Medicine balls are one piece of equipment you find at nearly every strength and conditioning gym and in many “functional training” areas in commercial gyms. Their use and application for power, conditioning, and improving overall fitness levels are only limited by your creativity and imagination.
Anyone can integrate medicine ball training into their current programming and reap the rewards of this ballistic training method. You can integrate medicine ball exercises into your workout either before the main strength portion of your workout, in conjunction with some compound movements like presses or squats, as an efficient part of any outdoor workout, or at the end of a session to shore up your conditioning.
The explosive element of training with a medicine ball, which can’t be safely replicated with barbells or dumbbells, means you need to train with strong intention. This introduces higher-intensity training zones and recruits more type-II muscle fibers — fast-twitch muscle fibers which are largely responsible for muscular growth and explosive strength. (1)
Here are 10 of the best medicine ball exercises for power, conditioning, and overall fitness.
Best Medicine Ball Exercises
- Medicine Ball Rotational Scoop
- Medicine Ball Shotput
- Medicine Ball Overhead Slam
- Medicine Ball Keg Toss
- Medicine Ball Figure-8 Overhead Slam
- Prone Medicine Ball Chest Throw
- Swiss Ball Medicine Ball Overhead Throw
- Split-Stance Medicine Ball Chop
- Alternating Medicine Ball Perpendicular Scoop
- Medicine Ball Hollow Body Rocker
The rotational scoop is one of the most common exercises performed with a medicine ball. The movement relies on both rotational and anti-rotational forces to create a powerful throw from your hips. Coiling up onto your rear leg and uncoiling toward your front leg results in a transfer of energy that comes through your core, across your upper back, and finally out of your hands as you release the ball.
The direction of the medicine ball rotational scoop is more rotational than “backward and forward” with the direction of the toss. By keeping a low center of gravity with your knees bent, you’ll avoid two common pitfalls of the scoop: popping up into the air and coming off your rear foot. Maintaining posture will also allow you to use the muscles responsible for producing power to work — your hips and core — rather than shifting the ball to your target by throwing with your arms and shoulders.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Rotational Scoop
Start with your feet hip-width apart, in a parallel-base position to your target (either your training partner or a sturdy wall) with your chest facing 90-degrees away from the target. Cradle a medicine ball with both hands at your hip. Keep your arms relaxed and begin the backswing by keeping the ball close to your body while turning your front shoulder toward your rear foot and rotating your upper body in the process. During this coil process, or eccentric phase, start to feel your front leg also turn in toward the back.
During the uncoiling, or concentric portion, reverse that order. Your front leg will now begin to return forward. That energy will transfer through your hips and core, which will force rotation for your shoulders. Keep your knees bent and maintain a low center of gravity as you begin to throw the ball just in front of your body toward the target. Allow the transfer of energy to go through your arms and out into the ball as it projects forward.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Rotational Scoop
- The medicine ball rotational scoop toss is an effective exercise for developing rotational power for many sports including baseball, tennis, hockey, rugby, football, jiujitsu, and other combat sports.
- It connects your adductors (inner thighs) and obliques (side abdominals) as a sling for producing power and force.
- The movement can be beneficial to those looking to improve their lower body power, core strength, and total-body endurance.
The medicine ball shotput is similar to the medicine ball scoop, except that it has a higher start position and requires more of a weight shift rather than rotation. Not many people are familiar with this medicine ball exercise variation because of the higher position of the medicine ball.
Use a lighter medicine ball than you would use for a scoop to avoid any unnecessary stress to your shoulder complex or neck.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Shotput
Begin in a similar parallel-base position as the medicine ball scoop. Position your front-side hand underneath the ball close to your body, at your back-side shoulder. Flare the elbow of your back-side arm up and point your elbow away from your target, with your palm on the outside of the medicine ball and your fingers pointing up.
Before throwing the medicine ball, think about simply rocking back and forth from your front leg to your back leg. This will help you feel the weight shift that will allow you to project the ball to your target. Keep your head facing toward your target, you’ll shift backwards before shifting forwards and projecting the ball with your back-side arm and hand.
The release point should be in front of your body with your arm extending in the direction you want to throw. Allow your back leg to naturally pick up, if it does at all.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Shotput
- Improves shoulder power and strength due to the high position of your elbow and the ball.
- Can boost performance for overhead athletes (pitchers, quarterbacks, volleyball and tennis athletes)
- Primes the body and central nervous system for upper body workouts.
