You can put medicine balls to many creative fitness uses, from balance training to plyometrics, slams and strength training. So choosing the right medicine ball weight means first deciding how you'll use it.
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If you're just learning medicine ball exercises, start with a ball that feels very light until you've mastered the new movements. Once you're ready to work out in earnest, use a ball that's heavy enough to slow your motion but not to disrupt your range of motion or control; the American Council on Exercise notes that 4 to 15 pounds is often a good starting weight.
The Medicine Ball for Beginners
If this is your first time using a medicine ball, take heed of some excellent advice from the Aspen Medical Group. They point out that to use medicine balls safely you need to have a healthy back and strong joints, and relatively strong core muscles. Depending on how you're planning to use the medicine ball, you might also need to have a good base of twisting, bending, jumping or balance ability already.
If this doesn't sound like you right this moment, you can use other types of strength and flexibility training to work up to using medicine balls. Or chat with a doctor or trainer to find out if perhaps lighter medicine ball workouts would be appropriate for you. If you're just getting over an injury, your doctor or physical therapist might even use small medicine balls as part of the rehabilitation process.
The Best Size Medicine Ball
As already mentioned, finding the right medicine ball weight for you depends on how you'll put it to work. The American Council on Exercise recommends a ball weight between 4 and 15 pounds, depending on your size and strength.
The University of Arkansas relays even more specific information, noting that ACE, which is one of the most reputable exercise science organizations in the country, recommends that medicine balls should be heavy enough to slow motion but not to compromise control, accuracy or range of motion. They suggest aiming for 30 to 50 percent of your one-rep max, or 1RM, in a strength-training exercise that's similar to the medicine ball workout you're undertaking. You can determine your 1RM for several common exercises by checking standardized charts.
However, if you're tackling medicine ball exercises for the first time, it's good to cut that weight in half (or even less) until you've mastered the movement. Because medicine ball exercises may involve rotation, jumping, throwing or simply speed of movement that you're not used to, taking the time to dial those new movements in with a light weight will pay of with faster gains in the end, because you won't be set back by injuries or poor form.
Size isn't always a good indicator of a medicine ball's weight — you'll see small balls that are quite heavy, and large balls that are quite light. Always check the actual weight of the ball, which will be printed somewhere on its surface.
Using a Medicine Ball
Your creativity is the only true limit to how you can use medicine balls; the following examples are to give you a good idea of your options.
1. Medicine Ball Slams
You'll find this exercise anywhere that athletes are working to build power; it's especially popular in Crossfit boxes and combat sports gyms. You'll need a large, soft medicine ball for this, sometimes called a slam ball.
- Grasp the medicine ball in both hands, holding it close to your body.
- Press the ball straight up overhead. Keep your core tight and your body upright as you swing the ball downward, releasing it to slam it as forcefully as possible onto the ground in front of you.
- Squat down to recover the ball, completing the repetition. You'll rise powerfully out of the squat as you press the ball overhead to begin the next repetition.
Want an extra challenge? If you have the appropriate level of core stability, you can turn medicine ball slams into rotational slams. Extend the ball overhead as already directed, but, on the downward portion of the slam, rotate through your trunk and use your entire body to slam the ball down on the floor just to the outside of one foot. Both knees will bend as you do this, allowing you to catch the ball on the bounce, stand up to full extension again, then slam it on the other side.
2. Medicine Ball Bounces
If you have access to a small fitness trampoline that can be set at an angle, you can use a small to medium-sized soft medicine ball to do upper-body plyometric exercises.
- Stand 5 or 6 feet back from the trampoline. Use a small, light ball until you have both your ideal range and the trampoline angle figured out.
- Holding the ball in both hands, extend it overhead and then throw it straight down into the center or lower middle of the trampoline, depending on how it's angled. Ideally, the ball should bounce straight back to the place you released it from (overhead).
- Catch the ball in both hands as it bounces. You may need to adjust the trampoline's angle and your distance from it until you find the right balance.
Think fast, and keep your eye on the ball — until you get your targeting just right, it might bounce back toward your body or face. You should be aware of what's behind you too; don't do this exercise if any other people are in position to be hit, should the ball get past you.
3. Medicine Ball Push-Ups
Using the medicine ball as part of your push-ups introduces an element of instability. It also affects your range of motion, so pay close attention to your shoulders and stick to a controlled, pain-free range of motion. Use a small to medium ball for this exercise, and make sure you do an equal number of repetitions on each side.
- Assume a normal push-up position, balanced on your palms and the balls of your feet, body straight from head to heels, medicine ball directly beneath you or just outside one hand.
- Squeeze your core to keep your body stable as you lift one hand and reposition the medicine ball where that hand was. Place that hand on top of the medicine ball.
- Pay close attention to core stability as you slowly bend both arms, lowering your chest toward the floor. Unless you've been instructed otherwise, stop when your elbow (of the hand that's on the medicine ball) breaks the plane of your shoulder on that side.
- Complete the repetition by pressing yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat the same number of reps o the other side.
Can't do these with full push-ups on the floor? Modify the exercise by sinking to your knees, or doing wall push-ups with the ball held between one hand and the wall. This variation is a lot harder than it looks.
4. Medicine Ball Toss-Ups
This full-body exercise, recommended by ACE, is easiest to do with a relatively small medicine ball.
- Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart. Sink into a deep squat, arms extended straight down toward the ground and medicine ball cradled securely between your arms.
- Think "chest up and out, hips down, shoulders back and down" to keep your torso in the proper position.
- Explode powerfully up and out of your squat, using your arms to continue the motion and releasing the medicine ball to throw it straight overhead. Let the ball bounce on the ground before you try to catch it.
- University of Arkansas Research and Extension: "Strength Training With Medicine Balls"
- Aspen Medical Group: "Bands and Balls: When and Why to Use Them"
- American Council on Exercise: "4 Full-Body Medicine Ball Exercises to Boost Your Calorie Burn"
- American Council on Exercise: "A Medicine Ball Workout for Your Clients"
- American Council on Exercise:"8 Creative Ways to Use a Medicine Ball"