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July 19, 2021 9 min read

Medicine balls are an insanely useful tool when looking for a killer workout that will have you on your you-know-what by the end.

This is the beauty of the medicine ball. Medicine balls can be great for rotational and anti-rotational core exercises, but can easily be integrated into other types of workouts, too, making them a versatile training tool. 

Beautiful young sports couple is working out with medicine ball in gym

Why You Should Use Medicine Balls

If you’ve done a medicine ball workout, you probably know they can feel super heavy and a little awkward to handle. While their spherical shape may be offputting to those of us used to dumbbells and kettlebells, it is exactly this that makes the medicine ball so special.

With a medicine ball, sometimes referred to as a med ball, you can:

  • Strengthen the Body: All types of resistance training should help you build some serious strength when done properly. Medicine balls are no different and can even strengthen parts of your body much more efficiently than other types of workout equipment.
  • Work on Core Strength, Stability, and Balance: Many of the movements that medicine balls are perfect for are core-focused, which promote core strength and aid in overall stability and balance. Having adequate balance and stability is not only important in everyday tasks but also significantly increases athletic performance.
  • Do Total Body Workouts: Not only are medicine balls great for working your core, but you can also get in some pretty killer upper body and lower body workouts. Additionally, medicine balls are perfect tools for doing compound movements and getting a full-body workout in one session.
  • Stretch the Body: As you move a medicine ball around, your muscles are constantly working to keep the ball in your hands as its spherical shape encourages continual movement. Depending on how you move, some muscles can experience a really nice and much-needed stretch.
  • Workout With a Buddy: Medicine balls are an awesome tool to use for working out with a partner or in a group setting. Simply throw that puppy around for some good times and a serious burn.
  • Rehabilitate the Body: Medicine balls are not just used for explosive and dynamic movement, but also as a rehabilitation tool for those with injuries.
  • Do At-Home Workouts: For many, going to the gym also means going to the living room, basement, or garage. Medicine balls are perfect for home workouts because they are both affordable and compact compared to exercise machines or barbells and plates.
  • Mind-to-Body Coordination: According to sports medicine experts, medicine balls are not only a great way to build strength, but may also be useful in developing a good neuromuscular connection.

You might be surprised to know that there is heavy evidence that gladiators often used weighted balls to train for fighting in the arena. So, yes, if you did medicine ball exercise you’d be training like a Greecian gladiator, which is pretty rad in our opinion. 

Types of Exercise Balls

As with most other gym equipment, such as dumbbells or resistance bands, there are several types of exercise balls to choose from, all of which often fall under the term “medicine ball”.

However, in order to make an informed decision about how much weight you should choose for your medicine ball, we must first distinguish between the several types of exercise balls.

  • Slam balls: Slam balls are great for, well, slamming. These are typically soft and slightly malleable with a rubber-coated exterior. These types of balls have no bounce and absorb impact well. You can find them as heavy as 70 pounds!

  • Wall Balls: Wall balls, such as the Dynamax branded ball, are typically very large in size and come in a variety of weights. These balls are padded on the outside, which makes them less likely to damage objects around you, like walls. This ball has a little bounce and is best used for throwing or slamming.

  • Medicine Balls: Medicine balls are the OG of all exercise balls. These balls have a hard plastic or rubber shell and are typically textured for gripping. They can be filled with different types of materials, including sand or just air. Medicine balls are hard with a good amount of bounce. However, some medicine balls have plastic handles, which are great for holding but not meant to withstand impact. Medicine balls are very versatile and can be used in several types of exercise.

While the several types of exercise balls each have their own best uses, they are all a form of free weight and can often be used interchangeably.

How to Choose a Weight For Your Medicine Ball

Knowing how much weight to choose when training is important in reaching your goals and working out with efficiency. Additionally, choosing the weight that is best for you will help avoid unnecessary injury and better facilitate you for future gains.

