Wall Ball Shots – A Definitive Guide – 11 Tips On How To Improve Your Wallball Shots

I have to start with this...I am 6'2". I don't mind wallball shots 🙂 But I appreciate that the vast majority of people that are shorter than I struggle with them....those people probably love burpees 😉 hahaha - but that really is the beauty of CrossFit: Some exercises favour short, light cardio machines, some exercises favour big, strong, tall guys. Being able to do it all... now THAT is the hard part 🙂

In this blog post, I will try to outline some hints and address some common suggestions and my opinion of what you should do. If I have missed a question or issue you want addressed, let me know in the comments below and I will add it. If you like this as a guide, please share it!!

Here is Phillipa Robinson - 2013 Australian Regionals individual competitor from CrossFit Athletic - demonstrating many great points of form that I suggest below...see how many you can see...

Thinking1. Strategy

Karen. When you see her name, your legs waver and you prepare for about 4 days of being unable to sit or stand up from the toilet properly. 150 wall ball shots at 20lbs to 10'.

Some can do this unbroken. They are freaks of nature and should share this post with their clients or friends who aspire to be like them.

If you are a mortal like me, break up a big chunk of wall ball shots into manageable lots. For me, it is about keeping the heart rate under control. I perform better and longer if I am simply not puffed out. So I would attack Karen as 30, 20, 10 and keeping doing 10s until I have to go to 5s... which may be towards the end or it may be towards the middle depending on the day. When I break, I walk a predetermined route to I know when I get back, it is back-on-the-job time - no more than 10secs.

You may feel that 30 sets of 5 works for you. It doesn't matter. Just choose a game plan and stick to it. If you are feeling better than expected, you can always go harder towards the end.

Yours truly demonstrating Wall Ball Shots

Yours truly demonstrating Wall Ball Shots

2. Rest your arms

Throwing and catching 9-10kg is tiresome. Being tall, I don't have to throw very far but I do have to front squat a long way. When I throw the ball up, I try to bring my arms down and then back up again to catch the ball. This takes a bit of practice so start now!

Once you have the rhythm of doing this, it preserves your arms so nicely!

3. Elbows down or out?

I will declare I am not a purist on this matter. I believe that doing the same thing over and over in the one way is a recipe for overuse injuries. I think your elbows will be placed differently depending on the width of the wallball anyway. If you have a small medicine ball or slam ball, then your hands will be closer than the elbows and so the elbows will be out a bit. A wider ball will be more likely to produce more upright forearms.

So long as you remember that the goal is to be safe, then it will become clear what you will need to do - don't hit your elbows on your knees. Don't mash your breasts or chest trying to keep your forearms vertical. Don't have your elbows so far out that your shoulder rounds into a poor position.

Guy on the left is looking up more than the guy on the right

Guy on the left is looking up more than the guy on the right

4. Head up or straight?

This has always been a strange one for me. I think you need to keep an eye on the ball. Call me crazy but 10kg dropping on your head isn't good for your spine. Also, we are designed to hit targets by looking at them. Lastly, physics dictates that your torso must incline forwards to keep the centre of gravity (somewhere in your trunk) over your base of support (your feet).

Therefore, it is advantageous and safe to look up. The fact that people get sore necks doing it doesn't mean looking up is bad for you. It means you need to improve your technique of looking up!

The secret is to maintain a nice, gentle line from the thorax to the base of the skull. You want to maintain tension in the neck at the front and back but not excessive tension...just enough to do the job. Test it with a resisted arm lift. You should have good resistance power whether you head is straight or looking up.

Looking up to do Wallballs for a long time does require training. Start now!

This show a good upright position on the left but I still prefer to be a fraction further from the wall

This show a good upright position on the left but I still prefer to be a fraction further from the wall

5. How far from the wall?

Again, another debate that suffers from a lack of common sense. You need to be as far back as you need to consistently throw the ball at the target and hit it every time. For me, this is determined by the kind of ball you have and what it does. Does it drop dead? You may have to be closer to the wall. Does it bounce away from the wall a bit? You may have to be a bit further away.

The goal is to throw the ball up each time and have it come back to you consistently the same way each time. It will change from ball to ball, even with the same brand and style of ball.

OK, you STILL want some sort of guide. For me and my wallballs, I prefer to hold the ball with my arms straight out and touch the wall. I start from there and make my adjustments...

...You warm up don't you? Work it out then 🙂

Daniel and Amie leaning on the post/wall, Jacob demonstrating my way of resting!!

Daniel and Amie leaning on the post/wall, Jacob demonstrating my way of resting!!

6. How should I rest?

There are different reasons for resting. You may be catching your balance or your breath for 5secs or less. If that is the case, hold onto the ball.

If you have tired arms but you aren't "puffed out", then lean on the wall with the ball resting on your chest or shoulder or back and shake out your arms. I personally find this inefficient because I need to move my feet to recover - they get painfully sore if I stand in the one position too long like during kettlebell swings, high rep barbell movements and Wallballs. So I let the ball drop to the ground and it is right there between my feet (see the point above about consistency). I can shuffle my feet around and go again.

