Wall Walk Alternatives: How Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 2, 2022

Also known as the wall climb, the wall walk is a highly dynamic exercise that takes characteristics from calisthenics, gymnastics and standard functional fitness in order to create an athletic resistance exercise aimed to improve core stability and shoulder strength alongside several other training benefits.

Unfortunately however, the wall walk is rather situational in its usage as it requires not only high levels of bodily coordination and mobility, but also a wall and enough space to climb up said wall - making the wall walk unsuitable for certain individuals or situations.

Nonetheless, this should not stop the exerciser, as quite a number of possible alternative exercises are capable of replacing the wall walk and retaining its training stimulus while still managing to meet the needs of the exerciser and their training program.

Why Should the Wall Walk be Replaced with an Alternative Exercise?

Depending on the particular needs of the exerciser and what sort of athlete they are, it is likely that the wall walk requires some level of substitution with an exercise of similar stimulus or a different set of disadvantages.

Quite a number of issues arise in regards to the wall walk and its compatibility with an individual or their training program, as it not only requires enough coordination to “climb” the wall while in an inverted position, but enough mobility to do so as well - alongside a number of other athletic requirements, such as core stability and shoulder strength.

wall walk muscles

Not every individual is capable of meeting such intensive physical demands, marking one possible reason why the wall walk may require substitution.

Even if the exerciser is perfectly suited to performing the wall walk safely, they may find that it does not quite fulfill their needs in regards to reaching their training goals, thereby requiring an exercise of different muscular activation, relative intensity or stimulus be performed instead.

This can be something rather small and on the more technical side, such as the need for greater isometric muscular contraction in order to build inversion stability, making the handstand hold a more effective exercise than the wall walk - as one example.

What Muscles Should be Worked by a Wall Walk Alternative?

The wall walk is rather unique among dynamic exercises due to its static contraction of many muscle groups, with the deltoids and core muscles being activated to the greatest extent throughout the entirety of the movement.

wall walk

In addition to these two stabilizing muscles, the wall walk will also activate the triceps brachii and - to some extent - the gluteus muscle group in a similarly static capacity, though only for comparatively short lengths of time per repetition.

As such, any potential alternative exercise should also provide a similar intensity and manner of activation in these muscle groups so as to preserve the original purpose of the wall walk exercise within the training routine.

Other Aspects Needed in a Wall Walk Alternative Exercise

Other characteristics that may be required in a wall walk alternative must be in accordance to the needs of the exerciser and their sport, with calisthenic athletes or gymnasts using the wall walk as a method of improving their handstand-specific skills alongside its general muscular development benefits.

Likewise, functional fitness athletes have also used the wall walk exercise as a method of improving their coordination and full body balance.

As can be inferred from these sports-specific uses of the wall walk, substituting the exercise is not simply a matter of replacing it with a movement of similar muscular activation, as it may serve a further purpose within an athlete’s training program than simple muscle and strength development.

As such, any potential alternative exercise to the wall walk within these contexts must also be capable of producing similar benefits, thereby shrinking the total number of possible substitutes as the exerciser’s needs become more specific in scope.

Wall Walk Alternative Without a Wall - The Inchworm Exercise

In the event that the exerciser wishes to recreate the motion and mechanics of the wall walk but does not otherwise have access to a wall, the inchworm exercise is the closest possible approximation.

A common sight in many functional fitness training programs, the inchworm is performed much like wall walks, but instead of climbing into an inverted position up a wall, the exerciser enters a similar position in a horizontal manner on the ground.

inchworm

While this does admittedly reduce activation of the shoulder muscles as gravity and the bodily center of mass do not become a factor, it nonetheless recreates many of the mechanics that the wall walk is so often performed for, such as core stabilization and bodily coordination development while under resistance.

In addition to this, the inchworm exercise does indeed recreate the isometric muscular activation of the wall walk, even if in a somewhat reduced capacity in the deltoid muscles - with activation in much of the core, the glutes and the calves remaining identical between the two.

How to Substitute the Wall Walk with the Inchworm Exercise

In the event that the exerciser has no need of the handstand or inversion benefits normally derived from the wall walk exercise, they may indeed use the inchworm exercise as an alternative, as it otherwise shares all other advantages.

Substituting the wall walk with the inchworm is less a matter of simple volume programming and more one of perceived benefit, with it being up to the exerciser to decide whether the intensity of the inchworm is comparable enough with the wall walk to warrant such a substitution.

If it is considered to be sufficient, a substitution of two to one in terms of volume is the best course of action; wherein two repetitions of the inchworm will be performed for every repetition of the wall walk that was originally programmed into the training routine, so as to preserve its level of relative intensity.

The Ideal Alternative: The Handstand Walk

The fundamentals of the wall walk and the handstand walk are nearly the same - that being the inversion of the exerciser, large scale activation of the core and glutes in order to retain proper balance and the usage of bodily coordination and proprioception in order to create a smooth movement.

handstand walk

Where these similarities end, however, is the relative dynamic motion of the wall walk, with the handstand walk being entirely unsupported and therefore requiring far greater static and dynamic contraction of all worked muscle groups throughout the exercise.

