Did you know the average American spends more than 12 hours of a 16-hour waking day sitting, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine? That means I spend more time sitting than I do sleeping. Not only is sitting one of the least active things you can do (duh), it actually negatively affects your body: There’s the things you can feel, like tight hips and low back pain. But studies also show it can up your risk for depression, diabetes, and other causes of mortality without you even noticing. Not great.
But as someone who works on a computer, sitting is an unavoidable part of my day. So, what if I could make some of that sedentary time feel a little more active? Enter: wall sits.
Wall sits are an exercise that involves leaning against a wall with your knees at a 90 degree angle, and feet planted on the floor. You can hold it for a minute, two minutes, or however long you’re able. This move packs all kinds of strength-building benefits, too, including “quad strength, hamstring strength, glute strength, and good old pain tolerance,” says NASM-certified celebrity trainer Brett Hoebel. “Keep in mind, where you apply force determines the muscles you work. If you press forward into the balls of your feet, you will focus on your quads. If you press forward into your heels, you will also activate the glutes. If you pull your heels backward, you will focus on your hamstrings.”
Sounds pretty enticing, right? For my own challenge, I decided that if I spent so much of my day sitting, I could at least spend 60 seconds of every day doing wall sits versus sitting in a chair. After incorporating wall sits into my day for two weeks, here’s what I learned.
Wall Sits Work Your Whole Lower Body
A wall sit is an isometric exercise, which means it works in a static position—you don’t have to move, you just have to hold it. “Isometric exercises build strength over the duration of the hold, the longer the hold the greater increase of muscle fiber activation and strength,” explains Tim Hartwig, C.S.C.S., a trainer based in Los Angeles..
In my experience, the first thing I felt during wall sits was my quads. But, while a wall sit is a quad-dominant exercise, as Hoebel mentioned, I also noticed it fired up other muscles in my lower body, including calves, hamstrings, and glutes. There were times I even felt it in my abs! The first 10 or 20 seconds felt pretty easy; but the longer I held the position, the harder it felt.
The Biggest Obstacle Is Boredom
So here’s the thing about wall sits: You are, literally, just sitting against a wall. That gets boring pretty fast if you’re holding the position for 60 seconds or more. I found if I gave up early, it was more likely because I was bored than because I was struggling physically. Bring your phone. Bring a magazine. Bring your freakin’ computer to the wall with you. Make it a game by challenging yourself to get through a whole article or to send three emails before standing back up. The more you can distract yourself from just staring into the distance, the longer you’ll likely be able to hold it.
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Adding Weights Ups The Benefits
If plain ol’ wall sits are too boring for you, up the intensity by adding weight. You can place dumbbells in your lap to put more weight on your legs or hold them in your hands and add in some biceps curls, lat raises, or overhead presses to get your upper body involved. Or you can do what I did, and hold your brother’s 35-pound dog in your lap. That’ll really get your quads screaming.
Challenging Your Balance Works More Muscles
Remember how I said isometric exercises work by forcing your muscles to stabilize your body? Adding in some balance challenges can take that to the next level. I tried holding one leg out in front of my body to make the other leg work even harder and I tried alternating from flat feet to raising up on my toes for extra calf work. You could also try marching your feet. All these moves call on your core muscles to help you keep your alignment straight and your back against the wall. Plus, they’re another good way to distract yourself if you’re bored just sitting there.
There’s Really No Reason You Shouldn’t Be Doing Wall Sits
First of all, there are walls everywhere. And if there aren’t walls, there are trees, rocks, a million different things that you can rest your back against while you assume the position. Second, how hard is it to find 60 seconds to get up and do a wall sit? You could make it a habit to do a wall sit every time you get up to go to the bathroom or refill your water. Honestly, they were so easy to incorporate into my day my only regret about this experiment is that I didn’t do more wall sits every day. Think about the benefits of doing a wall sit once every hour! My legs would be chiseled.