Slam Ball vs. Medicine Ball: Which Is a Better Strength-Training Tool?

Medicine balls are ideal for cardiovascular conditioning and adding weight to plyometric movements and compound exercises.
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Slam balls and medicine balls are both weighted balls you can use to make your workout more challenging. And no, they're not the same thing.

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"The main difference between a slam ball and a medicine ball is the medicine ball will bounce back, while the slam ball will not bounce but simply land and absorb the impact," Cori Lefkowith, CPT, owner of Redefining Strength, an online fitness company, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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In addition, slam balls are usually a bit smaller and made of rubber (filled with sand), whereas medicine balls are typically bigger and often made of softer materials. The differences between the two are slight but should be considered to ensure you get the right equipment for your fitness goals.

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Read on to learn the benefits and downsides of each.

Slam Ball Benefits

1. Build Explosive Strength and Power

Since the slam ball doesn't bounce, you can put maximum effort into every throw, toss and slam without fear of getting hit on the rebound. This makes it a great tool for developing explosive strength and power — especially if you focus on moving quickly and throwing the ball as hard and as fast as you can.

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"This improves your mind-body connection and ability to recruit the correct amount of muscle fibers efficiently to perform the movement," Lefkowith says.

2. Add Instability

Unlike dumbbells or kettlebells, which are evenly weighted and come with handles to grip, slam balls are unevenly weighted with a sand filler and don't typically have handles. These features make slam balls a great tool for adding instability to your strength training. And incorporating instability into your routine offers many benefits.

"Slam balls will especially challenge your forearm muscles, as the weight in the ball will often shift," Lefkowith says. Working your forearm muscles will help strengthen your grip — a key indicator of longevity, according to a May 2015 study in ​The Lancet​.

All that sand shifting around inside the slam ball also fires up your core muscles as your body works to stabilize, Lefkowith says. And depending on what move you're doing, you may feel other muscles kick in to keep you balanced while the weight shifts.

3. Build Functional Strength

Picking up the slam ball after every rep is a great way to build functional strength. In particular, the ability to pick up heavy, awkward objects off the floor.

"Many of the things we lift in everyday life are weirdly shaped or unevenly weighted — they're not barbells or dumbbells with perfect handles," Lefkowith says.

Plus, you'll get core work. "Whenever you use your body to pick something weighted from the floor, you must engage your core to facilitate the movement," Jakob Roze, CSCS, owner of RozeFit personal training, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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Slam Ball Downsides

1. Not Easy to Find Rhythm

The slam ball's no-bounce feature is also one of its drawbacks. "Since there is no rebound, you'll have to pick up the ball from the floor and focus on your form again," says performance enhancement specialist James Shapiro, PES, a sports performance coach based in Los Angeles, California. This can make it tough to settle into a rhythm and limits how quickly you're able to complete your sets.

2. Awkward to Hold

As we've noted, most slam balls have a filler that shifts around, making one side of the ball more weighted. "This is beneficial when slamming the ball because it keeps the ball from bouncing," Roze says. However, this may make it tough to perform other moves with the ball, he notes.

3. Need a Partner for Passing Drills

Because the slam ball won't bounce back when thrown against a wall, you'll need to recruit a partner for passing drills, like chest passes and scoop tosses, according to Lefkowith.

Slam Ball Exercises

1. Slam Ball Overhead Keg Toss

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Abs, Legs and Butt
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a slam ball with both hands in front of your hips.
  2. Squat down as far as you can, sending your hips back and bending your knees.
  3. Brace your core, then extend your knees and drive through your hips to stand forcefully.
  4. As you stand, swing the ball overhead, releasing it into the air.
  5. Watch for the ball and stand clear.
  6. Let the ball land on the ground before squatting down again to pick it up.
  7. Continue for reps or time.

The overhead keg toss strengthens all the muscles in the backside of your body: hamstrings, glutes and back. It also works your quads and abs.

Make the move easier by using a lighter slam ball. To progress, use a heavier slam ball or quicken your pace.

2. Slam Ball Overhead Slam

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Abs, Legs and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, with a slam ball in between your feet.
  2. Squat down to grip the ball with both hands.
  3. Inhale and brace your core.
  4. Extend your knees and drive through your hips to swing your arms and lift the slam ball overhead. Be sure not to lean back; the slam ball should be above your head, not behind it.
  5. Exhale and use your core and your arms to slam the ball straight down between your feet as forcefully as you can.
  6. Pick up the ball and immediately begin the next rep.
  7. Continue until you’ve completed all reps or your time is up.

This move works the shoulders and abs on the throw and the quads when you retrieve the ball from the ground, according to Shapiro.

You can modify the exercise by slamming the ball onto a plyometric box so there’s less of a squat motion. To make it more challenging, use a heavier ball or speed up your reps.

