When it comes to training tools, there are plenty. So many, in fact, you may often find yourself reaching for the same ones each time — dumbbells, resistance bands, stability balls. The downside? You might be overlooking equipment that can really add to your exercise routine, like the slam ball.
The slam ball is relatively inexpensive, simple to use and extremely versatile — meaning no matter your workout goals or regimen, the slam ball can add a little somethin' special. Read on to learn more about what a slam ball is and does, and get ideas for how to work it into your next at-home or gym workout.
A slam ball is a weighted, rubber-coated ball you can slam into the ground. Unlike a medicine ball, a slam ball bounces very little. Slam balls are often also call soft medicine balls — you'll notice they feel a bit squishier — or wall balls.
And though a slam ball and traditional medicine ball are both weighted orbs, the slam ball is typically sand-filled, which causes uneven weight distribution and allows you to train at a higher intensity, Percell Dugger, a certified strength coach and founder of GOODWRK, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Medicine balls are great, but they bounce," he says. "And the element of danger involved in throwing or slamming one takes away from our ability to truly get the max intent out of an exercise. That's not the case with slam balls, because the ball won't bounce back and smack you in the face."
Because of its construction, you can use the slam ball in a range of exercises to build strength, power and cardiovascular endurance. This makes it a popular piece of equipment in CrossFit workouts, as well as various group fitness classes.
The Best Slam Balls for Beginners
When it comes to the slam ball, "the value is in its versatility," Dugger says. You can build muscle and strength with a slam ball, and you can also get one hell of a cardio workout. It all depends on how you use it (more on that in a minute).
"It can be used for strength training, cardio, agility, speed, plyometrics, mobility and stability training," Dugger says. "You can use them to perform regressed versions of complex movements such as squats, split jerks and deadlifts; to prep for more dynamic exercises like box jumps; as well as a fast finisher to build your aerobic capacity and increase your metabolic needs."
Using a slam ball will also give you a sneaky core workout: When you throw a slam ball into the ground or against a wall, you use a ton of core strength and stability as you maintain form, retrieve the ball and throw or slam it all over again. And if your slam ball has sand in it, the uneven weight distribution will challenge your core even more.
Beyond the slamming movement, you can also hold a slam ball and use it like any other free weight for strength moves like squats, lunges and more. Since you grip it differently than a dumbbell or kettlebell, you'll engage more stabilizing muscles in your arms and chest.
Last but certainly not least, slamming a ball into the floor with all your might is a pretty great way to blow off some stream.
How Do You Use a Slam Ball?
While it's a relatively simple piece of equipment, like any other strength-training tool, you need to know how to use it correctly to avoid getting hurt — and to maximize the benefits. Consider these tips before you start:
- Choose the Right Weight: A 10-pound slam ball is a good place to start for most people, Dugger says, though he reminds folks to proceed with caution. "Starting with a light weight is always best, then progressively load once you perfect each exercise."
- Perfect Your Pick-Up Technique: When picking up a slam ball, lower down into a squat to grab it from the floor. Picking it up incorrectly (read: bending from the back and trying to muscle it up) adds stress to your back, causing possible injury, Dugger says.
- Remember to Breathe: Often times, people hold their breath when strength training, which is a big no-no. The way you breathe affects your performance. "Your breathing pattern during strength training helps to complement the physiological stress during a workout," Dugger says. "For example, for slower movements, you want to take long deep breaths; whereas for quicker, more dynamic movements, you want to take shorter, quicker breaths."
You can use slam balls in seemingly endless ways. One is to, yes, slam it into the floor. To do that: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise the ball above your head and use both arms to slam it into the floor slightly in front of you.
As you slam, bend your knees into a squat position. From here, catch the ball after its small bounce. Stand up, bring it overhead and do it all over again. It won't take long for you to feel the burn — in your lungs and in your legs.
Another common way to use a slam ball: by throwing it up at the wall in front of you and catching it. Throw from your chest, extending both arms as you do. When the ball comes back down, squat as you catch it. This helps absorb the impact so that it's not slamming into you and hurting your back.
To target one side of the body at a time — and to train rotation — try either slams or wall balls to one side. For the slam exercise, bring the ball over your head and slam it into the floor just to the outside of your foot. Your torso should rotate a bit, but your legs and hips should stay square.