Training with medicine balls requires one fundamental element: intention. You must be aggressive and explosive with many exercise variations, but particularly with the medicine ball overhead slam. Imagine your arch-enemy’s face on the floor and pummel that face with the medicine ball.
This variation is one of a few that you can perform with succession, or quickly for repetitions, for either power or as part of metabolic conditioning.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Overhead Slam
Start with a base position with feet hip-width apart. Hold onto the sides of the medicine ball with your arms relaxed in front of your body. Raise your straight arms above your head and straighten your legs, allowing your heels to rise off the floor to become as tall as possible. With this lengthened position, keep your core tight before coming forward at your waist to slam the ball down slightly in front of your feet.
There are a few tips to avoid entering a poor posture: As you raise the medicine ball above your head, avoid excessive extension in your spine by not bringing the ball behind your body. As you slam the ball down, do not allow your chest to finish facing the ground — remain at a slight angle.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Overhead Slam
- Coiling and uncoiling from the overhead position increases core strength and power output.
- The exercise trains your core musculature, lats, and shoulders.
- It can be repeated for multiple repetitions as part of metabolic conditioning.
The medicine ball keg toss is the “reverse” motion of the medicine ball overhead slam. In this variation, you’ll be using a lot more of your legs to generate power and strength as you throw the ball above your head and up to the sky behind you.
A focus on pushing through the ground with your legs will result in larger ground reaction force (more power) and higher, farther tosses.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Keg Toss
Start in a base position with feet hip-width apart and your arms straight with palms cupping the medicine ball near your waist. Perform a quick quarter- to half-squat with your arms straight. Explode from that partial squat position through your legs to triple-extend (using your ankles, knees, and hips) as you send your arms up and back for the toss. Make sure you have plenty of free, unobstructed, unused space behind you.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Keg Toss
- The movement mimics Olympic lifting movements with triple extension, which helps build explosiveness through your lower body musculature.
- Repeating the keg toss for multiple repetitions can develop lower body endurance.
One benefit of training with a medicine ball rather than a barbell or dumbbell is the ability to train in the transverse plane — with rotation. The medicine ball figure-8 overhead slam checks off a few boxes including learning how to shift weight, how to transfer force from the ground through your entire body into your arms, and it works a ton of muscles in a power-specific movement.
The medicine ball figure-8 overhead slam requires patience and some coordination unlike some other more straightforward medicine ball movements.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Figure-8 Overhead Slam
Start in a base-position with both feet shoulder-width apart — keep your knees softly bent, your hips engaged, and cradle a medicine ball in front of your body at hip-height. Begin by shifting your weight slowly from side to side while making an “infinity loop” or figure-8 pattern with the medicine ball.
When you’re ready, focus on going down on one loop and shift your weight to the side you want to throw from. Take the ball through a long movement from one hip, over your head, and powerfully slam it to the ground just outside your opposite foot. As you release the ball, pivot on your feet as you turn in to follow through with the slam.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Figure-8 Overhead Slam
- Increases rotational power output for rotational athletes like tennis, hockey, and volleyball players, baseball pitchers, boxers, jiujitsu, and combat sport athletes.
- Recruits your glutes, adductors, obliques, lats, and shoulder muscles in an integrated movement.
The supine medicine ball chest throw is one of the very few medicine ball movements where you will find yourself lying on your back on the floor. This ballistic movement is focused on a powerful concentric (pushing) movement and a safe catch. It can also be paired with a partner’s catch and release for consistent repetitions.
Because you’re on the floor, you’re limited to strict chest, shoulder, and arm power without the aid of your core or lower body. However, the objective behind the movement stays the same as with every other medicine ball exercise mentioned so far: perform it with intention and aggressive explosiveness.
How to Do the Supine Medicine Ball Chest Throw
A supine position means you will be on the floor, flat on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Hold the medicine ball with both hands underneath the ball and set your elbows slightly out to the side.
In one motion, explosively extend your arms and launch the medicine ball in a straight line over your chest while keeping your feet and head on the ground. If the trajectory is straight up, you should be able to carefully catch the ball and repeat for more repetitions.
Benefits of the Supine Medicine Ball Chest Throw
- Can improve upper body power and boost your explosiveness on bench press movements.
- Works your shoulders and triceps and, if caught successively or used with a partner catching the ball and dropping it from a standing height, can be used for metabolic power conditioning.
