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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 07, 2009

Medicine Ball Workout

By Mark Sisson
35 Comments

In the past, we’ve regaled you with tales of slosh tubes, kettlebells, sandbags, and clubbells. They are unstable, awkward to work with, and difficult to control. In a sense, they are perfectly Primal workout tools, developing functional strength and allowing us to emulate the types of movements Grok would have performed in daily life (swinging clubs and carrying asymmetrical loads). Most can be made at home with inexpensive materials – a particularly relevant characteristic, especially for the increasing numbers of penny-pinching fitness buffs.

Another piece of workout equipment with a similarly Primal profile is the medicine ball. Unlike the others, the medicine ball actually gets a lot of mainstream attention (but we won’t begrudge it for that), resulting in undeserved shunning from some of our more discerning (and naturally suspicious) peers. It’s actually a great piece of equipment with a lot of Grokkish parallels. For one, the medicine ball’s densely spherical consistency lends it an uncanny resemblance to one of Grok’s favorite tools: the rock. Toss it, heave it, shot-put it – all Primal movements.

The medicine ball has been around for millennia. Persian wrestlers trained with sand filled bladders nearly 3000 years ago, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates filled animal skins with sand, sewed them up, and had his patients toss them around for injury prevention and rehab. Today, boxers drop them on their stomachs to simulate punches, and athletes of all shades use them to develop explosive core strength. Medicine ball throws are even a component of the SPARQ rating, a sports-specific analysis of athleticism, core strength, total body power and coordination. Pretty solid foundation, no?

If you’re interested in incorporating the medicine ball into your workouts (as you should be), you have two options. You can either pony up the money for a professionally made medicine ball or make your own. Both options have different benefits. Buying a medicine ball can be expensive (upwards of 30 bucks for a mere ten-pounder!), but they are durable. They can also come with added benefits, like handles or rope attachments. Unless you’re especially crafty, a homemade medicine ball probably won’t have handles, meaning you’re stuck with two-handed workouts for the most part. Personally, I’m in favor of making your own. For one, you’re saving money. Two, you get to control the weight. And three, by building your own medicine ball, you have a personal connection to it for life. Some people might be more inclined to exercise if they spent big money on the equipment, but I’m the opposite – if I put time into making something, I’m definitely going to enjoy it more. It’s why I prefer a home cooked meal to one served in a restaurant.

To make your own, skip the exercise aisle and head for the basketballs. Buy either a cheap rubber one or a more durable pleather/leather ball; it’s up to you. Slice it open or poke a big hole, jam a funnel into the slit, pour sand down the funnel until the ball fills up, and stitch it up or seal the slit with a strong tape (like hockey tape). If you used a hole to fill it, plug it using a simple rubber tire repair kit. Make sure the sand is tightly packed by constantly shaking to settle – you want minimal interior shifting to preserve longevity and maximize weight. A full-sized basketball should weigh around 25 pounds. For lower weights, just buy the mini basketballs and repeat the process.

Here’s a video showing the poking method.

Okay, you’ve got a medicine ball. Now what?

You’ve probably seen the typical core workouts most medicine ball users perform. Stuff like the core twist or the medicine ball situp. These are all good exercises for the core, but why not try some workouts that you perhaps haven’t seen before?

How about hip flexor thrusts?

  1. Stand with the medicine ball between your feet.
  2. Squat down and squeeze the ball with your feet.
  3. Explode upwards from a squat jump, flinging the ball into the air with your feet.
  4. Catch the ball with your hands and return to starting position.

My favorite is the Grok toss. Before slings, arrows, or buckshot were used to bring down airborne fowl, we had rocks. Now, I imagine Grok wasn’t using large boulders to hunt birds, but where’s the fun (and muscular development) in throwing small rocks?

