The Medicine Ball

medicine ball

The Medicine Ball

Medicine balls, available in varying sizes and weights (some up to 150 pounds!), these weighted spheres can help improve muscular power and sports performance . The balls can be thrown and caught (don’t try that with a dumbbell!) making for explosive medicine ball movements that can improve overall athletic ability . Plus, they’re super old school. Hippocrates used sand-filled animal skin pouches to help patients recover from injuries almost 2,000 years ago (clearly he was on to something).

When choosing a weight, pick a ball that’s heavy enough to slow the motion (slower than if you weren’t using any weight at all), but not so heavy that control, accuracy, or range of motion take a hit (or the poor guy next to you). For each move, aim for 10 to 15 reps—or as many as you can do with good form. And don’t miss the full-body workout below that puts some of these moves together. Ready? Let’s go balls to the walls!

Full-Body Medicine Ball Exercises

1. Rock and Roll Up

This one is a toughie at first to coordinate, but hits all the major muscle groups in one powerful move. Lie down, back to the mat, with knees bent. Hold a medicine ball on the ground with arms fully extended overhead. Pull the knees into the chest, preparing to use the weight of the ball (and the strength of your core!) to help catapult you to a controlled squat position, then standing. Next, slowly lower back into a squat, and ease back to the floor, butt first before lying back down. Repeat

2. Lunge With Overhead Press

Stand with the feet together, holding a lightweight medicine ball in front of the chest in both hands. Lift the right foot off the floor, bending the knee, and hold this position for one count before stepping forward into a lunge. With the bodyweight shifting to the right leg, reach the medicine ball straight overhead. While still in the lunge, pull the ball back to the chest, and bring the front leg back to the starting position and repeat. 

3. Lunge With Twist

Engage your core, standing hip width apart with shoulders relaxed. Holding a medicine ball a few inches in front of the chest, step forward into a lunge with the right leg. (Safety first! Keep the knee from sliding forward past the toes.) Get deep into that lunge, making sure the front thigh is parallel with the floor, then with extended arms, reach the medicine ball to the right, rotating the torso at the same time. Maintain the lunge and return to center. Come to standing, then lunge with the other leg (and rotate to the left this time). Do the twist in place, or moving forward as walking lunges.

4. Squat Press and Throw

Heels grounded, come to a squat position (as if sitting in an invisible chair). Drive through the heels to jump, and throw the ball straight up as high as possible—then get the hell out of the way! (a quick step back should do the trick). Let the ball drop to the ground and repeat.

5. Reverse Swing

This move could be as disastrous as throwing a bowling ball the wrong way, so read carefully. Stand with the feet hip-width apart. Hold a medicine ball directly in front of the chest, with the elbows pointing down toward the floor. Lower into a squat, keeping the back flat, and head facing forward. Reach the medicine ball back between the legs. Ready for the fun part? Explosively swing the ball up overhead to the point that it reaches behind the head and neck (just don’t throw it backward!). Keep the abs contracted as the ankles, knees, and hips extend. For bonus points, throw the ball to the ground. Repeat.

6. Single-Leg Squat

Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lift the right foot off the ground and extend it forward. Hold a medicine ball in front of the belly button. Lower the body into a squat position, sitting back into an imaginary chair with the knees safely positioned over the feet. Return to start position, and switch legs. That’s one rep.

7. Reaching Romanian Deadlift

This one takes balance, and a little breathing room to fully extend. Stand on the right leg, with a medicine ball in both hands. Bend the right knee slightly, and hinge forward at the hips, extending the left leg straight back (and for an extra challenge, extending the arms overhead). Feel like a ninja? Check! The body should now form a straight line that’s perpendicular with the standing leg. Return the extended leg to the floor, repeat, then switch legs. 

8. Single-Leg Hip Bridge

Lie on your back and place the sole of the right foot onto the medicine ball. Thrust the hips to the sky (very Jane Fonda-esque) with the left leg straight in the air, with all your weight supported by the right foot and the shoulders. Hold for one count, then slowly return to the start position with the butt on the matt, and repeat.

9. Step Jump

Hold a medicine ball to the heart, and never let go (Jack), while straddling the middle of a low bench or step (make sure it’s sturdy!). Drop into a squat until the tush makes contact with the bench. Stand about six inches from a low bench or platform, and jump up onto it so the feet land in a natural, wide stance.. Carefully jump back down to the start position and repeat.

10. Circle Squat

Stand holding a medicine ball at the right hip. Circle the ball overhead toward the left, while stepping out the left leg to into a squat (just like a sumo wrestler). Circle the ball all the way to the right side of the body, while still in the squat, then step the feet back together, and circle the ball back to the right. Repeat, then switch directions.

Adding a medicine ball to your standard push-up quickly morphs the upper body-blaster into an even more challenging move. Get into high-plank with a medicine ball under one hand, and lower the chest toward the floor to perform a push-up. Return to high-plank and roll the ball to the other hand. (Modify by dropping to your knees.)

12. Medicine Ball Push-Up

Drop down and get ballsy. Starting in a traditional push-up position, toes tucked under, place your palms on the medicine ball, and shift your bodyweight forward until in plank position. Keeping the core tight, and the head aligned with the spine, slowly lower the chest toward the ball (woof!) until it nearly touches, keeping the elbows pinned tightly at your sides. Finish the move by pressing upward through the arms until they’re fully extended. Again, if you need an adjustment, feel free to pop your knees on the mat. 

