Wall balls are a staple in CrossFit and functional fitness workouts, and they’re an exercise that nearly everyone can benefit from. However, you may need to find a wall ball substitute if you work out in a home gym with low ceilings, you don’t have a wall ball, or you don’t have anything to throw your wall ball against.
The 7 best wall ball substitutes are:
- Dumbbell thruster
- Barbell thruster
- Kettlebell thruster
- Medicine ball slam
- Medicine ball chest throw
- Medicine ball cleans
- Landmine squat and press
There are also alternatives you can do if you don’t have any equipment or weighted objects available.
In this article, I’ll discuss what makes a good wall ball substitute and show you how to perform each of the alternatives correctly. I’ll also provide some wall ball alternatives you can do without weight.
What Makes A Good Wall Ball Substitute
A wall ball substitute should be able to do one or a combination of the following:
- Work the same muscles
- Challenge your cardiovascular system and coordination
- Follow a similar movement pattern
- Develop power and explosiveness
1. Work the Same Muscles
Wall balls are considered a total-body movement, but they primarily work the following muscle groups:
The quads are responsible for extending your knees and straightening your legs as you come up from the bottom of the squat. The glutes are responsible for extending your hips as you come into a standing position. The hamstrings assist with that hip extension while also helping to stabilize the knee.
If you’re interested in learning more about all of the muscles used in the squat, check out Muscles Used In The Squat (Ultimate Guide)
The shoulders, triceps, and pecs are all involved during the throwing portion of the wall ball. The shoulders and pecs work to push the wall ball away from you as you throw it overhead while the triceps assist in the straightening of your arms.
Your core is also involved in wall balls. It helps you stay upright as you’re squatting while holding the ball at your chest and prevents your body from twisting excessively throughout the movement.
A good wall ball substitute doesn’t have to work all of these muscle groups, but it should target at least some of them.
2. Challenge Your Cardiovascular System and Coordination
Because they’re an explosive movement, work multiple muscle groups, and are often done for high reps of at least 10 per set, wall balls challenge your cardiovascular system. You need a bit of endurance to be able to do them.
As if that wasn’t enough, wall balls also test your reaction times, coordination, and accuracy. You sometimes have to react quickly under fatigue if the wall ball comes down faster than you expect or if it bounces off the wall at an odd angle. And it takes effort to be able to hit the same target with each rep.
As such, a wall ball substitute should also get your heart rate up, help improve your overall work capacity, and test your ability to think quickly when you’re fatigued.
If you’re a powerlifter and you’re looking for other ways to do cardio, check out 10 Best Cardio For Powerlifters (Science-Backed).
3. Follow a Similar Movement Pattern
Wall balls require you to get into a full squat while holding a wall ball at your chest before exploding up and throwing it as high as you can — typically to a 9’ target for females and a 10’ target for males, which is the standard in most CrossFit workouts.
Even if a wall ball substitute doesn’t require you to throw a weighted object against a wall, it should still involve some kind of squatting motion in which you also push a weight overhead as you stand up without breaking up the two movements.
4. Develop Power and Explosiveness
Wall balls help develop power and explosiveness because you have to use both your upper and lower body to throw the ball as hard as you can to hit your target. You won’t be able to throw the ball to a 9- or 10-foot target without putting some force behind your throws.
A good wall ball substitute should also be dynamic in nature and require you to cycle through reps quickly as opposed to a static exercise like a squat or shoulder press where you may grind through heavy reps.
Wall balls can be incorporated as part of a general physical preparedness (GPP) training routine. Learn more about GPP workouts in GPP Workout For Powerlifters: What Is It? How To, Benefits.
7 Best Wall Ball Alternatives
1. Dumbbell Thruster
Dumbbell thrusters are an excellent wall ball dumbbell substitute because they mimic the action of squatting down and pushing a weight overhead in a fluid motion as you do with a wall ball.
This is my preferred wall ball substitute since I train at home in a garage with a low ceiling and very little wall space and don’t have an ideal spot to throw wall balls against outside my house.
You can do double dumbbell thrusters, but holding a single dumbbell at your chest is more similar to the wall ball in which you hold a medicine ball at your chest.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell by the heads at your chest.
- Squat down as low as you can go, but ideally with your hip crease getting below your knees.
- Explode up to a standing position while pushing the dumbbell overhead in one fluid motion.
- Bend your elbows to lower the weight. Once it’s about even with your head, begin to squat down without pausing once the weight is at your chest again.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps.
When doing a dumbbell thruster with a single dumbbell, I recommend using a dumbbell that’s heavier than the wall ball you’d typically use. So if you’re used to using a 14lb wall ball, I’d choose at least a 20lb dumbbell for the dumbbell thruster.
This is because you’re not throwing the weight up to a certain height and don’t need to use quite as much power to push it overhead. You also don’t have to absorb as much force from gravity pulling a weight down quickly since you control the descent of the dumbbell. Using a heavier dumbbell compensates for these shortcomings.
Looking for dumbbells that you can drop without breaking them? Check out my recommendations in 7 Best Dumbbells That You Can Drop Without Damaging Them.