Because the rules from 2013 state that the ball must go from in the deep squat position, not carrying the ball but effectively squatting and picking up the ball or medball cleaning it (remember your fundamentals training!?) takes about the same time as resting on the wall, finding your ideal foot position and going down into the squat with the wallball.

In the end, each resting position has its pros and cons. Work out which type of rest you need and just do it!

Ball-to-Wall-Lead-600x3697. What should I activate?

People talk about activating muscles all the time. As a Physio, I think about HOW your muscles are activating...yes. But I also think about when they activate and why.

The LAST thing you want to be thinking about when moving weights, throwing balls or being 3m above the ground is what muscle to activate.

Touch your nose. Did you think about every muscle, joint, bone, nerve impulse you had use to get whatever finger your body chose by default to your nose? No!!! You just think about the task and some key variables (like your nose location, a finger and touch it!) Even if I said touch your nose a different way with a different finger, you only have to think of what you did, a different finger in a different way 🙂

That is why the best cues are actions or positions, not muscles to activate. Chest up, straight back, look straight ahead etc etc.

For wall balls, like a front squat or thruster, you must have a straight back with minimal (ideally no) butt wink. Chest stays up, weight evenly on both feet and through the knot of your shoelaces (the centre of your longitudinal arch)

If you have muscles that don't seen to switch on, you are better off asking why rather than trying to force your body to do something it doesn't want to do...

Games09NicoleGordonWallball8. Should I jump or not?

I don't jump so neither should you! Hahahaha. Just joking. You need to do what you need to get that ball to the target. Ideally you shouldn't need to jump.

I have a friend who is under 5 foot tall. She has to jump sometimes. Eventually she will get strong enough to not have to jump because she will get more powerful.

Again, wallball shots are CrossFit's way of throwing us big rigs a bone...then they add something like burpees to make it suck for us - ugh, bad dream! 10 rounds for time 10 wall ball shots, 10 burpees! Gross!

lunge-test49. Take care of your mobility, flexibility, stability and strength issues

The Overhead Squat post has some useful pointers to help 🙂

Are your ankles flexible enough? You will need 10-12cm in the lunge test (pictured here) for a decent wallball squat

Can your knees bend enough? You will need about 130deg of knee bend for decent depth

Are your hips able to bend enough? You need to be able to keep your body upright for efficient wallballs

Are you able to keep your back straight? Backs that bend or hips that butt wink lead to repetitive strain injuries and inefficiencies.

Can you throw the ball without impinging your shoulders? Raising your arms shouldn't be painful - if they are, perhaps you aren't ready to do or return back to wallballs.

In the end, if you can't improve these things on your own, you need to see someone like me who can investigate what the problems are and how to solve them. My goal is to solve your problem and teach you how to take care of yourself...in 1-3 sessions 🙂

photo (4)10. What type of ball should I use?

The options are basically a soft wall ball, a soft medicine ball, a hard medicine ball and a slam ball. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Soft wall ball - it is wider and suits me well but smaller people may find it hard if it is close to their shoulder width in size (less use of your pecs). The bounce back is less than a medicine ball but consistent. The disadvantage is that it can be poorly balanced. I have a 9kg Muscle Motion ball that I don't like because it is not balanced nicely...In fact, I would rather do wallballs with my 10kg SMAI wallball than the 9kg ball because it is easier to handle. The other thing is that you can't do much else with a soft wall ball...

Soft medicine ball - the best of both worlds? Smaller in diameter, it is easier for smaller people but won't break a nose if you miss the catch!

Hard medicine ball - I learned how to use these for my first 1.5yrs of CrossFit. I like them actually because the weight was centered and easier for me to handle. They also bounce off the wall nicely, so it is good if you like to be a bit away from the wall...but if you like to throw vertically, the bounce back is consistent and not too far from the wall. The down side for a lot of people was that a hard 9kg ball coming at your head is disconcerting, especially when you start getting sweaty hands! They also bounce off the wall so it is good if you like to be a bit away from the wall...but if you like to throw vertically, the bounce back is consistent.

Slam ball - Hmm. This is my last choice of ball...which probably makes it the first choice to practice with! It is uneven, hard to hold and hard to get any sort of rhythm so a terrible choice for the Open. It also doesn't bounce far from the wall so I find myself no-repping quite a lot because I have to throw so vertically and it is difficult to consistently hit the right spot because I am so close to the wall. The good thing is that you can use them as slam balls (well, duh!) and the unpredictable nature of the bounce and load you are catching is good training - wallballs after using slam balls becomes a breeze!

wall-ball-shot11. How should I practice?

In my honest opinion, girls should practice 9kg to 10ft targets. If you can practice sets of 5 and 10 to the target and keep good form when doing so, you will find 6kg and 9ft targets a breeze - it is all relative!! The same goes for guys. If you don't want to throw a heavier ball (I don't blame you!), then throw to 11 or 12ft. I found that practicing with my 10kg ball and then completing the Open workouts or a WOD with 9kg made it feel easier...and I don't think it was psychological!

