How to Do Medicine Ball Slams

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

overhead medicine ball slams

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Overhead medicine ball slams, overhead slams

Targets: Entire body

Equipment Needed: Medicine ball or sandbell

Level: Intermediate

Medicine ball slams are an excellent form of upper body plyometric training designed to enhance all-around power and strength. For anyone who adds medicine ball slams to their workout routine, the movement can help enhance overall athletic performance, improve cardiovascular conditioning, and develop multi-directional core strength.

While they involve throwing, medicine ball slams aren't just an arm exercise; they actually work your entire body. 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.

Slams are an excellent choice to include in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine or to add as a cardiovascular finisher to the end of a strength training workout.

If you have a good baseline level of strength training under your belt, you can feel pretty confident adding slams to your regular workout routine.

That said, these exercises do involve forceful throwing, so if you have a weak core, lower back pain, or shoulder pain, wait until you're stronger and free of injury to try them. Start with a lightweight medicine ball to see how it goes. If you feel pain while performing the movement, hold off before adding them to your regular routine.

Benefits

Medicine ball slams really do hit just about every major muscle group, making them an excellent addition to high-intensity workout routines. In just your upper body, your shoulders, chest, biceps, triceps, and upper back are all involved in the lifting and throwing phases of the exercise.

Full-Body Workout

Even though the movement looks upper-body focused, your lower body and core also have to engage to provide the power and spring for the lift and throw. Medicine ball slams require a coordinated effort between your upper and lower body to maintain the flow of the exercise.

This exercise requires your core muscles—including your glutes, abdominals, low back, spinal erectors, and even your rotator cuffs—to work together to power the movement. Done regularly, this means medicine ball slams can help enhance core strength and stability.

One of the key benefits of incorporating this exercise into your workout routine is that it improves coordination between your upper and lower body.

Increasing Agility

Whether you're an athlete who needs agility on the court or field, or you just want to move more smoothly through life, improved coordination powered by enhanced core stability and strength can help you adjust to unexpected physical challenges or barriers you might face throughout the day.

For instance, if you have to run to pick up a soccer ball before it rolls into the street, or if you want to catch your balance before you fall, being able to remain in control of your limbs while using your core can help prevent injury.

Increased Metabolism

Medicine ball slams can also really torch your metabolism. Incorporating powerful, full-body, repetitive exercises into your routine means your cardiovascular system has to work harder to provide oxygen to your working muscles, particularly when performing the exercise for a sustained period of time, like a 60-second circuit.

That said, even if you're doing lower-repetition slams using heavier weight, your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) increases in the 24 to 48 hours after this type of high-intensity training, which helps keep your metabolism humming. The overall result, when incorporated regularly into a workout routine, is improved overall conditioning.

Step-By-Step Instructions

All you need to perform medicine ball slams is a little bit of open space (not much is required, but you'll probably want at least a 5-foot by 5-foot area) and a medicine ball. While in most cases you can use just about any type of medicine ball, a slam ball is the safest option out there.

Slam balls are softer, with a little more give. This means they won't bounce the way standard medicine balls can, providing more forgiveness and preventing the injuries that can happen if you throw a firmer ball and it bounces forcefully back at you.

  1. To start, stand tall with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, your knees and hips slightly bent, holding a medicine ball in both hands at your torso. Engage your core, drawing your abs toward your spine and rolling your shoulders back to start with perfect posture.
  2. Squat down slightly to load the spring. Then, in one powerful motion, inhale and press through your heels before rising up on the balls of your feet. Extend your knees and hips as you rise to power the upward swing of your arms and lift the medicine ball overhead. The ball should be almost straight overhead with your arms extended at the height of the movement. Keep your arms straight, not leaning back so the ball is behind you.
  3. Use your core and your arms to slam the medicine ball straight down between your feet with as much force as you can. Press your hips back and bend your knees to further power the slam. Exhale as you slam the ball down.
  4. Squat down to pick up the ball from the floor, then immediately move into the next slam by powerfully using your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes to rise up to standing. Come up on the balls of your feet again as you lift the medicine ball overhead.
  5. Continue for a full set of slams (either a number of reps or a time interval).

Common Mistakes

Below are some of the most common mistakes to avoid.

