The slam ball, contrary to what its name might suggest, isn’t just for ball slams.
Essentially an extra-large version of the medicine ball made with softer material, the slam ball is a strength training tool with plenty of applications, as proven recently by celebrity trainer Jeanette Jenkins.
On Sunday, Jenkins, Los Angeles-based creator of The Hollywood Trainer who has worked with Pink, Alicia Keys, Mindy Kaling, and Bebe Rexha among others, showed its versatility with an Instagram video of her demoing an 8-part (!) slam ball-centric circuit.
You can check out the video via @msjeanettejenkins here:
Slam balls in general are a great tool for building core strength—and they’re also a safe way to do weighted plyometric work.
The slam ball is “an old school tool” with loads of total body benefits, Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF.
As mentioned, the most traditional, popular movement performed with the slam ball is the ball slam, which is incorporated into several of the movements in Jenkins’ circuit. It involves raising the slam ball (or a regular medicine ball) overhead and throwing it straight down as hard as possible. This high-intensity movement is “a great total-body exercise," Danielle Barry, certified personal trainer and CrossFit coach at Solace New York, previously told SELF. "They [ball slams] engage your core, shoulders, triceps, back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads.”
But, also as mentioned, that’s not all this tool is good for.
Slam balls are also an effective, safe way to do weighted plyometric movements (anything involving explosive movement, like hops and jumps), which include many of the exercises in Jenkins’ circuit. Jumping around with a heavy weight—like a large dumbbell or kettlebell—puts you at risk for hurting your lower back, James Brewer, NYC-based certified personal trainer and certified Spin and TRX instructor, tells SELF. Even if you have a lighter dumbbell or kettlebell, there’s always the chance that you could drop it mid-jump and seriously hurt your lower half. But jumping with an appropriately weighted slam ball (more on choosing the correct weight for yourself below), can be a safe, fun and easy way to up the challenge of your plyometric movements.
The benefits of this particular slam ball sequence are many, including total body strengthening—particularly the legs and core—plus plyometric and coordination work.
This circuit works essentially every major muscle group in your body, including your arms, shoulders, chest, legs, glutes and core—especially your core, says Brewer. The last four moves in particular focus almost exclusively on the core.
It also involves plyometric work and challenges your coordination, he adds.
The circuit is also stellar cardio, especially if you’re strapped for time.
This circuit, which combines explosive jumps and compound strength exercises, will “keep your heartrate up all the way through,” says Brewer, as essentially “every move is high-intensity” and many are also high-impact.
For that reason, “it can be a great 15 to 20-minute burn if that’s all the time you have for a quick workout.” He also recommends it as the closing set at the end of a workout.
There are a few safety tips to keep in mind when working with slam balls.
When performing a traditional ball slam, it’s “super easy to overextend your back when the ball is above your head if you’re not using your core,” says Mansour. It’s also easy to overbend at the knees and/or hips if you’re not engaging your core correctly as you slam the ball down.”
For these reasons, proper core engagement is super important when doing ball slams. “It’s an athletic exercise that works the upper and lower body at the same time while the core stays stable,” says Mansour.
It’s also important to start light. If you pick a ball that’s too heavy, you may arch (and potentially strain) your back when you pick it up, says Mansour. Of course light and heavy are relative, so it might take some trial and error to figure out the best weight. But, in general, if you’re a beginner, start with a 6-pounder, recommends Brewer, and if you’re at an intermediate level, try an 8- or 10-pound ball. If you’re more advanced, you can try a 12-pound ball, he suggests, though it may be a good idea to keep a lighter ball on hand in case you need to reduce the load mid-way through.
Lastly, mind your pace as you perform slam ball exercises, particularly the ones in this circuit. If you’re new to these types of movements, go slower than what Jenkins demos, advises Mansour. And on the two rotation-focused moves in particular—overhead 180 slams and the plyolunge slams—be extra careful to engage all of your core muscles, including your obliques (the muscles on the sides of your midsection), rectus abdominis (your abs, the muscles that run vertically on your abdomen) and transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), says Mansour. Correctly engaging all of these core muscles will help you protect your lower back from misplaced stress as you twist powerfully from side to side. On that note, if you have a history of low back pain or injury, you may want to skip over these particular moves.
Ready for total-body burn? Here’s how to do the 8-part circuit.
Repeat the following sequence up to 3 times, with short rest breaks in between each set.
Squat Jump Slams
- Hold the ball firmly between both hands with your arms out straight in front of you, and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. This is the starting position.
- Push your hips and butt back and bend your knees to lower down into a squat, bringing the ball between your legs as you lower.
- From here, jump up into the air as high as you can, squeezing your inner thighs raising the ball above your head as you jump.
- At the top of the jump, throw the ball to the ground as hard as you can.
- Land on the floor, keeping your knees soft, and as you return to starting position, catch the ball as it bounces up.
- This is one rep. Continuing doing reps for 30 to 45 seconds.
Toe Taps 360 & Reverse
- Place the ball on the ground.
- Lift your right leg up, bend at the knee and tap the toes of the right foot on top of the ball as your left foot stays firmly planted on the ground.
- From here, quickly jump and switch feet so that your left toes tap the top of the ball and your right foot stays firmly planted on the ground.
