Wall Balls are most often a 20-pound med-ball to a 10′ target for men and 14-pound med-ball to a 9′ target for women.
Online qualifiers like the Open almost always use high rep schemes because the weight and height isn’t challenging for top athletes until the reps are above 50 in a set.
The nature of how Wall Balls are programmed impacts how we dissect this movement.
Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Wall Balls you must master it’s specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
There are two key positions requiring mobility in the Wall Ball:
1) Front Squat: Squatting with a med-ball is a front squat. You must be able to get to the bottom of your squat while maintaining an upright torso. This will allow you to move straight up and down like a piston with your chest pointed straight at the wall rather than rounding or allowing the torso to be less upright. Think about good positioning, specifically torso angle for a front squat versus a back squat. The same applies to the Wall Ball.
2) Overhead Position: The finish position of the Wall Ball is often overlooked probably because people don’t understand how it can limit their capacity. If you can’t effortlessly lockout your arms in line with your ears you are having to work against yourself in the Wall Ball. Think about how your Wall Ball capacity would improve if you could effortless get into this position and stay there.
Here are a few of my favorite mobilizations to work on your overhead position:
One quick thought: Wall Balls are a rare movement in that almost everyone can do them when starting Functional Fitness, but everyone needs to work on their movement capacity (getting more at a time). The strength requirement isn’t necessarily less, it’s just of a different variety due to context.
In order to solidly hit the positions needed and be safe the following strength baselines are suggested:
1) Staying “Tall”: You catch the Wall Ball and descend into your front squat. As you change directions at the bottom of your squat you either stay vertical and “tall” or the weight of the Wall Ball begins to crunch you and rounds your back. If you know this is happening and you can’t prevent it, then you need to work on thoracic (mid / upper back) strength and mobility.
2) Do Not Jump: If you are forced to jump when doing Wall Balls consider going lighter. The goal is to become more efficient at or above the Rx weight. This requires patience and practice. If you must jump it shows 1) you don’t have enough speed initiated out of the bottom of the movement with your squat 2) you don’t extend your hip quickly or fully at the top 3) you don’t have the pushing power 4) (& most likely) you don’t do a combination of 1 through 3 well enough.
If you do not have all the Mobility and Strength requirements, time spent learning skill will be much less productive. Build the basics, then layer on top.
There are a few things that hold people back from becoming efficient at Wall Balls if they have all the requisite strength and mobility. There is no magic pill for getting Walls Balls to become easier. You must put in the time and the work. As you do here is what to focus on…
Focal Points for Wall Balls
Be relentlessly consistent with how far away from the wall you start. Over time you will be able to tell what the right distance for you is (which is slightly individualized), but as a starting place when standing upright you should be an arm’s length from the wall.
Before your workout starts, walk up the wall and reach out with both fingertips so you can just barely touch. Place your Med-Ball directly between your feet. When you come up to do your first set in the workout center your feet directly over the Med-Ball guaranteeing you are in the right position.
(2) Pull Into a Squat for Rep #1
Once your med-ball is setup the correct distance from the wall and you are standing over it, you don’t want to pick it all the way up like a power clean and then descend into the squat of rep one. ‘Waste’ the least amount of movement possible by pulling yourself under the ball and into the bottom of your squat. Essentially, you are squatting down as you curl the ball to the “front rack.”
Austin Malleolo demos this “technique” at the 52s Mark of the video below:
(3) Tripod of Contact
In other words, the “Front Rack.”
There should be three points of contact for med-ball on your body in the front rack: your two hands & your chin. Your chin serves the purpose, among several things, of being a tactile cue to know exactly where to hold to med-ball. Every time you catch the ball think about gluing it to your chin as quickly as possible. This also stops you from letting the ball get out in front or off to one side, both being inefficient.
Lastly, think about placing your hands under the med-ball (5 O’Clock and 7 O’Clock) rather than squeezing it from the sides (3 O’Clock and 9 O’Clock). One, this allows you upper body to relax more because the med-ball isn’t falling through your hands. Two, this reduces the distance you must throw the ball. When you move your hands from the sides to the bottom of the ball (5 O’Clock & 7 O’Clock) it will move up in space about 2-3 inches. That is 2-3 inches less that you must throw the ball every rep. In “Karen” (150 Wall Balls for time) that’s 30+ feet.
One way to make sure the positioning in the catch and squat of the wall ball the same every rep is using a tripod approach. In this case the three points will be your two hands and your chin. This video by explains the “why.”
(4) Upright Torso
The Wall Ball rewards athletes who can maintain an upright torso. If you struggle with front squats and overhead squats, you will probably also struggle will Wall Balls (unless you a Big & Tall athlete). The inability to produce torque at the required angles and organize in an upright torso is what the Level 1 seminar calls an “immature squat.”
Basically, the athlete’s back angle is more horizontal than vertical, making movements where you must support a weight in front of your body (like dumbbell front squats, Wall Balls and Thrusters) very difficult. Notice how your back angle is more horizontal when the weight is on your back (e.g. back squats or even walking uphill with a heavy back pack) relative to when it is in front (e.g. goblet squat or picking up an infant).
