Medicine balls are one of the oldest pieces of fitness equipment and are known to have been used in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. If it is good enough for Spartacus, then it is good enough for us! In this post, we are going to discuss medicine balls and some ideas for how to incorporate them into your workout.
What is a medicine ball?
A medicine ball is a weighted ball that comes in various sizes and weights.
Medicine balls are typically made from rubber or leather. There are several different types. Round medicine balls can have a smooth or textured surface and they can be hard or soft. There is also a grip medicine ball, which has indents for a secure hold. This one is ideal for use in place of dumbbells or a kettlebell. Medicine balls vary in weight, typically the heaviest one you will find is around 25kg.
What exactly does a medicine ball do?
It can be used in strength training to increase the difficulty of moves by adding extra weight. It can also help to develop movement by performing ‘bouncing’ moves, essentially bouncing the ball off surfaces.
What can you do with a medicine ball that you can’t with other gym gear?
I’ve been playing around with my new medicine ball for a while now and it’s definitely a very different beast to dumbbells, cables, kettlebells and other weights I use in the gym.
- You can throw it around * – The ‘slamming’ part of medicine balls is a really unique (and bloody tough) exercise that you can’t really do with anything else.
- Work on explosive strength – One thing medicine balls do that your other gym gear doesn’t is you can work on fast, explosive start exercises without worrying about wrecking your home.
- Train more safely – When I see people doing things with kettlebells where they hold the weight over their face, it makes me terrified. While it would no doubt hurt if you were to drop your 10kg medicine ball on your head during training, I doubt you’d need a trip to the emergency room.
- Get exhausted really quickly – OK, there’s plenty of ways you can get to that point with things like battle ropes or assault bikes, but try doing some HIIT work with your medicine ball. After a few rounds of medicine ball slams, I can feel like I’m really working out in a short time.
* Or at other people. If you have a partner, try playing catch with the medicine ball.
What can’t you do with a medicine ball?
- Build bigger muscles – This isn’t really a resistance weight, although they can be really heavy. I think this will be more suited to toning your muscles, working the core and working on that fast, explosive strength.
Using a medicine ball
Medicine balls can be used to train the upper and lower body and the core. They are great for training in pairs, as some of the most challenging moves involve someone else throwing or catching the ball.
Below, we include some of our favourite painful medicine ball moves that will add fire to any workout. But you can also use them in place of dumbbells and to increase the intensity of other exercises, like squats and lunges.
- Shop for Medicine Balls and Stands
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Can you use medicine balls as slam balls?
Yes. Whether you buy a slam ball or a medicine ball, you aren’t tied into one kind of exercise. You can use your medicine ball safely as a slam ball, with one caveat; If your medicine ball is leather, it’s probably not a good idea to slam it on a wall or hard surface.
Having said that, the majority of modern balls are made from tough rubber.
Facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the medicine ball with both hands and raise your arms upwards until you pass over your head, then swing forward and throw the ball against the wall.
Catch the ball on the bounce back and repeat. This will improve your overhead throwing power. It is particularly good for working the triceps (top tip: increase the intensity by starting each overhead throw with your elbows flexed).
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold the medicine ball to the centre of your chest. Jump up while simultaneously pushing the medicine ball straight out from you. After landing repeat from the beginning.
Hold the medicine ball to the centre of your chest, then “push-pass” the ball to your buddy. A push-pass is like a controlled throw, your hands do not leave the ball until your buddy has it. Your buddy then quickly push-passes the ball back to you. You will fill this move in your core.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, bring one leg half a metre in front of the other.
Hold the medicine ball with both hands and swing back over the hip of your leg that is further back, then underhand throw the ball towards your buddy or a wall while keeping your core tight.
Have your buddy throw the ball back to you or catch it on the rebound from the wall. Repeat on the other side. You will feel this move in your lats!
If you have some anger you need to work through, then a good slam set is perfect! Hold the medicine ball with both hands and raise your arms upwards until you pass over your head, then swing forward and throw the ball straight down onto the floor with all your strength.
The ball should leave your hands when it is in line with your chest.
You can change up this move to work your core and lats by starting with the ball slightly to one side and raising it above your head in an arc motion, then swinging and throwing the ball down on the opposite side.
Squat and toss
If squats have become boring then use this move to spice things up.
Starting in a squat position with the medicine ball held out in front of you, explode upwards and jump as high as you can while throwing the ball straight up, releasing when it is level with your chest. Catch the ball on the rebound and repeat.
Standing perpendicular to the wall, start with the medicine ball held low and swing back away from the wall, as if you were swinging a golf club. On the forward swing, release the ball when it reaches the low point.
One of the simplest ways to use a medicine ball is to toss it against a wall or to a partner. You can do a push-toss as if you were passing a ball during a basketball game.
You can start from a squatting position, driving yourself upward and tossing it against the wall when you hit your peak then catching it and you descend.
This move can be done with either an underhand motion or an overhand one. You could also mix things up by side tossing, this will engage your lats. Tosses can be made more challenging by standing further away from the wall or your partner.
These are just some examples of exercises that can be done using a medicine ball. They really are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment that you will ever come across!
Medicine ball resources and further reading
- Like everything, there’s a page on the humble medicine ball on Wikipedia. Who doesn’t want to dive into the history of the medicine ball?
- There’s a good thread on medicine balls and why you might want to use one on the SpeedBagForum.
- Read more about the benefits of training with a medicine ball on the Domyos blog here
- NCBI – The effect of ball exercise on the balance ability of young adults
- Harvard – The right stuff: These simple items can help you strengthen your core