One of the more advanced exercises on this list is the Swiss ball medicine ball overhead throw. This is an amazing exercise that can be used to develop power in an even more ballistic effort than a standard overhead throw while also requiring more total-body stabilization due to the Swiss ball’s inherent instability.
As a precaution, anyone performing the Swiss ball medicine ball overhead throw should have a decent level of core strength and no current issues with their shoulders or low back.
How to Do the Swiss Ball Medicine Ball Overhead Throw
Sit on a Swiss ball and roll a little bit forward to support your hips and low back on the ball. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Hold the medicine ball with both hands at chest level. If you are on a turfed or carpeted floor surface, use weight plates or dumbbells on the floor so that you can push your toes into a stable base to prevent any sliding.
Lean your torso back and extend your arms above your head. Your temporary loaded stretch position should have your chest facing slightly up and your hips in a neutral position. To begin the throw, initially create tension through your hip flexors, followed by flexing your body as you rise back up (similar to a sit-up).
The momentum of the forward motion should bring you upright as you release the medicine ball above your head and forward to your target. Avoid having the ball travel upward and focus on sending the ball in the direction your toes are pointed
Benefits of the Swiss Ball Medicine Ball Overhead Throw
- Strengthens and builds power in your hip flexors, rectus abdominis, shoulders, and lats.
- This advanced movement is excellent for javelin throwers, tennis, baseball, and volleyball players, jiujitsu, and MMA athletes.
Most people love performing power-based movements like medicine ball training because of the ballistic nature of throwing or slamming resistance around. However, the split-stance medicine ball chop very quickly teaches that you cannot express force and power efficiently without having stability and proper interlimb coordination.
The unique stance will involve your lower body for a greater stability challenge. You can perform this variation either parallel to a wall or with a partner to return the ball.
How to Do the Split-Stance Medicine Ball Chop
Start in a split-stance or lunge-type position with your front foot farther from the wall and your back foot slightly closer to the wall. Slightly bend both knees.
Hold to the medicine ball with both hands, lift your arms up at a roughly 45-degree angle above your outside shoulder. In one fast motion, go diagonally down and across your body, aiming the throw toward the ground between the wall and your front foot. This should allow the ball to bounce off the ground to the wall. If using a wall instead of a partner, be ready to catch and receive the ball.
Benefits of the Split-Stance Medicine Ball Chop
- Engages your core in a transverse (rotational) pattern that activates your obliques, lats, and hips.
- Challenges your lower extremities to remain stiff and stable to transfer force.
In some cases, it can be hard to make a medicine ball exercise more suitable for metabolic conditioning. With the alternating medicine ball perpendicular scoop, you can focus on power and conditioning at the same time.
The “perpendicular” position simply means that you’re directly facing your target versus facing away at a 90-degree angle. You can choose to go heavier for more strength adaptations or relatively lighter for more power and conditioning.
How to Do the Alternating Medicine Ball Perpendicular Scoops
Start with a medicine ball cupped with both hands. Stand closer than other exercises, facing toward the wall you will throw to. Assume a base-stance position facing the wall with your feet at hip-width distance, your hips pushed slightly back, and your knees softly bent.
Shift the ball towards one hip and, when you’re ready, “scoop” the medicine ball towards the wall at a slight angle. The ball should bounce off the wall toward your opposite side, where you can safely and quickly catch it. Receive the medicine ball and move with both hands toward your pocket to eccentrically load your body. Come back out with another throw at a similar angle to return the ball back to your starting side. Repeat at a steady pace for the intended repetitions
Benefits of the Alternating Medicine Ball Perpendicular Scoops
- The front-facing position engages your glutes and obliques for power and rotation in each repetition.
- This movement can be efficiently used as part of a metabolic circuit with other exercises for conditioning.
Most medicine ball exercises have you actively throwing or releasing the ball during each repetition. This is one of the few medicine ball exercises that will not require you to throw the ball at all.
The medicine ball hollow body rocker is a tough core exercise that requires stiffness from your entire body while supporting the medicine ball in an overhead position.
How to Do the Medicine Ball Hollow Body Rocker
Begin by lying down with your back on the floor while holding a relatively light medicine ball. Cup the medicine ball over your head with your elbows slightly bent. Enter a “hollow body position” — keep your legs slightly bent and lift them roughly 30 to 45-degrees off the ground while also lifting your shoulders off the ground. Your body should be “balanced” on your rear hips, glutes, and tailbone.
