The Karen WoD: Goal Times, Tips, and Safety

CrossFit athletes complete wall-balls against white cinder block wall. Focus on woman in red sports bra with upper arm tattoo.
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CrossFit founder Greg Glassman developed “The Girls,” a series of workouts designed to test the strength, endurance, speed, and power of CrossFit athletes. They are all short, intense, and challenging — and they’ll undoubtedly expose your weaknesses. 

The original girls, released in 2003, were “Angie,” “Barbara,” “Chelsea,” “Diane,” “Elizabeth,” and “Fran.” A few months later, “Grace” and “Helen” joined the repertoire, and “Karen” was added as part of the “New Girls” released in 2010. There are more than 20 Girl WODS now, and most of them have their own variants. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Karen.

The Karen Girl WOD

The workout: 150 wall-balls for time. 20 pounds for men, 14 pounds for women. 

Score: Karen is scored “for time,” which means you complete the workout as fast as you can.

Equipment Needed: Medicine ball (also called a “wall ball”)

Level: Karen is a great workout for beginners. While the rep number is high, the workout consists of one extremely functional movement that all athletes should master. The loading is also relatively light.

Benefits

The Karen WOD is simple but surprisingly challenging. In fact, it’s so simple that many CrossFitters think there’s no way that Karen could be so difficult — until they do it. Here are four fitness benefits you can expect from Karen. 

Muscular Endurance

According to science, there are ideal rep ranges for strength, hypertrophy, and endurance. In general, building strength requires heavy loads and lower reps, while endurance requires lighter loads and more reps. Muscle hypertrophy falls somewhere in between. At 150 reps using a 20-pound or 14-pound medicine ball, Karen trains the type I muscle fibers that rely on aerobic metabolism

Power

Secondary to muscular endurance, Karen also builds power. You’ll need to use power from your quads, hamstrings, and glutes to forcefully drive out of the bottom of the squat and throw the medicine ball to the target. The power from your legs should give the ball enough momentum so that your shoulders don’t really need to work very hard. 

Cardiovascular Endurance

Though Karen isn’t a particularly long workout, it requires many reps with very few and very short rest periods. Ideally you wouldn’t rest for more than 10 seconds between sets while completing the Karen WOD. Your heart rate will rise dramatically and you’ll probably feel the familiar build-up of lactic acid, but you’ll be all the better for it afterward. 

Squat Practice

To get better at squatting, you must practice squatting more often. Karen is a great WoD for squat practice, as you’ll perform 150 medicine ball squats. Holding the medicine ball will help you keep your torso upright and your core engaged, two common faults in the squat. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

With just one movement to remember, Karen is one of the simpler workouts in CrossFit. You won’t need to use much brainpower to remember rounds and reps, like you might in The Seven hero WOD. Here’s what you need and how to complete the Karen WOD.

Equipment and Setup

For the Karen WOD, all you need is a medicine ball (also called a “wall ball” — this is different than a slam ball) and a wall or wall-ball target. I also recommend using a small whiteboard, chalk, or tokens (whatever your gym provides) to tally your reps. 

How To Do a Wall-ball

  1. Set up: Place your medicine ball on the ground about a foot in front of the wall or wall-ball target. Stand with your feet in your normal squat stance (about hip to shoulder-width apart). 
  2. When the clock starts, pick your medicine ball off of the ground, holding it with both hands on either side and squat down low. Try to get your hips below your knees. 
  3. As you start to come out of the squat, use your hips and glutes to forcefully extend your hips and rise onto the balls of your feet. You want momentum here. 
  4. As you straighten your legs, throw the medicine ball up to the target, which is usually 10 feet for men and 8 feet for women. 
  5. Keep your arms extended to catch the ball as it bounces off of the wall or target. This completes one rep. 
  6. To start the next rep, descend into a squat after receiving the ball. 

Common Mistakes

All workouts and movements present opportunities for mistakes, and as such, opportunities for learning. Here’s what you need to know about common mistakes in the Karen WOD. 

Doing Too Many Reps Unbroken

CrossFit athletes tend to want to go super fast all the time. That’s great, but you should definitely slow your roll when it comes to Karen. If you go too fast right out of the gate, you might burn out halfway through. Instead of just attacking as many reps unbroken as you can, strategize. Try sets of 20, 15, or 10 with brief breaks of five to 10 seconds in between. 

Not Reaching Proper Squat Depth

Unless you have an injury that prevents you from squatting, you should try your best to reach full squat depth. In most cases, that means your quadriceps should be parallel to the ground, but some CrossFit coaches might encourage you to squat deeper. 

Other Squat Technique Mistakes

Besides reaching proper squat depth, you should keep these key points of performance in mind for the squat: Keep your torso upright; chest high; core engaged; eyes forward; and heels on the ground. Repeatedly deviating from any one of those points can lead to bad squat habits, which can result in injury over time. 

Not Using Legs to Propel the Ball

For most people, the legs are the most powerful part of the body — it would be a shame not to use that power to save your arms and shoulders from fatigue. During Karen, when you ascend from the squat, powerfully drive yourself onto the balls of your feet and fully extend your hips. This momentum should make the medicine ball feel almost as if it’s floating up for a split second. 

