Exercises I can't stand (pt2).......Wall Ball Squats
Our last update I discussed an exercise I can't stand for first responders: Box Jumps, and I am going to continue with our next exercise that I can't stand.....WALL BALL SQUATS.
You must be thinking I am crazy because so many workouts today have this specific exercise built into their program. It is not uncommon to see this exercise being performed in most boot camp classes or other high intensity workouts. Don't get me wrong throwing a ball overhead is difficult and will increase your heart rate, but there is the correct way of doing it and the wrong way. For the most part when I observe people doing this exercise I notice many people are doing them incorrectly, now compound that with high repetition or volume and it is a formula for disaster.
First, let’s look at how the wall ball squat was developed. Over the past decade I remember seeing coaches place balls under an athlete/client to help teach the proper depth of a squat and over time this became a standard. Unfortunately this method did not help improve their squat but rather make it worse. Why? Because people need to know how to squat without a ball, and by placing the ball in the incorrect position people were not really “feeling how to squat” but rather looking for the target on the wall. What was even worse was that their hips may not allow them to go that low and therefore create compensation patterns - as Gray Cook states “Teach the squat, train the deadlift.” Eventually people wanted to make it more difficult and provide the athlete/client a medicine ball, not realizing that they may not have the front wall strength to hold their torso upright and therefore hurt their lower back (Figure 1). Remember the object of the squat is to place the center of gravity over the mid foot, and resist any type of flexion.
So we have people with poor movement patterns or rather unable to squat under load. Anytime we place load on top of poor movement we will cause some type of injury, and in this case it is usually the knees and low back. What should also be noted is how many first responders have limited ankle mobility which would make it even more difficult to squat thereby placing more stress on the knees and lower back.
Another common problem with this exercise – maintaining a neutral spine. If the athlete/client has limited hip flexion and tries to squat deeper than their body allows it will force their hips to tuck under. This will create lumbar flexion under load and increase the chances of a disk herniation. Posterior pelvic tilt is usually accompanied by kyphosis (rounding of the upper back) which leads to other injuries with the neck and shoulders.
Let’s look at it from another example. When performing high volume wall ball squats people will tend to let their torso collapse because they fatigue, in addition to that they will allow their pelvis to roll under creating posterior pelvic tilt. This happens because the hamstring are short or relative stiff in relation to the anterior core. The force on the pelvis is then compromised and squatting will become even worse.
Let’s be clear on something, just because something is difficult does not mean that it is good for us. There is a right way to train and a wrong way to train and most of it is dependent on your postural alignment, or rather what your body can and cannot do. If you trying to force your body into a position it cannot do you are increasing the chance for injury. What you want to do is train your body to do the opposite. For example, first responders are often in internal rotation because they are crawling, cutting or simply standing under load. Therefore when we exercise we want to open them up by providing exercises that create external rotation.
Over the years I have discovered that bilateral movements may not be the best for first responders (aka Thrusters, Wall ball Squats, Overhead Squats….etc) because of the things we mentioned above. Whatever the case may be I have observed many first responders hurt their low back when performing bi-lateral movements, so we utilize uni-lateral movements (lunges, Single Leg Squats, etc…) to help strengthen their glutes, stretch their hip flexors, and protect their back. If you want to incorporate a medicine ball try throwing directly above your head without a wall in front and learn to explode threw the body and then receive the ball by allowing your body to absorb it. Keep the volume low and work on better movement by maintaining a neutral pelvis and upright torso.
Try this: instead of focusing on the wall in front (which will develop more horizontal power as your eyes are facing up and forward) try tossing the ball directly overhead. To properly do this you have to drive your hips back (hinge), and as a coach it will allow you to properly assess where the power line is. If the ball goes directly straight up then they are performing the movement well by driving thru the hips. However, if the ball goes forward you will be able to assess and correct.