couple of 30-second sets with great form, so be it. "You can work toward increasing this time as you perform more wall sits," Mazzucco says.
Proper Wall Sit Form
- Stand with your back pressed firmly against a wall, feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your back pressed into the wall, slide down and bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Place your hands down by your sides with palms against the wall or keep them in your lap.
- Tighten your abdomen and press your lower back into the wall. Hold this seated position for as long as possible. Keep your feet flat and knees over your ankles.
- Once you're ready to end your set, slide up the wall to stand instead of falling to the floor.
If this move is too difficult, try placing a stability ball in between your back and the wall and/or lower only part of the way.
Take Your Wall Sits to the Next Level
Once you've perfected the standard version, there are ways to make wall sits more difficult, aside from holding them for longer periods of time.
For example, you could wear a weighted vest or set a weight plate or place a sandbag on your thighs. You could also hold a medicine ball, weight plate or dumbbell in front of your chest or overhead. Or, incorporate an upper-body exercise like biceps curls or lateral raises while you hold your wall sit.
If you don't have weights, try staggering your stance or lifting one leg off the ground and hold there to challenge both strength and balance.
To avoid injury, pay close attention to your form — whether you're doing basic or advanced wall sits. Also, "make sure you don't have any pain before trying an advanced version of a wall sit," Ogden says.