You got a heavy ball and a wall you don’t mind scuffing up.
You also don’t mind throwing that ball at that wall…150 times.
If this is you, you’re about to experience the Karen CrossFit WOD!
Table of Contents
What is the Karen CrossFit Workout?
In a sport dominated by complicated workouts and “unique” movement patterns, the Karen WOD is the epitome of simplicity.
One of the (almost) original “CrossFit Girls” workouts, Karen involves wall ball shots.
150 of them to be exact.
Men use a 20-pound ball and throw it up to a 10-foot target. Women tackle the WOD with a 14-pound ball, tossing it up to a 9-foot target.
Like I said…” simple”
Due to Karen’s lack of significant space or equipment requirements, it is a VERY popular workout. It shows up in the CrossFit class setting often and regularly shows up in CrossFit competition qualifying workouts.
If you’re just starting your garage or home gym endeavor and want to attempt a benchmark workout on a limited budget, give Karen a try!
Good CrossFit Karen Times
Karen’s popularity has resulted in tens of thousands of data points. With this data, we have a pretty accurate view of where athletes stack up in the Karen workout pecking order.
Now, we all know that the elephant in the room is “athlete height”. Can we expect a 5’2″ female athlete to score in the realm of a 6’5″ male CrossFitter on a wall ball workout?
Unfortunately, a direct study looking at athlete height in relation to Karen times has not been released. Thankfully an analysis of the CrossFit Open 19.1 provides a pretty good snapshot of this relationship.
This workout required two movements (wall ball shots and rowing) that are generally believed to benefit taller athletes. Using CrossFit Open competitor-provided height data, the geniuses at Behind The White Board found these correlations between athlete height and performance on the workout.
As a guy who barely tops out at 5’7”…I feel vindicated. The Karen WOD is one of my WORST benchmark workouts!
Karen CrossFit Alternatives
Coming up with alternatives that include 150 wall ball shots is understandably difficult. Because of this, you don’t often see Karen alternatives or advanced versions programmed into workouts.
There is a “Heavy Karen” version which involves a 30-pound ball. The athlete performance in the video below, completing Heavy Karen in a time faster than my regular Karen time, is phenomenal (and old school!)
Well done, dude!
Over the last few years, the Karen CrossFit workout has found itself featured in a couple of different qualifying workouts. For some reasons Balkan countries seem to LOVE the Karen Crossfit WOD for qualifiers!
The 2019 Romanian Throwdown featured Karen as a stand-alone qualifier.
The 2021 Fort Fight Competition tacked on a dumbbell snatch AMRAP at the end for those who were able to finish in under 7 minutes.
The WOD was also affectionately renamed “Daren”.
After 150 wall balls, I’m about done for the day. I can’t imagine hoisting up a heavy dumbbell for another 15-60 seconds after finishing Karen. Friends who completed the WOD confirmed what I already knew:
As expected, Karen has a pretty common and straightforward scaling option. The target height remains the same, but instead of hoisting 20 or 14-pound wall balls, weights are lowered to 14 pounds for men and 10 pounds for women.
Of course, you can always cut out some reps. Maybe we can get a petition going to call 100 wall ball shots for time “KAR”…?
I can assure you, Kar feels soooo much easier than Karen. There is just something…evil about those last 50 wall balls!
Karen CrossFit Stimulus
While much of Karen’s stimulus is dependent on the strategy selected, one thing is for sure that your arms going to start feeling very heavy, very fast.
Just look at the average CrossFitter’s Karen time and try to hold your arms above your head for that amount of time.
Seriously, try it.
Now imagine not only holding your arms up like that, but using them throw a heavy ball at a target high in the air for that entire length of time.
Needless to say, don’t attempt Karen just before you go for a max on bench!
Thankfully, some of the pain you are feeling can be negated via holding and catching the ball close to the body, using it to bear the brunt of the weight. The legs should be used to explode out of each rep, propelling your upper body and wall to the sky.
This excruciating arm soreness can also be combatted by letting your arms drop or cycle at the beginning and end of each throw and catch.
