01/04/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
The Atlas Ball (sometimes knowns as a D-ball or slam ball) or sandbag over shoulder is a low skill, pretty much full body movement with massive carryover to real world tasks, making it a truly ‘functional’ movement.
Not only does the move have an incredibly shallow learning curve compared to traditional barbell movements (meaning you can take a member of gen pop off of the street and have them performing reps in minutes), when done with intent it forces you into positions that you may only ever encounter in the olympic lifts, that could take you a lifetime to master.
With a return on investment almost unparalleled by any other movement or piece of equipment, odd object cleans to, or over the shoulder should be a staple in every trainee and coaches exercise repertoire.
Despite the fact the dynamic nature of an atlas ball or bag makes each rep a mostly unpredictable adventure, there are certain cues you can keep in mind to move efficiently, conserve energy and get as close as possible to hitting every rep in the sweet spot. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to odd object mastery.
1. STEP RIGHT UP
Assume a powerful stance with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart (depending on your height and the size of the ball/ bag!). Position yourself so that the midline of the ball is inline with the centre of your feet, the further you are away from the ball, the more leverage it will have on you and the harder it will be to break free of the ground.
2. GET LOW
Squat down to the ball, hinging at the hips as you do. Don’t hinge too much at the expense of the squat as this will reduce the amount of leg drive you can produce, but you also don’t want to stay bolt upright through the torso as you may in say a front squat, as we’re trying to get as low as possible and right over the top of the ball.
3. ROLL UP, ROLL UP
Drop your arms between your legs and roll the ball side to side, working your hands underneath as you do so, once there firmly beneath the ball, push your forearms into the side of the ball to establish a strong grip.
4. WHEN THE ARMS BEND THE POWER ENDS
Keeping your back as flat as possible and chest high, drive up through the middle of your feet, standing tall with the ball. Keep your arms as straight a possible, try to imagine them as ‘hooks’, attaching you to the ball. As soon as your arms bend, you shift the weight onto your biceps which will more likely than not fatigue long before the powerful muscles of your lower body and back.
5. LAP DANCE
Once you’re at full height, step your feet closer together and squat back down, positioning the ball into your lap, between your legs and trunk. Wrap your arms around the ball, squeezing it as close to your body as possible. It’s tempting to skip this step and just power up and over, especially with a lighter ball, but if you’ve got a lot of reps to get through or a long workout ahead, efficiency is your friend.
6. CHIN, DOWN.
With the ball firmly in your lap position yourself so that the top of your chest and chin are touching the ball ‘closing the gap’. The micro second it takes to make the small adjustment can be the difference between popping the ball a few inches up and over at the top, versus having to roll it a foot up your torso.
7. With the gap closed, drive through the floor with intent, standing up explosively until you’re on your tip toes, your legs are straight and your hips are fully extended, this is ‘triple extension’. Use this momentum to help you power the ball over your shoulder, letting it drop to the floor below.