If you’ve read any of Pete Egoscue’s books, you’ve come across the dreaded Airbench. Those who haven’t read any Egoscue books know this as a “wall sit” or “punishment during gym class.”
The airbench gets assigned to help even out rotations in your hips by encouraging symmetrical activation of some of the muscles that control your hip joints — particularly those quad muscles. In addition, it can be helpful for bringing more extension into the thoracic spine (as you keep your lower back pressed into the wall and keep the thoracic spine and head against the wall).
For people with weak thigh musculature and an inability to stabilize their pelvis in neutral, this can be a somewhat helpful exercise, but over the years, I’ve gotten a lot more judicious with this e-cise for a couple reasons.
1) A lot of people are already “quad dominant.”
If you are quad dominant, it basically means you use your quads for everything already, and you have a high likelihood of having your pelvis pulled into an anterior tilt day-in, day-out. Doing exercises that tend to work the quads, therefore, is not really a great idea.
Guess which e-cise tends to use those quads? Airbench? Yes! Even when you’re a perfectly fit and functional individual, this is an exercise that burns the absolute hell out of your quads if you hold it long enough (for many people, “long enough” is only about 15 seconds).
2) Most folks don’t need any more time in a sitting position.
It’s called Airbench because it’s like you’re sitting on a bench that is made of air. You know when else you are in that sitting position? All day. You know what gets killed from all that sitting? Your butt and hamstrings. They go beddy bye when you sit, and since many of us sit WAY too much, those muscles atrophy and get harder and harder to recruit. When those posterior muscles wane, guess who tends to start pulling your pelvis anterior? Your quads (see above about being quad dominant).
The problem is that there is almost no activation of the posterior hip musculature in Airbench, even if you do lift up your toes (it’s a variant of the airbench). You just aren’t in a position where the glutes or hamstrings have any advantage. You’re in a position that preferentially activates the quads.
3) Most people’s legs tire out before they get enough thoracic extension.
Though bouts in Airbench can definitely help get your spinal erectors a little more symmetrical and better at giving you extension in your spine, the quads often severely limit the time you can spend in position to get this benefit. For example, if it takes you 2-3 minutes to really help wake up some of those spinal erectors to get better upright posture and your quads actually crap out at 1 minute, you’re simply not going to get enough benefit to your spinal alignment to justify wearing out your thighs (and possibly setting off more anterior tilt as talked about in #2 above).
All that being said, Airbench has been useful for some clients and may be useful for someone who needs to get more symmetry in their erectors and more activation in their quads and perhaps even a little more of a lumbar curvature.
For alternatives to help with spinal erector disparities, I’d look at exercises like the Egoscue upper spinal floor twist, windmills, the hip crossover stretch, or the non-Egoscue Palloff presses (see video below for example).
What’s your experience been with Airbench? Where have you seen it be particularly helpful for yourself or others?