3. Slam Ball Acceleration Throw

Body Part Legs
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a slam ball in both hands in front of your chest.
  2. Take a small step back with one foot, heel lifted.
  3. Bend your knees to sink into a half-squat and slowly lean forward.
  4. Push explosively through the ground to jump forward.
  5. As you start running forward, throw the ball. Think about throwing it with your legs, not your arms.
  6. Retrieve the ball and walk back to the starting point.
  7. Repeat for reps or time.

This exercise targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. It’s also great for developing strength and acceleration during the jump you use to initiate the throw, Shapiro says.

To make the move easier, begin from a stationary half-kneeling position.

Medicine Ball Benefits

1. Build Strength and Endurance Simultaneously

Thanks to the fact that medicine balls are lighter and bounce back after they're thrown, they let you complete several reps in rapid-fire succession.

As a result, medicine balls are the ideal tool for cardiovascular conditioning, Lefkowith says. They can also be used to add weight to plyometric movements and compound exercises to up the challenge, which helps you make continued strength progress.

2. Don’t Need a Partner for Passing Drills

A medicine ball will bounce off many surfaces, like floors and walls. This means you can perform passing drills like chest passes, half-kneeling tosses and scoop throws without a partner — just throw the medicine ball against the floor or a wall and catch it on the rebound.

3. More Versatile

Since the weight is more evenly distributed in a medicine ball than it is in a slam ball, you can perform a greater variety of exercises more comfortably and efficiently, like a "wall ball" — an exercise where you squat down while holding a medicine ball, toss it into the air and toward a target (usually a wall) as you stand up, then catch the ball and repeat.

Additionally, the partner toss may be better with a medicine ball than a slam ball. "Since the slam ball is weighted to one side, it could send the ball off-course if you're trying to throw it in a particular direction," Roze says. A medicine ball, on the other hand, is more likely to reach its intended target.

Shop These Medicine Balls

Medicine Ball Downsides

1. Can Be Awkward to Hold

Medicine balls are typically larger than slam balls. "With a bigger diameter comes a harder time keeping it in position for certain exercises," Shapiro says.

Performing exercises that call for keeping the medicine ball close to your body (e.g., Russian twists, shot put throws) can feel exceptionally awkward.

2. Risky When Slamming

Depending on the bounciness of the medicine ball, you may need to be especially cautious when slamming it against a surface, or you run the risk of getting hit in the face on the rebound. Or, it may bounce away, forcing you to chase after it. This can be a major drawback — not to mention a tripping hazard — in a crowded gym.

Medicine Ball Exercises

1. Medicine Ball Alternating Overhead Slam

Body Part Abs, Shoulders and Legs
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball with both hands in front of your hips. Brace your core.
  2. Swing the ball overhead and rotate to the left, slamming the ball into the ground.
  3. Catch the ball on the rebound and quickly reverse the motion to bring the ball overhead again.
  4. Then, immediately rotate to the right and slam the ball to the ground.
  5. Continue alternating sides for reps or time.

This move strengthens the obliques, shoulders and quads.

To make this exercise easier, use a lighter medicine ball. To make it harder, use a heavier medicine ball or increase your pace.

2. Medicine Ball Staggered-Stance Chop

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Abs and Legs
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand next to a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball with both hands in front of your hips.
  2. Take a step back with the foot that’s furthest from the wall, keeping your weight on your toes.
  3. Keeping both arms straight, lift the medicine ball above the shoulder that’s furthest from the wall. This is your starting position.
  4. Brace your core, then rotate your torso to slam the medicine ball to the floor next to the opposite hip.
  5. Allow the ball to bounce off the floor and against the wall.
  6. Catch the ball on the rebound and immediately repeat.
  7. Continue for reps or time.
  8. Switch sides.

The staggered-stance chop works your shoulders, obliques, quads and glutes, according to Shapiro.

To make this move easier, perform it from a half-kneeling position. To make it more challenging, use a heavier medicine ball or speed up your chops.

3. Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

Body Part Legs, Abs and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand next to a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball with both hands in front of your hips.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and rotate your hips to bring the ball to the hip furthest from the wall. This is your starting position.
  3. Brace your core to prepare. Then, swing your hips to toss the medicine ball against the wall.
  4. Catch the ball and immediately repeat the movement.
  5. Continue for reps or time.
  6. Switch sides.

This rotational exercise strengthens the shoulders, obliques and glutes, Shapiro says.

Bottom Line: Slam Balls vs. Medicine Balls

Slam balls and medicine balls are equally useful tools to incorporate into your workouts. The best option for you depends on your goals: If explosive strength and power is your focus, you may want to reach for a slam ball. If you'd rather develop strength and endurance, a medicine ball may be a better option.

Still, you can make either work for you through intelligent programming. "The great thing about the slam ball and medicine ball is they can both be used to improve conditioning and power," Roze says.

For example, you can use a slam ball to improve your endurance by easing up on how hard you slam the ball, which will allow you to work for more extended sets. Similarly, you can use a medicine ball to boost power by keeping your reps quick.

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