Wall balls are an integral part of CrossFit. Do 150 of them and you’ve just completed Karen, one of the sport’s most notorious benchmark workouts. The idea of a wall ball sounds easy enough, right? Squat below parallel. Thrust the ball up to a target. Catch the ball as it comes down and repeat until you’ve completed the specified number of reps.
Easy, right? Wrong. Anyone who’s ever been smacked in the face with a med ball or thrown the ball up and completely missed the target can testify that wall balls are a lot harder than they look.
Here are five tips to practice to help you dominate the wall ball.
1. Know your distance
Keeping proper distance from the wall ball target is key in moving efficiently. Stand too close and you’ll risk throwing the ball straight up and missing the target completely. Stand too far and you’ll find yourself working harder to cover the distance between you and the target. It’s important to note that being too far from the target is usually better than being too close.
To measure the proper distance, stand under the target and extend your arms out in front of you. Your fingers should be able to touch the wall or rig. At this point, you should find yourself 20-25 inches from the wall or rig. Practice from this position and slightly adjust until you find your sweet spot. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to adjust more than five inches from the starting spot.
2. Drop low
Athletes sometimes think they’re saving time and energy by not squatting to full depth, but holding back on how low you go can actually have the opposite effect. For starters, energy is wasted in the deceleration process as you attempt to stop just below parallel. It’s actually easier to drop all the way down and bounce out of the bottom—as your body takes advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle where your muscles act like a spring, driving you up, resulting in a more efficient movement.
3. Catch in place
Ideally, you want to catch the med ball so that your hands are on the underside of the ball (as opposed to the sides), as close to your body as possible, with your wrists about six inches apart. Catching the med ball on its side can cause your chest to fall forward, making the ball feel heavier and even possibly falling out of your hands.
As the ball makes initial contact with your hands, you should still be standing with your hands near the middle of your face. Begin to squat once the ball has made contact. Squatting before you’ve caught the med ball can make the impact feel heavier. Over the course of a few reps, this impact can take a toll.
4. Rest when you can
Whether or not you’re doing wall balls, holding your arms overhead can become exhausting. Every five reps or so, once you’ve thrown the ball, quickly bring your arms down and shake them out. Your shoulders will appreciate the short breaks.
5. Don’t hold your breath
Just like any other exercise, breathing is fundamental to your efficiency and endurance. Breathing in sync with your reps helps create a rhythm as you’re moving through the workout. As you begin your descent into the squat, inhale. As you spring up, exhale.
Practice makes perfect. Focus on perfecting one or two of these techniques every time you perform wall balls. Once you’ve mastered a technique, move on to another one. With enough practice, these tips will become second nature to you!
Photo credit: Zumpano Reps/ CC BY-NC 2.0