8 Medicine-Ball Exercises for a Total-Body Workout

by Genevieve Singer, Owner and Founder of The Athletes Physical Therapist

You don't need to have an entire arsenal of equipment to your name to get a good workout in. In fact, one solid piece of equipment (and some creativity), will suffice.

The medicine ball, also commonly called the "med ball," is versatile, easy to work with and comes in a variety of weights. Gyms typically have at least a few medicine balls, but you don't often see lifters using them. That makes the modest medicine ball a great option when you don’t feel like waiting on equipment or working in with other gym goers.

If you’re a homebody when it comes to workouts, the best part about this underrated piece of equipment would either be the fact that it requires barely any space to store or the way you can get a solid workout in no matter how heavy your med ball is. Below, you’ll find a roster of exercises that lend themselves to any medicine ball you have on hand at home or in the gym.

As with any workout, you can tailor the sets and rep ranges to your goals. If you have a heavier medicine ball, you might opt for lower reps and longer rests to build strength. With a lighter ball, you can infuse some cardio with higher reps and minimal rest.

Use some — or all — of these movements to create a killer workout when you’re short on time or space.

8 Effective Medicine-Ball Moves

Focus on form as you work through these exercises.

1. Medicine-Ball Deadlift

Place the ball directly between your feet and lower your butt and hips back while keeping your chest upright. Grip the medicine ball and stand up, bringing the med ball from the floor to in front of your hips. Your arms will act as straps, staying straight the entire time as you return the ball to the ground.

Switching up your grip on a classic move like the deadlift is a great way to work your muscles, including those involved in grip strength, differently than you would with a typical barbell or dumbbell deadlift.

2. Medicine-Ball Clean

Here, you’ll use the medicine ball to perform a variation of the clean. Begin in the deadlift position with your hips and butt back and your chest up, ball between your feet. Explode up onto your toes — think about jumping as you move through the middle of the lift. Perform full extension at your hips, knees, and ankles before pulling yourself under the ball into a full squat. Finish the movement by standing up with your hips fully extended and the ball in the front-rack position.

Like a classic barbell clean, this exercise requires you moving around the ball rather than moving the ball itself. As you stand up from the squat, keep your elbows up in a front rack position as you would with a barbell or dumbbell movement.

3. Medicine-Ball Strict Press

Hold a ball in front of your chest with your wrists stacked over your elbows. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes and press the ball overhead, fully extending your elbow at the top. Think about getting your head “through the window” to create a stacked shoulder position to protect your joints.

4. Russian Twist

Bring your feet up off the floor with your chest upright to start in a V or boat position, balancing on your glutes. Hold a med ball in front of your chest, then twist to either side, keeping your feet up off the floor. Make sure to touch the ground on either side with the ball. Keep your entire core engaged in this position as you use the ball to work your obliques.

5. Medicine-Ball Slam

Get some anger and anxiety out with this one! Bring the ball up overhead with your arms, hips, knees, and ankles fully extended — get tall and up onto your toes. Use this full hip extension to create power as you slam the ball into the ground. This exercise becomes a full-body workout when performed properly and is a shoulder and leg burner.

6. Medicine-Ball Thruster

A thruster is a combination of a front squat and a push press. Get the medicine ball into a front-rack position with your elbows high. Drive through your heels, and explosively extend though your hips to accelerate and push the ball overhead. Descend back into a squat as you begin the next rep.

7. Sit-Ups

Use a medicine ball to increase the challenge of sit-ups. Butterfly your feet by dropping your knees down to either side of you. As you lower down to the floor, bring the ball overhead, tapping it on the floor behind you. Once you come up into the sit-up, tap the ball on the floor in front of you. Make sure that your shoulders are passing your knees as you come forward in this movement to use a complete range of motion.

You might want to consider using an ab mat to decrease the friction between your back and the floor, but it’s not a deal breaker for this exercise (this is, after all, a one piece of equipment blog).

8. Wall Ball

To set up for this exercise, make sure that you’re an arms and ball length away from the wall by holding the ball in front of you with your elbows fully locked out. This will put you in a good position for throwing the ball at the wall.

Much like the thruster, you will be begin the movement in a full squat, with the ball in the front-rack position. Drive though your heels as you simultaneously stand up and throw the ball up at the wall.

As the ball comes back at you, catch it above your face, keeping your elbows high and making sure that your chest doesn’t drop. This is a shoulder and lung burner, so start out with a light ball and make sure that your form doesn’t break down as you move through this exercise.

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