  1. Holding the medicine ball with two hands just under your chin, perform a squat.
  2. On the way up, throw the ball as high as you can.
  3. Be as haphazard as possible with your aim. Just concentrate on raw strength rather than accuracy; this will force you to constantly adjust and move around to catch the falling ball.
  4. You can adjust your grip on the ball and throw it underhand granny-style or overhead soccer-style.

Play ball!

Got your own favorite medicine ball tips or workouts? Share them in the comment board!

Further Reading:

Do I Need Exercise Equipment for Primal Workouts?

The Prison Workout

Video Proof You Can Exercise Outdoors

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35 Comments on "Medicine Ball Workout"

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Holly
Holly
7 years 5 months ago

I love using medicine balls. Glad you mention them here so I can come out of the closet with this information! I have a couple professional ones, but I think I want to make my own after reading this post. If you can get a second person to work out with you, throwing/tossing them to each other (particularly if you don’t aim accurately) makes a great, and fun!, workout too.

Jason Turnage
Jason Turnage
7 years 5 months ago
Thanks for posting this Mark. I made my own a few months ago. Went to Play It Again Sports and bought 3 used basketballs for somewhere around 2 dollars each. 2 bags of sand (which had a bunch of leftovers), a kitchen funnel (can be creative with this – making a paper funnel will work if you do it right), and a tire repair kit is really all you need. After “repairing” the hole in the ball with the standard auto tire repair sticky-stick, I doubled it up with a tube patch. 20# of sand is almost perfect for a… Read more »
Phil Mancini
7 years 5 months ago
Here are a couple of fun games to do with medicine balls: Instead of a volleyball, use a medicine ball instead. You’ll have to eliminate the serve but everything else remains the same. Each side has 3 opportunities to catch, pass, and throw the ball over the net. A 12lb or 14lb Dynamax medicine ball works great. Shameless plug!!! A great team game involves two 20lb medicine balls, two teams of 5 players, and an open field. Measure off 100 yards from start to finish (a football field works great for this game). Both teams start from one end and… Read more »
Son of Grok
7 years 5 months ago

One of my favorite Medicine ball exercises is from my boxing days. YOu would lay down on your back. The trainer would stand above you and throw the medicine ball down at your stomache. After absorbing the impact with your poor poor stomach you quickly throw it back up to him and repeat. Sounds fun huh?!?!?! Actually it is lol.

The SoG

Fate
Fate
7 years 5 months ago

While Swiss balls don’t get much love in these parts, they make a great accessory to a medicine ball workout.

Kneeling on a swiss ball (hips extended adds difficulty) play catch with a medicine ball. I like to alternate the chest pass and overhead (soccer style) pass. The instability of the swiss ball forces you to keep your core rigid while performing a dynamic movement with your upper body.

It’s a killer.

George
7 years 5 months ago

I have 12 and 20 pound Dynamax ball and man I love those things.

Dan Hubbard
7 years 5 months ago
Great article! I have made a couple of medicine balls out of basketballs in the past. One thing that I found helpful, if want the ball to weigh less, but still use a standard basketball, is to add an insulating spray foam (like Great Stuff). It is low density and helps seal the sand in. Start by filling the basketball with 20% foam (try to cover one half of the inside of the ball). Let it dry. Fill with sand until 80% full. Then, fill the remainder with foam. This should allow you to make a 10 or 12lb medicine… Read more »
zestycook
7 years 5 months ago

Great post Mark… very helpful and creative.

zesty

Andy Fossett
7 years 5 months ago
Nice! I’ve always loved using a medicine ball. We used to break them out during martial arts training and spend ten or fifteen minutes just throwing them at each others’ bellies. We also used the for a more painful version of dodgeball. I made one a few months back from a dead basketball, sand, and a tire-patching kit. Both of the exercises mentioned above are killer too. I used to do a lot of granny tosses to train hip extension for jumps (then, of course, you have to sprint to where the ball lands). Anyway, thanks for reminding me –… Read more »
Nate - Fit-Life
7 years 5 months ago

One of my favorite ways to end any workout is to grab a 20lb medicine ball and spend 5 minutes throwing it as far I can with alternating arms and just jog around after the ball. After that, I like to spend another 5 minutes doing overhead slams.

