Wall sits and planks lower blood pressure – how to do them safely

New results finds isometric exercises can help you beat hypertension – our experts show you how to do them.

A new study has suggested that isometric exercises – which include planks and wall sits – are the most effective way to lower blood pressure.

Some 270 studies involving almost 16,000 people were analysed in the research by two UK universities. They found that while all exercise is beneficial in lowering blood pressure, isometric exercises – static exercises which work the muscles – and running had the most impact.

So how do you do these static exercises safely? We speak to the experts to find out the best choices to help your blood pressure.

Two women doing the plank exerciseCredit: Shutterstock / SeventyFour

What does the new research say?

Researchers from Canterbury Christ Church and Leicester universities studied more than 270 clinical trials carried out between 1990 and 2023 on almost 16,000 people. The academics found there were significant reductions in resting blood pressure following cardio; dynamic resistance training, such as squats, press-ups and weights; high intensity interval training (HIIT); and combined training.

But the largest reductions were seen after isometric exercise training. These exercises engage muscles without movement and include wall sits and planks.

A secondary analysis on specific types of exercises found the most benefit was seen among those who performed isometric wall sits and among runners.

The authors say their findings mean it could be time to review current government exercise guidelines for the treatment and prevention of high blood pressure as these are based on older data.

Why you should do isometric exercises if you have high blood pressure

Isometric exercises place a very different stress on the body to aerobic exercise, study author Dr Jamie O’Driscoll told the BBC.

“They increase the tension in the muscles when held for two minutes, then cause a sudden rush of blood when you relax,” he says.

“This increases the blood flow, but you must remember to breathe.”

Current UK guidelines say adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.

Dr O’Driscoll says people should now also consider doing two minutes of wall squats, or holding the plank position four times with two minutes’ rest in between, three times a week.

If you are concerned about your blood pressure, speak to your GP to get it checked and ask them about the best exercises for your condition.

How to do the plank and wall sit safely

Saga Exceptional spoke to James Staring, the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers. He explained how we can safely do these two exercises at home.

Staring said: “Whilst performing these exercises, focus on deep rhythmic breathing. This way you’ll improve your breathing efficiency, while also achieving the relaxed state that helps lower your blood pressure.

“If you hold your breath, your blood pressure will increase. By completing isometric movements with deep abdominal breathing, you’ll lower your blood pressure whilst completing the movement.”

How to do the plank

  1. Start lying face down, feet shoulder-width apart, elbows under shoulders with forearms on the ground.
  2. Push up using your toes and elbows so you’re in a flat, plank position. Focus on keeping your hips level, pulling your belly button in and gently squeezing your bum to secure your low back.
  3. Throughout the exercises, focus on breathing deeply in through your nose, then slowly exhaling through your mouth. Listen to the sound your breath is making and focus on that as you complete the plank.
  4. Start trying to hold the plank for two sets of 30 seconds. As you become more confident, increase the time by 10 seconds every week. A great way to incorporate the plank into your daily routine is to do it during the adverts of your favourite tv programme.
A man doing the plank exerciseCredit: Fit to Last

If the plank is too difficult

If it’s too difficult to plank on your toes, start on your knees and hold that position. If this is still too difficult, stand away from the wall with your arms straight and lean against the wall. Still squeeze your bum and pull your belly button in, and you should still feel some benefits around the middle.

As you become stronger and more confident, try the kneeling plank again and progress from there.

a man doing a kneeling plankCredit: Fit to Last

How to do the wall sit

  1. Stand with your back against the wall, feet approximately 12 inches from the wall.
  2. Slowly lower your body so your knees are bent to 90 degrees. Actively push your back against the wall and push your heels toward the floor. This will help brace your back. At the same time, flex your bum and hamstrings (back of your legs) for a more secure position.
  3. As you hold the wall sit, focus on deeply breathing in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth. Listen to the sound your breath is making and focus on that as you complete the wall sit.
  4. Start trying to hold the wall sit for two sets of 30 seconds. As you become more confident, increase the time by 10 seconds every week.
A man doing a wall sit exerciseCredit: Fit to Last

If the wall sit is too difficult

If you find the wall sit is too difficult, sit in a chair with the back of the chair against the wall. Push your belly button toward your spine, and actively push your heels into the ground.

As you engage these two areas and breathe deeply, you should still feel the benefits on your legs and abdomen from this movement. As you become stronger and more confident, try the wall sit again.

More isometric exercises to try

Dean Zweck, Product Development Manager, at Total Fitness, has three more isometric exercises to try at home.

Glute bridge holds

How to do them: To help target your glutes, this exercise requires you to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Slowly lift your hips until your body forms a straight line, slightly rolling onto your shoulders for support and hold the position.

Why they’re good for you: It helps you strengthen all the muscles in the back of your body and improve hip stability. To intensify the workout, place a weight on your hips.

Muscles worked: This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings and also engages your core muscles to help stabilise the pelvis.

A group of women doing bridge poseCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos

Superman holds

How to do them: Lie face down and extend your arms outwards with your legs straight. Then lift your arms, chest and legs off the ground at the same time, holding the position – like Superman.

Why they’re good for you: This is a great exercise to help you strengthen your shoulders, glutes and core, and improve stability.

Muscles worked: Lower back, shoulders, glutes, and core.

A man doing a superman back strengthening exerciseCredit: Shutterstock / MDV Edwards

Isometric bicep curls

How to do them:  You can do this exercise either seated or standing, by placing a dumbbell or weighted item in each hand, with your palms facing upwards and your arms positioned in a 90-degree angle. Be sure to keep your arms steady.

Why they’re good for you: Isometric bicep curls help to promote endurance in your arms and you can easily increase the weight. You’ll feel the burn fast with this one.

Muscles worked: Biceps, forearms, and shoulders.

Other exercise is still important

Joanne Whitmore, Senior Cardiac Nurse with the British Heart Foundation charity, said exercise was good for heart health and could reduce the risk of heart and circulatory diseases by up to 35%.

“It’s encouraging to see other forms of exercise explored in this research as we know that those who take on exercise they enjoy, tend to carry on for longer which is key in maintaining lower blood pressure.”

She also said its important to note other lifestyle changes can also help, including cutting down on salt, keeping to a healthy weight and continuing to take any prescribed medication.

A man having his blood pressure testedCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms, says the NHS. Around one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many may not realise it.  If untreated, it increases your risk of serious health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body. The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the vessels between heartbeats when blood is pumped around your heart.

What the numbers mean

High blood pressure is considered to be from 140/90mmHg or more; if you are over 80 then it is considered to be from 150/90mmHg or more.

Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If you are over 80 then it should be below 150/90mmHg.

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

  • instagram
  • Email