Do you struggle with wall balls? Wonder how the hell you're supposed to catch that big heavy ball you chucked against the wall - in a squat?! And then keep going for reps?
It's a trickier movement than most coaches give it credit for, but today, I'm here to break it down and make sure you feel ready to take them on in class - and in the upcoming Open!
In this article, I will teach you the standards, the setup, and how to get more efficient.
And ultimately, I'm going to reveal a couple of my secrets that I used and helped my athletes use to get a lot better at wall ball.
So whether you're a beginner to CrossFit or maybe you are a coach looking to teach wall balls better, look no further than this article; this is going to cover it all.
Tip 1: The Standards
So the written standards of a wall ball are: you need to start below parallel in a squat, holding on to the wall ball, and then you must make contact with the ball at, or above, the target.
Technically, the ball can start wherever it wants, but you need to get the ball off the ground and be below the parallel of a squat.
So at a full squat, if I start high, that will be a no-rep because my hip crease is above the top of my knee.
But if I start lower, I'm good to go because my hip crease is below the top of the knee, and then the wall ball concludes when I hit at or above the target, the center of the bar is at 10 feet, which is the standard for most male wall balls.
So if you make contact below the target, it bounces off, passes across the 10-foot line, and then comes down.
Technically, that's no rep.
So the ball must hit the target at 10 feet or above it.
I could throw to the top of a target and not hit it at all, and it will still be a good rep as long as I make contact above that 10-foot mark.
Another thing to note is that if we're doing consecutive wall balls, I have to either catch the ball in my hands and then go back into that below parallel position, or I can let the ball drop, but it has to settle completely.
One thing I cannot do, incredibly easily if I have more of a hard ball, is I can't let it bounce off the ground and then catch it and back into the next rep. I have to let it settle before I go into the next wrap, which, if you're using a bouncy or more sturdy ball, I would not suggest at all.
If you're using the standard wall ball that many people use, it is softer, and it doesn't take very many bounces to settle. It just hits the ground and splats onto the floor.
And a lot of times, it breaks the wall ball.
So we don't want to do that.
Tip 2: The Setup
The next thing that I want to talk about is the setup.
When setting up for a wall ball, I get my feet in a squatting position because it is a squatting pattern movement; it's essentially a thruster.
Rather than just holding the barbell, the locked up position, I'm just throwing the ball up in the air.
But I need to be ready to squat. So to be prepared to squat, my feet are shoulder width apart; usually, my toes are slightly pointed out, and that's going to put me in the proper position and drop down into my squat.
And remember, if you can't get that hip crease below the top of your knee, it will not count as a rep.
Tip 3: Wall Distance
Next, I also want to talk about how far away from the wall we should be.
And that's a significant factor because it depends on how heavy the ball you're throwing, how far away you are, and how high it is compared to your body.
It also depends on what kind of wall ball you're using. The ball that I use is Fringe Sport, which my buddy owns, and he sent me some wall balls; they're really hard and bouncy, so they tend to bounce off the wall a little bit more.
So sometimes I'll take a little half step farther back.
But as a general rule to start your wall balls, typically, if we're doing wall balls on the wall and not on a rig, I'm going to take it, and I'm going to put my arm or my body about an arm's length away from where the actual wall would be.
So to start the wall ball, I can squat down, pick it up and start the wall ball. Then each rep, you'll notice if the ball is landing way far out in front of you and pulling you forward.
You need to take a half step or a quarter step forward because what you want every time you shoot the ball is for it to come back down. You want it to land right in front of your face in this nice front squat position where you can stay nice and balanced, and you're not being pulled forward, and you're also not being smacked in the face.
It's a very delicate balance.
If the ball is extra heavy, you'll find me scooting closer to the wall because heavier balls won't tend to bounce away from the wall quite as much.
So that's what I like about the setup.
Tip 4: Wall Balls Grip
When it comes to gripping the wall ball, it comes down to what kind of ball you're using.
But generally speaking, I like to have my hands on the sides and then slightly underneath; this gives us an excellent position to squat and throw.
If you're trying to grip the ball directly on the side, it's going to slip through your hands potentially, and then I've seen some people try to do wall balls with their hands under the ball.
I think it's unbalanced, it doesn't give you much control, it's easy to put too much spin on it, it's almost like you're shooting a basketball, and then you're going to put a lot of spin on it, you don't want that you kind of want to have your hands slightly to the side.
