“We fail at the margins of our experience.”
The simple, effective and in some cases dreaded Wall Ball shot…a CrossFit staple.
Take a simple tool, a Medicine Ball, squat with it in the front rack, toss it 10 feet high, hit your target, catch and repeat. For many an exerciser, this is one of the most dreaded exercises in the wheelhouse. Why? Because A LOT can go wrong in the 2 seconds it takes to complete a rep. Poor form, bad breathing techniques and negative mental attitude can lead to a lot more time on the clock during a set of 50 Wall Ball shots than needed. This post will help you get set up for success, and help you bang out more reps than you ever though possible. Ready?
1. The Set Up
Pick up your Med Ball and push your arm straight out in front of you. The ball should touch the wall. Feet should be set up as with any other squat. We’ll go into slight tweaks on this later. For now, your air squat set up is correct. Heels down, knees out. Squat with the ball in the front rack position. Elbows should be up. Drive hard out of the bottom and use that energy to launch the ball to your target, usually ten feet.
2. The First Rep
Your ball will be resting on the ground. Squat down and save the energy of picking the ball up. This may seem like a small thing, but in a grueling AMRAP or a longer WOD where sets may need to be broken (Kelly or Karen anyone?) this small bit of efficiency will work wonders. You can choose to perform a MedBall Clean, but I prefer to squat and pick up the ball from the bottom of the squat.
3. The Catch
Allow the weight of the ball to carry you back down. As soon as the ball hits your finger tips, you should be squatting. Your midline (torso) should remain tight and intact. One of the most common faults on this movement is a dropping of the elbows and softening of the core. Don’t be soft.
4. The Bounce
Use the bottom of your squat to bounce back up and out. This does NOT mean abandoning your lumbar arch and hitting your butt cheeks on the ground. Some will benefit from a slight widening of the stance to control depth. Should you squat to a ball? No. Use squat targets for depth PRACTICE, not application. If your depth is lacking, your lumbar flexion is lost or you cannot control your movement, do not squat under any load, including a Med Ball. Practice the Air Squat until it’s perfected, then add load.
5. The Throw
This is not basketball. Use both hands evenly. Think you’re favoring one side? Ask someone to watch or video tape a longer set and see what you’re doing. If you’re favoring one side, fix it. Go lighter or lower until you can do it correctly with proper form.
6. The Breath
When you throw the ball up, your diaphragm is open. Breathe in as the ball makes contact with your target. Exhale on the catch. This DOES NOT mean you should loosen your midline and go slack. You are establishing a pattern, use efficiency and form.
7. The Arm Circle
As the shoulders start to fatigue in higher rep sets, a mid rep arm circle can become helpful mentally and physically. Throw the ball up, circle the arms back and quickly return to the catch. As with any movement pattern, practice this before applying it to a workout.
8. Breaking Mental Barriers
The Wall Ball shot is one of those movements that can be done for hundreds of reps. Look back at Tommy Hackenbruck going unbroken on Karen in the 2012 CrossFit Games Team final. At a recent event in Miami, Games vet Elizabeth Akinwale and multi-time Regional competitor Shawn Ramirez also completed the needed 150 reps unbroken. Set your mind to it, breathe, work on efficiency and push your limits.
9. The Equipment
We use Dynamax balls. They’ve lasted forever and not a single one has has a tear, a seam break, nor have they flattened out. We have no affiliation to Dynamax, and have in fact spent thousands of dollars on these fine balls. There are cheaper balls out there, but every gym I’ve seen with them have wrapped them in duct tape, tried to bring them back to form or plain-old thrown them out. If price is an issue, build yourself a ball out of a basketball and filler like these examples and save up to buy the good stuff…it’ll last you for years to come. There’s nothing worse than something for half the price with a tenth of the lifespan.
10. But Wait…
I’m short/uncoordinated/less than perfect. Yes, yes, yes. The beautiful thing about functional fitness is that it’s scalable. I know, you really want to be RX every time. Practice the movement if it’s a weakness. Hammer weaknesses into the ground by making your practice methodical. Do something every day and you’ll get better at it. Start with a light ball at a lower height until it’s easy. Each week add 2 pounds and a go a little bit higher. A 20 pound ball moving at high velocity for multiple reps is HEAVY. Scale wisely and inch your way up.
11. Have Fun!
We often play the 9′-10′-11′-12′ game for warm up. We have lines at each height. Each rep is one foot higher then the last, then reverses to go back down. Another drill we use is the middle of the room max height shot. Grab a light ball and see how high you can throw it. The ceiling is the limit (literally). The Power Wall Ball gets occasional use as well. It’s a Wall Ball shot without the squat. It sounds easy, it’s not. Since the rep is faster and translates into a modified push press it turns into a shoulder burner quickly. Don’t limit yourself, experiment, have fun, train smart!