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Time to get schweddy with some balls! Medicine balls, that is. Available in varying sizes and weights (some up to 150 pounds), these weighted spheres can help improve muscular power and sports performance.
Medicine balls can be thrown and caught (don’t try that with a dumbbell!), making for explosive movements that can improve overall athletic ability.
While recent research on medicine balls is limited, a 2012 study found that a 12-week resistance training program using medicine balls improved throwing distances.
In 2018, research on children (don’t worry — no kids were harmed in the making of this study) found that medicine ball interval training could elicit the same amount of cardio demand as intermittent running or cycling.
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. Make sure it’s not so heavy that your control, accuracy, or range of motion (or the person next to you) takes a hit.
For each move, aim for 10–15 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 wall!
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a medicine ball in both hands and lift it overhead.
Bend at your hips (hinging forward slightly), being careful not to arch your back, and slam the ball on the ground directly in front of you.
Lie faceup, legs extended (but try not to snooze on the mat). Holding a medicine ball with both hands, reach your arms overhead (à la first-thing-in-the-morning stretch).
Engage your core to lift your hands and feet simultaneously so your body forms a V position. At the top of the V, pass the ball from hands to feet.
Squeeze the ball between your sneaks, then slowly lower arms and legs back down to the floor. Return to the V position and pass the ball back to your hands.
That’s 1 rep. Wipe the sweat from your brow. Repeat.
3. Crunch with medicine ball hold
Lie faceup with legs extended in the air, so your body forms an L shape. Holding the ball overhead, crunch up, hold, and then lower back down to the starting position.
For an added challenge, crunch up and place the ball between your ankles, keeping your legs steady. (We know.)
Lower to the starting position with arms extended overhead, holding the ball in place between your feet. Crunch back up, grab the ball, and return to the starting position, holding the ball overhead. Repeat.
Ready to take standard situps up a notch? Lie faceup, holding a medicine ball in front of your chest with both hands.
While keeping legs straight, sit straight up, so your body forms a giant L shape. With control, lower back to the starting position. Repeat.
5. Hay bailer
Kneel on right knee with left foot back and toes curled under to form a 90-degree angle. Hold a medicine ball in both hands close to your body while keeping your torso tight and perpendicular to the floor.
Bring the medicine ball toward your right hip, while keeping the rest of your body forward. Next, transfer it diagonally up and across the body (Think: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever).
Hold this position for 1 count before returning to the starting position. Repeat the movement in the opposite direction with your right foot forward.
Pro tip: The more your arms are extended, the harder the move is.
6. Shoulder press
This move is one of the easiest for beginners, but you can amp it up by using a heavier ball. Hold a medicine ball about an inch away from your chest, right in front of your sternum.
Extend your arms to the ceiling, reaching the ball overhead, then slowly lower the ball back to the starting position. Easy-peasy, right?
7. Figure 8
This is totally like ribbon dancing, just probably not as graceful. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands on one side of your head, with arms fully extended.
Slowly move the medicine ball in a fluid, controlled motion, forming a figure 8. Repeat reps clockwise, then switch directions. This one can be deceivingly tiring, so try it with a lighter ball first.
8. Ball fly
This can get a little tricky as far as balance goes, but we promise you’ll look like a total champ once you’ve got it down.
Lie faceup on an exercise ball, with 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 abs engaged and hips raised, extend your arms toward the ceiling, holding a lightweight medicine ball.
Shift the ball to your left hand and slowly lower the ball until left arm is parallel with the floor. Be sure to maintain a slight bend in your elbow. Bring the ball back to the center.
Shift the ball to your right hand. Slowly lower the ball until right arm is parallel with the floor, then bring the ball back to center. That’s 1 rep. Repeat.
Stand in a comfortable stance or sit tall in a chair, with core engaged. Holding a medicine ball in both hands, extend arms overhead, inner arms grazing ears (resist the urge to lurch your arms forward and make an elephant noise).
Next, bend elbows, lowering the ball behind your head until your arms form a 45-degree angle, or as far as feels comfortable. Squeeze triceps to straighten arms, bringing the ball back to the starting position.
10. Biceps curl
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball in both hands at your chest. Keeping elbows close to body, lower the ball toward the ground until arms are fully extended.
Curl the ball back up to your chest and feel the burn. Grunting is optional here. Lower the ball back to the starting position. Repeat.
11. Single-leg squat
Grab a medicine ball and hold it in front of your belly button with both hands. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lift right foot off the ground and extend it forward.
Lower your body into a squat. Sit back into an imaginary chair, with knees safely positioned over feet. Return to the starting position, then switch legs. That’s 1 rep.
This one takes balance and a little breathing room to fully extend. Stand on your right leg, holding a medicine ball with both hands.
Bend right knee slightly and hinge forward at hips, extending left leg straight back. For an extra challenge, extend arms overhead.
Feel like a ninja? Check! Your body should now form a straight line that’s perpendicular to your standing leg. Return your extended leg to the floor, repeat, and then switch legs.
13. Single-leg hip bridge
Lie faceup and extend your arms in front of you, holding a medicine ball with both hands. Keep a slight bend in your elbows.
Bend knees, bringing both heels to the ground. Once you feel steady, engage core, lift left leg straight into the air, and flex left foot. Keep a slight bend in knee.
Activate core and glute muscles, then thrust hips to the sky (very Jane Fonda-esque). Support your weight with your right foot and shoulders.
Hold for 1 count. Slowly return to the starting position with your butt on the mat. Repeat.
14. Step jump
Find a low bench or step — make sure it’s sturdy! Stand about 6 inches away from it. Hold a medicine ball at your heart and never let go (Jack).
