Ball slams are an excellent exercise that beginner and experienced people can use for more explosive power, calorie burning, and working nearly every muscle in the body. Here are all the benefits of medicine ball slams plus tips for doing them like a pro.
If you’ve never heard of medicine ball slams, you are missing out!
Medicine ball slams engage pretty much every muscle in your body in a range of motion that is both highly functional and guaranteed to improve your agility, strength, and the resilience of your spine.
It’s a CrossFit and cross-training staple that you will enjoy doing over and over, and it will leave you sweating, exhausted, and feeling like a million bucks every time.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at medicine ball slams, including what they are, what muscles they work, what benefits they offer, how to do them correctly, and what kind of equipment you’ll need to incorporate them into your training regimen.
By the end of this page, you’ll be ready to do them at home, at the gym, or wherever you train.
What is a Medicine Ball Slam?
The medicine ball slam is an exercise that puts your body through a full range of motion:
- To start, you squat down to reach for a medicine ball resting on the ground between your feet.
- As you rise up from the squat, you lift the medicine ball over your head as high as you can, then slam it down hard onto the floor between your feet.
- Once the ball is on the ground, you’ve got to squat down and retrieve it, starting all over again.
There are a few different options for balls to use for the slam (as you’ll see below), and it’s important to know that the type of ball chosen for the exercise will change up the nature of the movement.
But we’ll get to that in a bit—first, I want to take a closer look at how effectively the exercise engages nearly every muscle in your body.
What Muscles Do Ball Slams Work?
When I say ball slams work virtually every muscle in your body, it’s not an exaggeration!
Let’s break it down:
Phase 1: When you start, you have to squat to pick up the ball. The squat, as you know, engages your quads primarily, but your glutes and hamstrings also work in the squatting motion. There’s also some engagement of your calf muscles and your lower back to maintain stability in the squat.
Phase 2: Rising up from the squat, your biceps, deltoids, and traps engage to curl the ball and lift it upward high over your head.
Your forearm muscles also work to clasp the ball between your fingers because it’s round and hard to grip. Your calves also engage as you rise up onto your tip toes in anticipation of the slam, and your core has to keep you stable through this transition.
Phase 3: The slam begins in your abs, which brace to facilitate the movement in your upper body as you hurl the ball downward. Your chest, back, shoulders, triceps, and forearms all play a role in the slam motion, and again, your core works to keep you stable.
Phase 4: Finally, as you descend into the squat once more, the workout hammers your legs in the moments that your upper body is relaxing and preparing to work.
It’s truly one of the most full body-engaging exercises again—plus, a whole heck of a lot of fun!
The Benefits of Ball Slams
What makes ball slams such a great choice for your workouts? Why should you incorporate them into your training sessions instead of other more “standard” exercises?
1. Trains for Movement
One of the things that I love about ball slams is that they engage your entire body through a full range of motion. It’s not just your arms or legs pumping to focus on one small muscle or muscle group, but it’s your entire body moving together.
And, specifically, through a movement that is actually quite “functional” due to the fact you’ll likely go through similar motions throughout your activities of daily life.
For example, when you’re cleaning your garage, you’ll lift boxes from the ground to over your head (though hopefully not slamming delicate storage items down onto the ground).
When working around your house or carrying the groceries, your core and upper body muscles will need to work in synchronicity in order to move efficiently.
Ball slams train your body specifically for movement. Because the entire exercise is about transitioning smoothly between the various elements (squat, raise, slam, squat), it will help you to move more smoothly in virtually every other aspect of your life and fitness.
2. Builds Explosive Power
What is explosive power, really?
One expert defines it as, “the capacity of the athlete to exert his max force or power output in a rapid /explosive amount of time.”
For example, when you have to jump off the ground, your legs have to generate explosive power to propel you into the air. Or when you’re throwing a ball, your arms have to generate explosive power to throw the ball as far as you want.
Exercises like ball slams focus specifically on explosive power, helping to increase not only the maximum amount of force you can generate, but reducing the strain that generating so much force in a rapid amount of time places on your muscles.
You’ll be less likely to injure yourself when demanding explosive power from your muscles—for example, less risk of pulling a hamstring as you break into a sprint, or less risk of tearing an arm muscle when throwing a football.
