From the cadence of a leisurely stroll to the vigour of a jog around the neighbourhood, the consensus among fitness and medical experts has remained steadfast: Exercise is a stalwart ally in the quest to lower blood pressure.
Engaging in any physical activity yields substantial dividends for cardiovascular health.
A recent study presents a captivating twist in the narrative by spotlighting an unexpected contender in the realm of blood pressure reduction: The unassuming yet formidable wall squat.
The wall squat, an isometric wonder
Engaging in muscle-contraction exercises devoid of movement, such as wall squats and planks, could hold the key to reducing blood pressure, suggests the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in July.
Though authors of the study say they aren't exactly sure why these exercises are better for lowering blood pressure than other types of training and that more research is needed.
Wall exercises are a form of isometric or static exercise. As outlined by the Mayo Clinic, isometric muscle action occurs when muscles contract without a noticeable change in length and the related joints remain stationary, contributing to the body's overall stability.
Wall squats are essentially body-weight movements performed against or supported by a wall.
Gyms and trainers – in the region, around the world and on social media alike – are increasingly incorporating them into fitness regimes in different ways.
Camp, a fitness and boot camp club in the Dubai International Financial Centre, combines its wall exercises with dumbbells (plus heart-pumping music) to build muscle and stamina. “I use wall sits in my classes as an incredible finisher after working out the legs with heavy weights,” says Lauren Brush, founding coach at Camp.
To maximise the workout, weights are added for more resistance, either around the legs or to work the upper body by doing shoulder presses or bicep curls. These can also be supplemented with other muscle-burning moves such as heel raises to pump the glutes and leg marches to target the abs.
According to fitness coach Rael Gbonou, of Dubai fitness centre Boxica, wall exercises are “a great way to target different muscle groups and enhance strength, stability and flexibility, thereby contributing to an improvement in overall health”.
Convenience and accessibility are other factors at play here, given wall exercises do not require any equipment and rely on body weight only.
“For the convenience factor alone, I’d say wall squats and planks are in my top 10 go-to exercises,” says personal trainer and coach Lauren Grayson of Reset Fitness.
Each has an array of variations, she adds, that “enable the body to work through the principles of progressive overload or unilateral flow – working one side and then the other to further correct muscular imbalances, while enhancing key motor skills like balance”.
The wall squat can be used not only as a stand-alone exercise, but also to test strength and assess how tight or weak some muscles are. “With long periods of time sitting down at the computer or checking our phones, our bodies become less functional and less mobile. The wall squat with an overhead reach is an underrated way to test how far from optimal movement patterns your body has come,” explains Grayson.
A guide to performing the exercise
To properly perform a wall squat, Brush recommends standing with the back flat against a wall with the feet standing as wide as the hips. “Your feet should be about two feet away from the wall,” she says.
The ideal position is to get your hips down the wall until you have a 90-degree bend in your knees, but she recommends beginners start in a position that’s easy for them to get out of and then work their way down.
“To make this more advanced, you can consider holding a dumbbell or something heavy. It’s important to keep the abs tight and hold the weight in the centre of the foot. Hold this position for as long as you can, ideally 30 seconds or more,” she says.
It is also important to make sure the heels are pressed down, so your weight is going through the heels, which also helps the back remain pressed up against the wall.
“After a few moments, the little shakes you start to feel is your body recruiting the smaller muscles to help stay in that position,” says Grayson. She adds that the more motor units – muscle cells – your body can recruit, the stronger the muscle will be.
“You will certainly start to feel the burn in your quads, but the little muscles that protect your knees, calves, glutes and even your core will also spring into action.”
Experts do warn, however, that just like every other form of exercise, wall squats must be performed correctly with proper form for them to be effective and safe. “There are limitations with intensity; as these are body-weight-based, turning up the intensity may require additional variations and hence consistency is crucial in achieving the desired goal,” says Gbonou.
Seven more wall exercises to try
Gbonou shares additional postures to incorporate into your at-home routine.
- Wall push-ups: Face the wall and perform push-ups with your hands on the wall at shoulder height.
- Wall sits: Slide your back down the wall into a seated position, forming a 90-degree angle with your knees.
- Wall plank: Assume a plank position with your forearms on the floor and your feet against the wall.
- Wall calf raises: Stand facing the wall and perform calf raises by lifting your heels off the ground.
- Wall shoulder press: With your back against the wall, push your hands upwards to work the shoulders.
- Wall leg lifts: Lie on your back with your legs extended upwards and against the wall, and perform leg lifts.
- Wall stretching: Utilise the wall to aid in various stretches for flexibility and postural improvement.