2. Barbell Thruster
Barbell thrusters are just like dumbbell thrusters except you use a barbell.
The same shortcomings of the dumbbell thruster exist in the barbell thruster — not having to throw the weight in the air and being able to control it better on the descent. But barbell thrusters still require a great deal of power, stability, and a good conditioning base in order to cycle through them efficiently.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in the front rack position (i.e. hold it in front of you so it rests on your deltoids and your elbows are pointed up as high as you can get them).
- Squat down until your hip crease is below your knees.
- Stand up as fast as you can. Once you are standing and without pausing, tuck your chin back and push the barbell overhead until your arms are fully extended.
- Lower the weight by bending your elbows and squat down once the weight is back on your shoulders. Don’t pause before you squat again.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps.
I recommend pausing for 1-2 seconds at the top of the thruster. When doing wall balls, a lot of athletes will swing their arms in a circular motion to shake out their shoulders while waiting for the ball to come back down. But many people prefer to keep their arms overhead until they catch the ball and squat back down.
If you’re someone who keeps your arms up, pausing at the top of the thruster will emulate the action of keeping your arms in the air after you throw a wall ball. And by keeping your arms up while holding onto a weight, you’ll be able to improve the stamina and stability of your shoulder muscles.
Being able to do a barbell thruster starts with having good front squat technique. Learn all about the front squat in this ultimate front squat guide.
3. Kettlebell Thruster
Kettlebell thrusters are an ideal wall ball alternative with a kettlebell. Like dumbbell thrusters, there are two ways to do them — by holding one kettlebell at your chest with both hands or by holding a kettlebell in each hand.
If you can, I recommend doing kettlebell thrusters with two kettlebells. Kettlebells are such a fantastic training tool because the weight is unbalanced, which challenges your stability and coordination. Those effects are lost when you hold onto one kettlebell with both hands.
Doing kettlebell thrusters with two kettlebells will allow you to train your shoulder and core stability in addition to providing the strength and cardiovascular benefits that wall balls offer.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold two kettlebells at your shoulders or a single kettlebell at your chest.
- Squat down until you’re below parallel.
- Stand up as explosively as you can and push the weight overhead without pausing.
- Lower the weight and start to descend back into a squat once the weight clears your head.
- Repeat for all of your prescribed reps.
Kettlebell thrusters can cause bruising on your forearms due to where the weight of the kettlebell is concentrated on your arms while you’re pressing the weight overhead. It should go away the more you do kettlebell thrusters, but there are also things you can do to prevent it.
For example, keeping your wrists straight while your arms are overhead will help prevent bruises on your arms by not putting too much pressure on a lean area of your body.
You’ll also want to hold the kettlebell by the curve of the handle instead of in the middle. This will give you better control of the kettlebell so it doesn’t move and slam onto your forearms when you press the weight overhead.
Looking for a kettlebell for your home gym but don’t want to spend a lot of money? Check out Best 5 Kettlebells For The Money (That Are Still Well Made).
4. Medicine Ball Slam
Medicine ball slams are an explosive movement that requires you to throw the ball down to the ground instead of straight overhead. They primarily work the core, back, and shoulders, but you also have to drive power through your legs to throw the ball down as forcefully as you can.
They’re also a fantastic conditioning exercise since you’ll be moving through reps in quick succession.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a medicine ball at your chest.
- Raise your arms to lift the medicine ball overhead as you come up onto your toes.
- Forcefully push the medicine ball down to throw it into the ground as you hinge your hips slightly back towards the wall behind you.
- Pay attention to the rebound, as the ball may bounce high off the ground.
- Start your next rep by picking the ball off the ground and bringing it overhead in one fluid motion before you slam it down again.
There are various ways to make this exercise even more challenging on your cardiovascular system. One of my favorite variations is to add a burpee to the end.
After you slam the ball down, bend down and put your hands on the ball. Kick both of your legs behind you at the same time so you’re in a push-up position, then jump your feet back in. As you stand up, bring the ball up with you. Lift your arms overhead in a fluid motion before slamming the ball down and repeating.
If you decide to do this variation, I recommend using a slam ball instead. Slam balls have a harder rubber shell but are a bit more pliable and shock-absorbent. They won’t rebound as much as a bouncier medicine ball, so you won’t have to worry about the ball bouncing up towards you as bend down to do your burpee.
Check out the differences between wall balls and slam balls: Wall Balls vs Slam Balls: Pros, Cons, & Which Are Better?
5. Standing Medicine Ball Chest Throw
The medicine ball chest throw doesn’t require a squatting motion, but it is an excellent seated wall ball alternative because you can also do it while sitting on a box or bench.
And even though you won’t throw the medicine ball straight up like you would in a wall ball, you still have to throw it against the wall as hard as you can. You’re still using your pecs and shoulders to explosively throw the weight against the wall and training your upper body to handle higher amounts of volume.
- Stand about 2-3 feet away from a wall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
- Hold a medicine ball at your chest.
- Push the medicine ball away from you and throw it against the wall as hard as you can.
- Catch the ball as it rebounds back to you.
- You can either move through reps in quick succession or pause for a second in between each throw.
