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Medicine Ball: The No-Machine Strength Workout

Jun 11 2021
6 min read
one woman spotting another woman as she does a wall sit against a white brick wall while holding a medicine ball above her head

Maybe you remember medicine balls from high school gym class, or perhaps you’ve seen them hanging out beside the mats in your fitness club.

Smaller and heavier than a stability ball, a medicine ball is great for functional strength training – that which requires several muscle groups to work together so that you can lift, twist, reach and more, all with the specific intention of preparing you to carry your groceries, get in and out of your car, swing a golf club and perform other everyday activities that involve the same movements with ease.

Medicine balls range in weight from one to 30 pounds. Since doing moves with one can take some practice, starting with a lighter ball is a good way to master form before taking on more weight. And because using this tool tests your balance, you may also want to consider a ball with built-in handles, which make it easier to hold and maneuver.

Generally speaking, you’ll ultimately want to work up to using a medicine ball that’s about 30 to 50 percent of the weight you’d lift when using dumbbells to perform a similar exercise. For example, if you do walking lunges holding two 20-pound dumbbells (a total of 40 pounds), choose a ball in the 12- to 20-pound range. The weight should fatigue your muscles during the last few reps of the exercise, challenging you to maintain proper form.

Once you’ve got the hang of handling a medicine ball, there’s a variety of no-machine exercises to choose from to put it to use:

Medicine Ball Lunge with a Twist

What It Does: Targets your core and legs

How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the medicine ball in front of your chest with your elbows slightly bent.

Keep your chest lifted and your shoulders back and down. Engage your abdominals. Step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about 90 degrees; make sure your right knee is aligned above your ankle. Twist your torso to the right as you reach your arms in the same direction at chest level. Check that you are turning from your torso and not your knee. Twist back to front.

Keep your weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions before switching legs. Complete three sets on each side.

Be careful not to… lean your torso forward when you lunge to avoid straining your back and putting pressure on your front knee. Picking a point in front of you to focus on can help you stay upright.

Medicine Ball Push-Up

What It Does: Targets your abdominals, chest and shoulders

How to Do It: Kneel on the floor, toes tucked under as you place your hands on the sides of the medicine ball. Shift your weight forward to plank position with your shoulders directly over the ball. Keep your head and body in a straight, long line. Slowly lower yourself until your chest lightly touches the ball, keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Then, use your arms to press your body back up to plank. If you’re using a ball with handles, be sure to keep your wrists in a neutral position.

Be careful not to… let your hips move upward or your body sag toward the floor. Engage your core muscles to maintain a straight line throughout your torso so your abdominals and upper body muscles get a proper workout.

Medicine Ball Russian Twist

What It Does: Builds and strengthens your core

How to Do It: Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat, and hold the ball in front of your chest. Engage your abdominals and lift your legs so they’re almost 90 degrees from the floor. Rotate your torso to the left and tap the ball on the floor just outside of your left hip. Pull the ball back into your chest and rotate to the right and tap. That’s one rep. Continue alternating sides for a total of 20 reps. Complete two sets.

Be careful not to… round your back and hunch up your shoulders. Keeping a long line in your spine with your chest and chin lifted allows your abdominals to benefit fully.

The Woodchopper

What It Does: Strengthens your core, back, shoulders, legs, glutes and arms

How to Do It: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and hold the medicine ball above your head with your elbows and knees slightly bent. Engage your abdominals. On an exhale, bend forward as you swing your arms down between your legs as far back as you can without bending your arms beyond the slight curve at the elbows that you started with. Imagine you are going to throw the ball behind you but keep hold of it. Inhale as you reverse the movement and return to the start position. Repeat 10 times, trying to perform each rep as fast as possible while keeping the motion controlled.

Complete three sets.

Be careful not to… give in to momentum, so you’re not just swinging the ball. Aim to move with force and maintain control in order to work all the targeted muscle groups.