Using Too Much Weight

You may want to grab the 20-pound medicine ball right away, but more weight isn't always better. The point of the medicine ball slam is to engage your entire body in slamming the ball with as much velocity and force as you can. Start with something light and use as much speed and core engagement as possible to power the ball into the floor.

While a heavier ball makes each slam more difficult, it will also slow you down, preventing you from producing as much power as you might with a lighter ball.

Doing Too Much Too Soon

Sure, three sets of 60 seconds of slams followed by 60 seconds of rest may not sound like that much, but this type of interval will wear you out and compromise your form if you're a newbie.

Rather than go all-out for a time interval or for a high-repetition set scheme, limit your sets and reps to 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions, allowing plenty of rest between sets.

The goal here is to perform each repetition with perfect form while moving as quickly as you can. Done correctly, even six repetitions of overhead slams will be plenty challenging.

Using the Wrong Medicine Ball

Just about any medicine ball can work for medicine ball slams, but balls designed for slamming are your safest bet. These "slam balls" offer a soft fill, are often larger than traditional medicine balls, and they don't bounce after being thrown against the ground. This means you won't risk having the ball bounce back and hit you in the face, or bounce away and break something nearby.

More advanced exercisers may feel comfortable using a medicine ball with more bounce, but beginners should be especially conscientious about choosing a slam ball for safety reasons.

Not Using Enough Force as You Throw the Ball

Weak throws will not build power or performance. If you're not engaging your lower body and core to help lift and then slam the ball into the ground, you're selling the exercise short. Each individual slam should be performed with as much power, strength, speed, and control as you can muster. The goal should be to "break the ball" when it hits the floor.

Obviously, you don't want to actually break the ball, but you should try to put everything you can into each throw as if you were trying to throw it through the floor. Imagining that you are breaking the ball or throwing it through the floor are two helpful visualizations that will encourage maximum performance.

Using All Arms and Upper Body

While medicine ball slams may look like an upper body exercise, you should be using your entire body to create as much force and power as possible to perform each slam.

If you start by standing straight up, and you notice yourself actively engaging your shoulders and arms to lift the ball overhead (without creating a kinetic chain that starts at your feet and flows up through your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core), you're probably using too much of your upper body and lower back, and not enough of your core and legs.

Check yourself in a mirror. Verify that you're actually lowering yourself into a semi-squat before using your lower body and core to help power the upward swing of your arms overhead before completing the slam.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The easiest way to modify the medicine ball slam is to choose a lightweight ball and to limit the power and range of motion used during the slam. Simply lift the medicine ball overhead, omitting the deeper engagement of the lower body, then use more of your shoulders and upper body to slam the ball to the ground, rather than forcefully using your core and hips to make the movement more powerful.

As your core strength develops, gradually add more force by using your abs, glutes, and quads to work through a more full range of motion with a deeper squat at the start and finish of each slam.

Up for a Challenge?

If overhead slams just aren't tough enough, make the exercise even more intense by adding a burpee to the movement. Start by performing a medicine ball slam exactly as detailed above, but after slamming the ball to the ground, squat down, place your hands on either side of the ball, roughly shoulder-width apart, and hop your feet behind you to enter a high plank position.

Perform a push-up, bending your elbows and lowering your chest to the top of the medicine ball before pressing back up to high plank. Immediately hop your feet forward again, then pick up the medicine ball and powerfully rise to stand as you swing the ball overhead to move into your next medicine ball slam.

Safety and Precautions

For people who have been working out for a while, overhead medicine ball slams are a fairly safe exercise to add to a routine. That said, they do require a solid baseline of core strength and coordination to perform safely.

People with low back pain or shoulder pain should approach the exercise with caution, perhaps starting with a lightweight medicine ball or limiting the range of motion slightly to determine whether the exercise feels comfortable.

Because this exercise is intense, you may want to start with fewer reps or lower timed intervals to gauge how your stamina holds up during and after each set.

Since form tends to get worse as you fatigue—and because the proper form is key to preventing injuries—it's important to gradually increase weight, sets, reps, or time to protect yourself from possible pain or discomfort. If at any time you feel sharp or shooting pain or any discomfort in your lower back, discontinue the exercise and try something else.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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