Tossing balls back and forth may not be your idea of a great workout, but they have been part of athletes’ training as far back as the ancient Olympics in Greece.
Offering a wide range of movement and versatility of exercises, medicine balls work your muscles in compound exercises rather than isolating them. Medicine ball exercises engage your core in order to stabilize your body as you move.
Medicine balls can also be used for both cardiovascular and strength conditioning; use a heavier ball and go with slow reps to build strength, or a lighter ball with plenty of reps for more focus on getting your heart rate up.
If you’ve seen them in the gym but don’t quite know how to use them, here are some exercises to get you started.
You can start out with 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps using a ball weighted enough to challenge your ab muscles, but not so heavy that your joints and ligaments are strained.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent (not locked), and tense your abdominal muscles (as if you were bracing to take a punch to your stomach).
- With both hands on the ball, raise it over your head, then allow it to swing downwards between your knees. At the bottom of the motion your knees should be bent and you are bending forward from your waist, to keep your lower back safe.
- Push against the ground with your legs, straightening your knees and body and lifting the ball overhead in one fluid motion.
Diagonal Chop: Raise the ball overhead to one side, then swing it down diagonally to the opposite side of your body outside the knee. Release the heel of the opposite foot to keep your knees safe.
- Stand as if you are about to do chops, holding the ball with two hands at waist height.
- Swing the ball from one side of your body to the other side, pivoting on your toes and releasing your heels to absorb the momentum and keep your knees safe.
- Hold the ball up and to one side of your body and begin a diagonal chop.
- As you reach the bottom of your chop, raise the ball upwards to begin a diagonal chop from the other side of your body.
- Take a lunge step forward with your right leg, simultaneously swinging the ball to the right side of your body.
- Lunge forward with your left leg and fluidly move the ball to the left side of your body.
Pull-Over and Sit-Up
- Lie on a mat with your knees bent and feet planted. Hold the ball overhead.
- Exhale and swing the ball upward and into your chest while raising your torso.
- Inhale and lower your torso, swinging the ball back to an overhead position.
Working with medicine balls gives you strength, core stability, and flexibility you can use not just in sport, but also in real-life situations giving you better quality of life.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2010 issue of Total Fitness Magazine.