Wall squats or slides are a replacement exercise for traditional squats. They protect the back and knees while insuring controlled movement, making for a much safer exercise for people with knee or back issues. Wall squats work out the same muscles as a squat, the hips, thighs, glutes and abdominal muscles.
The key to doing good wall squats is to hold the lunge position for as long as you’re comfortable, while letting your pain guide your practice. In other words, don’t squat until your muscles burn, always leaving yourself with something in the tank to work with later and don’t bend to the point of pain in the knees or the back. If you have osteoarthritis, you may not be able to bend as far as me or you may bend much further. So long as there’s no pain, that’s okay, at least up to a knee bend of 90 degrees (as if you were sitting in a chair). Even if you can only slide down the wall a couple of inches, you’ll still feel this exercise and get all the benefits out of it.
After 5 months of doing this exercise, I am able to do free-standing squats with no problem. In fact, I can do 3 reps of 15 without pause and only feel a slight burn in my muscles. The wall squats have made a huge difference for me and it seems as if I can even graduate to traditional squats: However, doing free-standing squats comes with a great deal of risk and very little reward that I can see for someone with a degenerating spine and osteoarthritis in both knees. What amazes me is that I no longer experience pain from a deep knee squat up to 90 degrees (at least if it’s not held) which goes to show that exercise really does have a positive impact on osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease and supporting weakened joints with strong muscle is a sound theory (just in case you aren’t buying it).
Foolishly, I had been doing squats for a while when I started seeing my physical therapist back in March because I was so desperate to build these muscles and had no idea what else to do. Every rep hurt my knees and many times my back would interfere or hurt later on. After years of rotting in beds, recliners and wheelchairs and never properly building myself back up after my back surgery, it took me months to work my way up to 3 sets of 5. Now, I am confident I can 4 times the amount pain-free, but I’m still debating whether or not I want to risk doing this exercise every day, even with a seat behind me to guide me and catch me should I fall when wall squats are just as good.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it may feel like I’m doing more with a free-standing squat , but the reality is that holding muscle contractions does more to build muscle than quick repetitions. Additionally, more repetitions equals more wear on our joints. It makes no sense to “graduate to free standing squats” for people who are going to pay for any wear and tear on our joints. Save that wear and tear for cardio. In the end, I believe your heart and joints will both thank you.