So that when you throw the ball, it doesn't put too much spin on it because spin is wasted energy.
Generally speaking, this is about the whip. First, I like to catch it, and then I just let it settle on my chin every time I catch the ball.
It's crucial to have clean balls at your gym because it's going to get close to your face a lot of times, so I take the ball and a lot of times when I catch it, I let it rest on my chin; if the ball is spinning a bunch, then you might want to adjust your hands.
Eventually, you'll get to a position where you're throwing it, and it's not wasting a bunch of energy and movement with spin.
Tip 5: Scaling
So we've talked about the standards of the wall ball movement and the general setup that I like; now let's talk about scaling.
The general standard is a 20-pound wall ball to 10 feet for males, and a 14-pound wall ball to nine feet for females.
What's great about CrossFit, and functional fitness in general, is that we can modify it to fit your ability level.
So if taking a 20-pound ball and throwing it 10 feet in the air isn't in the cards for you, guess what? This is an infinitely scalable movement.
The first thing that I would potentially scale is the height, so rather than shooting to a target of 10 feet, I could go to the other side of the rig where I have one set up for nine feet; you can constantly adjust the height at which you're throwing to.
Another thing we can do is scale the weight, so rather than using a 20-pound wall ball, I could scale up to 30 or I could scale down; I could throw a 14-pound ball or an eight-pound ball.
Or the last way to scale the wall ball is to adjust the depth of our squat. So we could keep the standards of the ball the same height.
But we can't get below parallel for our squat, or it's a little bit difficult; we can put something under your butt to use as a target to squat to, so that could be using a box or a stool, or I could use a wall ball.
You may be an athlete that gets the full depth every once in a while, and it's hard for you to know without seeing how deep you are in your squat.
All you need to do is take another wall ball. When I place my butt under the wall ball, it's the perfect depth for my squat. So I'm below parallel; I can practice wall balls, where I'm catching, touching, and exploding up between every rep.
So every single rep, I'm letting my butt touch that target. And that's that tactile cue, that's telling me that I'm getting deep enough.
And I need help getting to that full depth at this target. I can always take a bumper plate or something else and stack it underneath the ball to give myself a little height.
And then, I could be squatting to halfway depth and hitting that target. So that's how we scale.
We can scale with the height of the target, the weight of the ball or the depth of the squat and that's why wall balls are a great movement because they're infinitely scalable.
Tip 6: Efficiency & Clearing Stroke
Now it's time to talk about wall ball efficiency.
My favorite efficiency tip for wall balls is the clearing stroke.
If you have tried wall balls before, you probably have realized that one of the first things to fatigue during a wall ball is the shoulders because we're using quite a few shoulders to throw that ball into the air.
No matter how much legs we're using, our shoulders still are the thing that tends to get fatigued.
And that's because many people are doing their wall balls by throwing them up, and every single time they keep their hands in the air, ready to receive the ball.
Every time they throw, they keep their hands up, then catch the ball going back into the squat.
Well, if I told you to hold your hands up for 10 minutes, you're going to fatigue, maybe even in a couple of minutes.
Holding your hands up in the air requires your shoulders to be active and engaged.
You are doing that along with the squatting and the throwing. So you're just asking for more fatigue.
So what I like to teach my athletes, and I've seen many Games athletes do, is the clearing stroke.
So all that means is that when I throw the ball up in the air, I relax my arms and let them settle back to the catching position.
So here's what it looks like, throw the ball up and let my hands come back down to catch it right in front of me.
So I throw, come down, throw, let my hands come down.
So if I'm doing it in a more extensive set, sometimes I'll exaggerate and throw my hands out to the side.
Because a lot of lactic acid builds up in your shoulders, your shoulders start to burn. So when I throw, I shake my shoulders between each rep.
Before your shoulders get tired, practice that clearing stroke. Allow your hands to relax or exaggerate by spreading them out and returning them to your receiving position.
What that's going to do is you'll feel it loosen up your shoulders compared to throwing and keeping your hands locked out over our overhead the whole time; you're going to fatigue a lot less.
Tip 7: Choose a Wall Instead of a Target
Another tip to make your wall balls easier and more efficient is; always try to throw on a wall rather than a target.