You can make this more of a core exercise by standing perpendicular to the wall and throwing the ball to your side instead of straight out in front of you.
Hold the ball at about waist height, bring the ball to the hip that’s facing away from the wall, and pivot on the foot on that same side as you twist to throw the ball against the wall. Catch the ball when it bounces back to you, then repeat.
This variation can help improve your anti-rotational core strength, which will help improve your core stability when doing squats, deadlifts, and other heavy lifts.
For more ideas on how to train your core, check out 9 Best Ab Exercises For Powerlifters.
6. Medicine Ball Cleans
Medicine ball cleans don’t require you to push any weight overhead. But they still help you build muscular endurance in the same muscles that are used in the wall ball, including the quads and shoulders.
Medicine ball cleans also tend to be programmed with high reps just like wall balls. You don’t really see less than 10 reps of them come up in a workout, so they can help you improve your work capacity when performing high-rep sets.
Furthermore, medicine ball cleans make an excellent wall ball alternative for bad knees because you can do a power clean instead of a full clean, meaning you only go into a partial squat when you “catch” the ball instead of squatting all the way down.
You can also start by holding the medicine ball in a hang position anywhere from mid-shin to the top of your thigh instead of starting with it on the floor. This prevents you from having to bend all the way down with each rep, which will also help reduce the amount of stress placed on your knees.
- Place a medicine ball on the floor and stand slightly behind it with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With a flat back, bend down to pick up the ball.
- Once your hips have reached full extension (i.e. you’re in a fully standing position), shrug your shoulders up and bend your elbows like you’re doing a bicep curl.
- Let go of the medicine ball without throwing it straight up or without spinning it in the air.
- As you catch the ball again, squat as deep as you can.
- Stand up while holding the ball in front of your chest
- Gently touch the ball back down to the floor and repeat for your desired number of reps.
A common flaw in any clean variation whether you’re using a barbell, a medicine ball, or dumbbells is to muscle the weight up using just your upper body. But the hips also play a large role in the movement.
You don’t want to bounce or push the medicine ball off of them, but you should be using them to drive power so you’re not relying solely on your arms to clean the weight up to your chest.
You’ll also want to make sure the medicine ball stays close to your body. You shouldn’t let your hips push your arms too far out in front of you. Doing this can cause you to have to jump forward to meet the ball, which can throw off your balance.
7. Landmine Squat and Press
The landmine squat and press is an ideal wall ball alternative for people with shoulder issues. You’ll be pushing the weight up and slightly in front of you rather than straight overhead, so your shoulders will be in a slightly more comfortable position at the top of the movement.
It’s also another excellent wall ball alternative for bad knees. The position of the weight encourages you to sit back more at the bottom of the squat, which prevents your knees from traveling too far forward and keeps more of the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings.
- Insert one end of a barbell into a landmine attachment or wedge it into the corner of a wall.
- Load the other end with your desired weight.
- With an underhand grip, deadlift the weight off the floor and bring it up to your chest. Carefully adjust your grip so you’re cupping the barbell sleeve with both hands.
- Squat down until you’re below parallel.
- Stand up and simultaneously push the weight up in an explosive manner.
- Lower the weight as you descend back into a squat and repeat for all of your prescribed reps.
To make this exercise more challenging, try doing a shoulder-to-shoulder landmine thruster. Start by holding the weight on one side, squatting down, and pushing the weight up and over from one shoulder to the other as you stand up.
Doing side-to-side landmine thrusters requires you to move faster than you would in a wall ball because you’re not waiting for the ball to come back down. Instead, you’re squatting and pushing the weight up as fast as you can, which can make them more challenging from a conditioning standpoint.
Switching sides with each rep also introduces some anti-rotational core work into the movement because your core will work to resist twisting as you shift the weight from one side to the other.
To learn more about wall balls, check out: What Are Wall Balls Good For? (And, Why Are They So Hard?)
How To Do A Wall Ball With No Weight
While you can’t completely replicate a wall ball without using any weight, there are exercises you can do that target some of the same muscles and will get your heart rate up.
One such exercise is the squat jump. All you need to do is get into the bottom position of a squat, then jump as high as you can before landing and squatting all the way down again. If you want to bring your arms into the equation a bit, you can use them for momentum by bringing them behind you as you squat and swinging them up towards the ceiling as you jump.
If a squat jump is too much, squat and explode up but just go up on your toes without jumping. This is another excellent wall ball alternative for bad knees because you can do a partial squat or squat to a high box if you can’t do a full squat.
Whether you have an injury or you just don’t have enough space to do wall balls, there are plenty of alternatives you can do instead.
A good wall ball alternative should train your cardiovascular system as well as the quads, hamstrings, glutes, pecs, triceps, and core. It should also test your coordination and ability to perform dynamic movements under fatigue.
Whichever alternative you choose, you should also make sure it’s a movement you can perform for at least sets of 10 reps to help improve your overall work capacity.
Other Lower Body Exercise Alternatives
- 9 Best Hack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 15 Best Leg Extension Alternatives (At Home, Bands, Free Weight)
- 5 Best Box Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 8 Best Pistol Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Cossack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 10 Highly Effective Front Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 17 Sissy Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.