Not Reaching Wall-ball Target

The standard CrossFit wall-ball target heights are 8 feet for women and 10 feet for men. At least half of your medicine ball must reach the target. If less than half of the ball reaches the target, or the ball doesn’t reach the target at all, your coach may “no rep” you, meaning that rep didn’t count toward your total reps. This probably won’t happen in typical CrossFit class settings, but it definitely happens in competitions and in the CrossFit Open

Modifications and Variations

The Karen WOD only consists of one movement, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this workout can’t be scaled or modified — it can. Here’s how to scale if for fitness levels, injuries, and pregnancy, plus some fun Karen variations.

Reduce the Reps

For most CrossFit beginners, 150 reps of anything is a lot. 150 reps of a total-body movement that combines strength and cardio is a different beast. If the prescribed rep count sounds like too many, scale Karen to 100 wall-balls or 75 wall-balls. 

Reduce the Weight

Maybe you have great endurance but you aren’t yet as strong as you’d like. No problem! Scale the medicine ball weight. The prescribed weights are 20 pounds for men and 14 pounds for women. Men who are just starting out might want to scale to 14, 12, or 10 pounds; women might want to scale to 10 or 8 pounds. 

Reduce Weights and Reps

If both the rep count and weight seem too challenging, you can reduce both to meet your fitness level. Talk to your coach about the best way to scale. 

All that said, a beginner version of Karen might look like this: 

75 wall-balls for time, 10-pound medicine ball.

Scaling for Injuries

Wall-balls require complete range of motion throughout your whole body: You’ll need to fully flex and extend your knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows. If you have a current or prior injury affecting any of those joints, you may need to modify the wall-ball movement. Try these scaling options. 

Squat to box wall-balls: For those with knee or hip injuries, squatting to a box may provide some comfort and stability. Place a box 2 to 3 feet away from the wall or target, and use it as a guide for squat depth. This may take a few practice reps to get used to. 

Medicine ball squats: If you can’t throw the ball overhead, just squat with it instead. You’ll hold the medicine ball in front of your chest, with one hand on each side. This will feel like a front squat

Thruster with a PVC pipe: This is a good scaling option for someone who can squat and extend their arms overhead, but can’t throw the medicine ball. You’ll front squat with a PVC pipe and, as you stand up, push the PVC pipe into the overhead position. 

Scaling for Pregnancy

For the most part, the scaling options for injuries also work for women who are pregnant. You should always reduce the depth of the squat to accommodate your belly, and make sure your movements are slow and controlled. Always consult your physician or obstetrician before exercising while pregnant. 

Variations of Karen

Ever since the Girls workouts came out in the early 2000s and 2010s, CrossFit coaches and athletes have created variations of the WoDs to keep things fun, interesting, and challenging. Here are two variations of Karen you can try. 

“Karen Meets Grace”: The Grace workout is another tough Girls WoD that consists of 30 clean-and-jerks for time (prescribed weights 135 pounds/95 pounds). “Karen Meets Grace” combines the two: First you’ll complete Karen’s 150 wall-balls, and then immediately follow with Grace’s 30 clean-and-jerks. This mash-up isn’t for the easily intimidated!

Partner Karen: This is simply Karen with a partner. You can stick to the prescribed 150 reps and split them equally (75 wall-balls each), but if you’re up for a serious challenge, do 150 wall-balls each for a total of 300. Most CrossFit coaches recommend switching after every 10 or 15 reps to avoid total fatigue.

Safety and Precautions

Compared to CrossFit workouts with heavy weights, technical lifts, and gymnastics movements, the Karen WOD is relatively safe. However, you should still take certain precautions before any workout. Keep these tips in mind before attempting Karen. 

Warm Up and Cool Down

You should always prime your body for exercise by warming up. Complete a general warmup that consists of light cardio, such as jogging, rowing, or cycling, and dynamic stretching. Then, complete a specific warm-up that will get your body used to the movement it’s about to complete 150 times. Practice some bodyweight squats, medicine ball squats, and overhead presses. 

After the workout, spend at least five minutes — but ideally 10 to 15 minutes — cooling down. With a full-body flush that includes slow monostructural movement (walking, cycling, etc.), foam rolling, and static stretching, you can promote blood flow and reduce the intensity of delayed-onset muscle soreness

Scale Accordingly

If you’re new to CrossFit, don’t do too much too soon. Ask your coach about scaling the workout to your fitness level. Similarly, if you’re injured or pregnant, modify the workout so you don’t injure yourself.  

Wear Protective Garments If Needed

The Karen WOD involves 150 squats and overhead extensions, which might be too much stress on the body for people with bad knees or elbows. Compression garments help tremendously to offset the pressure on your knees and elbows, so consider wearing them if you’re concerned about pain during or after the workout. 

Hydrate Before and After

Karen, on average, is only a five to 10-minute workout, but you can still lose a lot of body water through sweating. This is especially true if you complete the workout at a CrossFit gym that isn’t air-conditioned. To combat dehydration, drink at least 16 ounces of water before the workout and replenish with an electrolyte drink when you’re done. 

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