Trainers Reveal 10 Medicine Ball Moves You Should Be Doing

When you're feeling bored, blue or just plain blah, exercise is the best medicine—which explains how this centuries-old fitness accessory got its name. Medicine balls have been around since the days of ancient Greece, when the physician Hippocrates is said to have recommended homemade versions to patients, and gladiators reportedly used them for fitness training. Today, you can find them in practically every gym and sports equipment store, and for good reason.

Medicine balls are weighted to add resistance to any exercise, from crunches to squats to shoulder presses, making them a great stand-in for dumbbells. Most of them are around 13 or 14 inches in diameter (about the size of a standard volleyball) and are available in a wide range of weights, from one pound up to 30 pounds. They're usually made from rubber or nylon, and some have handles for easy gripping.

With traditional dumbbells or barbells, you have just one option: to lift and lower the weight. Medicine balls have the added option of being thrown, which can add a new level of explosiveness and versatility to your workouts. They're highly effective in strengthening the entire body, especially the core muscles, while allowing for more range of motion in the joints.

When choosing a weight for your medicine ball, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for 30 to 50 percent of whatever your maximum dumbbell weight would be for one repetition. For example, if your max is 12 pounds for one bicep curl, you might want to start with a six- or eight-pound medicine ball. You might also want to vary your weight by type of exercise: lighter for faster, more explosive movements, and heavier for slower, strength-focused exercises.

If you’re wondering how to incorporate medicine balls into your exercise routine, we have an effective prescription for you—simply follow along with our expert trainers’ favorite go-to moves.

Seated Low to High

From Nike master trainer and current "Next Fitness Star" Betina Gozo
  1. Keep your feet on the ground with your core engaged.
  2. Touch the medicine ball to the ground and bring it to the opposite corner, getting a rotation through the upper part of your back.  
  3. Repeat on the other side. See video.
Reps: 10-12 on each side
Muscles worked: Core and oblique muscles

Knee and Leg Raises

From fitness trainer Kyra Williams
  1. Start out lying on your back with your legs straight and a medicine ball between your ankles.
  2. Keep the small of your back on the ground and your legs straight as you lift your legs into the air for the leg raises.
  3. To do knee raises, bring your knees to your chest from the straight-leg position. See video.
Reps: 10-12 on each leg
Muscles worked: Abdominals<pagebreak>

Traveling Pushups

From Nike master trainer and current "Next Fitness Star" Betina Gozo
  1. With one hand on the ball and the other on the ground, lower into a pushup, with the elbows at about 45 degrees.
  2. Explode up to bring both hands on the ball, then switch hands to bring the opposite hand on the ground.
  3. As a modification, do the pushup on your knees and slow down the transition instead of exploding.
  4. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
This exercise gives you a little instability on the ball to fire up stabilizers that may not be activated in a regular push up. See video.

Reps: 10 to 12
Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper arms, chest

Russian Twists

From fitness trainer Cassy Velez
  1. Start seated on the ground with your knees slightly bent and your feet placed flat on the floor.
  2.  Take the medicine ball in your hands and lean back, keeping a neutral spine.
  3. Holding the medicine ball in line with your rib cage, rotate to the right side of your body until the medicine ball touches the ground. Once you touch the ground, lift the medicine ball back up and rotate to your left side, touching the ball to the ground there as well.
  4. For added difficulty, raise your feet off of the floor. This will force you to engage your abdominal muscles even more and helps to enhance stability.
Reps: 10-12 reps on each side
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis (the muscle that runs vertically from your ribs to your pelvis), internal obliques and external obliques


Toe Taps

From fitness trainer Kyra Williams
  • Stand in front of a medicine ball and tap with one foot, then with the other, hopping from foot to foot.
  • You can do these with any kind of ball, as long as it's heavy enough to keep control over it and prevent it from rolling.
Doing toe taps on the medicine ball increases cardiovascular health and coordination. See video.

Reps: 20-30 (alternating feet)
Muscles worked: Calves, legs, cardio<pagebreak>

Medicine Ball Slams

From fitness trainer Sandy Liang
  • Find a clear, smooth ground surface that is safe to slam on.
  • Grab a medicine ball that’s a good weight for you to lift up.
  • With your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your heels and hold the ball above your head with your arms slightly bent.
  • Force through your chest and core to slam the ball to the floor in front of you as hard as you can.
  • Squat to catch the ball on the rebound and return to starting position and repeat.
This is an explosive, total-body exercise that develops power, strength and speed. It’s also a great stress reliever.

Reps: 10-12 on each side
Muscles worked: Shoulders, triceps, glutes, quads, core, cardio

Half-Kneeling Rotational Throw

From Tyler Spraul, head trainer at
  1. Start in a half-kneeling position with your shoulders perpendicular to a wall and the leg closest to the wall in the "up" position, about a foot from the wall.
  2. Lower the medicine ball down toward the hip of your "down" leg. From there, rotate through your shoulders to lift the ball and throw it against the wall as quickly as you can.
  3. Catch the ball as it bounces off the wall, and try to hold your position straight and tall when catching. That completes one rep.
  4. Finish the reps on one side, then turn and repeat on the other side to finish the set.
This move helps to train and strengthen the hips, while also building strength in all the muscles involved in protecting the spine. It's a great way to train the hips and lower core muscles using a dynamic movement instead of a static one, like a plank hold. See video.

Reps: 10-12 on each side
Muscles worked: Hip flexors, back, lower core<pagebreak>

Overhead Medicine Ball Throw

From fitness trainer Shane McLean
  • Stand a few feet away from a wall while holding a light medicine ball.
  • Take the ball behind your head, take a step forward and throw it has hard as you can against a wall.
  • If you don't have a wall, you can turn this into a partner exercise.
This is an easy exercise to perform. It helps to increase power, which is something we lose as we age. See video.

Reps: 10-12
Muscles worked: Triceps, shoulders, core

Around the World Medicine Ball Swings

From Rui Li, fitness trainer
  1. Hold the ball in front of you and use your hips to generate power to swing the ball to the side and up over your head.
  2. Let the ball come back down and swing to the other side without losing momentum.
Reps: 10-12 in each direction
Muscles worked: Hips, abs and obliques

Clean & Squat Clean

From fitness trainer Kyra Williams
  1. Start by squatting over the medicine ball with your chest up.
  2. Quickly rise up and straighten your knees while holding the ball.
  3. Come down into a front squat with the elbows under the ball.
  4. Raise to a fully extended standing position. See video.