Drop into a perfect squat, then jump up onto the step so your feet land in a natural, wide stance. Carefully jump back down to the starting position. Repeat.
15. Circle squat
Think like a clock for this one. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a medicine ball in front of your chest with both hands. Lower into a squat, keeping your spine straight, and extend arms toward the ground.
As if your arms were the hands of a clock, circle the medicine ball to the right and lift out of the squat. Now bring the ball overhead, circle down to the left, and return to a squat position. Switch directions.
16. Rolling push-up
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. Lower your chest toward the floor to perform a push-up. Return to plank and roll the ball to the other hand. Repeat.
Make it easier: Modify this move by bringing your knees to the ground.
Starting in a traditional push-up position, place your palms on the medicine ball. Shift your bodyweight forward into plank position.
Keep core tight and chin lifted so your head aligns with your spine. Slowly lower your chest toward the ball (woof!) until it nearly touches, keeping elbows pinned tightly at your sides.
Finish the move by pressing upward through your arms until they’re fully extended. Cry a little inside. Repeat.
Make it easier: If you need support, feel free to bring your knees to a mat or the floor.
18. Weighted Superman
Lie facedown on a mat with arms extended overhead, holding a lightweight medicine ball (try starting with 4–6 pounds).
Draw shoulder blades down your back and peel chest and chin off the floor. Slowly raise arms and legs as high as possible, engaging core and back muscles.
Hold the position at the top for a few counts while pretending you have a cape around your neck. Lower your body back onto the mat. Repeat.
19. Lying chest toss
Since two balls are better than one, this move enlists a pair. Lie faceup on an exercise ball with your head and shoulder blades resting on the ball’s center. Keep knees bent at a 90-degree angle (torso should be parallel to the floor).
Adjust your neck to a neutral position — avoid straining forward or hanging back. Hold a medicine ball with both hands just above your chest, with elbows bent and pointed out to the sides.
Push the ball out, in line with your chest, like a classic chest pass in basketball. Toss it straight up toward the ceiling. Catch the ball and repeat.
Pro tip: Be extra careful not to toss the ball too hard. Just remember, what goes up must come down.
20. Wall pass
Find the nearest medicine ball-safe wall. When in doubt, always ask the gym’s staff which areas are fair game.
Stand 3–4 feet from the wall, holding a lightweight medicine ball with both hands. Get into an athletic stance, feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in knees and core engaged.
Bring the ball to your chest and firmly throw it at the wall — get that aggression out! Catch the ball on its return and repeat.
21. Rock and roll-up
This one is a toughie to coordinate at first, but it hits all the major muscle groups in one powerful move.
Lie faceup with knees bent. Hold a medicine ball on the ground with your arms fully extended overhead.
Pull knees in toward chest. Use the weight of the ball and the strength of your core to catapult yourself into a controlled squat position, then a standing position.
Slowly lower back into a squat. Ease back down to the floor, butt first. Lower into the starting position and repeat.
Stand with feet together, holding a lightweight medicine ball in front of your chest with both hands. Lift right foot off the floor, bending knee, and hold this position for 1 count before stepping forward into a lunge.
Shifting your bodyweight to your right leg, engage your core and reach the medicine ball straight overhead. While still in the lunge, bring the ball back to your chest.
Pull right leg back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
23. Lunge with twist
Stand with feet hip-width apart with shoulders relaxed. Engage core and extend arms straight out in front of you, holding a medicine ball.
Step forward into a lunge with right leg. Keep knee from sliding forward past toes. Get deep into that lunge, making sure your front thigh is parallel with the floor.
Keeping arms extended, reach the medicine ball to the right, rotating torso at the same time. Maintain the lunge and return to center.
Come to standing, then lunge with left leg, rotating torso to the left this time. Do the twist in place or move forward for walking lunges.
Start with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball at your chest. Lower into a squat position, as if sitting in an invisible chair.
Once your legs reach 90 degrees, drive through your heels to jump up and throw the ball straight up as high as possible — then get the heck out of the way!
A quick step back should do the trick. Let the ball drop to the ground and repeat.
25. 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 your chest, with elbows pointing down toward the floor.
Lower into a squat, keeping back straight and head facing forward. Reach the medicine ball back between your legs.
Ready for the fun part? Explosively swing the ball up overhead to the point that it reaches behind your head and neck — just don’t throw it backward!
Keep abs contracted as arms, spine, and legs extend. For bonus points, throw the ball to the ground. Repeat.
We asked Will Arrufat, a Nike trainer, to model the moves for a total-body workout you can do at the gym or at home. All you need is a medicine ball, your body, and a can-do attitude.
Want a medicine ball to use at home? Here are some awesome options to get you started:
- Dynamax Medicine Balls. These soft, impact-absorbing medicine balls are durable, scuff-resistant, and built for a range of dynamic movements ($39 to $150).
- Century Strive Medicine Balls. Sand weighted with a durable vinyl cover, these med balls come in sizes ideal for total body workouts ($22 to $45).
- SKLZ Medicine Balls. These balls have a textured surface for a solid grip and are color coded for easy weight identification ($25 to $60).
- Empower Medicine Balls. For a slightly softer touch, these med balls are gel-filled with a soft fingertip grip vinyl shell. Bonus: They come with a 30-minute workout DVD and an illustrated boot camp-style workout guide ($15 to $30).
- GoFit Medicine Balls. These balls have a hard shell with a pebbly grip for no-slip movements. A training manual is included ($30 to $60).
Thanks to our friends at Lululemon for outfitting our model in the Metal Vent Tech Short Sleeve Shirt and On the Mat Short.