Supporting weight in front of your body demands a relatively upright torso. Getting more mobile so you can get more upright in the squat is often the answer. Notice the body angles in the image to the right…the woman with the “immature squat” has hips far behind the feet, while the man’s hips are almost balanced over his heels. The woman’s shins are much more vertical than the man’s because her ankles don’t allow her knees to travel forward.
It is perfectly acceptable to take a slightly wider stance to allow for hip mobility (flexion and external rotation) to make up for a lack of ankle flexion, especially for those with long femurs relative to your lower leg. Weightlifter Chad Vaughn is a good example of this type of hip mobility.
(5) Relaxing the Shoulders
Have you ever tried holding your arms above your head for five minutes? Try it. It’s exhausting. If each time you throw the ball you hold your arms up above your head the entire time it’s in the air you are draining your shoulders. Instead consider dropping your arms for a moment (less than a second) as the ball is in the air. There are two different techniques for relaxing the shoulders while the med-ball is in the air. Both are efficient once mastered, but both take time (practice) to master.
1) The Windmill: Swing your arms out wide and down to your hips before bringing your hands quickly up to catch the ball right in the front rack.
2) The Arm Drop: Drop your hands to your shoulders and shoot them right back up to catch the ball higher above your face. Straight down, straight up.
(6) The Perfect Knuckle Ball
The ball should go straight up to the wall touch it and reverse directions back to your hands all with near zero rotation. Not only is a spinning ball unpredictable, it also represents an inefficiency. If the ball spins to the right it means that the left arm is pushing harder and vice versa.
Occasionally as athletes tire he or she is forced to jump (feet clear the ground) when throwing the wall ball. This is more commonly observed fault in shorter athletes. This is inefficient and incredibly taxing on the legs. This jump happens because the athlete is fatigued in either the legs, shoulders or both.
If the athletes legs are tired, you will see he or she comes out of the bottom of the squat slowly, then accelerates after the have passed the sticky point in their squat (above parallel).
The type of athlete experiencing this problem often has mobility limitations and/or long femurs that make taking advantage of the elastic qualities of the hips much more difficult in the bottom of the squat.
Upon moving past the problem area (below parallel) he or she accelerates to condensate for speed lost coming out of the bottom of the squat, but it results in a jump.
As your shoulders tire, you must compensate with moving faster with your legs. If the shoulders get tired enough, you resort to squatting faster or possibly jumping.
While this allows you to meet the standard, it should be avoided at all costs because it reinforces inefficient movement. In the last 60 seconds of a competitive setting, go for it, jump your heart out.
But in training, reinforce best practices. Work on efficiencies, like dropping your hands or drawing circles to relax your shoulders. Also, work on accelerating from the bottom of your squat so you can use more legs without being forced to jump.
3) Legs & Shoulders
It is common to see fatigue evenly distributed fatigue between the legs and the shoulders. However, this does not mean that both need better capacity. This is because limitations in one muscle group will get shifted to the other to compensate.
For example, if an athlete’s squat is poor and she stop accelerating out of the bottom of her squat, her shoulders must do more work to get the ball to the target. Because of her weak legs and/or poor mobility, her shoulders got tired. This does not mean her shoulders are weak.
The same thing happens with athlete’s lower back. Often the lower back will “blow up” or “pump out” where it fills with blood and stops the athlete in his tracks. He might be tempted to train the lower back to prevent this, but this won’t solve the problem because his lower back isn’t weak.
Rather his erectors are taking over the job that his glutes and hamstring should be doing. It turns into a game of, which came first the chicken or the egg? Usually the answer is watching the athlete (or filming yourself) and seeing which symptom shows up first, although this isn’t foolproof either.
(2) Missing the “Rack”
Another common error is for athletes to catch the med-ball but fail to ‘glue’ it to their chin to make the tripod. Instead, she ends of letting the ball fall to her chest or even all the way toward her stomach. There are a few reasons why this might be the case:
1) Unaware of Efficient Movement: This error is most often seen in novice Functional Fitness athletes. Often this athlete is somehow completely unaware that essentially adding a curl to every rep is slowing them down. Often a simple, “Hey, do you realize what you’re doing?” proves just how mindlessly some people can complete a workout.
2) Standing Too Far from the Wall: If you are standing too far from the wall (more than an arm’s length) the med-ball won’t come back to spot from which you threw it. Instead, it falls a foot or more in front of the body so the person much catch it out in front. This out in front catch is often underhand, which by nature is much lower. The further an object gets from the body the longer the moment arm is making it feel heavier and require more force (this is why you engage the lats when you deadlift). Additionally, the lower you catch the ball the longer the total distance you move it becomes. It’s a double whammy of inefficiency.
3) Hands Outside vs. Under: If your hands are out to the side as you catch the ball, you must pinch the ball to keep it from falling through your hands. When your hands are under the ball you have no need to pinch because the ball can balance. This allow the biceps, pecs and shoulders to all relax to a degree. Furthermore, hands on the bottom of the ball move the ball in space up about 3 or 4 inches, making the distance to the target less. Win-win.
(3) Asymmetrical Holds
Occasionally athletes will hold the med-ball off to one side. Usually the logic is, “My face is in the way, so I rest it on my shoulder.” The athlete often thinks he or she was clever for dreaming it up, but the reality is the asymmetry it creates fall overshadows effect.
The athlete moving this way typically only hold the ball on their right or their left shoulder, which is problematic because 1) he or she must throw using mainly one arm and 2) unbalanced movement creates unbalanced structure. An unbalanced body (front to back, side to side) is prone to injury.
The fix is often in the explanation of why the “hack” doesn’t work both in the short and long-term. However, this often leaves the athlete with uncomfortable movement due to his or her mechanics and body orientation.
Often the feeling of “my face is in the way” occurs from the “immature squat” described in the third focal point (see image above.) The fix is working on lower body mobility to cure an upper body symptom, much like ankle mobility fix an overhead squat “shoulder issue.”
(4) Pulled on your Toes
When you see this athlete complete his reps, as he gets tired you will notice that more and more of his reps you can see daylight under his heels. This is most often cause by a lack of hip mobility combined with a missing the rack slightly as he fatigues. Both the short and long-term fix for this include working to keep the heels down.
In most cases, the athlete will be physically able to make this change right away, even if it requires much effort and focus to maintain. However, this is exactly what, if maintained over several months, will make meaningful, systemic change resulting in efficient, sustainable movement.
Breathing During Wall Balls
Wall Balls have two options for breath ratios, either 1:1 or 1:2 breaths per rep.
A 1:1 ratio will require an exhale as an athlete squats up and throws the ball to the target and an inhale as the ball descends back down and the athlete catches it. This breathing pattern is the slower of the two, so it is reversed for athletes who are tall and/or fit where Wall Balls aren’t incredibly demanding relative to their capacity.
For a shorter, less fit segment of the exercising population and/or as the athlete is in the latter parts of the workout with higher amounts of fatigue, a 1:2 rep to breath ratio should be adopted. Here, you exhale as you squat and throw the ball, inhale as the ball soars through the air to the target, exhale as the ball hits the target and begins to fall an inhale one more as you catch the ball and descend in your squat.
As it likely sounds, this breath ratio is rapid and can be challenging to get the hang of it at first. It is likely that the breath cycle while you are squatting (the inhale as you catch and the exhale as you throw) will be a larger, fuller breath than the one when the ball is suspended in the air. This can be expected and is relatively unavoidable to a 10 or 9-foot Rx target for males and females respectively.
Wall Balls are much like rowing in the fact that both movements can be completed using a 1:1 or 1:2 breath ratio, but the 1:1 is ideal and much more efficient. Building capacity in Wall Ball will allow 1:1 to be sustained longer.
Also, it is likely that if you can’t do big sets of unbroken Wall Balls (i.e. 50 or more at a time) you may be forced to rest due to muscular demands before respiratory ones. If this is the case, you will never need to transition from 1:1 to 1:2.
Protocols to Build Capacity
How Can I Train to get Bigger Sets?”
The Wall Ball is a staple in Functional Fitness workouts. Typically the prescribed weight is 20 lbs for males and 14 lbs for females. Males will through to a 10-foot target and women to 9-foot one.
Each time Wall Balls have shown up in the CrossFit Open they have been at these weights. As a result, med-balls of these weights are found in the biggest quantities in gyms across the globe. Since this is relatively light, to create separation between fit CrossFit Competitors the reps in a workout often soar.
Just think about the benchmark workout “Karen,” which is 150 Wall Balls for Time 20/14 lbs (to 10/9′ target) or even “Kelly,” which is 5 rounds of 400m Run, 30 Box Jumps, 30 Wall Balls.
It’s obvious that athletes much develop capacity for big sets of wall ball. Here are some sample protocols to build your Wall Ball capacity.
(1) Building Density
Week 1 | EMOM 10: 10 Wall Balls (100 in 10 minutes)
Week 2 | EMOM 11: 10 Wall Balls
Week 3 | EMOM 8: 14 Wall Balls
Week 4 | EMOM 10: 12 Wall Balls
Week 5 | EMOM 9: 14 Wall Balls
Week 6 | EMOM 10: 15 Wall Balls (150 in 10 minutes)
(2) Muscular Limiter
4 Sets, rest 3:00 between each
-1 Power Clean + 3 Front Squat + 5 Push Jerk @80% 1RM Push Jerk
**directly into 25 unbroken Wall Balls**
(3) Fatigued Intervals
Every 3 minutes x 5 Sets [15:00]
-14/10 Calorie Row
-40 Double Unders
-20 Wall Balls
-500m Row @2k Time Trail Pace
(Rest / Transition 15s)
-Max Unbroken Wall Balls
Also in the Movement Library: Pull-Ups & Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups
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