Grindin’ Out Wall Balls

Wall balls can be very much a love or hate activity.
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Wall balls can be very much a love or hate activity.
CrossFit Wall Ball

Wall balls have been a staple of CrossFit training since its inception. Taking a weighted medicine ball (often the 20-pound variety) and performing a full squat and then launching the ball vertically to make contact with a 10-foot-high target on a wall or rig is what defines the movement. It can be very much a love or hate activity.

Back in 2010 when I first started with CrossFit, I can remember stupidly stating, “I can do wall balls all day.” (Ah, to be a young and naive 36-year-old again.)

Then I stopped using the 12- and 16-pound balls and began using the more advanced 20-pound ball and moving from the 9-foot to the 10-foot Rx target. The perception of my overconfident wall-ball prowess changed at that point. I don’t fear or dread wall balls, but I definitely respect them.

In its basic form, the logistics involved in the wall-ball movement seem simple to the inexperienced eye.

“It’s only 20 pounds.”

“It’s only 10 feet.”

Those ignorant to the leg and shoulder fatigue associated with this type of movement might not fully grasp how physically taxing high-volume sets of the little 20-pound ball can get.

The basics of the wall ball have been used in a variety of ways in my last three-and-a-half years of training in CrossFit. “Karen” (150 wall balls for time), the most notorious of the wall-ball–based WODs, was not deemed enough for the powers-that-be when programming the 2012 and 2013 CrossFit Opens. In Open workout 13.3 (the third workout of the 2013 CrossFit Open), Karen was used as an appetizer in this leg-crushing burner. The workout not only included the intro of 150 wall balls, but athletes had to then complete double-unders as well (keeping in mind your legs are almost useless at this point) and then the true elite moved on to sets of muscle-ups to wrap it up.

Wall balls can be scaled in terms of new members or female athletes sometimes using less weight or hitting a 9-foot target instead of 10, but I have seen other evolutions in wall balling recently. In a competition this fall, 11-foot targets were used instead of 10. Much like the average bystander not being able to understand what the big deal is about tossing a 20-pound ball (anyone can pick up 20 pounds), that same average bystander would likely not comprehend the difference moving a target 12 inches would make.

Recently, we did a WOD involving hitting an 11-foot target instead of the standard 10. I will tell you that it is so much worse than you are picturing in your mind. Give it a try. Not just for one or two reps — knock out 15 or so unbroken at an 11-foot target and see if that makes a difference. I’d wager you’d notice the change.

Other options for scaling up this movement would be increasing not only the number of wall balls or the distance the ball must travel, but using a heavier ball, as well. I’ve seen both the availability of a 30- and even 40-pound wall ball being offered and used. There are whispers of this equipment growing to include a 50-pounder and so on.

For a grinder like me, the standard 20-pound ball and 10-foot target is all the wall ball I need to tackle. I understand that CrossFit is constantly varied, and we are developing ways in which to make it scalable not only to lessen the weight and movements but also to scale up so that we surpass what we now know to be the Rx level. But for all its ups and downs, the wall ball is almost always done in high-volume reps. Whether one massive set or groups of 15 to 20, wall balls will truly be a movement that the average grinder must grind out.

What is your experience with wall balls? Love them or hate them? Let me know at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com.

Stay on the Grind.

— Jamie Toland (JTol)

@JTolgrinder