I was throwing to a small target, where you don't have a wall as a depth perception helper. It's way more awkward to throw to a standalone target than it is to do it on a wall.
Usually, the target on the wall will be a lot bigger; it will be easier to hit.
And if you miss high, guess what? It's still coming back down, and it's still a good rep.
If I miss high, that ball is sailing, and it will be a long time before I recover it.
Tip 8: Choose a Well Rounded Ball
Another thing you should think about from an efficiency standpoint is always choosing a well-rounded ball.
If you happen to try wall balls with a lopsided medicine ball, you are screwed.
Lopsided balls will mess up your rhythm because if you twist it or throw it in the wrong direction, it'll bounce weirdly. It acts funny. And that will help prevent you from being messed up simply by having an off-centred or lopsided medicine ball.
Tip 9: Breathing
Another efficiency tip I like to teach is breathing for a wall ball.
Usually, I like to treat it just like I would my thrusters.
And if you've read my Ultimate Guide to Thrusters, I'm holding my breath and then I breathe out on the way up, as I explained in that article.
And then, as I get to full extension, I breathe in. So it's like this out in, out in, and then the same happens for the wall ball.
So what I'm doing is I'm breathing out as I throw the ball up while the ball is in the air, and I'm bringing my hands back down. So that's when I try to breathe in.
You should add another full breath as you squat in high heart-rate workouts.
But usually, that cadence of making sure that I'm exhaling as I'm pressing and throwing, exhale, as you throw, inhale, when that ball is not in your hands, and it's coming back down.
Tip 10: Use Your Legs
Another efficiency tip is to use your legs as much as possible.
Your legs are way stronger than your arms than your shoulders; you're going to have a lot more power generated from your legs than you will from your shoulders going overhead.
So try to avoid doing a wall ball, where you have a muted hip or don't reach full hip extension. I have seen some athletes do wall balls, standing up halfway and throwing the ball to the target.
It's so hard to do that.
A tip that I tell people, especially in the beginning, to learn how to generate power from our legs and hips is to jump.
It would be best if you didn't jump high, but I want you to think about jumping the ball to the target.
What that does is that jump makes sure that I'm getting as much power as I can from my legs, and right when I get to a full extension, that's when I'm tossing the ball with my arms.
Tip 11: Don't Control Your Squat Depth
Another efficiency tip and this one is very controversial, is the depth of your squat.
So for almost everyone, I suggest not controlling your squat.
I mean that I want you to squat to your full depth and then allow your body to rebound you out of the bottom.
But what I don't want you to try to do, and I see athletes make this mistake all the time, is stop their squat short to get below parallel barely. Because it takes up a little bit more energy to say, 'I don't want to go too deep.'
Not only does it increase my risk of getting no reps for stopping too short, but it also takes more energy. So give full depth but do not worry about going "too low". You can catch the ball bounce out of the bottom.
Tip 12: Gear
The last efficiency tip I'll give you is to wear gear that will assist you with your wall balls.
I see two main pieces of equipment: if I were trying to do 150 wall balls unbroken and do an unbroken Karen, I would probably utilize these tools: knee sleeves and weightlifting shoes.
So knee sleeves give your knees a little extra support, especially for doing what I just talked about bouncing out of the bottom with that stretch reflex.
The next thing is wearing weightlifting shoes. So weightlifting shoes have an elevated heel that makes it easier to squat.
It gives you potentially better squatting mechanics and "increases your mobility", but it doesn't actually; it makes it feel as though it's easier to squat to full ranges of motion, and you'd probably have an easier time getting to depth. And it helps you feel more stable.
For a large part, they're not necessary at all.
Tip 13: Use a Heavier Ball For Practice
The last thing I want to teach you is to use a heavier ball and practice.
Generally speaking, outside of the Open, I am always using a heavier wall ball or a higher target.
It conditions my body for a higher standard for something more challenging than the expected standard so that when I eventually come back, and I'm using a 20-pound ball to 10 feet tall, it is easy, and it almost feels like a walk in the park.
If you're trying to improve wall balls, apply the efficiency tips that I talked about, and see if you can try using either a heavier ball or a higher target for the rest of the year leading up to the Open.
And then, when wall balls eventually do show up in a competition for you, you will be ready to crush them.
So hopefully, this article has helped you a lot for you to master wall balls; we've covered a lot.
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