I know basically one move that makes use of the medicine ball at the gym. What’s your take on medicine balls—are they even effective? And how do I integrate them into my workouts without embarrassing myself? —Steve S.
The medicine ball is one of the oldest pieces of gym equipment around, if you count the animal skins filled with sand that ancient Greek athletes used for training. They got their name during the 19th century from a Professor Roberts, who wrote in an 1889 issue of the Scientific American that he used them to “invigorate the body, promote digestion, and restore and preserve one’s health.”
Basically, people would toss these babies around like regular balls, and use them like weights before dumbbells and barbells existed. Granted, medicine balls aren’t as versatile as a set of free weights, so they can feel superfluous in the gym when you’re surrounded by tons of other equipment.
But there are plenty of ways to use them in sweat sessions—which is why I recommend investing in one or two to use at home. They’re inexpensive and easy to store, too. I like using them for balance, to test my reflexes, and to throw back and forth when I’m working out with a friend. (Just don’t try using a medicine ball as a soccer ball—that does not work out the way you think it would.)
Ease into using the medicine ball with this ab workout. Here’s hoping it inspires you to pick one up the next time you’re in the gym!
Medicine ball plank
Balancing on a small, uneven surface tests core strength more than a regular plank. Start by holding a basic plank (butt down, abs pulled up and in) with your hands on top of the medicine ball for 30 seconds. Feeling bolder? Try this twisting knee-to-elbow variation. Alternate right and left legs, and do 30 reps total.
Adding weight automatically makes this tabletop crunch harder. Start with a smaller ball (5 pounds is a good starting point for most people) and work up to a heavier weight.
Start lying on your back, with your hips and knees bent to a 90-degree tabletop position. Make sure your shins are parallel to the ground, and crunch up to bring your shoulders off the mat. Pass the medicine ball from your right hand, behind your thighs, to your left hand, and lower back down to your starting position. Repeat 15 times, then reverse the circle and start with the ball in your left hand moving in the other direction for 15 more reps.
This one is tough, but effective! If you’d like, you can try it without the medicine ball to start and then add it back once you feel more confident.
Start by laying flat on your back, medicine ball in your hands above your head. Keep the legs and arms totally straight, fold at the hips and bring the ball towards feet to create a “V” with your body. Release back down. Repeat 10 times.
Bent-knee crunch with a twist
Remember that this is a core exercise, not a back stretch, so try not to let it all go here. Place the medicine ball between your knees (grip it tightly!) and lay flat on your back with your arms out to your sides. With knees at a tabletop position, twist and lower your legs toward the floor on one side in a slow and controlled motion. Keep your core tight and engaged as you do this. If you do it right, you won’t be able to touch the ground; in fact, you might only be able to lower your knees a few inches. Come back to center, lower your legs toward the floor on the left, and repeat 20 times.