How to Do Slams

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

overhead slam with medicine ball

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Ball slam, med ball slam

Targets: Total body (back, abdominals, hips, glutes, thighs, shoulders)

Equipment Needed: Slam ball or "dead" ball (non-bounce, weighted medicine ball)

Level: Intermediate

The slam—or med ball slam—is a full-body, explosive movement that allows you to strengthen the muscles in your back, abdominals, hips, glutes, thighs, and upper body. And you may even be able to release some tension and frustration with this forceful exercise, as well.

The exercise is often included in CrossFit workouts, military training, and other bootcamp style classes. It is sometimes recommended for beginners, but there are safety issues that should be considered. The type of ball used is very important. And proper form is key, as well. Since this exercise employs fast, full-body integrated movements, there is potential for injury.

Benefits

Slams are a type of movement often included in high-intensity functional training (HIFT) workouts. While there is no specific research investigating the benefits of the med ball slam, there are some studies investigating the potential benefits of HIFT.

According to study authors, "high-intensity functional training is an exercise modality that emphasizes functional, multi-joint movements that can be modified to any fitness level and elicit greater muscle recruitment than more traditional exercise."

HIFT is similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which has become extremely popular in gyms around the country. But there are notable differences. HIIT exercise includes short bursts of vigorous activity, followed by a short rest. High-intensity functional training, on the other hand, employs varied functional exercises (both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises) and various activity durations that may or may not incorporate rest.

High-intensity functional training includes exercises like the ball slam but also moves like the snatch, shoulder press, deadlift, push-ups, or squats.

Exercise physiologists report that well-designed HIFT workouts can provide benefits including:

  • Improved cardiovascular endurance
  • Improved strength
  • Improved body composition
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved sports performance (including agility, speed, power, and strength)

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before you try this or any exercise, you should be in good health. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or if you are coming back to exercise after an injury, illness, or childbirth. You can also work with a qualified fitness trainer to get form tips and exercise advice.

Always try the exercise with very little weight to get comfortable with the movement. Choose a small slam ball when you first begin. Gradually increase weight as you get stronger.

To prepare for the exercise, start in a standing position with feet about hip-distance apart. Place the ball on the floor in front of your feet.

  1. Squat down, dropping the hips behind your body and keeping the back long and shoulders relaxed. Pick up the ball with both hands.
  2. Inhale and raise the ball over your head, rising to full extension of the arms, hips, and knees.
  3. With a quick explosive movement, exhale and slam the ball down in front of your feet. When you slam the ball down, your arms, hips, and knees will naturally bend into a slightly crouched (or squat) position.
  4. Pick up the ball (or catch it if it rebounds) and repeat.

The degree of crouch that you employ during the slam phase depends on the type of ball that you use. Some balls bounce slightly when slammed against the floor. A more explosive slam is also more likely to make the ball bounce. If the ball bounces, you don't have to crouch down as far to pick it up for your next repetition.

When first starting out, you may want to try 7–10 repetitions. As you get stronger, add repetitions first. Then add more weight.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common blunders to watch for when completing slams.

Using the Wrong Type of Ball

Many experts advise against using a med ball that bounces. There are different types of weighted medicine balls including the basic medicine ball, the wall ball, and the slam ball. Balls made specifically for slamming usually don't bounce or bounce very little. They are made out of softer materials. Wall balls and many medicine balls are often made out of rubber or plastic and may rebound when thrown against a hard surface.

While some advanced exercisers prefer some bounce when they perform slams, it can increase the risk of injury. The ball can hit your face when rebounding. When first starting out, always choose a ball that does not bounce.

Incorrect Starting Position

Some exercisers who are new to this move may start by picking up the ball and pulling it back between the legs to gain momentum. But prepping the movement this way reduces that amount of control you need to lift the ball up and over your head. Also, any time you increase momentum, you also increase the risk of injury. Keep the ball in front of your feet when starting the exercise.

Overarching the Back

While it should be noted that some advanced athletes specifically choose to arch the back when they bring the ball over their heads, this should be avoided when learning the move. It is easy to overarch the back and put yourself at risk for injury. Keep the abdominals engaged, especially when lifting the ball over your head.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The smartest way to make this movement easier is to use less weight. Slam balls are available in weight increments as small as two pounds. Using this smaller ball allows you to get comfortable with the mechanics of the movement.

If a two-pound ball still feels like too much, consider moving through the exercise with no weight at all. Simply extending the arms over your head and then releasing into a squat position will help prepare your body for doing the movement with more explosive force.

Up for a Challenge?

The best way to increase the challenge with the slam exercise is to increase the weight. But you should not increase weight until you have mastered the mechanics of this move.

You can also increase the pace at which you perform this movement. Beginning exercisers may need to take a short break between repetitions. But intermediate and advanced exercisers should perform repetitions in rapid succession.

Lastly, consider performing this move while standing on a BOSU to challenge your balance.

Safety and Precautions

If you have back or knee problems, this may not be the best move for you. Work with your physical therapist to determine if the movement is safe and whether or not modifications should be made.

Try It Out

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  1. Feito Y, Heinrich KM, Butcher SJ, Poston WSC. High-intensity functional training (hift): definition and research implications for improved fitnessSports (Basel). 2018;6(3):76. Published 2018 Aug 7. doi:10.3390/sports6030076