Just like everything else, different types of gym equipment come in and out of fashion, but most of them never stop being effective tools for improving your fitness. We say most because some will never be particularly effective, no matter whether they’re in fashion or not – we’re looking at you, Shake Weight.
The medicine ball is a prime example of something that has been sat in gyms for more than a century, alternating between fame and obscurity. But throughout all of that time it has remained an equally useful bit of gym gear. For one, chucking a med ball around can result in stronger joints, especially the rather injury-prone shoulder joints. In a study of handball players, published in the Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research, adding six weeks of medicine ball throws alongside regular training enhanced isokinetic strength around the rotator cuff, as well as improved throwing velocity. The players in the study also benefited from improved bench-rep scores and upper-body hypertrophy when they included resistance training alongside their throws.
To help you get the most out of the mighty medicine ball, we enlisted personal trainer and Multipower ambassador Leon Scott to select and explain the best beginner, intermediate and advanced medicine ball exercises, and we’ve thrown in a few ourselves.
Beginner Medicine Ball Exercises
Medicine ball squat
“Stand with your legs hip-width apart and your toes facing forwards,” says Scott. “Hold a medicine ball by the middle of your chest, pressing your hands into either side of the ball. Keep the ball in place as you hinge at your hips to lower into a squat. Aim to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Straighten your legs to stand back up and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.”
Lunge with twist
Stand holding a medicine ball in front of you at chest height – the further you extend your arms, the harder this exercise will be. Step forwards with your right foot into a lunge, lowering until both knees are bent at 90° while rotating your torso to the right. Reverse the movement, then repeat on the other side.
“During the lunge be sure to keep weight in the heel of your front foot to protect your knees,” says Scott. “You can also add the twist to walking lunges.”
Medicine ball plank
Kneel on the floor with a medicine ball in front of you. Put your hands on the ball and push up until your arms are straight, with your body forming a straight line from shoulders to feet. Hold the position. Because you’re supporting yourself on the unstable medicine ball your core is forced to work harder to keep your body stable.
“If performing the plank with your feet together is too tough, put your feet wider apart for a bit more stability, or start on your knees and build up from there,” says Scott.
Medicine ball high knees
This is a great cardio exercise which also challenges your core, a part of the body beginners should work on strengthening before anything else. Hold a medicine ball above your head with extended arms. Run on the spot, driving your knees up towards your chest. Aim to work for time – three sets of 30 seconds is ideal.
Medicine ball overhead raise
This is a great move for those just starting out because it develops your core and grip, both of which will be tested in the intermediate and advanced exercises. However, the benefits for shoulder health mean everyone should break it out from time to time, no matter their level of experience in the gym.
Stand holding the medicine ball in both hands by your thighs. Keeping your arms straight throughout, slowly raise the medicine ball until it’s above your head. You’ll get more out of the move if you raise and lower in a slow and controlled manner – three seconds up and three seconds down as a minimum.
Aim to complete three sets of five reps using a 3kg medicine ball to start with. As your strength develops, increase the weight, so long as your form doesn’t suffer.
Intermediate Medicine Ball Exercises
Medicine ball thruster
Stand holding a medicine ball against your chest. Drop into a squat, then push back up and extend your arms to press the ball overhead. Bring the ball back down to your chest and repeat.
“Make sure to keep your weight on your heels for the squat and your elbows soft when extending overhead,” says Scott.
“Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the medicine ball at arm’s length in front of you,” says Scott. “Brace your core and raise the ball overhead until you feel a stretch in your abs, but don’t bend backwards. Slam the ball as hard as you can into the floor, drop down into a squat and catch the medicine ball on the rebound.”
“Stand with your legs hip-width apart, toes facing forwards, with a slight bend in the knees,” says Scott. “Hold a medicine ball in the middle of your chest and press your hands into the sides of the ball. Keeping your hips still and facing forward, twist just your torso left and right at a moderate-to-fast pace.”
