What Are Wall Balls Good For? (And, Why Are They So Hard?)

What are wall balls good for? (and, why are they so hard?)

If you’ve ever done CrossFit or functional fitness workouts, you’re familiar with wall balls. Even though many athletes dread seeing them come up in a workout, they’re a great exercise for multiple reasons.

The 7 benefits of wall balls are:

  • They’re a total body movement
  • They can improve your athletic performance
  • They’re a functional movement
  • They’re easily scalable
  • They can improve your hand-eye coordination
  • They improve your core stability
  • They help you become more explosive and powerful

In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of walls balls so you can understand why they’re such a fantastic movement.

However, I also know that wall balls are difficult to perform for many people. So, I’ll also discuss why that is and how you can overcome those challenges.

7 Benefits of Wall Balls

7 benefits of wall balls

I may be in the minority, but I love wall balls. I’m also aware that some of you may need convincing on why you should be doing them, so below I’ve listed 7 of the top benefits of wall balls.

1. They’re a Total Body Movement

While you’ll feel wall balls primarily in your quads and shoulders, they also work the glutes, core, pecs, hamstrings, and triceps. There aren’t many other exercises that work both the upper and lower body at the same time.

Many of the same muscles used in the squatting portion of a wall ball are also used in the back squat. Learn more about all of the muscles used in the squat in our ultimate guide.

2. They Can Improve Your Athletic Performance

In addition to being a total body movement, wall balls are also dynamic because you’re moving pretty much the entire time.

As such, doing large unbroken sets of wall balls can improve your conditioning, muscular endurance, and overall work capacity.

3. They’re a Functional Movement

It’s not often you’ll find yourself throwing things above your shoulders unless you play a sport like baseball or basketball. But there are many times when you have to put heavy things away on a high shelf or pick something up from the floor in a squatting position. As such, wall balls have a lot of carryover to your everyday life.

Wall balls are an exercise that can be included in any general physical preparedness (GPP) routine. Learn more about the benefits of GPP training in GPP Workout For Powerlifters: What Is It? How To, Benefits.

4. They’re Easily Scalable

You can easily scale wall balls to match your current fitness abilities. The wall ball standards prescribed in most CrossFit workouts is a 14lb ball thrown to a 9’ target for females and a 20lb ball thrown to a 10’ target for males. If either or both of those is too much for you, you can use a lighter wall ball and/or aim for a shorter target.

5. They Can Improve Your Hand-Eye Coordination

wall balls can improve hand-eye coordination

Wall balls require a certain degree of precision so you can ensure you’re hitting your target with each rep. You also have to pay attention to the trajectory of the wall ball as you’re getting ready to catch it, as it can sometimes bounce off the wall at an odd angle or come down faster than you’re expecting it to.

For these reasons, wall balls are a great exercise for testing your hand-eye coordination and testing how quickly you can react to changes when you’re fatigued.

6. They Improve Your Core Stability

When you’re holding a wall ball in front of you, your core has to work hard to help you stay upright so your chest and shoulders don’t collapse. This core stability can also carry over to back squats, deadlifts, and other exercises that frequently show up in CrossFit workouts such as thrusters.

Looking for more exercises to improve your core strength? Check out my 9 best ab exercises for powerlifters.

7. They Help You Become More Explosive and Powerful

Even though your shoulders, pecs, and triceps are the main muscles used when throwing a wall ball up in the air, you need to drive power from your legs and hips to quickly explode up from the bottom of a squat and throw the ball as hard as you can.

The power and explosiveness that you can develop from wall balls can help improve your performance in the snatch and clean and jerk. It can also aid in sprinting, jumping, and other exercises that require a strong lower body.

Love wall balls but don’t have the space to do them? Check out my favorite wall ball alternatives.

5 Reasons Why Wall Balls Are So Hard & How to Fix

5 reasons why wall balls are so hard and how to fix

Even though you can now see why wall balls are such a great exercise, you may still want to avoid doing them because they’re difficult for you to perform. Let’s review 5 reasons why wall balls are so hard and ways you can make them a bit easier.

1. They Require a Strong Cardiovascular System

Wall balls have the ability to make your heart rate skyrocket due to the compound nature of the movement and how explosive you have to be to hit your target.

Furthermore, it’s rare to see low reps of wall balls programmed in a workout, and having to do them in large sets can challenge your cardiovascular system.

How To Fix

There are a couple of ways to improve your endurance when it comes to wall balls. The first is to concentrate on your breathing. Exhale as you throw the ball and inhale as you catch it and squat back down. You can also exhale as you throw the ball, inhale while it’s in the air, exhale again as the ball comes back down, and inhale as you descend into the squat.

Following a breathing pattern like this will allow you to keep your heart rate under control so you can perform larger sets or transition to the next movement in your workout without redlining.

Another way to improve your conditioning for wall balls is to practice doing them in larger sets with short rest periods in between each set. For example, you could try 4 sets of 30 unbroken reps with 30 seconds of rest in between. This will help you improve your overall work capacity and the muscular endurance in your shoulders and legs.

Related

2. Your Height Can Put You at a Disadvantage

Wall balls are one of the few CrossFit exercises that favor taller athletes. The usual standard is for males to throw to a 10’ target and females to throw to a 9’ foot target. As you can imagine, it’s easier for someone who’s 6’ tall to hit those targets than someone who’s only 5’2”. 

Taller people also tend to weigh more, and since mass moves mass, it’s easier for them to throw a weighted object. They also have the ability to put more force behind each of their throws, so they can get the ball to hit the target quicker than a shorter, lighter person.

