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Need to turn your at-home fitness up a notch? A medicine ball could be your new best friend.
Today, they’re large, firm rubber balls ranging in weight from 2 to more than 20 pounds, but medicine balls are thought to have evolved from a creation by Hippocrates thousands of years ago. The physician is said to have stuffed animal skins with heavy objects and had his patients utilize them to recover from injuries.
And due to its versatility, this concept has stood the test of time and strength. A medicine ball can challenge your strength, endurance, and balance.
Other pluses? They’re inexpensive and easy to store.
Below, we’ve curated 10 medicine ball exercises sure to challenge your whole body.
Choosing the right gear Pick a lightweight medicine ball for all of these exercises, especially if you’re a beginner. Four or six pounds is a good starting point. A basic version like this one or one with handles for an easier grip will work just the same.
Warm up for 10 minutes or so before starting this workout — brisk walking or walking in place will work just fine. Once you’ve been practicing these moves for a while, start utilizing a heavier medicine ball to continue to challenge your strength and endurance.
Combine at least five of the moves below and cycle through them for 20 minutes for a no-frills, whole-body routine.
A good exercise to get your blood flowing, mountain climbers are a whole-body move made harder by incorporating a medicine ball.
- Get into a plank position with the medicine ball underneath your hands.
- Keeping your back and neck straight, drive your right knee up toward your chest. Extend it and immediately drive your left knee up toward your chest. Ensure your core is engaged throughout.
- Continue, going as fast as you can without compromising form, for 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat twice more.
Overhead squats engage your core — especially your lower back — and challenge your stability more than a standard back squat. You’re also working your upper back, shoulders, and arms by holding the medicine ball above your head. Your range of motion will be different with this type of squat, so pay special attention to your form.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball straight over your head throughout the entire movement.
- Squat down: Begin to bend your knees and push your hips back as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground and be sure your knees don’t bow inward.
- Push through your heels on the rise, giving your glutes a squeeze at the top.
- Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.
A shoulder burner, circles will challenge you. Move slowly and with control to make the move effective.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball straight overhead.
- Brace your core and begin to move your extended arms in a clockwise movement, “drawing” a circle from start to finish. Twist your core to accommodate the movement, but keep your feet stationary.
- Repeat 8 to 10 revolutions going one direction, then switch to do another 8 to 10 in a counterclockwise direction. Complete 3 sets.
What’s a workout without some ab work? Be sure you’re twisting your entire torso to each side for maximum benefit.
- Sit with your legs bent at a 45-degree angle out in front of you, feet touching the floor. With extended arms, hold the medicine ball out in front of you.
- Brace your core, twisting your torso, and move the medicine ball to your right side until it nearly touches the ground.
- Return to the middle. Repeat on the left side.
- Perform 3 sets of 20 total reps, 10 on each side.
Working movement from side to side is just as important as working front to back, which is why a lateral lunge is a great exercise to incorporate.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball at your chest.
- Take a large step to your right side. When your foot reaches the ground, bend your right knee and sit your hip back in a one-legged squat position. Keep your left leg straight.
- Push through your right foot and return to the starting position.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
As if standard pushups weren’t challenging enough — throw a medicine ball in the mix! You’ll get a deep stretch in your chest when utilizing a medicine ball for this exercise. And as always, you can easily regress this move by dropping down to your knees.
- Start in a pushup position, but instead of your right hand resting on the floor, place a medicine ball underneath. You can flare out your elbows more than they would in a standard pushup, but make sure your back isn’t sagging and your neck is neutral.
- Complete a pushup. Roll the medicine ball to your left hand and repeat.
Single-leg deadlifts challenge your stability while also isolating one leg at a time to help address any imbalances you may have.
- Stand with your feet together and the medicine ball held straight out in front of you.
- Keeping your right leg slightly bent, bend at your hips letting your torso fall forward, and extend your left leg straight out behind you. Ensure that your back is straight, core is tight, hips are square to the ground, and neck is neutral.
- When your torso is parallel to the ground, return to the upright position.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.
Targeting your lower back and glutes, this exercise is deceivingly hard. Adding the weight of a medicine ball to your upper body ups the challenge.
- Lay on your stomach with your arms extended overhead gripping a medicine ball and your toes pointed toward the wall behind you. Ensure that your neck stays neutral throughout this movement.
- Engaging your core, use your back and glute muscles to raise your upper body and legs off the ground as high as you can.
- Pause for 1 second at the top and return to start.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
Used to develop power and strength, medicine ball slams are cardio work as well — a one-two punch. If you have a heavier medicine ball available, this is the exercise to use it.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the medicine ball straight above your head.
- Bend at your hips and, keeping your arms extended, slam the medicine ball into the ground as hard as you can.
- Pick up the medicine ball and return to the starting position.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
Cap it off with more ab work, taking the toe touch up a notch.
- Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended, holding the medicine ball in your hands.
- Engaging your core, lift your arms and legs straight up to meet above your mid-body, crunching upward to ensure they touch.
- Slowly lower back down to start. Perform 12 to 15 reps.
Complete these 10 moves with a medicine ball to tighten, tone, and increase overall strength. Hippocrates would be proud!
Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.