13. Weighted Superman

Lie face down on the mat with arms stretched out in front, holding onto a lightweight medicine ball (try starting with 4-6 lbs). Slowly raise the arms and legs up as high as possible, engaging the back muscles. Hold the position at the top for a few counts, all the while pretending you have a cape around your neck. Lower the body back down to the mat and repeat.

14. Lying Chest Toss

Since two balls are better than one, this move enlists a pair. Lie face up on a stability ball with the head and shoulder blades resting on the ball’s center, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle (the torso should be parallel to the floor). Keeping the neck in a neutral position (not straining forward or hanging back), hold a medicine ball with both hands just above the chest, with the elbows bent and pointed out to the sides. Push the ball out, in line with the chest, (like a classic chest pass) and toss it straight up toward the ceiling. Be extra careful not to toss the ball too hard. (Just remember: What goes up must come down.)

15. Wall Pass

Find the nearest med ball-safe wall (when in doubt, always ask the gym’s staff which areas are fair game). Stand about 3 to 4 feet in front of it, holding a lightweight medicine ball with both hands. Get into an athletic stance, with a slight bend in the knees, and the core engaged. Bring the ball to the chest, and firmly throw it at the wall (get that aggression out!), and catch the ball on its return.

Shoulders and Arms

16. Shoulder Press

This move is one of the easiest for beginners, but can be amped up with a heavier ball. Hold a medicine ball at the chest (about an inch away, right in front of the sternum). Extend the arms to the ceiling, reaching the ball overhead, and slowly lower the ball back to the start position. Easy peasy, right?

17. Figure 8

This is totally like ribbon dancing, just probably not as graceful. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold onto a medicine ball with both hands to one side of the head, with arms fully extended. Slowly move the medicine ball in a fluid, controlled motion, forming the figure 8. Repeat reps clockwise, then switch directions. This one can be deceivingly tiring, so try it with a lighter ball first. 

18. Ball Fly

This can get a little tricky as far as balancing goes, but we promise you’ll look like a total champ once you’ve got it down. Lie face up on a stability ball with the neck and shoulder blades resting on the ball’s center, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle (torso parallel to the floor). Now it’s time to really put on a show: With the abs engaged and hips raised, extend the arms, holding a lightweight medicine ball to the ceiling. Shift the ball to the left hand, and slowly lower the ball until the left arm is parallel with the floor (maintain a slight bend in the elbow). Bring the ball back to the center and shift the ball to the right hand (do the same thing on this side) to complete one rep, and repeat.

19. Triceps Extension

Stand in a comfortable stance, or sit tall in a chair, with the core engaged. Hold a medicine ball in both hands with the arms extended overhead, inner arms grazing the ears (resist the urge to lurch the arms forward and make an elephant noise). Next, bend the elbows, lowering the ball behind the head until the arms form a 45-degree angle (or as far as feels comfortable). Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms, bringing the ball back to the starting position.

20. Biceps Curl

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the med ball in both hands at the chest. Keeping the elbows close to the body, lower the ball toward the ground until the arms are fully extended. Then curl the ball back up to the chest. Lower the arms back to the starting position. Repeat.

21. V-Up

How To: Lie flat on your back, legs extended (but try not to snooze on the mat). Reach the arms overhead—à la first thing in the morning stretch—with a medicine ball in both hands. Engage the core to lift the hands and feet simultaneously so the body forms a “V” position. At the top of the “V,” pass the ball from the hands to the feet. Squeeze the ball between your sneaks, and slowly lower the arms and legs back down to the floor. Return to the “V,” and pass the ball back to the hands. That’s one rep. Wipe the sweat from your brow. Repeat.

22. Overhead Slam

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Hold a medicine ball in both hands, and lift it overhead. Then bend at the hips (slightly hinging forward), careful not to arch the back, and slam the ball on the ground directly in front. Ask fellow gym-goers nicely if it’s OK to slam on. And don’t slam toooo hard (control is key). Retrieve the ball and repeat. 

23. Crunch with Medicine Ball Hold

Lie on back with legs in tabletop position, bent 90 degrees. Holding ball over head, crunch up, and place ball on ankles, keeping legs steady. (We know.) Lie back to start position, holding ball in place. Crunch back up, grab ball, and return to start position, holding ball overhead. Repeat.

24. Straight-Leg Sit-Up

Ready to take the standard sit-ups up a notch? Lie flat, back to the mat, with a medicine ball in both hands. Extend the arms straight so the ball is directly above the hips. While keeping the legs together, raise them directly over the hips to the ceiling (so the body forms a giant “L”). With control, return to the start position and repeat.

25. Hay Bailer

Kneel on the right knee, (with the left foot back, toes curled under) to form a 90-degree angle. Hold a medicine ball in both hands close to the body while keeping the torso tight, and perpendicular to the floor. Bring the medicine ball toward the right hip, while keeping the rest of the body forward, then transfer it diagonally up and across the body (Think: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever). Hold this position for one count before returning to the start position. Repeat the movement in the opposite direction with the right foot forward. (Pro tip: The more the arms are extended, the harder the move is).

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