This approach is incredibly personal. Some athletes swear by it, while others find themselves growing more fatigued with the continuous arm movement. Give both approaches a try the next few times you have wall ball shots programmed to get an idea of what works best for you.
Breathing During Karen
The wall ball shot is a deceptively tiring exercise that oftentimes gets lost in the shuffle of a sport of assault bike sprints and high-rep gymnastics movements.
Don’t be fooled; wall balls will smoke you.
The wall ball is lighter and easier to manage than any barbell, but the cardio strain it creates is similar to a thruster.
Remember those breathing tips from the Cluster post? We got something similar for wall ball shots!
Personally, I would rather do 150 wall ball shots than 150 light thrusters, but I know the feeling is going to similar on my lungs. Think of a less intense version of “Fran Lung” spread out over an extended period of time.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
CrossFit Karen Strategy
As uncomplicated as the Karen CrossFit WOD is, it actually presents a major strategy decision.
There are two major schools of thought when tackling a workout with high repetition count of a single exercise:
Should you go big out of the gate, racking up reps as quickly as possible before fatigue and despair sink in..
…should you opt for a more conservative approach with regular, planned breaks.
How confident are you that you can start with a big set of 60 or 70 reps and pick off quick sets of 10 or 15 reps for the remainder of the workout?
If you’ve done high-rep wall ball workouts before, you might just be able to make this strategy work for you. The confidence boost of being close to halfway finished with the workout after only a couple of minutes is unparalleled.
On the other hand, there are few things more humbling than being physically unable to throw the ball up high enough to hit the target.
This happened to me at the end of the CrossFit Open 19.1 workout mentioned earlier. It was pretty embarrassing being so fatigued that I missed the target…twice…in a row.
If you’re not confident in your ability to hold off fatigue after such a giant first set, you should consider setting a break schedule and sticking to it.
Ideally, you would set these breaks at consistent rep counts that will add up to 150. Examples of these would be 15 sets of 10, 10 sets of 15, 6 sets of 25, or 5 sets of 30.
From here, you can create an EMOM or variation where you begin each set of 10 at the :00 and :30-second marks of each minute. This will ensure your pacing is consistent and your rest periods are limited.
It is a lot more fun actually finishing Karen in a reasonable time than staring at the ball for extended periods!
Who is Karen?
Unlike the epic story behind CrossFit “Fran”, not much is known about Karen. She may or may not exist (like CrossFit “Annie”, named for regular CrossFit Games Master’s competitor, Annie Sakamoto), and the WOD was not actually one of the original “Girls of CrossFit”.
While the first six CrossFit “girls” benchmark workouts were introduced in late 2003, The Karen CrossFit WOD didn’t hit the scene until late 2004. While not in the first 6 “OGs”, she is still one of the earliest named CrossFit workouts. You’ll find Karen on any list of the first “CrossFit Girls Workouts”
CrossFit Girls Workouts
Are you inspired by one of those workouts above? Let’s take a look at a few of them in further detail:
The Isabel CrossFit workout has the same rep count and weight as CrossFit Grace with a similar stimulus. Most people probably won’t go as fast due to the technical demands of so many heavy snatches.
I was never a “gym troll” when I did CrossFit at the Globo gym, but I definitely was one on my Linda CrossFit days.
“Hey, brah. Like, how many more sets do you have on this bench?”
“Nine” (said with a completely straight face as I rush towards the deadlift platform).
I probably made a lot of people hate CrossFit back then!
If you read the description of the Mary CrossFit workout above, it talks about some medical doctor gymnast “blistering” through almost 13 rounds back in 2004.
To this, Kari Pearce said, “hold my beer.”
Over 23 rounds! The “Elite” tag doesn’t begin to do that performance justice!
Go Do Karen…Now!
Karen…CrossFit doesn’t get much simpler than this! Even if you don’t have a high enough ceiling to do the workout in your garage or home, you can just grab your ball and throw it against your neighbor’s house.
I’m sure they won’t mind at all!
Like many of the CrossFit benchmark workouts, there is a little bit of a learning curve. You’ll definitely improve on your future attempts.
You may as well get that first attempt up on the board today!
Conquered Karen and ready for another “OG” CrossFit Girl WOD? May as well give Diane a try!