How to Do a Wall Sit

The simple wall sit doesn't require any equipment and will leave your lower-body muscles quivering.

Wall Sit
Shutterstock.

When training your quads and glutes, exercises such as squatsdeadlifts, and hip thrusts often get the spotlight. But no lower-body exercise burns quite like the wall sit. While it may look like a fairly simple exercise, it packs a lot of punch and may leave your legs quivering — no joke.

So what is it about the wall sit that makes it so deceptively hard? It's an isometric exercise, meaning there's no change in the length of the muscles involved and the affected joints don't move. Isometric exercises, such as the wall sit, involve holding a specific position, allowing your muscles to contract under tension for a certain amount of time. Here, learn more about the humble wall sit, including why trainers recommend it for building lower-body strength and ways to progress or modify the movement to meet your needs.

How to Do a Wall Sit

At its most basic, a wall sit involves pushing your torso into a wall and using your leg strength to hold a seated position. Your legs should be bent at a right angle to get all the lower-body strengthening benefits of the wall sit. Here's a breakdown of how to do the wall sit, as demonstrated by Anna Taylor, C.P.T., a NASM-certified personal trainer at Life Time Woodbury, MN. (While you're at it, check out the most effective thigh exercises of all time.)

A. Stand with back pressed up against a wall, feet hip-width apart, and arms at sides.

B. Walk feet out about two steps in front of body.

C. With back against the wall, arms at sides, and chest upright, bend knees to lower body down until legs are parallel to the ground, forming 90-degree angles. Knees should be stacked directly over ankles and in line with hips. Engage core to help with stability and maintain an upright posture.

D. Hold this position for at least 10 seconds.

The Key Wall Sit Benefits

The wall sit might look easy, but trust — this fundamental strength move packs a punch. Here are the benefits of wall sits, according to experts.

Strengthens Lower-Body Muscles

"If done properly, the wall sit strengthens the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip adductors/abductors (inner thighs), calves, and abs," says Taylor. "It's important to strengthen these muscles to improve stability, strength, and muscle imbalances/injuries."

Much like a squat, the wall sit involves lowering your body down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, activating your quads and glutes. As you're holding this position and pressing your feet down into the ground, you're also engaging your inner thigh muscles and your core to help you stabilize. Activating your core also helps your upper body maintain an upright position, says Taylor.

To get the most out of this exercise, you want to actively think about engaging your glutes by pushing through your heels, says Holly Roser, C.P.T., a NASM-certified personal trainer based in San Mateo, CA. "When you visualize specific muscles engaging, you will feel those muscles firing more than other muscle groups," she says. "Every muscle in your lower body assists you in holding a squat position. If you want to focus on a specific muscle group, visualize it."

Prevents Muscle Imbalances

In order to maintain the "squat" position of the wall sit, where your thighs are parallel to the ground, you need to call on both your quads and glutes. Wall sits are excellent at preventing muscle imbalances (aka when one side of your body is stronger than the other) and injuries by equally engaging both sides of your legs — meaning your quads at the front of your thighs and your glutes on your backside — at the same time, says Taylor. And imbalanced muscles carry a bigger risk than just noticing that one of your biceps is slightly larger than the other. If left unaddressed, muscle imbalances can lead to overcompensation (in which the dominant muscle takes over the movement), dysfunctional movement patterns, and overuse — all of which carry a risk of injury.

Builds Muscular Endurance

"Isometric holds, such as a wall sit, are an excellent way to build strength and stability when added to a proper training program," says Taylor. In turn, wall sits improve your muscular endurance (the ability for the body to work for an extended period of time); they force your lower-body muscles to contract for an extended period of time, hence the isometric hold. And the stronger your body is, the longer your muscles can withstand resistance, says Roser. Doing wall sits frequently engages your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and inner thigh muscles and builds up their stamina over time, allowing you to take on more resistance (read: level up from 15-pound dumbbells to a weightlifting barbell).

Building muscular endurance in your lower body isn't just important for athletic performance in lower-body dominant sports (such as running and cycling). It's also crucial for daily activities, such as walking, because it conditions your body to do activities over a longer period of time without tiring out your muscles too quickly.