This will result in intensified benefits such as a greater rate of caloric expenditure, more muscular exertion and greater development of sports-specific skills that the exerciser may be attempting to achieve.

However, as a drawback directly relating to all these benefits, the exerciser will find that the handstand walk is significantly more difficult than the wall walk - reducing the length of time and number of sets they will be capable of performing in comparison.

How to Substitute the Wall Walk with the Handstand Walk

Both the handstand walk and wall walk are measured in length of time under tension as well as in sets, allowing the exerciser to make a direct transfer in terms of programming - though with the caveat that the handstand walk will generally utilize a lower amount of volume due to its higher exertion per set.

As such, it is advised that the exerciser program each set of the handstand walk to approximately eighty percent of their maximal exertion, leaving some energy left for further exercises and so as to avoid overtraining or excessive fatigue.

In addition to this, the greater activation of the shoulder and core muscles will require a reduction in total volume in exercises also targeting these areas, something that can be quite significant if the wall walk was originally part of an athletic training circuit.

Wall Walk Alternative for Crossfit or Functional Athleticism

The wall walk exercise is a mainstay of many functional athleticism sports and training routines, wherein it acts as not only a method of developing muscular size and strength, but also a number of other athletic capabilities that may be needed in said sports.

As such, when an athlete of these particular sports chooses to substitute the wall walk within their training routine with another exercise, it is likely that said alternative must also be capable of improving the athlete’s performance in their sport.

This will vary depending on what sort of functional athletic sport the athlete competes in, but for the most part, the best possible choice is that of the pike push-up.

Pike Push-ups

The pike push-up is an exercise that shares the inverted positioning and muscular activation of the wall walk with the intensity, specificity of stimulus and handstand carry-over of many other functional athletic exercises.

pike push up

This is achieved by the exerciser retaining a similar angle of resistance by their torso pointing downwards throughout the entire movement, replicating the core and deltoid muscle group activation of the wall walk while removing the need for a wall or for the exerciser to climb a surface with their legs.

When programming the pike push-up as an alternative exercise within an athletic training routine, focusing on slow repetitions with a long length of time under tension each is the ideal method of maximizing development in the athlete’s musculature and skills.

Performing approximately eight repetitions for three sets each unless the exerciser is unchallenged by such volume should prove more than sufficient at recreating the training stimulus of the wall walk, especially when combined with other inversion-positioned exercises.

Other Miscellaneous Alternatives to the Wall Walk

Handstand Holds

Handstand holds are simply the isometric or static counterpart of the wall walk, wherein instead of the exerciser climbing a wall so as to enter an inverted position, they instead hold a handstand position with or without the support of a wall so as to develop greater core stability and handstand capabilities.

handstand hold

In most training programs, both the wall walk and the handstand hold are used as accessory exercises meant to improve the exerciser’s general stability as well as their capacity to perform inverted exercises, making the handstand hold a perfect substitute unless calf muscle activation is a significant factor in said training routine.

To program the handstand hold as a wall walk alternative, performing three to four sets of approximately thirty seconds each should recreate the core muscle training stimulus of most wall walk sets, with longer or shorter lengths of time under tension being necessary in accordance with the physical abilities of the exerciser.

Inverse Hip Touches

Another inverted or hollow body position exercise wherein the exerciser suspends themselves against a wall for the purposes of developing core muscle strength and athletic skills related to the handstand - hip touches are a more sports-specific alternative to the wall walk.

Hip touches are performed by the exerciser remaining in a handstand position while supported by a wall, with one hand raised to tap against the hip prior to performing the same motion with the other side of the body.

This makes hip touches the ideal wall walk alternative for athletes seeking greater handstand stability, coordination or bilateral inverted stability, as hip touches surpass the wall walk in development of all these aspects.

To substitute the wall walk with hip touches, the exerciser will be best served by performing multiple sets of approximately ten repetitions each, allowing them to develop the necessary skills to perform a handstand or similar inverted athletic activities.

References

1. Wyatt HE, Vicinanza D, Newell KM, Irwin G, Williams GKR. Bidirectional causal control in the dynamics of handstand balance. Sci Rep. 2021 Jan 11;11(1):405. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-79730-z. PMID: 33432011; PMCID: PMC7801474.

2. Rohleder, Jonas & Vogt, Tobias. (2018). Teaching novices the handstand: A practical approach of different sport-specific feedback concepts on movement learning. Science of Gymnastics Journal. 10. 29-42.

3. Kalichová, Miriam & Hedbávný, Petr & Bago, Gustav. (2013). Influence of Strength Abilities on Quality of the Handstand. International Journal of Sport and Health Sciences. 7. 602 - 608.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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