In a world of high tech fitness tools, slam balls might seem downright prehistoric. These tough rubber balls filled with sand are basically just a small step above hoisting a rock in the woods, right? Turns out, low tech can still be highly effective. Picking up a slam ball can utilize the same muscles as more complex weightlifting moves, like the clean (hips, back, posterior chain). Plus, the fact that it’s a relatively unstable object forces you to adjust on the fly, especially as you rest the ball on one shoulder or another. Also, since it doesn’t do damage when it hits the floor (seriously, it’s almost impossible to break and won’t scuff up a floor), it’s the only piece of gym equipment that you can actively hurl at the ground (working your core, lats and arms) without getting kicked out of your gym.
“Slam balls are an excellent full-body movement,” says Will Hinkson, CrossFit Level 1 instructor and owner of Huron River CrossFit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The movement engages the core, shoulders and hip and knee extension and flexion. Combine that with the movement’s speed and you have a recipe to create explosiveness in an athlete.”
So snag a ball and roll straight to the gym floor. This slam ball workout takes full advantage of that sand-filled sphere, adding resistance and unstable platform to familiar movements, as well as adding some explosive movement to keep things spicy.
The 30-Minute Slam Ball Workout
Perform movements 1 though 5 for one minute each, doing as many reps as you can for each move. Rest one minute, then repeat for five rounds total. Try to get the same amount of reps (or more reps!) in every round.
1. Overhead Lunges with Ball
Lunges fire up the glutes and quads, but holding weight overhead adds a core and shoulder burn as well. Focus on keeping your core tight and your torso upright throughout the movement.
How to: Stand tall, holding the slam ball directly over your head with your arms fully extended (a). Step forward, gently lowering your back knee to the ground, holding the ball over your head the entire time. Be sure to keep the shin of your front leg vertical (b). Step back up to the original position and repeat with the opposite leg (c).
2. Ball Slams
As the name implies, these are slam balls’ primary use. Picking the ball up overhead and slamming it to the ground engages your entire body from head to toe, and teaches your body to move weight with speed and explosiveness. Did we mention it’s a great way to blow off steam?
How to: Start standing with the ball on the floor just in front of you (a). Keeping your back straight, squat down, pick up the ball off the floor and stand up with the ball over your head (use your legs and hips to “jump” the ball up over your head, like a barbell clean), then slam the ball back down to the ground as hard as you can (b). Catch it on the bounce, and repeat (c). And when you catch your breath, reflect on how cathartic it felt to throw something.
3. Single-Leg Toe Touches with Ball
This one isolates your hamstrings and glutes, strengthening your posterior chain. It also engages your stabilizer muscles, improving your balance as well.
How to: Stand on one leg, holding the ball in your hands at chest height (a). Bend at the waist, extending one leg behind you while reaching out and touching the toe of your other leg with the ball (b). A slight bend in the knee is fine, but keep it to a minimum. Stand back up, switch legs, and repeat (c).
4. Alternating Push-Ups on Ball
If your shoulders aren’t already burned from the ball slams and overhead lunges, this should finish them off. Performing a push-up with one hand on an elevated and unstable platform ups the ante by recruiting more stabilizer muscles and forcing you to work off balance. Switching arms also adds dynamic movement.
How to: Get into a push-up position with one hand on the ball and the other on the floor (a). Lower your chest to about an inch off the floor, then push back up to the starting position (b). Walk your other hand on the ball and repeat (c). Make it easier: Do the push-ups from your knees. Make it harder: “Jump” to switch hands. Push up as hard as you can, so that your hands leave the floor. While in the air, move to one side so that the other hand is on the ball when you land.
5. Air Squats
Squats are the classic booty and quad burner, and holding a slam ball adds some extra resistance. Even better: It helps you keep your torso upright throughout the movement.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the ball in front of your chest (a). Squat down as low as you can while keeping your back straight, your chest up, and your heels on the ground. (You should be able to wiggle your toes throughout the movement). If any of those three positions are compromised, you’ve gone too low (b). Stand up to full extension — hips extended, legs straight (c).