“Doctor, doctor, I feel like my gym gains are plateauing.” Well, have you tried working out with a medicine ball yet? Many fitness experts and trainers will tell you the best way to shake up your workouts is to add variety, and in terms of easy resistance training switches, it doesn’t get much better than putting the dumbbells away and getting creative, whether that be with a pair of resistance bands, the cable machine, or in this case, the medicine ball.
In this article, we’ll break down the benefits of working out with one, how to make sure you’re using the right weight, and some of the best medicine ball exercises to start you off.
The Different Types Of Medicine Ball
If you’re yet to see one lying around the gym floor, a medicine ball is a weighted ball around shoulder-width in diameter that looks a bit like a basketball. Distinct from bouncy, and much bigger, exercise balls, medicine balls are firm, with a grippy texture and will bounce if dropped.
There are a range of different medicine balls on offer depending on your needs and the movement you wish to complete. For example, you might use a medicine ball with handles for an exercise that would traditionally use a dumbbell or kettlebell.
You should also find slam balls in the same area of the gym, and many lump both in with each other. A slam ball is slightly different from other medicine balls though in that it’s designed to absorb impact, so when you hurl it at steady ground it won’t come back up and hit you in the face. When you’re doing slams (more on them later) try and find a slam ball to start with.
The Benefits Of Training With A Medicine Ball
A highly functional piece of equipment, there are tons of benefits to bringing a medicine ball into your workout routines.
“Med balls are great for adding variety into your training, especially if you’re trying to improve movement patterns,” says personal trainer and fitness consultant, James Pisano. “I try and focus my med ball sessions and exercises on explosive or sport-specific types as this, in my view, is where they come to life. If you are looking at improving sports performance they’re worth their weight in gold as they can play a huge role in building more power and speed through dynamic and explosive movements.”
Similar to plyometrics, medicine ball training does this by introducing more focus on acceleration, as well as mass, compared to traditional resistance training which tends to overlook acceleration.
There is also an increased emphasis on balance and posture when working out with a medicine ball, testing your core muscles through a range of movements. The benefits for elite athletes are manyfold then, but beginners need not feel left out, as medicine balls are also great tools for developing power and improving conditioning early doors.
“Plus, they add simplicity when training in groups,” says Pisano, “as they’re an ideal and safer form of resistance for some clients to manage.”
Finding The Right Weight
Now you’ve been convinced, let’s try and find you the right starting weight. The temptation is to go big, but this isn’t the bench press, and as such Pisano recommends testing the waters at first.
“4 to 6kg is plenty, as unlike a dumbbell, a medicine ball tends to shift your centre of gravity when you throw or swing them around,” says Pisano. “This, in turn, will put more stress on the core when training with them and could result in an injury.”
If you want to progress and go over this limit though, how can you tell if a ball is too heavy for you then?
“First, match your current training levels. If you’re training with 3kg dumbbells, then a 12kg med ball might be too much. But an 8kg would be optimal. Secondly, think about whether you can hold it securely. A bonus we get from medicine balls, especially heavy ones, is the pressure we have to apply just to hold them and keep them in our hands.” As with everything then, master the basics and reap the rewards as you head to heavier heights.
5 Of The Best Medicine Ball Exercises
Kneeling Push-Up Ball Throws
“I love using medicine balls with my athletic clients and my all-time favourite exercise is getting them doing a few hards sets of kneeling push-up ball throws,” says Pisano. “These you can do either with your trainer or using a wall, if you don’t mind the noise.”
“Start with a lighter ball and make sure you focus on the landing and push-ups (form and positioning) rather than launching the ball across the room.”
Top Tip: “Once you get the technique down, start increasing the weight and going for longer.”
There are two ways to do these. The most traditional way is with a slam ball, throwing the ball down into the floor and squatting down to retrieve it. But you can also complete a slam with a traditional medicine ball; you just to have a bit more hand-eye coordination as you catch the ball on the rebound.
Technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the medicine ball at arm’s length in front of you. Brace your core and raise the ball overhead, before slamming it as hard as you can into the floor, drop down into a squat and catching it on the rebound.
Top Tip: Remember to let your arms follow through so you don’t fall forward.
Your obliques are a hard muscle to target, which makes this medicine ball exercise a must in any core workout.
Technique: Begin in a seated position with knees bent, feet off the floor and holding your medicine ball in front of your chest a few inches. Twist the ball to your left hip bone, keeping your body centred, before twisting the ball to your right hip bone. Continue to twist back and forth for the desired number of repetitions or length of time.
Top Tip: It can be tempting to hold your breath through this one. Remember to breathe in and out — proper breathwork is key.
Medicine Ball Squat Throw
This squat variation has the added benefit of working your upper body muscles a lot more than a traditional squat.
Technique: Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and hold the medicine ball with two hands in front of your chest. Sit back in a squat position, keeping chest lifted and lower ball to the floor. Stand up with an explosive movement while tossing the medicine ball up over your head. Catch the ball at chest level and sit back to a squat position.
Top Tip: Try to move through this one quickly for a tough cardio-resistance hybrid.
Alternating-Arm Medicine Ball Press-Up
Arguably the toughest movement on this list, you’re going to need serious upper body and press-up mastery to get through these.
Technique: Start in a standard press-up position with one hand on the floor and the other on top of the medicine ball. Slowly lower your torso towards the floor, pausing at the bottom before pressing back up to the starting position. Roll the medicine ball beneath the other hand before repeating the movement.
Top Tips: Make sure your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, and your hand is stable on the medicine ball before you lower your body.