Keep a stiff position as you try to rock your body slightly forward and backward shifting weight from your legs to your shoulders. Maintain the hollow body position from your hips to your ribs, keeping your core tight. Keep rocking back and forth for either time or total repetitions.
Benefits of the Medicine Ball Hollow Body Rocker
- This advanced core exercise with a medicine ball can build muscle and strength in your core, specifically, your rectus abdominis.
- Develop endurance with stiffness with your core while holding an overhead position. This can lead to improvements in compound movements that require stiffness in your trunk and ribs such as deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses.
Benefits of Medicine Ball Training
Medicine ball training is usually seen inside strength and conditioning facilities with the specific intention of helping athletes achieve greater power output. (2) However, lifters of every skill and training age can benefit from using medicine ball exercises in their training program and routine.
Research has shown that the ability to produce force and muscle power is a better predictor of functioning in older adults rather than muscular strength or cardiovascular endurance. (3) The explosive nature of medicine ball training also offers a unique stimulus to build endurance and conditioning compared to more traditional methods such as treadmill running.
How to Program Medicine Ball Exercises
Medicine ball exercises can be utilized as part of a warm-up routine, a separate sport-specific training section, or as a primer prior to your strength work. They can be integrated as part of a superset or a larger circuit, or the exercises can be used at the end of a workout as part of metabolic conditioning.
The weight of the medicine ball also plays a large role as to whether you will be using a relatively heavier weight to develop more strength-building force or a lighter ball to work on power output and conditioning. A difference of even two pounds could significantly increase the time between moving your body and the sound of the impact when it comes to throwing the medicine ball.
Most medicine ball exercises can be programmed for two to three sets. Depending on the movement, you can expect to perform anywhere between five and 10 repetitions per side. Remember that more repetitions require more energy and, if your goal is to build power, focus on quality over quantity. Reset between each individual repetition and focus on maximum output. Expect a decrease of power over a short period of time if you perform in succession multiple repetitions.
How to Warm-Up with a Medicine Ball
A medicine ball can be used as part of a warm-up and as part of a primer sequence to excite your central nervous system and increase awareness as part of overall potentiation. Prior to any strength training, try this circuit with a relatively light medicine ball, typically around four to six pounds. Perform two sets, with one minute of rest between sets.
- Medicine Ball Scoops: Stay parallel to your target and focus on short backswings as you rotate. If you’re throwing the medicine ball to a wall, make sure you’re not too close to catch the rebound safely. Perform five to eight repetitions before switching to the opposite side.
- Medicine Ball Overhead Slams: Set up with your feet hip-width apart. Your target should be on the floor right in front of you. Focus on catching the rebound of the medicine ball and go up with momentum as the ball bounces from the ground. Repeat in succession for 10 repetitions.
- Split-Stance Medicine Ball Chop: Start with a parallel, split-stance or “lunge” position next to a wall. Place your inside leg forward and your outside leg back. Start from the outside shoulder and throw the ball across your body to the floor near the wall. The angle produced by the throw should have the medicine ball bounce off the ground to the wall and back to you. Perform five repetitions per side.
- Alternating Medicine Ball Perpendicular Scoops: Face a wall in a base position, flexing at your hips and softly bending your knees in a ready position. Throw the medicine ball from your outside hip toward the wall at an angle so that it hits the wall in front of you and bounces toward your opposite hip. Catch and repeat with a tempo that is both controllable and explosive. Perform five repetitions on each side.
Upgrade Your Medicine Ball Experience
If you have overlooked using medicine balls as part of your training program, you might have been missing out on developing athleticism, improving power, or improving metabolic conditioning. Medicine ball training isn’t just for athletes. It’s a training method that creates a different stimulus than standard issue gym training. You don’t even need to be inside a gym — grab a medicine ball and get outside to start seeing benefits.
- Faigenbaum, A. D., & Mediate, P. (2006). Effects of medicine ball training on fitness performance of high school physical education students. Physical Educator, 63(3), 160.
- Earp, J. E., & Kraemer, W. J. (2010). Medicine ball training implications for rotational power sports. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32(4), 20-25.
- Thompson, C. J. (2016). MEDICINE BALL POWER TRAINING EXERCISES FOR OLDER ADULTS. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 20(5), 41-43.
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