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The Karen Workout in CrossFit

karen wod crossfit wall balls in sun

The Karen workout CrossFit HQ created is one of those workouts that’s simple but definitely not easy.

Going in with a game plan can make a huge difference between a solid performance and a crash-and-burn situation.

In this post, I’ll share some strategies for this benchmark workout. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what Karen is.

What is Karen?

The Karen workout CrossFit has one movement and one movement only: Wall balls.

One hundred fifty wall balls, to be exact. As fast as you possibly can.

It might sound easy, but anyone who’s ever done it will tell you it’s a doozy.

The wall ball, if you’re not familiar, involves a front squat with a medicine ball straight into a toss to a target on the wall. Once you catch the ball, you go right into your next rep.

via CrossFit.com

The RX (prescribed) weight for more advanced athletes is 20 pounds for men and 14 pounds for ladies. Men throw to a target that’s 10 feet off the ground, while ladies aim for a 9-foot target.

The video above highlights the movement standards for the wall ball.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the ball must make contact with the target for the rep to count.

But misfires aside, the biggest movement fault that I see, as a coach, is failure to hit depth on the squat (and that’d be a no-rep, friends!). Squatting to a target, like a med ball on top of a bumper plate, can help ensure that every rep counts.

You’ll also want to be sure to keep your chest tall as you move through the squat.

You may need to move back from the wall a bit if you feel like the ball is pulling you forward. A good guideline for how far away to stand is to hold the ball against the wall with your arms straight and parallel to the ground. That’s roughly how far back you should be.

The ball can also pull you forward sometimes if you’re catching it when you’re already descending into your squat. If you think this might be the case, be sure you catch the ball and bring it to face level before you start your squat.

Finally, keep your core engaged throughout the movement and your heels down as you squat.

What’s a Good Time for Karen Workout CrossFit?

Karen should be a relatively quick workout.

A good goal is to finish all the reps within seven to nine minutes. We typically cap it at 12 minutes.

If that doesn’t seem doable for you, then you can always scale the workout! Scaling options for Karen include:

  • reducing the weight of the wall ball (this is the preferred option for experienced athletes).
  • performing fewer reps.
  • lowering the height of the target (which is not ideal for experienced athletes but good for newer ones who are working on hitting depth without squatting to a target).

Beginners can also take the throw out of the movement to focus on maintaining good form throughout the squat and the press. This is called a med ball thruster (like this, but with a ball instead of a barbell).

If there’s any question at all about RX vs. scaled, think about whether you can maintain a pace of at least 16-17 reps per minute at the RX weight and height, hitting depth every time.

If the answer is no, scale it. You can always RX it next time if you blow it out of the water.

How to Do Karen Well

There’s doing Karen, and then there’s doing it well.

To do it well means to execute it with great form, coming in at the target time (or even slightly below, if you’re going RX and feeling feisty!).

Here are a few tips for doing it well:

  • Know going into it that it’s going to be a tough few minutes, but it’s only a few minutes. Hang in there and keep your head in the game. If you need to rest, get right back on the ball after just a few seconds.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. The best time to inhale is when you’re fully extended (hands up), while the best time to exhale is coming out of the bottom of your squat.
  • Have a game plan for dividing the reps. I personally like a descending rep scheme (like 18-17-16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7, with super quick rests). You can probably handle bigger sets if you’re amazing at wall balls, but no matter what, aim for at least 16 per minute consistently.
  • Hold the ball at your face level, but no higher. Keeping the ball too high as you squat fatigues your shoulders and arms.
  • Some athletes like to “butterfly” their arms during big wall ball sets (meaning, let them drop to their sides as the ball is in the air to rest the arms). If you’ve never done this before, try it during your warm-up first to get a feel for it.
  • Drive hard with your legs, using the upward force to propel the ball into the air.

Ready to Give it A Try?

Now that you’re armed with some tips for how to approach Karen, grab a wall ball and get ready to work!

And when you’re done, let us know how it went for you in the comments.

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