Work on your strategy - see how you go doing 5 sets of 10 with 10secs rest vs 10sets of 5 with 5secs rest. Get to know what works for you. What is your max number of wallball shots you can do in a row, then take 10secs rest and do another max set. Then after some rest, try to halve the number of reps and do it again as 2 even sets. e.g. if you got 30 and then 20, try to do 2 sets of 25reps and see if the time is better.

Work on getting the distance right. Every time you throw the ball up, hit the target and have the ball come back to the same place each time - the more consistent you can be, the better!

As stated above, using a slamball will make life much harder on your arms and your stability in general. They are great for developing stability and power at the same time...but please use one of the others if you want a faster time in a comp!


This has been a long post but there is so MUCH to say! Hopefully you found a tip in here which will help you. Let me know what you think in the comments below!





6 Tips Common to All Movements 

Basically similar to my blog on preparing for the Open...

1. Practice your technique NOW

  • Feel comfortable in practice with competition technique and Range of Motion (ROM) and it will feel comfortable in competition.
  • Good technique is the most efficient way to complete the reps. For most movements, keep your back straight for crying out aloud!!
  • Motor patterns are strengthened with perfect practice - the more reps you do perfectly, the more likely you will do them

2. Continue your strengthening program (or start NOW!)

  • There are still 5 weeks before the Open starts and 9 weeks until it ends - there is time to make gains!
  • If you just get one more rep out because you are just a little bit stronger or you get a PB because you improved enough to achieve it, there is no better feeling in the Open. Last year, I got a 135lbs snatch 4 times - I got my first the day before I did 13.1. I also got my first CTB pullup during the Open. Strength helps!
  • If you are a Regionals athlete, the Open should just be a speed bump in your training program.
  • I have never heard anyone say "If I was only a bit weaker for that workout, I would have done better"!

3. Get your Coach to help identify and rectify your weaknesses

  • Most coaches are happy to tell you what to work on and will give you accessory (additional) exercises to do after your workouts.
  • Most coaches will have some form of one-on-one coaching sessions they can do with you - these are worth it for beginners and experienced athletes alike
  • If you do ask your coach for help and you DO NOT do what they say, then please DO NOT ask them for more help until you have done what they told you to do already!! Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than someone who asks for help but then doesn't do it.
  • If you have done everything you are told to do and your coach doesn't want to help you, ask yourself if you are in the right box or asking the right person...this should be extremely rare...in general and basically every box I have been to (over 20) and coaches I know (well over 50) have had coaches that are willing to help the athletes and care about their safety.

4. Sort your niggles out

  • One of the most common comments I hear is "If I had known how much better I would feel, I would have come sooner"
  • 'Nuff said!

5. Don't push to failure

  • Rich Froning rarely fails a rep. Don't waste your energy on failed reps. Rest and just concentrate on making good reps. Pushing to failure is a waste of time and energy and significantly increases your risk of injury...

6. Lose the "sins of Christmas" - get that body fat% down!

  • This one is for my friend John Z - all the bodyweight movements in the Open will get better if you are carrying less fat.

I am always keen to hear tips from other athletes, coaches and health professionals. Leave your comments below!

8 Responses

  1. Pingback : 5 Tips on Preparing for the 2014 CrossFit Open | The Physio Detective

  2. Pingback : The Weekend Post - 11 Tips On How To Improve Your Wallball Shots

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  4. Kathy

    This post greatly helped in calming me down. I’ve got my first attempt of Karen today and I was completely freaking out – 150 WALL BALLS?!?! I now know how to tackle it and I’m going to give it my best shot! Thanks for the great post!

  5. Beth

    I’m 5 1 and find wall balls are such a struggle. Overall my form is good but getting the ball to the 9 foot mark doesn’t happen consistently even when I jump. I will try some of your tips to encorporate into 16.4. Thanks

    1. It truly is tough if you are shorter Beth. But then burpees for you are way easier than me at 6’2″ hahahaha.

      It is all about power (acceleration).

      16.4 is for us taller athletes (finally!

  6. Pingback : Medicine Balls vs Wall Balls vs Slam Balls - What You Need to Know

  7. Sarah

    I just did 17.4 this morning and I wish I’d seen this post first. I don’t give wall balls a lot of thought, but I also don’t practice them often. I probably used more jump than I needed. The deadlifts, though… It’s not a heavy weight, but it is a lot of reps. From what I’ve seen this morning, and from what it felt like to me, I’ll be recommending that people do singles, doing it and resetting quickly. There’s to much energy wasted in lowering the bar during touch and go that if you do 20, or even 4 sets of 5, you’re really gassed before you’re halfway through and the bar gets really heavy, and then form breaks down early. And then the wall balls really suck. And then the row feels like death. And then you’re like me, and you only have time for one hspu.

    Fwiw, I usually coach people to use a parallel grip for dl, to strengthen their grip and keep the shoulders healthy, and to lower the bar with control after every rep, none of that smash and go nonsense. But on this one, lowering the bar is a whole energy leak. So alternate grip, lift, drop, reset.

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