A Commentary on Ball Squats

The practice of squatting to a ball is quite often used in Crossfit training programs.  Other training systems often use boxes for the same purpose but we usually have an ample supply of easily portable medballs available so they are the de facto choice.  Squatting to a ball can be a very useful learning tool however past this stage there are some issues with it that I think are important to consider in the choice of whether or not to use a ball when squatting.

Firstly, understand that the ball is used as a beginning coaching tool to teach people to reach an appropriate depth of squat.  Most people come into Crossfit either afraid of deep squats from misinformation through the media or are incapable of deep squatting due to flexibility and strength limitations.  The ball gives them a consistent gauge of depth in their squat and enables us to teach them to drop the hips down and back while sitting deep into the squat.  This is good stuff!

Notice however that I mentioned it is a BEGINNING coaching tool.  If you have the necessary flexibility to achieve proper squatting depth, do not limit it through using a ball.  The ball prevents optimal depth in the squat and provides a surface from which to rebound from, enabling people to lift more weight in the short term but less weight in the long term.  Some of the strongest people in the world (Olympic Weightlifters) perform the deepest squats you could imagine with astronomical weights.

Your body actually has built-in rebound mechanisms in the deep squat, which are the back of your calves and the stretch-shortening cycle of your muscles and tendons.  It is not dangerous to utilize these mechanical phenomena and they will actually help you become stronger and more powerful in the long term if you can learn to master them.

Using the ball to help you make the transition from downwards to upwards movement in the squat is essentially like performing every lift with a weightlifting belt.  Sure, the ball and belt will make things easier to begin with but if they are taken away, you are not well equipped to perform the movement without them.  No CrossFit competition that I have seen uses a ball for squat depth, so you advanced folk have no excuse to be using one.

Crossfit is about learning awareness of one’s body.  We want you to develop the precision and consistency of movement patterns so that you know when your arms are perpendicular to the floor, your back is in good position, and your squat is below parallel.  Squatting to a ball past the learning stage simply leads to a delayed acquisition of physically patterning the deep squat position for most individuals.

Safety is also a concern.  Some people get into the habit of dropping down onto the ball quickly, relying on an unstable surface to be stable so that they can use it to drive up off of.  The ball IS unstable and it can shift unexpectedly.  If you move your stance slightly or step out too far you can contact the ball unpredictably which can put you off balance.  Also, if you get stuck in the bottom of the squat on top of a ball, you have less wriggle room to get the heck out of the way of the bar, which is a bad, bad thing!

So if you are learning the squat, we might use the ball with you.  We might also consider using a box of suitable height.  If you are flexibility-challenged, a box or a ball can be useful to help you push the lower end of the range of motion.  However, if you are capable of a consistent and controlled deep squat, leave the ball and squat freely.  You will be a better person for it, I promise you!


Today’s WOD – “KDF”

Buy-in:   12 minute review of deadlift and db push press technique practice followed by 400m warm-up run


3 rounds for time of:

  • 10 deadlifts (155/225)
  • 300m run (close corner and back)
  • 15 db push press (35/55)
  • 300m run

Zone 3:  scale deadlifts to 115/185, push press to 25/35-45

Zone 2: scale deadlifts to 75/135, scale push press to 15/20-25

Zone 1: scale deadlifts and push presses as needed

Cash-out:  200 double unders, scale as needed


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