Our old friend the wall sit. By no means is this a new, cutting edge exercise. BUT it serves as an avenue to discuss the topic of isometric training. What is it? Why should you do it? How should you do it.
If you are wondering what in the heck isometric is, or if it is even English, let me explain. Isometric is essentially a muscle contraction that produces no movement. In fact, you are likely doing isometric work in the form of a plank or a v-sit hold. BUT I am willing to bet the average person isn’t intentionally training the isometric muscle contraction to elicit a specific physiological response and stimulate a measurable adaptation. The average person is doing it because someone told them to.
And yes, for the most part that average person doesn’t need to know what an isometric muscle contraction is. They need to have a trusted resource in a group trainer, personal trainer or program where isometric work is being included with an intention.
👋🏻 This is me waiving at you as a trusted resource.
The biggest reason you should be doing isometric exercises is for the stability benefits. Whether you are a teenage athlete, avid runner or in the aging population stability is your friend. It should be your best friend.
You will also experience an improvement in muscle endurance by regularly incorporating isometric exercises. This is once again great for athletes, injury prevention and the aging body.
And another benefit is training your body to recruit the right muscles to facilitate that movement.
Let’s discuss a wall sit and how you should start using it in your next workout.
How to Perform A Wall Sit isometric exercise
A wall sit is an easy way to start adding isometric training into your daily workouts. It can be done just about anywhere and you do not need equipment to get started.
Steps for a Wall Sit
- Find yourself a wall.
- Sit against it.
😂 It really is that simple. However, we have some guidelines to follow or work towards.
- Try to get 90 degrees of flexion at your hips and knees. This depth mirrors a squat depth and has a direction translation to muscle fiber recruitment for proper muscle firing within the movement.
- Keeping your feet around hip width and knees over your ankles. We want to avoid excessive internal rotation, letting our knees knock in, and rolling onto the side of our foot, picking up our big toe, and lifting our heels off the ground. Focus on a consistent foot contact with the ground.
- Maintain contact with the wall at your head, shoulders, back and butt by bracing your upper body into the wall. This will make your wall sit more of a total body exercise and help the neurological connection between your lower and upper body in the squatting pattern.
Goal: Work yourself up to regular 90 minute wall sits!
What to Avoid when doing a Wall Sit
I think I made it clear before, but here is a recap. Do Not:
- Lift your heels off the ground.
- Let your knees cave in.
- Roll on to the outside of your foot.
- Lean forward and rest your elbows on your thighs.
- Forget to have fun 🙂 After all you’ll do it more often if you can find fun in it.
Tips for a Wall Sit
- When you are trying to keep your butt, back, shoulders and head against the wall think about tucking your chin to your chest. We want to avoid looking up at the ceiling or raising our chin in order to get our head back against the wall.
- If you are struggling with this exercise stay above 90 degrees and as you consistently do this exercise lower yourself down to 90 degrees.
- If you want more of a challenge, use one of the variations below!
Other Isometric Exercises and wall sit variations
A plank is a great upper body isometric exercise, but the sky is the limit. You can take any muscle contraction and make it isometric. Just think of an exercise you like. Here is a common one – a bicep curl. Simply hold the weight with your elbow(s) at 90 degrees. You can time the exercise, or do it while holding a lunge for an isometric lower body burn too. Alternately you could be doing a full reverse lunge and working the concentric and eccentric phase.
Here are a few of our favorite isometric exercises:
Plank Variations: movement in the lower body like knee drives, pikes, scissors, kick throughs, or change the surface of the plank to be on a Bosu Ball, medicine ball, stability ball.
Wall Sit Variations: add movement in your upper body with resistance bands or free weights, hold a medicine ball between your knees, march or wear a band and use your glutes to drive into the band.
Upper Body Variations: chin up hold, flexed arm hold, single arm hold and perform reps with the other arm (ex – bench press with one arm locked out at the top).
Lower Body Variations: split squat position, hold the bottom position of a RDL, glute bridge hold (optional single leg), calf raise hold, single leg squat with alternating toe tap.
I could go on for days. Hopefully you can see that just about everything can be made to include an isometric component. Creativity with intention is part of what makes being a trainer so fun for me.
Equipment for Isometric Exercises
There is literally no equipment required besides a wall to sit against. But we did just discuss a good number of variations you could be doing. So we have some suggestions that will allow you to work in the progressions above.
Isometric Workout with a wall sit
I have two workouts for you to get started with. They should take 30 -50 minutes to complete depending on your conditioning level and resistance choices. Remember that the longer you hold an isometric position the more physiological changes you are stimulating. Let’s not get crazy and say hold a wall sit for an hour, but use that concept as a guide. Exercises that have repetitions should be performed at a moderate pace with a significant amount of control.
- Wall Sit (30-60 seconds)
- SA Bicep Curl Hold & SA Curl (10 each side)
- Elbow Plank (30-60 seconds)
- Glute Bridge Hold (60 seconds)
- SA Tricep Kick Back Hold & SA Kick Back (10 each side)
- High Plank (30-60 seconds)
- Repeat top to bottom 4 times
- SL Glute Bridge Hold w/ Weight (30 second each leg)
- Plank w/ Paused Hip Extension (15 each leg)
- Bent Over SA Row Hold & SA Row (15 each side)
- Repeat 3 times
- Wall Sit w/ Front Raise (60 second)
- V-Sit with Overhead Hold (60 seconds)
- Chin Up Hold (20-30 seconds)
- Repeat 3 times
- Split Squat Hold w/ Rotation (10 each side)
- Side Plank w/ Leg Raise (10 each side)
- SA Overhead Press Hold & SA Press (10 each side)
- Repeat 3 times
What to Follow a Workout Video?
Check out this great workout entirely focused on isometric muscle contractions!
Check out this killer workout where I use a wall sit as your active recovery!
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