- Continue jumping, tapping and switching. With each jump, move slightly to your right so that you complete circular motion around the ball.
- Once you’ve completed a full circle, switch directions and complete a circle moving the other way.
- Do as many circles as you can in 30 to 45 seconds.
This is a good plyometric leg strengthening move, says Brewer. That said, be sure to keep your arms pumping as you perform the jumps, he adds. That motion will help you find and maintain good rhythm.
Overhead 180 Slams
- Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart, and hold the medicine ball at waist height.
- Raise the ball up over your head, rising up on your toes as you do and twist to your right side.
- Keep your abs tight and glutes squeezed as you slam the ball down to the ground on your right side as hard as you can, bending your knees slightly as you perform the slam.
- From here, squat down, by pushing your butt back and bending your knees, so that you can grab the ball as it bounces back without dropping your chest and rounding your shoulders forward. You want to keep your back as flat as possible throughout. This is one rep.
- Stand back up and bring the ball overhead to immediately go into the next rep, this time twisting and slamming the ball down to the left side.
- Continue this pattern of alternating reps for 30-45 seconds.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and hold the ball firmly between both hands with your arms out in front of you, elbows slightly bent.
- Step back (about 2 feet) with your left foot, landing on the ball of your left foot and keeping your heel off the floor.
- Bend both knees to create two 90-degree angles with your legs. In this positioning, your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright (not leaning forward or back). Your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your right knee should be stacked above your right ankle. Your left thigh should be perpendicular to the floor. Your butt and core should be engaged.
- Push through the heel of your right foot and the ball of your left foot to jump up.
- As you jump, switch your stance so that your right foot goes back about 2 feet, landing on the ball of your right foot and keeping your heel off the ground. Your left foot is now in front, flat on the floor, facing forward.
- Bend both knees again to create two 90-degrees angles with your legs.
- Without pausing, push through the heel of your left foot and the ball of your right foot to jump up, switching your stance again and sinking down into the lunge.
- After two jumps, pause at the bottom of the movement and lift the ball overhead. Twist your torso to the right and then squeeze your glutes and core as you slam the ball to your right side as hard as you can.
- Catch the ball as it bounces up and then perform two more jump lunges as described above.
- After two jumps, pause at the bottom of the movement and lift the ball overhead. Twist your torso to the left side and then squeeze your glutes and core as you slam the ball to your side side as hard as you can.
- Catch the ball as it bounces up and then continue this sequence, performing two jump lunges with ball slams on alternating sides, for 30 to 45 seconds.
This core, hamstring, and glute-oriented move will really work your obliques, says Brewer. As you perform the jumps, “take your time,” he adds. “Start off slow and make sure that you are stable in your back leg, and then bring the ball up.”
Plank Ab Tuck to Ab Pike
- Come to all fours with the ball behind you.
- Place the tops of your feet on top of the ball.
- Slowly start to walk your hands forward until you're in a plank position, with your legs extended and your feet on the ball. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your core engaged, bring your knees into the center of your chest to perform the tuck. Reverse the movement to lower back to the starting position.
- Then, keeping your core right, raise your hips in the air until your butt, shoulders, and head are stacked to perform the pike.
- Reverse the movement to lower back to the starting position.
- Continue alternating between tucks and pikes for 30 to 45 seconds.
This move is great for your shoulders and your core, in particular the rectus abdominis, says Brewer.
Ab Tuck to Ab Toe Touch
- Lie on your back, grab the medicine ball firmly between both hands and place it above your head.
- Squeezing your core, simultaneously raise your arms and legs several inches off the ground. This is the starting position.
- Continue squeezing your core to lift your torso up to a sitting position, lowering the ball to chest level as you do so. At the same time, bend your knees and bring your legs in towards the center of your body. Pause here for a moment and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
- As soon as your shoulders touch the ground, squeeze your core to lift your torso back up to a sitting position. This time, keep your legs straight and the ball raised overhead as you lift your torso. Touch the ball with your toes, pause here for a moment and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
- Continue this sequence, alternating between the ab tucks and toe touches, for 30 to 45 seconds.
This core-centric sequence works both your lower and upper abdominals, says Brewer. Make sure to keep your gaze focused straight ahead and your chin tucked as you lift your torso. “Pretend you have a tennis ball tucked under your chin,” he says.
Extended Arms with Flutter Kicks
- Lie on your back, grab the medicine ball firmly between both hands and place it above your head.
- Squeezing your core, simultaneously raise your arms straight above your chest and lift your legs several inches off the ground. As with the last move, keep your gaze focused straight ahead and your chin tucked as your lift your torso. This is the starting position.
- From here, keeping your upper body as still as possible, squeeze your glutes and legs to perform small, fast flutter kicks for 30 to 45 seconds.
Your legs will likely be fatigued by this point, says Brewer. This is where it helps to have a lighter ball. This move also works your shoulders and lower abs.
Chest Toss with Flutter Kicks
- Get in the starting position described for the move above.
- Perform the flutter kicks as described above, while simultaneously and repeatedly tossing the ball into the air and catching it at chest level. Keep the tosses low to start, says Brewer.
- Continue flutter kicking and tossing the ball for 30 to 45 seconds.
This total body move works the upper body—mainly the pectorals—as well as the core and legs, says Brewer. It’s also a great coordination challenge.