Wall slides might be some of my all-time favorite mobility drills. They look simple; easy, really. But they can humble even the strongest athlete.
That’s because wall slide exercises require tip-top overhead shoulder mobility, which few people actually have. Sitting in front of computers, tablets, and phones all day, prioritizing the anterior “mirror” muscles over the rotator cuffs and myriad other muscles in the upper back, and even low core strength all limit the shoulders’ ability to hit their full range of motion. The results don’t just include shoulder pain and shoulder injuries. They often include stress to the lumbar spine and surrounding musculature through the lower back.
RELATED: Shoulder Workout for Women
That’s why it’s critical to master shoulder mobility before performing exercises such as overhead shoulder presses and back squats, both of which fall apart (and into the back) without healthy shoulder movement. (FYI, the shoulder rotation is a great drill that you can pair with wall slide exercises during warmups and mobility workouts.)
Think about it: Wall slide exercises are basically just unloaded standing shoulder presses. And when performing back-safe shoulder presses, you need to be able to get those hands straight overhead—without cranking through and dumping weight into your lower back.
Fortunately, wall slides don’t just test overhead shoulder mobility. They build it.
How to Do Wall Slides with Awesome Form
When learning how to do wall slides, the key is to keep a flat-back position at all times. If you find yourself arching your lower back, go ahead and reset. You may need to be a bit more generous with your arm placement, allowing your hands and arms to float an inch (or two? three?) from the wall, rather than staying in contact with the wall at all times. With time and practice, you’ll be able to keep your arms and hands against the wall while maintaining a neutral spine.
With that in mind, set up for wall slide exercises by standing tall with your back, butt, and head against a wall. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise them out to your sides so that your hands are at shoulder height and your palms face away from the wall. The entire length of your arms should be pressed into the wall. Now brace your core to tuck your tailbone; this will orient your lower back closer to the wall, almost touching it. This is your starting position.
From here, slowly straighten your elbows and upwardly rotate your shoulders to slide your forearms arms up the wall behind you, keeping both your elbows and hands as close to the wall as possible and maintaining a flat back throughout. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Since this is an unloaded mobility movement, if desired, you can perform up to 15 or 20 reps of wall slide exercises per set. However, your focus should be on quality, rather than quantity, of reps.
Tip: This video shows how to do wall slides with your back against the wall, but you can also perform them lying flat on the floor. If you have an especially tough time keeping your back flat against the wall, the floor variation may help you stay honest!
Now that you’ve learned how to do wall slides, check out more exercise video tutorials, including more rotator cuff exercises.
K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, is a leading fitness expert and certified strength and conditioning specialist, training people around the world as an online personal trainer for women and men. She contributes to top magazines and publications including SELF, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, US News & World Report, and more. Her books include Give Yourself MORE and Fitness Hacks for Over 50.