Training for explosive power is a critical component of not only functional fitness, but also agility and athleticism. That’s right: exercises like ball slams that develop explosive power will make you a better athlete overall.
3. Hammers Your Core
I love any upper and/or lower body exercise that also engages the core. After all, it’s the abs, obliques, and spinal erector muscles that stabilize the spine and keep the upper and lower halves of your body steady and moving in sync.
Ball slams are amazing for shredding your core!
Your lower back does a lot of the work when you bend to pick up the ball and lift it over your head, then your abs take over as you prepare to slam the ball down. Transitioning through the end of the slam movement, your lower back kicks in again to keep the force of the slamming motion from folding you forward.
Put together, it’s a truly effective core-focused exercise that will do wonders to increase resilience to injuries and create greater stability for every workout.
4. Serious Calorie-Burning
Anyone who has done a few sets of ball slams will know exactly what I mean when I say that this exercise is game-changing for burning calories.
Think about it: not only are you engaging virtually every muscle in your body repeatedly through a sequence of multi-joint movements, but you’re generating maximum force (explosive power) with your movements. That will burn through the energy stored in your muscles and your bloodstream much faster than any standard resistance training exercises.
You can burn a lot of calories during just a few minutes of ball slams, and the engagement of your abs muscles will help to target the fat around your midsection. Add this bad boy into your workout and get ready to see results!
How to Do Medicine Ball Slams Like a Pro
The medicine ball slam is an easy-looking exercise, but don’t get overconfident! Because you’re generating explosive force, there’s a real risk of injury—from muscle strain to joint tear to spinal problems.
The good news is that mastering the form and performing the exercise correctly will make it as safe—and effective—as possible!
Here is a step-by-step guide to doing medicine ball slams like a pro:
Step 1: Set up right. Start by placing the ball between your feet, standing with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward, and your posture straight.
Step 2: Squat. Hinge backward at the hips and bend your torso slightly forward as you squat to reach down and pick up the ball. Stop squatting when your knees reach a 90-degree angle.
Step 3: Lift. Bring the ball upward as you straighten from the squat. In one smooth, continuous motion, bring the ball up over your head, extending your arms fully and rising up onto your tip toes. Inhale through this motion.
Step 4: Slam. Exhale explosively, engage your abs, and use the force of your arms, shoulders, and back to slam the ball down onto the ground between your feet as hard as you can.
Step 5: Follow through. Let your arms follow through the motion and swing around behind you (which helps to keep your balance). At the same time, bring your heels back down to the ground and begin to squat once more.
Step 6: Squat and pick up the ball. Keep your movements smooth as you squat once more to pick up the ball.
Step 7: Repeat as desired. Aim for 10-15 slams using full force. By the end of your set, you’ll feel the burn, be sweating buckets, and ready for a break!
What kind of medicine ball should you use for ball slams?
It’s important to use the right kind of ball for ball slams because if you don’t you could A) reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, B) injure yourself, and C) break the ball.
The best slam ball to use for ball slams is a slam ball, also known as a “dead ball”. It’s called a “dead ball” because it’s filled with rubber or polyester fiber that adds weight but reduces bounce. When it hits the ground, it’ll essentially stay there, forcing you to squat down to pick it up.
Using a slam ball means you’ll get that lower body engagement in the exercise, making it better for hammering your legs.
On the other hand, if you opt for a medicine ball, which has a bit of bounce to it, your legs won’t really need to engage because the ball will bounce right back up to your hands. It becomes a much more upper body-focused exercise if you use a medicine ball.
Tip: Avoid using a wall ball for ball slams. While they’re made to withstand the impact of throwing them against the wall, they are more likely to break when slammed against the floor at full strength.
The Bottom Line
Ball slams are a truly amazing exercise, one that can help you to push the boundaries of your strength, increase explosive force generation, and burn a game-changing amount of calories through high-intensity training.
It’s also a great way to increase your mobility and strengthen your body across the entire range of motion, as well as making you more resilient and agile in every type of exercise you do.
The next time you hit the gym, grab a medicine ball for slams and try adding this versatile adn power-building exercise to your workout routine.