From toning arms and trimming abs to increasing core strength, medicine ball exercises are something everyone should try. Medicine balls are ideal because they're easy to handle and simple to store when not being used. They come in a variety of sizes and weights for people of all fitness levels. Pick a few exercises and do each for one minute, with a 20-second rest in between. Repeat the circuit three times. Rotate through a variety of exercises at every workout and, as you get stronger, increase the number of reps and the length of time.
1. Overhead Squat
A basic overhead squat is a good building block for your fitness routine, to increase stability and core strength. Start by standing with your feet a little wider than your shoulders while holding a medicine ball over your head. Bend your knees and push your hips back. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, as if you're sitting on a chair, press through your heels to stand up again. Be careful not to let your knees go too far over your ankles or to bow inward. Use your hips and glutes to support your core and back.
2. Russian Twist
This works the side abdominals, the obliques, that a lot of exercises miss. Sit with your knees slightly bent and your heels touching the floor. Lean back slightly, at a 45-degree angle, and engage your core. Keeping your feet flexed, hold the ball in front of your chest with two hands and rotate to the right. Come back to center and rotate to the left. Be sure to do the same number of reps on each side.
This is a more intense version of a classic push-up to work your arms and core. Start in a traditional push-up pose with your toes tucked under and the medicine ball positioned under your chest. Place your hands on the ball and push up and slightly forward into a high plank. Keep your spine straight and core engaged. Bend your arms, keeping your elbows tucked in, to bring your chest down to the ball. Extend your arms to push up again. For a modified version, you may bend your knees to the floor.
This one is tough on the arms, so start with a lightweight medicine ball of six or eight pounds and work your way up to a heavier one. Lie on your stomach with your arms extended in front of you and legs straight behind. Place the medicine ball between your hands. Engage your core, lifting your legs while keeping them straight, and squeezing the medicine ball while you lift your arms up at the same time. Hold this pose for a few seconds, imagining you're flying like Superman, then relax and repeat.
5. Toe Touch
This modification of a crunch is sure to give your abs a great workout. Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended into the air, holding the medicine ball straight above you. Engage your core to roll your shoulders up, using your arms to bring the medicine ball to your toes. Hold for a few seconds then slowly relax.
6. Mountain Climbers
This is an all-over workout, from arms to abs to legs. Start in a high plank position with your toes on the floor, hands on the ball, and spine straight. Bring your right knee to your chest, then extend, and bring your left knee to your chest and extend. Continue to do this as quickly as you can, keeping your hips as even as possible, for 30 seconds. Add reps and lengthen the time as you get stronger.
To maximize the effectiveness of this exercise, move slowly and deliberately. Hold the medicine ball over your head while standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Move your extended arms in a clockwise circle in front of you, keeping your core braced and back and shoulders straight. Twist your core slightly to accommodate the movement but keep your feet still and firm on the floor. Do a few rotations in one direction and then switch to the other.
8. Side Lunge
For core strength, it's important to work muscles from side-to-side as well as back-to-front. Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, hold the medicine ball firmly at chest level with elbows slightly bent. Take a large step to the right, keeping your left leg straight and bending your right knee when your foot hits the floor. Push your hips back slightly, so you're in a one-legged squat position. Press up with your right foot to return to center. Do several on one side before switching to the other side.
9. Single-Leg Dead Lift
Enhance balance and stability by working out on one leg at a time. Standing with your feet together, hold the medicine ball straight out in front of you. Keep your right leg slightly bent while you lean forward from the hips and extend your left leg straight behind you. When your torso is parallel to the floor return to the standing position. Be sure to keep your core engaged, your back straight, and your neck and head neutral. Use your core strength, not your neck and spine, to move you.
To burn more calories, combine your strength training with a little cardio. Slams are a great way to do that, and you can use a heavier medicine ball than some of the other exercises. With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand with the ball over your head. Bend slightly at the hips and slam the ball down to the ground with as much power as you can. Pick up the ball and return to the starting position to repeat.