No, no, medicine balls are real pieces of gym equipment, and you may even need an ibuprofen or two after using one.
Only kidding, medicine balls are one of the safest and easiest pieces of gym equipment to begin using. However, even the most experienced gym-goer can be pushed to the limits with a medicine ball.
So what is a medicine ball? Medicine balls are large balls about twice the size of a basketball. They typically weigh anywhere from 3 to 40 pounds - with the most common sizes being around 14 to 20 pounds. If you've seen a slam ball, they are similar. Medicine balls are covered in a leather-like plastic covering and do not bounce. Think of medicine balls almost as a really large, little bit stiffer, hacky sack.
Alright, let’s jump into our list. Here are the top 10 reasons to use medicine balls - in no particular order.
1. Tons of exercise options
This is one of the best things about medicine balls - they are incredibly versatile. Similar to dumbbell weights and kettlebells, there are a ton of exercises you can perform with a medicine ball. We will talk about some of the exercises unique to medicine balls later on, but first, let’s cover the basic exercises you can perform with medicine balls.
Since a medicine ball is just a large weight - almost all exercises are up for grabs. You can perform medicine ball overhead presses, squats, deadlifts, single-leg Romanian deadlifts (work on your balance), bent-over rows, situps, and so much more.
2. They can travel wherever you go
Medicine balls are super easy to transport. While they may be bigger than dumbbells, they can be transported without worrying about them crushing anything else. You also don’t have to worry about them breaking or getting messed up in travel. Now, when I say travel here, I’m definitely talking only about car travel. I would never try and fly with a medicine ball. The only equipment that makes sense to fly with is resistance bands.
Headed to the beach or mountains for the weekend, just toss a medicine ball in your car and you can get a great couple of workouts.
Want a couple of fitness ideas using medicine ball exercises? Try these out.
Medicine Ball Squat
Medicine Ball Overhead Press
Medicine Ball Ab Twist
10 Medicine Ball Bent-Over Rows
10 Push Ups
10 Medicine Ball Cleans
3. Great value
Now with medicine balls, you don’t want to skimp on quality. The cheap ones will break and you will be forced to use duct tape to buy yourself a few more months before it breaks entirely.
However, a quality medicine ball will last you a long time, providing you with a ton of exercise options and use, giving you a great value. You can find a quality medicine ball in the range of $50-$75 depending on weight and brand. I would definitely recommend at least a 14-pound ball and no heavier than a 30-pound ball. Generally, the sweet spot a 20-pound ball for males and 14-pound ball for females, but the weight depends on what you are primarily going to be using it for.
If you are thinking about using it as a strength training tool, choose a heavier weight, and if you are thinking about using it for conditioning, high repetition, fitness workout, a lighter weight ball around 14-20 pounds is probably good. Finding the right balance is key.
4. You can throw them
Okay, this is probably my favorite thing about medicine balls - you can LAUNCH them.
Have a rough day at work or did someone cut you off in traffic? Come take your frustration out on fitness with a medicine ball - they were built for it. Because medicine balls are meant to be relatively light, you can but some oomph into the ball and throw it.
One of the most common exercises you can use in your training is the wall ball shot. If you’ve never done these you have to give them a try. Your legs, shoulders, and core will be feeling it - a full-body workout for sure. What you do is you hold the bottom of the medicine ball, with your feet about 2 feet from a wall. You then squat and at the top of the squat use your legs and shoulders to throw the medicine ball to the wall. Typically, you aim for about 9-10 feet high. You then catch the ball on the way down into your next squat and repeat - be prepared the wall ball shot can get pretty tough.
Other medicine ball exercises include overhead throws, rotational throws, kneeling medicine ball throws, and slam ball throws.
5. Great for developing power
While the wall ball isn’t necessarily a “power” exercise, the last three mentioned certainly are.
Performing overhead throws or rotational throws is incredible for training power and improving athletic ability and performance. This is especially important for athletes. Overhead throws and kneeling medicine ball throws are going to put you in hip extension, which is a key element in sprinting and jumping.
Rotational throws are great for training power when rotating. This is especially helpful for athletes who compete in sports like tennis, baseball, softball, and golf that involve a ton of rotation. However, all athletes and all people can benefit from adding not only rotational throws but all types of medicine ball throws into their workout routine.
6. Mimic real-life movement
When we work out, train, or exercise (whichever word you feel best describes your fitness life), one of our goals should be to mimic real-life movement. Now, I’m not saying don’t chase a huge pump on arm day but trying to prioritize training that can keep you moving and healthy for a lifetime is also important.
What I mean by mimicking real-life movement is this - think of picking up a box off the floor. Chances are a heavy box may have a weight of about 20-30 pounds and be fairly wide. While dumbbells and barbells are great (and can be loaded much heavier), a medicine ball deadlift is almost identical to the demands of picking up this box. This is just one example. The more you push yourself in the gym and mimic real life, the easier the rest of your day becomes.
7. They're fun to use
Honestly, life is too short to not enjoy your training. Medicine balls can be challenging, no doubt, but they are also fun. Taking your anger out by throwing a medicine ball across the room - fun. Using a medicine ball as your weight of choice - could be more fun than dumbbells or kettlebells.
This obviously depends on the individual, but in my opinion, medicine balls make training just a little more fun - and definitely more fun than laughing in a sunflower field.
8. They're durable
Imagine throwing dumbbells or slamming a kettlebell. Yikes.
Something is going to break - whether that’s the dumbbell, kettlebell, your floor, or your shin. You are setting yourself up for an unpleasant experience.
High-quality medicine balls are built to handle the demands you place on them. Since they are meant to be thrown and slammed, you know they can easily handle squats and presses in your training. Be sure to wipe down your medicine ball after use and it will last you a while.
One last note here, don’t throw the ball against or on concrete. Cinderblocks, grass, and rubber flooring are all fine; however, concrete will eat up your ball much faster.
9. Great for learning new movements
The other day, I was coaching an athlete on how to perform a hip hinge. This is commonly known as a Romanian deadlift and is very similar to the second half of a deadlift. After working with him doing it unloaded, the next progression was doing it with a medicine ball - this gave him just enough resistance to feel the movement.
Medicine balls are great for teaching strength training movements and for beginners in fitness. New to squatting and don’t know where to start? It’s pretty hard to mess up a medicine ball squat. Just grab a medicine ball, give it a big hug, and squat as deep as you can. You can also do this with a slam ball.
There is a certain inherent risk of injury anytime we exercise - although the effects of not exercising create an even greater risk of health problems. That’s a conversation for another day.
Anyways, medicine balls are a great way to exercise if you are worried about safety because they are soft and squishy. Drop a medicine ball on your foot? No worries.
This is also nice for any of the parents out there. You can leave a medicine ball out and not worry about your kids getting hurt with it. They can even show off their fitness by playing with the ball and see if they can do a squat or two like mom or dad.