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How you can develop functional strength with medicine ball exercises

Here are four excellent exercises with medicine balls and slam balls that you should try for better strength

Get fitter and stronger by using medicine balls.
Get fitter and stronger by using medicine balls. (Istockphoto)

A lot of times it seems like the stability ball steals the thunder from the medicine ball and the slam ball in the gym. It is probably because it is more easily available, lighter, and more inviting to use than the others; both of which look like decoy basketballs but are way heavier, like a menace in disguise. They don’t bounce much either. These two pieces of equipment are functional. They are easy to grip but also have specific uses, and they are certainly more advanced tools if you are serious about fitness.

This is not to say the stability ball does not have its benefits. But the core exercises for them are more popular and well known. Here’s a quick guide on how to differentiate them: the stability ball is large and airy, and are available in most gyms. Medicine balls are larger than slam balls, and according to the American Sports & Fitness Foundation, “can be made out of leather, rubber, plastic, or vinyl.” They are not meant to be slammed or thrown because they can bounce back sometimes due to a softer outer shell. But they can be used for a variety of moves.

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Slam balls have a solid outer shell and do not bounce. “Slam balls can be substituted in many exercises that use medicine balls. The function of the slam ball is to use your entire body for explosive strength that increases functional fitness, core strength, and power,” the article adds.

Isometric lunge rotational throw: The isometric lunge rotational throw is the building block for the next exercise, which is rainbow slams. The isometric lunge rotational throw uses a medicine ball, because you need it to bounce off the wall. Gt into a lunge position beside a wall. Now use a full swing (with a medicine ball), bounce it off the wall and then catch it. The science behind this movement is quite interesting.

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“The half-kneeling position teaches hip rotation in the throws by effectively taking out the knees and ankles. By having the inside (closest to the wall) knee up, the athlete is forced to use the hips and the kneeling (back side) glute,” states an article on rotational throws on the Human Kinetics website. It adds that rotational throws are “the best technique” to develop power in the hips and core.

Rainbow slams: The most recent move that I have picked up involves combining a lunge and a rotation with a medicine ball. Known as a rainbow slam, doing it from a lunging position allows the body more rotation at the core than if you did it while in a standing position. So, get down into a lunge position and pick up the ball from one side and rotate it all the way above your head, and then bounce it on the other side. Catch it and reset to throw it again on the same side. Then switch.

“The Rainbow slam helps you build muscle endurance and strength through your chest and shoulders, but it also helps the core too, thanks to the twisting motion that has been incorporated into the exercise, while it's also great for cardiovascular fitness as well,” says an Everyone Active article, titled 6 Slam Ball Exercises For Your Workout. You can do the same with a slam ball, where you pick up the ball after slamming it, instead of catching it after bouncing it.

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V-sit with single arm hold: You could use a medicine ball or a slam ball for this one. Preferably, you should opt for a heavier ball, since the move involves performing a V-sit while holding the ball and then switching the ball from one arm. This move is excellent for core stability.

Cross body slams: There are two versions of this move: One is where you kneel on both feet, and in the other one, you do it while standing. You can try both and see what works better for you. Using a medicine ball will offer you a slight bounce and flow, while using a slam ball needs more strength. This is an extremely popular slamming exercise, and rightly so, because it is great at helping you develop “multi-directional core strength”.

“Your lower body and core have to engage and help protect your spine as you perform the forceful throws. Your cardiovascular system also has to work hard to keep up with energy demands, pumping up your metabolism to burn serious calories,” states a article titled How To Do Medicine Ball Slams: Proper Form, Variations, And Common Mistakes.

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The standing version can also generate power, but only if you perform the exercise with a slight bend in the knees in a quarter squat. From this position, with an explosive motion, shift onto your heels and use the momentum to slam the ball. Try the easier version first, before getting into the cross-body slam as shown in the video above.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

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