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 ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Medicine Ball Slams - Form, Function, and Variations

Medicine Ball Slams - Form, Function, and Variations

Reading Time: 4 minutes 33 seconds


DATE: 2021-09-16

The medicine ball is an ancient exercise technology. It's a simple, weighted ball. By throwing and moving it around, you can work most of the muscles in your body and get a good conditioning and cardio workout. Start experimenting with medicine balls by learning how to do the basic movement: a medicine ball slam. Then, build in variations for a complete workout.

What Are Medicine Ball Slams?

A medicine ball is also known as a fitness ball or exercise ball. It is a weighted ball—available in a variety of different weights, typically between four and 25 pounds—that is about shoulder-width in diameter. It's a little bit like a heavy basketball or volleyball.

The med ball slam is a deceptively simple workout move. You lift the ball over your head and slam it to the ground in front of your feet. It truly is a slam, a powerful move, not simply a drop. It's a total body movement.

How to Do a Slam Correctly

Although it's a simple movement, as with most exercises, there is a right and a wrong way to do a medicine ball slam. Follow these steps and begin with a lighter ball until you or your client gets the form right:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees and hips relaxed and slightly bent.

  2. Holding the ball between both hands, squat down slightly before quickly and powerfully rising up to lift the ball over your head as you stand up on the balls of your feet.

  3. When the ball is up, it should be right overhead. Don't lean back and overextend your spine, a common form mistake beginners make.

  4. Slam the ball to the ground as your lower body drops back down into a squat position.

  5. From a squat, pick up the ball and start again.

Start slowly if this is a new exercise. Use a lighter ball and do just a few slams at a time until you get stronger and more comfortable with the form. As you do each slam, focus on the muscles you're working. This should include lower body muscles and glutes as well as your core, arms, and shoulders.

Why Add Medicine Ball Slams to Your Routine?

Exercise balls have been around for thousands of years for good reason. It's a simple tool that you can use to build strength, conditioning, power, and agility.

Medicine Ball Slams Build Strength

One of the most important reasons to use medicine ball slams in your workout is to build overall strength. This simple movement requires most of your body and major muscle groups, including the legs, glutes, abs, shoulders, arms, and several back muscles. It's a powerful movement that works all these areas of the body.

It Can Also Be a Great Cardio Workout

Try a few slams in a row, and you'll find that this move gets your heart pumping. It's a great conditioning workout that revs the metabolism, burns calories, and boosts cardio fitness. To get the most out of slams for a cardio workout, do the moves quickly, and right in a row, but with good form, of course.

Other Benefits

Full-body strength and cardio may be enough, but there's more. A good slam session is also a power workout. It requires explosive, fast movement. The more you do this, the more powerful all your movements become.

The benefits of power movements extend to agility. The strength you build in your core and other muscles, plus the explosive power, makes you more agile. Regular slam workouts will help you react faster and move more functionally and safely in everything you do.

Check out this ISSA blog to learn about using plyometric exercises for developing power.

Variations for a Total Workout

The basic medicine ball slam is a great workout in itself. Work up to 10 to 12 reps per set and do a few sets in a row for a pretty complete workout. As you get stronger and learn to move better with the ball, you can try adding variations for a longer, even more complete workout:

  • Chest pass. Take your slam horizontal by throwing the ball against a wall. This is great for upper body muscles, especially the chest. You can do them facing the wall, or to the side with a twist to engage the core.

  • Add burpees. To really get your heart pumping and for more power work, add a burpee between each slam. As soon as the ball hits the ground, do a quick burpee, pick up the ball and start over again.

  • With a twist. Perform a medicine ball slam, but instead of going straight down, twist to the side and slam the ball to the side of your feet. Keep your knees forward and focus on twisting your torso for a great core workout.

  • Sit up throws. To really make your abs work, do a sit up with the ball in your hands over your head. As you sit up, throw the ball forward in one powerful move.

You can also use the medicine ball to weight other exercises like squats, lunges, and Russian twists. Wherever you might use a dumbbell for extra weight, a ball works too. Here's a longer piece on several more exercises you can do with a medicine ball.

Choosing a Slam Ball

A medicine ball is a simple object, but you'll still find there are a lot of choices. Medicine balls come in different sizes and weights and are made from different materials with varying textures. As for the latter, choose a ball material that feels good in your hands. You should be able to grip it without it slipping through your hands.

The variation in diameter is limited with medicine balls, but you have some options. Look for a ball that is approximately equal in size to the width of your shoulders.

Choosing weight is a little tricker. You need a weight that challenges your muscles and provides good resistance. On the other hand, it shouldn't be so heavy that you can't perform the movement fluidly and powerfully. It should not compromise good form.

If you or your client is new to ball workouts, start small, with four- to eight-pound weights. You can always work up to higher weights as you get stronger and more proficient in the movements.

Medicine ball slams are only the beginning. With this one simple piece of gym equipment, you can get a great, total-body workout. It's also a great tool for working with new clients who feel intimidated by gym machines or weights.

ISSA's Certified Personal Trainer - Self-Guided Study Program has everything you need to start a career as a trainer, including a variety of workouts to meet every client's needs.

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