If you don’t have a medicine ball on hand, a heavy rock will work just fine for both of these.

Glenn Whitney
Glenn Whitney
7 years 5 months ago

I’ve been experimenting with my son (12) taking turns throwing the medicine ball to each other on a trampoline, one of us on solid ground – very Grokish!

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[…] “Medicine Ball workout, and ‘Make your Own’ Med Ball“, Marks Daily […]

Dave | The Intelligent Workout
7 years 5 months ago

You can take two bags of flour and duct tape the bejesus out of them for a makeshift med ball. Not aesthetically pleasing but great for a medicine ball on the cheap…

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[…] I don’t have access to a gym. You don’t need one. The Prison Workout can be done where you are standing. You can use the outside world as your gym. If bodyweight exercises aren’t enough, make your own gym equipment: DIY sandbags, slosh tubes, medicine balls. […]

DKF
DKF
7 years 4 months ago
Just a quick one here. I am a big fan of asymmetrical work out. Ever since I slung a bag of 20lb dog food over my shoulder and noticed how different and heavier it felt from a 20lb dumb bell, I have been looking for other “weird” work-outs. Here’s one: Medicine ball lunge. Hold the ball over your head from the neutral stance. As you step hammer the ball down in a wide arc. Hard enough to make it bounce. As you step back to neutral position try to time it to where you catch the ball coming down from… Read more »
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7 years 4 months ago

[…] Medicine Ball Workout […]

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[…] Persia.  Hey, if you find something that works, why change it, right?  I was heavily inspired by Mark Sisson, in this as in many other things.  If you haven’t checked out Mark’s Daily Apple yet, […]

Truth About Abs
7 years 2 months ago

Medicine balls are definitely worth a go. I would recommend them to anyone. Using them for core strength and stability is ideal.

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[…] hikes, play, bodyweight HIIT, and then some routines utilizing fun gear (slosh tubes, sandbags, medicine balls, kettlebells, maces, clubbells, […]

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6 years 5 months ago

[…] Medicine Ball Workout – Unwieldy, heavy, a close approximation of a rock. Learn what to do with a medicine ball. […]

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[…] Medicine Ball Workout – Unwieldy, heavy, a close approximation of a rock. Learn what to do with a medicine ball. […]

Gardash
Gardash
6 years 2 months ago

Hey guys,

As a boxer I will be using the med-ball mainly for wall throws. But, how do I make a home-made med-ball more bouncy? ‘Cuz filling it up with all that sand will make it a large rock.

Help appreciated,
Gardash

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[…] weight for your ability level (20-50 lb will do for most people). Any type of weight (slosh tube, medicine ball, plate, old bowling ball, large rock, etc.) and carrying position (on shoulder, at chest, overhead, […]

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[…] ball – $36.99 Medicine ball exercises help to build muscle and burn fat, and you can do them almost anywhere. Suitable for all ages and […]

Chris- Medicine Ball
5 years 6 months ago

Yes I agree with gar dash. I think medicine balls are used best for throws. I have seen tremendous results from that

Best fitness products1
4 years 10 months ago

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Exercise Buttocks
4 years 10 months ago

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Primaldog
Primaldog
4 years 3 months ago

1 word…. Hoover Ball! Playing this with a 6lbs Dynamax will leave everyone wiped out!

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[…] I don’t have access to a gym. You don’t need one. The Prison Workout can be done where you are standing. You can use the outside world as your gym. If bodyweight exercises aren’t enough, make your own gym equipment: DIY sandbags, slosh tubes, medicine balls. […]

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[…] (the garage is a great place to look) and medicine balls (take one out in the snow and play “Grok Ball!”) When lifting anything, remember to focus on your form and lift with your legs…not your […]

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3 years 6 months ago

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