For a wall ball move that works rotation (and those oblique muscles on the side of your torso), stand with one side facing the wall. Start with the ball in both hands at the opposite side of your body, then rotate to throw the ball into the wall with some force. Then, catch the ball with soft knees and rotate back to the other side to "wind up" for another throw.
General rule of thumb: The more force you put behind your slam or throw and the quicker you wind up and throw again, the higher demand you'll put on your cardiovascular system. High weight, force and speed will train your power; a more moderate weight, force and speed will do a better job at training cardio endurance. Any approach will noticeably raise your heart rate, fast.
Finally, you can also use a slam ball in place of other free weights, like dumbbells, kettlebells or sandbags. Simply hold onto the ball with both hands as you squat, or press it overhead or hold it in front of your body to perform a deadlift.
6 Great Slam Ball Exercises for Beginners
To help you master the slam ball, Dugger recommends six moves that target the body's major muscles groups and joints — and get you moving in all directions.
"These exercises help warm up your primary movers — hips, hamstrings, quads, core and shoulders," he says. That makes them a great way to "prep for more complex movements like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, power cleans and split jerks."
Even if you aren't working on Olympic lifts, these moves make for a hardcore workout on their own. Try adding one or two into your workout as a cardio blast or string a few together at the end of a workout as a finisher — where you slam out every last bit of energy you have left.
Start with a moderately light weight until you learn proper technique and feel comfortable with the movements. Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Up the weight or rep/set counts as you feel ready.
1. Slam Ball Split Jerk
- Holding a slam ball at chest level, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and lower into a semi-squat.
- From this position, jump up, stepping one leg forward to land in a split stance. Your front thigh should be nearly perpendicular to the floor and your knee bent to 90 degrees while the rear leg is fully extended.
- Simultaneously, press slam ball up above head with arms fully extended and core engaged.
- Jump up again, bringing feet back to center as you lower ball back to chest.
- Repeat move, this time with opposite leg.
- Continue alternating legs with each rep.
“Focus on taking a very fast, big step with whatever foot you're stepping with,” Dugger says. “At the same time, keep the core engaged and neutralize the spine to help alleviate pressure on the lower back.”
2. Slam Ball Lateral Bound
- With a slam ball in your hands, stand with your feet together.
- Bending your left knee, jump as far as you can to right side, leading with your right leg and landing on the middle of the right foot with knees bent, hips hinged and a slight lean in your torso.
- Simultaneously, twist your torso slightly to the right.
- Then, bending right knee, jump as far as you can to the left side, leading with the left leg and repeating move on left side.
- Continue alternating sides with each rep.
According to Dugger, you want this move to be fluid, quick and explosive.
3. Slam Ball Percy Thruster
- Holding a slam ball at hip level, stand tall with your feet together.
- Take a step to your left, landing so your feet are flat and toes are pointed out to 10 and 2 o’clock.
- Curl and press the slam ball above your head.
- From here, squat down as you simultaneously slam the ball onto the floor.
- Grabbing the slam ball, bring feet together as you stand back up, curling and pressing the weight above your head again.
- Continuing moving to your left for desired number of reps, then switch sides and repeat on the right.
“Remember to squat down instead of lunging when picking up the ball,” says Dugger, who also notes to keep your feet wide when you squat down and maintain a steady cadence when moving.
4. Slam Ball Lunge Jump
- Holding the ball at chest level, stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- With core tight, jump up, stepping one leg forward and one back to land into a lunge with both knees bent to about 90 degrees and back knee hovering over ground.
- Immediately, jump back up, switching legs and repeat.
- Continue alternating with each rep.
"Make sure your front foot is flat on ground,” Dugger says. And don't let your back knee touch the ground.
5. Slam Ball Percy Sit-Up
- Lie face-up with legs extended along the ground and holding a slam ball in both hands at chest level.
- Curl your torso up as you press slam ball straight overhead while bending your left knee and placing your left foot firmly on the ground.
- Lower back to start, rising up again, this time bending right knee and placing left foot firmly on the ground.
- Continue alternating legs with each rep.
“Watch your breathing,” Dugger says. “Inhale when lying down and exhale when sitting up.”
6. Slam Ball Front Squat
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slam ball balancing on the inside of the forearms of your outstretched arms.
- Keeping chest high and abs tight, push your hips back to lower down, bringing thighs to just below parallel.
- Push into heels to rise to standing.
Dugger says one of the keys to this move is to inhale deeply as you lower into the squat and exhale when you rise to standing.