Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Wall Sit

There has been some internet drama over the last few days with Anthony criticising the barbell squat and then MAS following up with I No Longer Give a Squat About The Squat and a follow up Lower Risk Alternatives to the Barbell Back Squat

I commented on that last post explaining why I chose the Wall Sit as a key exercise in Hillfit  Here is what I said:

I chose the Wall Sit / Air Bench / Wall Sit for Hillfit for a number of reasons.

First of all it is simple to learn. Too many trainers or internet personalities present exercises that may be fine but are actually complex motor skills. Kettlebell snatches and swings for example may or may not be good exercises but they are not easy to learn without decent coaching and a lot of practice. The Wall sit is different – it is a very simple move. Once in position your task is simple – hold that position until you can’t hold it anymore, sequentially recruiting the muscle fibres.

Secondly it is a congruent exercise (in terms of Bill DeSimone’s work). At the 90 degree knee position you are at maximum moment arm for the quads, while this is also the position of maximum muscle torque – the hardest position in terms of leverage is met with the muscle being at its strongest.

Thirdly it removes much risk. Whatever the squat defenders say you are in a risky position moving with a bar on your back. I’ve seen and experienced too many slips and accidents. I’ve seen people squat without collars only to see plates slide off the bar so it flips off and cracks them in the back of the head. I’ve seen people get stuck at the bottom. In terms of duty of care I cannot recommend this move to the average person that I aimed the book at. With the Wall Sit there can be zero added load or if you do add load you can do it safely – hold dumbbells at your side or in a goblet position.

In terms of performance I either just do the timed hold, adding weight if I go over 90 seconds, or do that and immediately go into the top half of a free /air squat, the easy portion where the moment arm is less and you can keep going. I also sometimes do them Max Pyramid style: 20seconds with knees at about 60 degrees, 20 seconds with knees at 90 degrees, then 90 degrees with added weight for 20s, add weight until you can’t hold for 20 then back down, usually backing to zero load and then the 60 degrees.

Wall sits were the basic quad exercise Bill DeSimone recommended in his first book, Moment Arm Exercise which was what got me thinking of them as the basic move.

For me for most people a wall sit, plus a plank (pushup position) would be the start of all training. I also add some timed static contractions now, but that is another story.

There is a good demonstration of a wall sit at 1:19 in this video from Patrick (who I interviewed)


Anonymous said...

My rather loose knee joints are squirming at the mere sight of his excercise ... (on the other hand, they seem to do really well with the increased impact my new barefoot shoes are directing at them). I think it'll be weighted squats for me instead.

Sifter said...

I understand your reasons as listed, but with this logic why not either a freehand Goblet squat up and down, or a static 'Horse' stance? I'm familiar with Egoscue's work but not clear on how Air Bench is superior, and why it's superior (simpler?) than a staic horse stance or Goblet squat without the wall.

Chris said...


All I can say is to try the move. Your knees might be ok. Start with a bigger angle st the knee if the 90degree is too tough

Chris said...


I am having trouble getting this comment to show but basically it is about simplicity. It is a hard move to do wrong. Squats still need more skill and coaching even goblet squats.

Bill DeSimone said...

Chris, you're far too reasonable for this blog to ever get anywhere.

Back away from the keyboards, that's a joke.

Chris said...

Thanks Bill. Maybe this place needs more drama.

David @ Perfect Body Review said...

I like to alternate Wall Sits with Squats with 1 month cycle. Squats can be difficult for beginners, this is true. I remember how awful was my form at the beginning. I had to put the ego aside and drop the weights a little bit.

Planks are my only abs exercise. I started out struggling with 30 seconds, and now after 9 months my personal record is 6 minutes. It keeps my spine healthy and my core is hard as rock !

Great article Chris

- David K

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

my knees did hold up rather well; even after a good night's sleep I had no (additional) aches and, surprisingly, absolutely no sore muscles, even though I did push myself quite a bit.

Alook Training said...

Excellent article. We agree that wall squats are one of the simplest, and most effective moves out there.

Øyvind said...

Hi Chris!

First of all, thank you for your amazing work that you so generously share! It has completely changed my view on strenght training and what separates it from sports/physcal activities in general. An ectomorph at 25 i was planning to join a crossfit box, but i now instead train hill fit style with the wall sit as the central move. I already feel stronger in my more playfull activities! However i still have some questions regarding the wall sit. They may be completely daft, but i cant shake them so here goes:

1: It is my understanding that the wall sit is effective for the quadriceps. But how about the hamstrings and calves? Are they sufficiently trained, or should one not worry much about training them at all? For example, the guy demonstrating the wall sit in the video linked to the article first makes use of a leg curl machine.

2: In this video

Fred Fornicola instructs a client in a "max pyramid" but with a static weight. Do you think such a technique could be applied to the wall sit?

All the best!


Chris said...


Sorry for the delay in responding. Thanks for the comment.

I would recommend that you check out the book Body By Science which goes into this style of training a lot more. Check their blog too -

The wall sit is a favourite move, but partly I recommend it because it is simple to do at home. If you had access to a good leg press machine that would also be an option. You might also want to check out Drew Baye's recent post on bodyweight squats -

With respect to your questions - The target of the wall sit is the quads, but the rest of the leg is also worked with the exercise. In general for most people that would be enough.

You need to read the articles about the Max Pyamid and the comments on them

Somewhere in there an application of this approach to the wall sit was described and it is something i often do. The idea of the pyramid is to work up a series of 20 second static holds with increasing loads. The model in the articles is to do this with increasing weight but you can achieve the same by altering the leverage. So for the wall sit, do the first 20s hold with your knees at an angle of about 120 degrees. The next 20s, shuffle down the wall a bit so your legs are more bent. The next 20s hold with your legs at 90 degrees - this is the hardest position. As you get stronger you could do another 20s here while holding dumbells. Then reverse the pyramid - as you get back to the first position you may find yourself strugglign to hold it for 20s.

In all these holds actively contract the whole leg - glutes, calf, thighs. In all this it is not about lifting a weight but contracting a muscle.

Also check out MAS blog -

agou said...

Hello Chris and thank you for a very interesting article.

When you are referring to "moment arm" I assume that you mean the moment arm of the resistance (and not of the muscle). But how do you define the moment arm of the resistance in a multi-joint movement (in which - additionally - the resistance is the bodyweight)?

In the leg extension for example (which is a single-joint exercise), the maximum moment arm of the resistance is in the fully extended position. And this position is also the strongest for the muscle. Not because of moment arm though, but because the muscle is fully contracted in this position, and thus stronger.

In the leg extension, the moment arm of the muscle doesn't change. It is always the length of the lower leg. I suspect that this is the case for every muscle and in every movement.

Returning to the air squat, I agree that the most difficult (highest resistance) position is the 90-degree angle. So even if I can't explain it fully, the moment arm of the resistance must be the highest in that position. But the muscle is NOT the strongest in that position.

Chris said...


Check out Bill DeSimone's work. The fully cointracted position is not the muscle's strongest position. When the muscle is fully contracted it is actually in what is called a position of active insufficiency. The position of maximum muscle torue is usually midway between full contraction and full stretch