Most frequently, medicine balls can be anywhere from 2 to 25 pounds, typically moving up in 2-pound increments. However, don’t be surprised if your gym has heavier options.

Choosing the right weight for your medicine ball requires taking a look at the goals you wish to achieve and the types of workouts you’ll be doing. Furthermore, you must also understand your current fitness level accurately.

For Beginners and Lower Levels of Fitness

If you’re new to the gym or aren’t adequately adept in the fitness realm, it is best to choose a lighter-weight medicine ball. Don’t feel discouraged by being a beginner or having a low fitness level. In fact, be proud that you’ve started the journey towards your personal goals! With a medicine ball in hand, you’re off to a great start.

What is considered a light weight to you may feel very heavy to someone else, despite your current fitness status. Therefore, choosing a “light” weight may seem difficult. For beginners and those with lower levels of fitness, we recommend anywhere from 2 to 8 pounds.

Determining which ball feels best will take some experimentation. It is advised that you choose on the lighter side of the weight spectrum. As a beginner, you need to focus on good form in your movements before you can focus on weight. This is especially important as a beginner since your body is at its most vulnerable state when you first begin working out.

For Building Endurance

If you already have experience with weights in the gym or are a beginner trying out various programs, then you can choose a goal to focus on. Keeping this goal in mind while choosing a medicine ball weight will help ease the process.

Medicine balls are a great tool for building muscular endurance because they are spherical and cut through the air with ease. This allows you to perform highly dynamic and repeated movements with more efficiency.

Building endurance requires a lighter weight medicine ball as you will need to do many reps (anywhere from 12 to 20 plus reps per set!) and sets to encourage endurance building. So if you’re building endurance, the lower end of the medicine ball spectrum is best.

For Muscle Building and Strength

Barbells and dumbbells are not the only heroes of muscle building. Medicine balls are an often overlooked yet amazing tool for strength training and muscular development because they allow for explosive movements.

It is likely you’ve seen (or heard) people in the gym slamming, throwing, and tossing medicine balls around and already know of the several powerful movements you can do with them. In order to get ripped with a medicine ball, you’ll need a weight that may feel quite heavy.

Of course, don’t over-extend yourself, you should still be able to move the ball around without too much fuss. In order to encourage muscular strength and power, you’ll do much lower reps than if you were building endurance. Since you won’t be tiring yourself out with high reps, you can move heavier weights.

Prescribing an exact weight for muscle building and strength training exercises is not really possible since it is up to your individual level of fitness. You should choose a weight that you can do over 6 to 12 reps per set (stick to the lower end for more strength-oriented goals and the higher end for more aesthetic and muscle-building goals) but that nearly results in failure at the end of each set.

If you still feel like you’re not seeing results yet you tire out before the end of your sets, try using a pre-workout supplement to boost your focus and performance.

Plyometric Exercise

Plyometrics, a method of training that often involves jumping and short exertions of maximum energy, are great for building muscle, increasing range of motion, working on muscular endurance, and enhancing overall athletic performance.

Plyometric exercise is often a large part of medicine ball training as medicine balls and highly dynamic forms of movement easily go hand-in-hand. If you are familiar with CrossFit, you are probably familiar with some plyometrics.

If you want to use a medicine ball but aren’t sure where to get started, plyometric exercise is a great place to begin. For plyometrics, use a weight that fits most closely with your fitness level and goals. Keep in mind that plyometric training is highly dynamic in nature and requires a lot of effort.

Core Training

Medicine balls are most often utilized for the core. While the core rarely needs isolation if you’re doing other compound movements, like squats and deadlifts, sometimes that extra kick just feels needed. While that burn hurts so good, you really don’t need to train the core with super heavy weights.

For beginners, use a smaller weighted ball. Anywhere from 2 to 6 pounds should do the trick. If you are experienced in the gym and already have a good amount of core strength established, a heavier weight may suit you more. Try 8 or more pounds, being careful not to overdo it.