Is Accessible to All Fitness Levels

Wall sits don't require any fitness equipment; all you need is a wall or a flat and sturdy vertical surface to lean against, says George Bamfo Jr., celebrity fitness trainer and C4 athlete. Wall sits are also a low-impact move, meaning they put less pressure on your joints than, say, exercises that involve jumping. Because your feet stay on the ground the whole time, wall sits are a great choice for fitness newbies or older adults who can't handle as much impact on their joints, says Bamfo Jr. They also make for an ideal modification before you tackle dynamic compound movements. "If you're not ready to squat, I recommend beginning with a wall sit to strengthen your legs before progressing to a full squat pattern." (Going easy on your knees? Try this low-impact HIIT workout at home.)

"What's great is that the movement is a very manageable exercise that's low-risk for all individuals to perform," says Taylor. In fact, all individuals can benefit from doing isometric holds, such as wall sits, she says. As you get stronger, you can progressively make the exercise harder to continue challenging your muscles.

Wall Sit Muscles Worked

The main muscles the wall sit works are your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thigh muscles, calves, and core, says Taylor. These muscles are key to improving your overall stability and strength, which helps with preventing injuries down the road.

Wall Sit Variations

While the wall sit may be accessible to all fitness levels, the most important thing to consider is whether the isometric move works for you and your fitness goals. Whether you're looking to scale down or level up the wall sit, these two exercise variations recommended and demonstrated by Taylor will help you reap the same benefits that the traditional move does.

Modification: Quarter Squat Wall Sit

No need to immediately drop into the deepest wall sit of your life in order to enjoy the benefits of a wall sit. A more modest 45-degree angle in your legs (compared to a 90-degree angle) will offer you a way to ease into this lower-body move. "If a client has joint pain, I recommend the quarter squat wall sit before progressing to a parallel wall sit or loaded wall sit," says Taylor. That way, you can help your muscles adapt to the movement pattern on your own time frame.

If you need extra support holding the squat position, you can place a stability ball behind your lower back, suggests Roser. "It's more comfortable and will cut the pressure off your quads," she explains. "Try not to lean onto the ball too much. Think of the ball as helping absorb some of the force off of your quads, moving it to your back."

Progression: Weighted Wall Sit

Once you've nailed the bodyweight wall sit and have built up the strength in your quads, glutes, and core, you can progress with a weighted wall sit to continue challenging these muscle groups, says Taylor. For example, you can hold a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells at your side or place a weight plate on top of your thighs. The added resistance challenges your body even further and ramps up that muscular endurance.

Another progression you can try is a single-leg wall sit during which you extend one leg out in front of your body and maintain the same 90-degree bend in your stabilizing knee. "This move will challenge your ankle stability, your legs, as well as your core," says Roser.

Common Wall Sit Mistakes

While a wall sit looks pretty basic, there are ways to mess up this lower-body exercise. For example, your feet may be in the wrong position — either too far away from or too close to the wall. "It's important to make sure your knees and ankles are aligned to keep the proper form that will be most effective," says Taylor. Your ankles should be under or slightly in front of the knees, and remember to press down into the floor with your entire foot (rather than just the toes or just the heels). This activation helps engage your inner thighs and abs, says Taylor.

And don't forget about your upper body as well. As tempting as it might be to push your hands into your legs, that's a no-go, says Taylor. "In a wall sit, pushing your hands into the legs will take the tension away from the primary muscles being worked, especially the core and glutes," she explains. Instead, keep your arms by your sides, overhead, or outstretched in front of you, depending on how challenging you want the exercise to feel, she recommends (FYI, arms overhead will be the most difficult position to maintain with good form).

Finally, keep your back against the wall throughout the entire exercise and avoid any arch in your low back, which compromises your form. "[Maintain] an upright position with your chest proud and tall," advises Taylor. And if you're not feeling the burn in your quads, drop an inch or two lower to get the most out of the movement.

How to Add Wall Sits to Your Routine

Wall sits are a great move to add to your leg day workouts because they target your lower-body muscles. Try them as a warm-up exercise, especially if you're doing a full-range squat, recommends Taylor.

"If you're using wall sits on your leg day as a warm-up, do two to three sets and hold for 10 to 30 seconds with proper form," she says. "Remember, you are trying to stimulate the legs in an isometric hold, so you need to make the movement intentional to create a great connection to those muscles." Or, for a standalone strength exercise, Roser suggests doing three sets of 45 seconds three times a week.

Although everyone can benefit from working their lower body with wall sits, both Roser and Bamfo Jr. especially recommend it for athletes who play a sport that involves running, such as football, basketball, and tennis, as well as volleyball players and skiers — all of whom need to build lower-body strength and endurance to excel at their sports. "It packs a colossal difficulty quickly, making it one of the top choices of trainers and group fitness coaches," says Roser.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles