Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Wall Walks you must master the movement’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.
Hip Disassociation: In order to effectively do the variation of the wall walk where you step up the wall (used by the majority of athletes), it’s important you have the ability to create separation between your legs: hip dissociation. This will allow you to reach higher up the wall with less effort and minimize the time under tension when you are actually performing the movement. A simple screen for hip disassociation is the cook hip lift. You should be able to reach full hip extension while keeping the top leg hugged to your chest.
Shoulder Flexion: To minimize shoulder and delt fatigue, it’s critical that an athlete can claim a fully open shoulder overhead position. Pushing the “head through the hole” created by the arms to claim a stacked upper body is only possible if you have the range of motion to do so. The screen I use is a back-to-wall shoulder flexion test.
Thoracic Rotation: While shoulder flexion is an important piece in the puzzle, it’s not enough for the wall walk. An athlete must also have the ability to rotate the upper back (thoracic spine) while maintaining that open shoulder position. Athletes who lack thoracic rotation often result to short, choppy steps with the hands or making up that range of motion at the shoulder, both of which are inefficient. I like using squatting sky reaches and quadruped thoracic rotations both to test and build thoracic rotation.
While Wall Walks don’t require nearly as much pressing strength as strict or wall-facing handstand push-ups, they are obviously still very taxing, largely due to the time under tension on the upper body and core rigidity components.
The ability to maintain a strong and stable elbow lockout across many reps in a workout is essential. Exercises such as FLR Holds, Kneeling Overhead Planks, Wall-Facing Handstand Holds and Ring Support Holds are great development accessory exercises for a strong lockout that also help build the muscles in the shoulder girdle and core.
While many athletes don’t view the Wall Walk as a high-skill movement, the reps add up quickly if you don’t do everything possible to maximize your movement economy. Here’s what I encourage my athletes to focus on during wall walks…
(1) Nose to Wall
As soon as the athlete presses up off the floor into the lockout position, their one foot should be on the wall. In this moment, the athlete needs to push their nose towards where the wall meets the floor. It mimics a down dog, where an open shoulder is claimed to reach a stacked upper body. This takes the pressure off the delts exclusively and adds the musculature of the upper back, allowing the bodyweight to be supported by skeletal alignment.
(2) Hollow Body Position
The good news about reaching that “nose to wall” position is that it also encourages a hollow body position. If an athlete allows their gaze to shift towards their hands (rather than to the wall) it often pulls their back into an arched position with the hips sagging towards the wall.
Often this is most obvious as an athlete fatigues and they aren’t able to stabilize their spine due to a tired core and elevated breathing.
Reinforcing the correct positions in each phase of the wall is crucial in your warm-ups and early in workouts, since you can’t control your technique as easily late into workouts where you will default to whatever technique you have spent the most time developing (good or bad).
(3) Time Your Steps
Timing when to move your hands is essential to the wall walk because you must create a moment of weightlessness on a hand in order to move it.
This is achieved by shifting the hips (and center of mass) to the grounded hand as soon as it is planted on the floor.
Continue to shift your hips back and forth while climbing your feet up the wall to assist the upper body and keep the “steps” moving as quickly as you can.
(4) Count Your Steps
It’s easy to slow reps, lose time, and increase time under tension (a bad thing in a racing sport like CrossFit) by taking too many steps with the hands.
After lots of experimentation and video review of top athletes, it has become clear that taking 4 steps on the raise and 3 on the lower is ideal for high-level competitive athletes.
You might not be there yet, but working to minimize -and be consistent with- the number of steps on each phase is critical.
For example, you may choose to go with 5 up and 4 down for now as you build consistency and timing. As your strength and positions improve, work for 4 up and 3 down in unfatigued settings.
(5) Jump vs. Step Your Feet
Stepping your feet onto the wall allows a little bit more time to “organize” your body into a stacked bodyline before climbing your feet up the wall, but it isn’t the fastest way to get up the wall.
When you need to go at full speed, jumping both feet onto the wall into a staggered position is the way to go. Essentially you do a push-up and “jump” your feet onto the wall while pushing your head towards the wall to get into that stacked bodyline / hollow body position.
While jumping the feet up is more dynamic and thus could be considered more taxing, it is significantly faster, minimizes time under tension and takes away the need for hip dissociation for athletes with tighter hips…so it may be very well worth the trade off and a net positive on energy expenditure.
Improving Wall Walk Capacity
Podcast on “Improve Your Wall Walk Capacity” Coming Soon!