I don’t know anybody who enjoys wallballs.
[Tiny voice: “I like wallballs.”]
Bullshit you do! You hate them. I admit I don’t know everyone — yet — but I don’t know a single person who sees wallballs come up in a WOD and is like “Hell yeah, can’t wait for the wallballs.” Nobody does that. “Dang, I don’t know if I can sleep tonight with the excitement of knowing I’ll be doing wallballs tomorrow.”
It doesn’t happen.
[Tiny voice: “No really, wallballs aren’t so bad.”]
They are too “so bad.” They are among the worst things ever. AIDS, then slavery, then wallballs, then 9/11.
So last week when CrossFit announced that Open WOD 13.3 would start with — start with, mind you — 150 wallballs, my heart sank. The 13.3 workout was identical to the 4th week’s workout in the 2012 CrossFit Open:
12 minutes, as many reps as possible
150 wallballs (men: 20 pounds to a 10-foot target / women: 14# to 9’)
Nik did something she never does: she got scared.
“I don’t know if I wanna do this anymore,” she said.
Wallballs are that bad.
What is a wallball?
If you’re not a CrossFit person, you might be wondering what the shit a wall ball is and why they’re so godawful.
You get a medicine ball. For guys, it’s 20 pounds — ladies, 14. You measure a target 10 feet up a wall, 9 feet for women. You stand facing the wall, squat, and when you come back up you heave the ball into the air and hit the target. Catch the ball falling back down and drop back into a squat. That’s 1.
It doesn’t sound like much.
It doesn’t look like much either. They’re like thrusters except lighter. Watching good people do wallballs, they look easy (see below).
They are horrible, though. The squats are tiring, and chucking the ball into the air is a lot harder than it would seem. Ten feet is really high up there when your best is a solid 8½. Catching the ball is a lot like catching a 20-pound sack being dropped from 8½ feet. I need only a few to get my heart rate up.
They’re also very unsatisfying. Box jumps are satisfying. You overcome the fear of falling on your ass and breaking a shinbone or possibly your teeth and land safely with a gentle thud on the box, and you stand there like on a podium at an Olympic event, like a champion. Almost every barbell lift is satisfying. Cleans and jerks are satisfying. There’s a bar loaded with weight on the floor. You manage to hoist it up to your shoulders, then punch it over your head, all that weight above your head, then you drop the bar and roar with awesomeness. Wall balls are not satisfying. You squat and chuck the ball in the air. It either hits a target or it doesn’t. Either way it falls back, uncaring, into your arms and you repeat the process. Sisyphean. It’d be more fun if you had to hit, like, a bell or something. And it dinged at the top. I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.
The double-unders, I was fine with. I can string together a couple at a time, but if necessary I can do one at a time. It’s slow and painful1 but possible.
Muscle-ups are beyond me. I can’t do one, so I didn’t even worry about them. It’s like if part of the workout involved monkey-wrestling or imagination-pushups. Forget it. It’s not a thing that would come up.
I fully expected to spend the entire 12 minutes doing wallballs. Over and over and over. No-repped, over and over and over. The weight of the ball would guarantee that. I recall one time during a workout last year that involved wallballs and some other stuff, I ran over to the wall where a bunch of wallballs were lying around, and immediately burned out after throwing only one. I checked the ball and noticed it was a 20-pounder. I threw it away in disgust and picked up a 12. Then I threw it and didn’t hit the target. Because I almost never hit the target.
I had no way to guess how many wallball reps I would get. I could very easily envision circumstances where I’d get zero reps that counted. I could also easily picture me surprising myself and manage to finish all 150. Twelve minutes is a pretty long time when you’re standing at a wall flinging a heavy ball into the air. I had no idea.
I didn’t practice any wallballs or prepare for it any way. Because that would involve doing wallballs.
And I don’t like wallballs.
As I’ve said.
I was placed in the first heat. Nik, Malley, my mom, and I all arrived early enough for us to get some warmup in. I did a couple of air squats and then jumped some rope. On my first practice double-under attempt I cracked the rope really hard and whipped myself in the right thigh hard enough to leave a welt that lingers even today, four days later (see right). “Son of a bitch,” I stated, except much louder — kind of like a scream, one might say.
Not long after that, I grabbed a 20-pound wallball and met my judge. Nice guy.
He goes: “Do you have a plan or strategy or anything like that?”
“I’ll do 10 at a time and take little breaks,” I said, a fucking liar.