For Rehabilitation

If you’re using medicine balls for rehabilitation movements and physical therapy, you’re likely working with a physical therapist or personal trainer who will instruct you to use a certain weight. Often, you’ll be prescribed a very light weight medicine ball, anywhere from 2 to 8 pounds.

Some physical therapists may even want you to use a 1 pound ball. Rehabilitation of an injury requires slow and light-weight work that focuses on form and also being aware of pain signals from your injured area or other areas of the body. With heavy medicine balls, you may only exacerbate a current injury.

Handsome young muscular sportsman is working out with a medicine ball in gym

Best Medicine Ball Exercises

Medicine ball training is great for working on your strength or endurance and developing explosive power. Along with the proper weight for your medicine ball, you need the proper exercises. Luckily, medicine balls can be used in a variety of ways. Here are some of the best medicine ball exercises:

1. Lunges

Lunges are an all-time favorite leg day movement. They are perfectly fine with just your body weight but add a medicine ball into the mix and you’ve got the ultimate leg-burning action.

To do a medicine ball lunge, simply hold the medicine ball in your hands just below your chin. With good posture and an engaged core, step one foot in front of you and bend at the knee, just like your average lunge.

You can complicate the movement by doing walking lunges. Add a twist after you’ve reached lunge depth for an even more intense core workout. 

2. Push-ups

Yep, you read that right! You’re probably unsure how a medicine ball and a push-up can go together. However, medicine ball push-ups make for the perfect core-strengthening stabilizer-engaging exercise.

To do a medicine ball push-up, simply get into a conventional push-up position. However, instead of placing your palms on the floor, you will place your palms on the medicine ball.

As you lower yourself down, you’ll notice it takes a lot of core engagement to keep your weight evenly distributed. Keep your elbows close to your side while you complete the movement for adequate support.

3. Russian Twists

Russian twists are a perfect rotational ab exercise for getting the core of your dreams. To do this exercise, sit on the ground holding the medicine ball in your hands.

Next, lift your feet off the ground and allow your back to decline while maintaining good alignment. Move the medicine ball to the right side of your torso, then bring it back across to the left side. Repeat this many times and feel the burn!

4. Medicine Ball Slams 

The moment you’ve been waiting for: medicine ball slams. Not only is it a great explosive movement, but medicine ball slams are also just plain fun. While slam balls are best for this exercise, medicine balls work well, too.

To do this movement, pick the ball up from the floor using a squat form. Maintain good posture and alignment throughout the exercise. Avoid a caved chest and rounded shoulders. Also, be sure to constantly embrace the core.

Next, lift the ball above your head. Slam the ball back to the ground and repeat! This movement can damage objects and floors, so keep this in mind when choosing your slamming location.

If your medicine ball is made of hard plastic, it may be best to use a soft floor such as a carpet or highly cushioned mat so you don’t crack your medicine ball. However, we do recommend a softer type of medicine ball for this exercise.

5. Overhead Press

If you weren’t sure if medicine balls can work well with upper body exercise, here is your sign that they most definitely can! For some people, medicine balls are even better than using dumbbells or barbells for upper body work because they are much more stable and easier to hold in some movements.

To do an overhead press with a medicine ball, simply hold the ball in both hands. The rest of the movement mimics your traditional dumbbell or barbell overhead press. Simply lift the ball from your chest height straight above your head. Maintain slow and controlled movements with a tight core and well-aligned back.

Choosing the Perfect Weight for Your Medicine Ball: Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re a beginner, a seasoned strength athlete, or are on your way to completing a killer muscle-building program, medicine balls are an awesome addition to any training session. Medicine balls are an amazing fitness tool when utilized correctly.

The first main step to using any equipment is not just educating yourself on good form, but also being sure to choose your weight properly. This will help you avoid unnecessary headaches and potential injury, and get you well on your way to massive gains!