No Medicine Ball? Try One of These Alternatives

The medicine ball is an extremely versatile but underrated piece of workout equipment. If you're unfamiliar, a medicine ball is a weighted ball used for exercise and usually made of rubber or soft plastic. You can use it for specific exercises like medicine ball tosses or add it to traditional moves like squats and lunges.

If you don't have access to a medicine ball, you have a few alternatives. (Image: SanneBerg/iStock/GettyImages)

While they can be used for a ton of different lifting and throwing exercises, they can be expensive and are not always readily available. There are, however, several alternatives you can use. Depending on which exercise you're looking to replace in your workout, try one of these options when you find yourself without a medicine ball.

Tip

Since there's not one single piece of exercise equipment that can completely replace a medicine ball, you can get creative with tools like a sandbag, kettlebell, dumbbell or stability ball to recreate some of your favorite medicine ball exercises.

Sandbag

Best for: medicine ball slams

Not for: medicine ball tosses

Sandbags (yes, large, duffel-like bags filled with sand) can be lifted, thrown and caught just like a medicine ball. However, sandbags don't bounce, so they aren't your best option for medicine ball tosses where the ball would need to ricochet off a wall and back into your arms. You'll also want to modify medicine ball slams like this:

  1. Stand holding the sandbag by both ends (or the handles in the middle if there aren't straps on the ends) in front of your chest.
  2. Press the bag up over your head.
  3. Slam the bag toward the ground as you squat down, bending at the knees and hinging at the hips.
  4. Pick up the bag at both ends and clean it back up to your chest to start again.
  5. Since the bag is a bit more awkward than a medicine ball (and doesn't bounce), you won't be doing this variation for speed. Focus first on proper form when picking up the bag.

Don't have one? You can improvise! To make a sandbag, place three to five pounds of sand in a zippered plastic bag and then seal it with duct tape. Make up a few of these bags and then place them inside a duffel bag. Tie the bag shut and you have a suitable, adjustable alternative to medicine balls.

Kettlebell

Best for: twisting lunges

Not for: catching exercises

Kettlebells — those spherical weights with a single U-shaped handle on top — can take the place of a medicine ball for many exercises including core exercises, overhead presses and generally any exercise you want to add weight to. Try twisting lunges:

  1. Stand holding a kettlebell by the handle at the center of your chest.
  2. Step forward a few feet with your right leg.
  3. As you do, twist to your right side, bringing the kettlebell with you.
  4. Step your left leg to meet your right as you stand up and twist back to the center.
  5. Repeat on the left side, then alternate sides as you "walk" forward.

Unfortunately, kettlebells aren't suitable for catching exercises. However, if you're feeling adventurous, their solid design means they're okay for throwing (not ideal, but it'll work), providing they land on a soft surface, such as grass, dirt or sand, and far away from people and property.

Dumbbell

Best for: Russian twists

Not for: medicine ball slams or tosses

Essentially, a medicine ball is just a creative way to add resistance to many popular exercises. That means you can sub in a dumbbell for a lot of exercises, including V-ups, squat and press and Russian twists. To do Russian twists:

  1. Sit with your knees bent and pointing up to the ceiling. Hold a dumbbell by its ends with both hands.
  2. You can lift your feet off the ground (harder) or anchor yourself with your heels down (easier).
  3. Using just your core, twist to your left side, brining the dumbbell over to the side as well, stopping just before it touches the ground.
  4. Twist back to center, then repeat on the other side.

Again, medicine ball slams and tosses are out, as they don't bounce and are an awkward shape for those exercises.

Stability Ball

Best for: lower-intensity medicine ball slams or tosses

Not for: any weighted exercises

If you want to be able to practice the range of motion for many medicine ball exercises without the added weight, either for lower-impact/intensity or to prevent injury, a stability ball can make a practical substitution. You'll need to be careful that you don't slam or toss it too hard, since it's extra bouncy. So your medicine ball toss might look a little like this:

  1. Stand several feet in front of wall (facing it) and hold your stability ball at your chest.
  2. Squat down by bending your knees and hinging at your hips like you're sitting down into a chair.
  3. As you stand up, throw the ball up into the air and against the wall. Throw it just hard enough that it bounces off the wall and back to you.
  4. Catch it as it comes down and repeat.

However, if you're looking for something a bit more challenging by adding resistance you're better off substituting one of the above weights.

Weight Plate

Best for: around the worlds

Not for: medicine ball slams or tosses

Think of a weight plate as a flat, non-bouncy, 2-D medicine ball. So you won't be able to do exercises like medicine ball slams or tosses, but you can add it to Russian twists, squat and presses and around the worlds. To do an around the world:

  1. Stand holding a weight plate with two hands (one on each side) like a steering wheel.
  2. Brace your core as you bring the weight plate around the right side of your head.
  3. Continue to circle it around the back of your head and then to the left side.
  4. End back in front of you.

Resistance Band

Best for: standing wood chop

Not for: medicine ball slams or tosses

And last but not least, you can always try a resistance band if you're really in a pinch. They're easy to travel with but also the most unlike a medicine ball, so you'll have to get creative on a few exercises and skip others altogether (like medicine ball slams or tosses). Start with a standing wood chop:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart (or slightly wider) and anchor the middle of a resistance band under your right foot.
  2. Grab the handles with both hands and pull them up and to the left above your head (arms fully extended). The band should cross diagonally over your body from lower right to upper left.
  3. Slowly release the tension on the back back to the start and repeat.
  4. Do the same number of reps on both sides.
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