Lateral reach pull
“Stand with your legs hip-width apart and toes facing forwards,” says Scott. “Hold a medicine ball in your hands and extend your arms up and to the right so the ball is above and in front of your right shoulder. Then move your left leg diagonally behind your body to create one long line from the medicine ball to left ankle. Lower the medicine ball to your chest while raising your left knee to meet the ball. Then extend the ball and leg back to the diagonal.”
Once you’ve worked through all the reps on one side, repeat on the other.
This combination of two well-known exercises hits muscles all over the body, and the twisting motion involved is a great way to mix up your workout routine – too many of us stick with forward/backward and side-to-side movements in the gym. It’s a particularly good move for your core because you’ll increase the challenge to your balance as you shift the weight during the lunge.
Stand holding the medicine ball over your left shoulder with your arms extended. Step forwards with your right foot and lower until both knees are bent at a 90° angle. As you lower, bring the medicine ball down and across your body to the outside of your right knee, keeping your arms extended as you move it. Then push back up to a standing position and, as you rise, take the medicine ball back above your shoulder. Do all your reps on one side, then switch.
This CrossFit favourite is a natural step up from the medicine ball thruster, so master that compound exercise first. To perform the wall ball, stand a couple of steps back from the wall, holding the medicine ball by your chest. Drop into a half squat, then explode up, pressing the ball into the air and launching it at a high point on the wall – CrossFit boxes will often have painted lines to aim for. At first, let the med ball fall to the floor before you pick it up for the next rep, but to up the intensity catch the ball and go immediately into the next rep.
Advanced Medicine Ball Exercises
Alternating-arm medicine ball press-up
“Get into a press-up position with your right hand on the ball,” says Scott. “Lower your chest towards the floor and then push up and to the right, bringing your left hand onto the ball and swiftly moving your right hand onto the floor in one fluid motion. Reverse the direction for the next rep and keep alternating back and forth. You can make this even harder by performing the press-ups explosively so your hand rises off the ball and you switch hands in mid-air before going into the next press-up.”
Half-kneeling rotation wall throw
This rotational move is great for your core but can be tricky to do correctly at first, so work on your rotational strength first with moves like the Pallof press using a cable machine, or the Russian twist using your medicine ball. Start on one knee, side-on to a wall, with the other knee bent at 90° and your foot flat on the floor. Hold the medicine ball outside the hip that’s furthest from the wall in both hands with your arms straight. Twist your torso to throw the ball at the wall, then catch it and rotate back to the starting position. Make sure you’re using the twist of your torso to throw the ball, rather than your arms and shoulders.
“Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a medicine ball on the floor in front of you,” says Scott. “Squat down and place your hands on the ball. Then jump your feet back to land in the top of a press-up position, balancing on the ball with your hands. Jump your feet forwards again, stand up, and press the ball overhead. You can add a jump at the top for a greater cardio challenge.”
Overhead scoop throw
This explosive move makes for an enjoyable and effective addition to your routine, but you do need a lot of space – we’re talking an empty playing field or sports hall here – especially as you become more proficient at throwing the ball. Stand holding the ball in both hands. Hinge at your hips to lower the ball towards the floor, then explode upwards and throw the ball up and over behind you. You’re aiming to throw it as high and as far as you can, hence the need for a lot of space. You don’t need to use a heavy ball or do a vast amount of reps to get the most from this move, just focus on form and throwing the ball a long way.
Medicine ball leg raise
The leg raise isn’t a move to be sniffed at, so make sure you can complete three sets of the standard move with perfect form before attempting this weighted version. Once you’re ready to progress, pick a medicine ball no heavier than 6kg and lie on your back with your legs extended, holding the ball between your feet. Keeping your legs straight and under control, raise them until they point straight up, pause, then lower as slowly as you can.
Medicine ball slam and spin
This one will have you spinning round, right round like a record baby. As you bring the medicine ball above your head, jump and spin 180° in the air, completing the slam once you’ve landed. Try to squat down and pick the ball up as it bounces. It might feel awkward at first, but before long it’ll become fluid and when it does it’s mighty enjoyable.
Aim to keep your back straight throughout and bend your knees slightly when landing to minimise jarring. If the jump proves too tough, just spin around without leaving the ground and work up to the jump.