hot bod

When All Else Fails, There’s the Wall

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

“Hot Bod” is an exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

I was recently searching for a phrase to describe a restless, landlocked, frenzied frustration, and the phrase I finally remembered was climbing up the walls. But this shouldn’t have taken a Google search for “idioms” to remember, since the wall has recently become my go-to tool for at-home exercises. I lean on the wall; I use it for stretches and backbends, for support and resistance; the wall is my desperation “gym buddy,” a gross concept, but here we all are, feeling stuck and giving personalities to the walls. The wall is the obvious tool to lean on, or in the words of bubbly internet fitness go-getter Cassey Ho: “Everyone has a wall!”

It’s time to be resourceful again if we’re going to be restrained by supply-chain shortages and continued safety measures. And the wall, despite being dry and boring, is rich in exercise possibilities. The wall appears as a prop a few times in a row in some of the intimidatingly popular TikTok exercise videos from Ho, who founded Blogilates and reigns as one of the internet’s most beloved fitness pioneers. “I’m always experimenting with ways you can put your body in different positions,” says Ho, “because that can really change the way that gravity works against your body.” She was developing a bicep push-up the other day, but thought it might be too challenging on the floor, so she tried it against the wall. The wall, by providing another plane of stability, changes the entire exercise.

One of Ho’s first exposures to the wall as exercise aid was from a pole-dancing class, which used the wall as a way to stretch the back for flexibility and maximum arch. She does it every week to help with flexibility. I’ve been particularly interested in using the wall for stretching, and Ho’s posture-improving video couldn’t feel better, right around where my shoulder blades meet to complain and ache.

For other exercises, the wall can be “training wheels.” It’s an aid to lean on when starting to work on handstands. With any sort of push-up, the wall reduces the weight bearing down on the floor — so it’s a useful first step to begin to build those muscles.

And, depending on the routine, the wall can isolate muscles and increase the force, like with wall sits: The position makes it so your glutes can’t help support, and all the work moves to your quads. The only time I was ever just unquestionably “the best” during field hockey was off the field, obviously, doing wall sits. Wall sits are very gym class, very elementary, and still absolutely humiliating at the 35th second! Just slightly changing the relationship to gravity has a big effect, and really feeling the changes from a subtle shift crystallizes trying to make the best of a smaller, indoor life. I thought I’d exhausted all my possibilities in this place, but there’s always more toothpaste in the tube.

Until recently, I’d oriented most of my little at-home exercises on the floor. Lying on the floor is the classic place for tantrums and despondent sobbing. It’s time to lean hard on the wall like a smart-mouth greaser or a girl sleuth taking her notes or someone who has just maybe fallen in love in a 1990s romantic comedy. If you’re feeling like you need something for your overwhelming emotions or suave posture, that’s the wall. Walls, enclosure and barrier, have a sort of finality that’s very discouraging — or I can see this as a stalwart-ass steadiness that could be very supportive! Turning to the walls as our new fitness tool feels like the physicalization of our predicament and our resourceful frustration. Like: What can I do with this thing in front of me, because it’s going to be in front of me for a while? Lots and lots.

The Practical Fitness Tool Staring Right at You