The Most Versatile Piece of Equipment You Might Be Forgetting to Use

They don’t take up much space. They’re relatively inexpensive. They’re versatile and perfect for home use: They’re medicine balls.

Like many gyms who closed their doors in recent days, my gym rented out various pieces of equipment to our clients.

The kettlebells were swooped up in no time, as were the dumbbells and resistance bands. But to my surprise, hardly anyone scooped a medicine ball.

I blame this on the fact that CrossFit athletes think medicine balls are actually called wall balls. Can you blame them? Most have only ever used them for wall ball shots.

Truth: If I were only allowed one piece of equipment in my backyard during this quarantine, it would be a medicine ball. The range of exercises you can do are broad; they’re useful, not just for making conditioning pieces hard, but also for explosive speed and power drills, and for all kinds of core work, to name a few uses.

Try This One Hour Medicine Ball Training Session:

A. 5-minute warm-up:

2 rounds of:

  • 10 medicine ball two-handed chest passes (stand about 15 feet from the wall, step forward with one foot, toss the ball to the wall and catch it again).
  • 10 chest to medicine ball burpees chest passes (perform a burpee by placing your hands on the floor on either side of the medicine ball and your chest on the ball. Then hop up from the burpee and plant both feet simultaneously and explosively throw the ball to the wall).
  • 10 lateral passes per arm (face your body at a 45 degrees angle from the wall. Hold the ball at your waist. Rotate until you’re facing the wall and throw the ball in an underhand pass to the wall).
  • 10 medicine ball slams (raise the medicine ball overhead, then slam it down. Follow with your body into a hinge position so you can catch the ball on the first bounce).

B. 30 minutes of explosive power:

Rest as needed between sets. Superset between the movements. This should take approximately 30 minutes.

1. Explosive rotational medicine ball toss: 5 sets of 5 reps per side

These are similar to the lateral tosses from the warm-up, only now you’re going to add some serious effort into these tosses.

Start facing 45 degrees away from the wall. Place the ball at your shoulder like you’re going to do a push pass with one arm. Then brace hard, rotate your body toward the wall and push the ball to the wall in a max effort push. When you rotate to the left, push the ball with your right arm (your left arm will stay on the ball for guidance), and when you rotate to the right, push with your left arm.

2. Medicine ball dynamic push-ups: 5 sets of 6-10 reps (depending on your strength)

Place one hand on the medicine ball and assume a plank position, like at the top of a push-up. Descend into the bottom of a push-up and then push yourself off the ground explosively so you gather a bit of air time and ascend above the ball. Finish the push-up with your body on the other side of the ball and your other hand on top of the ball.

3. Knee jump chest passes: 5 sets of 5 reps

Start in a kneeling position holding the medicine ball at your chest. Sit back into your heels and then explode as high as you can. As you are exploding, push the medicine ball and perform a chess pass, releasing the ball before you land on your feet, ideally in a power position. The goal is to put as much speed into the ball and land as tall as you can.

Explosive Knee Jumps
Explosive Knee Jumps Start
Explosive Knee Jumps Phase
Explosive Knee Jumps Pass
Explosive Knee Jumps Finish
Explosive Knee Jumps Finish

Note: These are a fairly advanced move. Master the skill without a ball before adding a medicine ball, or substitute with:

4. Medicine ball jumping max height lunges: 5 sets of 5 per leg

Start with the ball on your shoulder. Descend into a lunge and explode out of it into a max effort jump. Focus more on explosive power and a max effort jump, and extending your hips fully.

5. Knee jump ball slams: 5 sets of 5 reps

These are similar to knee jump chest passes, only now start with the ball above your head, and as you explode, slam the ball to the ground, effectively completing a ball slam before you land on your feet. These are particularly challenging, as your arms are overhead at the start, so you can’t use them to wind up your jump.

If these are too challenging, substitute with:

Medicine ball box step-ups with explosive knee drive: 5 sets of 5 reps per leg

Find a box or chair you can comfortably step on. Hold onto the medicine ball with two hands, step up onto the box with one leg, and then explosively drive the other knee to your chest so you’re standing on the box on one leg. At the same time, drive the medicine ball overhead until your arms are straight overhead. Focus on speed and explosiveness on each rep.

C. 10-minute core:

5 rounds of:

30 second bent-arm med ball plank (place triceps on the medicine ball and perform a plank)
20 Russian twists
10 overhead medicine ball sit-ups (lay on your back and hold onto the medicine ball with straight arms. As you sit up, bring your arms overhead and finish in a full sit-up with the ball straight overhead)
Rest as little as possible between movements and rounds.

D. 6-minute conditioning finisher:

15 seconds on, 15 seconds rest x 6 minutes. Alternate between movements each interval of:

  • Medicine ball slams (same as warm-up)
  • Lateral medicine ball high knee jumps (bound back and forth over the medicine ball, each time doing a tuck up by bringing your knees up as you can)
  • Medicine ball squats (place the ball in the goblet squat position in front of you as you squat)
  • Medicine ball reverse lunges (place the medicine ball on one shoulder)

While the above training session is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the medicine ball’s versatility, hopefully it’ll get you appreciating just how much a simple weighted ball can improve various aspects of your fitness capacity.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a freelance health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009. A former college basketball player and rower, Emily became heavily involved in CrossFit after finishing her Masters degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario. She competed at the 2014 CrossFit Games and also worked with CrossFit Inc.’s media team for 8 years. You can also find her work at Precision Nutrition, the Whole Life Challenge, OPEX, and a host of other fitness and nutrition companies and media outlets.

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