Wall Sits, also known sometimes as Wall Squats, are popular exercises for athletes. They are handy at the high school level, where there may not be a weight room available. Wall Sits only require a wall, and the whole team can perform the exercise simultaneously. However, they can be especially brutal when turned into a competition. Sit on a wall and see who’s the last man or woman standing (or, in this case, sitting). It is a strenuous exercise, no matter your level of strength, and can be a fun way to build team camaraderie through competition. However, that’s where the good things end. There are a lot of cons to the exercise. Cons that I believe make the exercise not worthwhile.
With most things in life, there needs to be a healthy balance. There is always the possibility of too much of a good thing. Wall sits, build quad strength. While this is true, the exercise is inherently a quad isolation exercise, which isn’t good for the knees. The quads are the big, bulky muscles in front of the thigh, connecting to the knee joint. The hamstrings are the opposite, big bulky muscles on the thigh’s backside, connecting to the knee. The hamstrings are the Yin to the quads’ Yang.
Running, jumping, squatting, almost everything your legs do, requires a delicate and deliberate contraction of the quads and hamstrings to keep the knee joint balanced, directing the forces to where you want them to go healthily. The best athletes have great balance and coordination between these two muscle groups. This balance allows athletes to run faster, jump farther, and even throw harder.
Quads and Hamstrings
In addition to creating powerful movements, the quads and hamstrings work together in a balanced tug of war to keep the knee joint from being pulled too far forward or backward. The quads pull forward, and the hamstrings pull backward. When just the quads contract, this stresses the front of the knee and is stressful to structures such as the ACL. The hamstrings need to contract hard enough to remove the stress to the ACL and another front of the knee structures. The quads need the hamstrings. The hamstrings need the quads: Yin and Yang.
To simplify, without balancing forward and backward muscles, the risk of injury dramatically rises. Wall Sits, unfortunately, are nearly 100% quad dominant, with little to no activity on the backside muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes. Therefore, in order to sit on a wall, there has to be a very disproportionate force pushing backwards into the Wall, placing a huge amount of stress to the front of the knee, without balancing the backside. This imbalance can be dangerous for athletes, as plenty of research shows that quad dominant athletes have greater incidences of knee injuries, particularly the dreaded ACL tear.
A study from the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that female athletes typically have a quad-dominant jump and land strategy, which could be a leading cause of their significantly higher rates of ACL injuries when compared to male athletes, who typically have a more hip dominant strategy. This indicates that Wall Sits could be especially detrimental to female athletes, who already tend to be more quad dominant.
Defending Wall Sits
There will be many people that want to defend Wall Sits. Yes, foot positioning and hip and knee angle matter. There are better and worse ways to do Wall sits. Sitting lower can cause greater contractions at the glutes and hamstrings, giving some balance to the exercise—the lower, the better, in general. Still, no matter how low you go, the athlete will fly backward if you remove the Wall, landing on their butt. That isn’t balanced, and it isn’t athleticism. It doesn’t relate to or translate to movements done on any field or court and shouldn’t be prescribed in an athlete’s exercise plan.
So What Should We Do Instead Of Wall Sits?
Regular squats. Simple. Pretty much every other squat out there requires a balanced contraction of both quads and hamstrings that prevents damaging forward shearing forces to the knee. Barbell back squats, front squats, goblet squats, even bodyweight squats require this healthy balance to the knees. Additionally, lunges are essentially one-legged squats. Forward, reverse, and lateral lunges are all great exercises that any athlete can do to help strengthen and stabilize the knee without any equipment. Mastering these more balanced squats will better translate to greater athleticism on the field while keeping the knee musculature in a healthy balance, reducing the risk of injury.
Read More: Why Weighted Wall Sit Challenges are the Dumbest Thing on Social Media