“That’s a good strategy,” he said. “Just pace yourself.”
I took my spot by the wall and hefted the ball in my hands. It felt very heavy. I warned him that what he was about to witness would not be pretty. I also told him not to expect me to move past the wallballs. “Hold on,” I said, “let me get my jump rope just for shits and giggles.”
On my way back, the head coach spotted me and said, “I have 8 sets of rings and 9 athletes. Think you’ll get to the muscle-ups?”
I may have laughed in his face. “I don’t even know why I’m bringing my rope, to be honest,” I said.
I waited for the timer to start and juggled the ball in my hands a little. Wallballs are soft leather on the outside but seem to have a hard center, I noticed. Mine felt like it was off, weighed to one side, like a loaded die. I dropped it (we had to start with the ball at our feet) and as they counted off the last 3 seconds I started to wonder where I should grab it so I wouldn’t notice the off-balance weight so much, and then we were off, and I seized the ball and squatted badly and heaved the ball nowhere near the target2 and tried to catch it but it slammed into my forearms and I dropped it. I did this again and again. After maybe 6 of these I began to regret everything about my life, even things that had nothing to do with wallballs. I stopped counting and turned my brain off. I took the ball and threw it into the air, tried to catch it, failed, picked it up, threw it, failed to catch it, like a robot.
After a while, I heard someone say 3 minutes had passed. I kept doing wallballs. After a longer while, I turned around to see if anybody had moved on to the jump rope bit. They had not. So I turned around and did more wallballs. I wasn’t counting how many. My judge at one point asked me if I wanted a lighter ball, but I said no, wondering if he was aware of how this whole thing works. Then I was halfway through. I was breathing heavily and exhausted. I nodded and tried to do more wallballs. Maybe one out of every 20 hit the target mark. I was not taking breaks every 10 shots or so but about every 2. I was vaguely aware of someone behind me jumping rope. Everyone else was still doing wallballs. I did more wallballs.
Eventually I turned to my judge. “How many’s that?”
He took a while to answer. “Uh … 87,” he said.
“Really? I’m not getting anywhere near the line.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “Don’t even worry about it, just keep going.”
I nodded and tried to swallow and continued to do wallballs. After a while I heard people cheering on a woman doing muscle-ups. That was pretty awesome, I thought, and did more wallballs. The 10 foot mark is so much fucking higher than you’d imagine. Not long after that my judge told me I had to get to the 100-rep mark. He coached me through that by telling me to keep my elbows up, and I did, and it seemed to help. A while later I heard the coaches call time right after I hit shot #103.
“Well that sucked,” I said.
Nik’s turn seemed to go better, at least from where I was across the room. She reached the 9-foot masking tape marker on the wall most of the time. She later told me that she had to jump-squat to hit it, and that catching the 14-pound ball was jacking up her wrists. Only two or three people in her heat made it to the jump rope. Her judge no-repped her wallballs a bunch of times apologetically, asking her please not to hate him for it. She didn’t take it personally. But she did have to do about 20 more wallballs that didn’t count. In the end, she ended up with the same number of reps as I had: 103. And as with me, one person made it to the muscle-ups.
“That sucked,” she said.
• The more the Open goes on, the more I realize I’m not strong enough overhead. My arms are weak pathetic spaghetti strands. Luckily, LiftBigEatBig.com has a great article right now on the importance of building overhead strength. Go read it and get advice on how to be more strong.
• The more the Open goes on, the more I also realize other things, one right after the other:
(1.) I’m not strong enough overall.
(2.) Because I don’t have enough muscle.
(3.) So I need to gain muscle.
(4.) Which means I’ll need to gain weight.
(5.) Which means I’ll need to eat a lot more.
(6.) Which is hard for me.
(7.) So this will take a while.
• The more the Open goes on, and the more I maintain this weight loss, the more Ialso realize that I’m a little fellow. Not talking heightwise. I always knew I was short. But when I was fat I always thought of myself as big — taking up a lot of room, occupying a lot of space. Turns out I’m actually one of those little guys you sometimes see. Tiny.
• The next Open WOD, 13.4, was just announced, and it’s a doozy:
7 min AMRAP
3 clean and jerks @ 135 pounds
increasing by 3 until time runs out.
I know I’ve said this before, but I think this is a workout where I’ll truly score a zero. I literally can’t do any of this. None.
Even practice won’t help me. I’ll need to gain about 10 pounds of muscle in three days. Fingers crossed.