At the same time, squats are often more difficult for taller individuals with long legs, so there is a bit of a tradeoff. But a short person still has to increase their total energy output by a greater amount to hit the wall ball target, which puts shorter athletes at a disadvantage during wall balls.

How To Fix

Obviously, you can’t make yourself taller or shorter. But you can wear lifting shoes any time you do wall balls, which can benefit you whether you’re short or tall. If you’re short, they’ll add 0.5”-1” of height to your frame. If you’re tall, they’ll make it easier for you to achieve proper squat depth in the squatting portion of a wall ball.

However, what shoes you wear to do wall balls will also depend on what other exercises show up in your workout. Wearing lifting shoes for running, for example, is a bad idea. You may want to consider shoes that you can wear for both lifting and running instead.

Also, shorter athletes should avoid jumping when throwing the ball. This will just make your legs more tired, which can eventually lead to you slowing down your squat and making the movement more inefficient.

In the market for a pair of lifting shoes but don’t want to spend a lot of money? Check out my recommendations for the best squat shoes under $100.

3. They Cause a Lot of Shoulder Fatigue

While wall balls are a full-body movement, they can be especially taxing on the shoulders and upper body. You’ll often feel a burn in your shoulders, traps, and upper back after performing a few sets.

You may also notice that your shoulders fatigue faster than your quads. When you think about it, the squatting portion of a wall ball is similar to a front squat, and the majority of athletes can front squat way more than 14-20lbs. Most people can also overhead press a lot more than that, but you don’t have to forcefully throw the weight overhead to a 9’ or 10’ target.

As such, the shoulders tend to wear out faster in wall balls. This issue is exacerbated if you keep your hands overhead after you throw the ball, which adds an unnecessary isometric component to the movement.

How To Fix

Instead of holding your arms overhead after you throw the ball, drop them to your sides to remove the tension on them while you wait for the ball to come back down. Even though this takes no more than a second to do, it can help reduce the accumulation of shoulder fatigue and allow you to do wall balls in larger unbroken sets.

It’s also important to keep your speed on the squatting portion consistent throughout each of your reps. This is hard to do as you get tired, but continuing to move quickly through the squat will allow you to drive power from your hips and legs to throw the ball overhead. As a result, you won’t have to rely on your arms and shoulders as much to throw the ball.

4. They’re a Deceivingly Technical Movement

Wall balls are a deceivingly technical movement

While wall balls seem like a simple movement, there’s a lot involved in doing them properly and efficiently. Things like how far away you stand from the wall to how you hold the ball can affect how well you’re able to do them.

How To Fix

There are several cues to keep in mind when doing wall balls so you can make sure you’re doing them efficiently:

  • Keep the ball centered. Holding the ball off to one side means that side of your body has to do more of the work to throw it up, which can create muscle imbalances.
  • Keep the ball close to your body. Holding the ball too far out in front of you can make the weight feel much heavier than it is. This is because it creates a longer resistance arm, or the distance between the weight and the fulcrum (the lever that lies between the weight and the force being applied to it, which in this case would be the elbow).
  • Stand an appropriate distance away from the wall. If you stand too far away from the wall, you have to throw the ball forward and up instead of just throwing it straight up. This requires you to do more work since you’ll have to throw the ball a greater distance. You may need to experiment to find your ideal distance, but a good starting point is to stand far enough away that you can touch the wall with the ball when you hold it in front of you with your arms outstretched.
  • Hold the ball more towards the bottom instead of on the sides. Imagine that you’re holding an upside-down kettlebell when doing a goblet squat. You should hold a wall ball in a similar fashion because you can apply more force to it from the bottom than you could if you hold it on the sides.
  • Avoid dropping your arms too low when holding the ball. It’s easy to want to drop your arms when you catch the ball due to the momentum of gravity pulling it down. But keeping them at around chest height or slightly higher means they have less distance to travel as you throw the ball back up, and you’ll be able to use more power to hit your target.

Check out the differences between wall balls and slam balls: Wall Balls vs Slam Balls: Pros, Cons, & Which Are Better?

5. They Can Be Mentally Challenging

As if wall balls weren’t physically challenging enough, they can be mentally demanding as well. They require accuracy so you can hit the target with each rep, and you have to pay attention to the ball as it comes back down to make sure it doesn’t hit you in the face.

Plus, as I mentioned above, there are a lot of cues to keep in mind when performing them, which can be difficult to remember when you’re just starting out.

In addition to all of that, you need to exhibit a certain degree of mental fortitude when trying to bang out large sets of wall balls at a time. It’s tough to not keep taking breaks when your heart is beating fast and your shoulders and quads are burning.

How To Fix

There’s no one singular thing you can do to make wall balls less mentally challenging. Practicing them more often will help. And if you know you have more than one flaw to fix in your wall ball technique, breaking down your wall ball cues and focusing on fixing one thing at a time will prevent you from getting frustrated.

Outside of your normal workouts, you may also want to practice wall balls with a heavier ball. For example, if you’re a female who usually uses a 14lb ball, you can try using an 18lb ball for a couple of workouts. If you know you can perform multiple sets of 15-20 wall balls at a heavier weight, you’ll have more confidence when doing them at your usual weight.

Related Article: Small Home Gym Layouts: From 100-500 Square Feet

Final Thoughts

Doing wall balls often can improve your conditioning, help you develop a more powerful lower body, and improve your hand-eye coordination. 

Even though anyone can scale wall balls to meet their current fitness levels, they can still be difficult to perform due to how physically and mentally challenging they are. Little things like standing the right distance away from the wall, holding the wall ball the right way, and practicing them more often or with a heavier ball can all help you become more proficient at them.


About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

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.