The two old-timey strongmen on Family Guy will tell you that huge triangular weights are the basis of any good routine. We bet they’d also be big fans of the medicine ball — a piece of training equipment that has been building better bodies for nearly 3,000 years. Ancient Persians used them to condition soldiers, and later, the Greek physician Hippocrates fashioned med balls out of animal skins and had them stuffed with sand for patients to use.
Today, the medicine ball is available in many different sizes and has evolved to include versions that have handles or are made of rubber, which has only served to expand its already long list of uses. Here are a few ways that you can use one to train like the ancients.
1 WEIGHTED ABS
Instead of droning through set after set of standard crunches, grab a 15- to 25-pound medicine ball and drop to the mat. Hold the ball above and just behind your head and crunch aggressively upward to fire up as much muscle fiber as possible, paying particular attention to the peak contraction at the top. Lower slowly back to the start position, resisting the weight of the ball on the way down. Start your ab routine off with four sets of 10, then move on to nonweighted moves.
2 DECLINE MED-BALL TWIST
Most people will be familiar with the standard medicine-ball twist, in which you stand holding a medicine ball out at full extension while rotating your torso from left to right. To truly challenge those obliques as well as your rectus abdominis, though, try the decline med-ball twist. Secure your feet and ankles into the supports provided on a decline crunch bench set to 30 to 45 degrees. Hold the medicine ball tight to your chest, then lie back until your torso is perpendicular to the bench and hold. From there, press the ball out to full extension and twist to your left, then back to center. Turn to your right, then back to center. Repeat for reps, pausing for a count in each position. Start with a lighter ball and perform six to 10 reps to each side for three to four sets.
3 BALL SLAMS
It’s what it sounds like — picking up a ball, lifting it high overhead and slamming it to the floor as hard as possible. This move provides a great stretch and contraction of the abdominal wall and works, to a lesser degree, the lats and forearms. Most trainers advocate using a rubber ball with this move, catching the ball on the rebound and using the momentum to return to the fully extended top position. To make it harder, use a leather ball. By eliminating the bounce and holding onto the ball for each rep from start to finish, you will bring your quads, glutes and front delts into the picture, making it a near-total-body move. Try using a 15- to 25-pound ball and performing as many reps as possible in 20 to 30 seconds.
4 WALL BALL
To borrow a page from CrossFit’s book, the wall ball is an explosive medicine-ball front squat after which you throw the ball at a spot about 10 feet up the wall in front of you. Catch the ball with soft arms as you settle into the next rep, descend and repeat. You want to be about two to four feet from the wall and do three to four sets of 10 reps to start. Add sets and reps or increase ball weight as you gain strength.
5 PUSH-UP SHUFFLE
Boxing coach and conditioning sadist Justin Fortune (fortunegym.com) is a fan of this move, which builds power and increases stability and stamina through the chest and shoulders. Start in the top of a push-up position with your left hand on top of a medicine ball and your right hand on the floor. Descend into a push-up as normal, then explode up and over to your left as quickly as possible, transferring your right hand to the top of the ball and sending your left hand to the floor. Switch sides as quickly as possible, working yourself into a “shuffle” from left to right. Aim for 10 reps to start.