The brightly colored medicine balls sitting in a rack at your gym might not look at intimidating as a traditional set of free weights, but don't take them lightly. With just one medicine ball, you can perform a long list of exercises that can help you build muscle and burn fat. Medicine ball exercises don't have to be as lonely as traditional weightlifting, either; many exercises are more enjoyable when you include a partner.
The act of chopping wood provides a challenging workout, but most people don't have an ax and a log handy. Instead, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and hold a medicine ball high above your head with your arms straight. Swing the ball down between your legs as though you're going to toss it behind you, but do not let go of the ball. Raise it back up above your head to complete one rep. Try sets of 10 for this exercise, which focuses on your core.
Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart and hold the medicine ball in front of your with your arms straight and parallel to the ground. Keeping your feet planted and your arms straight, turn your torso to the right as far as you can go, and then swing all the way to the left. Try 10 reps of this exercise, which tones muscle and burns fat in your abs and oblique areas.
If you find sit-ups easy, incorporating a medicine ball into this simple exercise will once again make them challenging. Lie on the floor with your knees bent, and hold a medicine ball against your chest. Perform a sit-up by raising your upper body until the medicine ball is close to your knees, and then lower your back to the ground. Try 10 reps at a time. For a variation, toss the ball to a partner standing in front of you when you reach the apex of the sit-up; the partner will toss the ball right back to you before you descend.
Squats are challenging any way you attempt them, but when you include a medicine ball in the exercise, you're adding more resistance and making the exercise even more beneficial. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball to your chest. Bend at the knees and lower your body, ideally until your quads are parallel to the ground, and then straighten your legs. For a challenging variation to this exercise, lift the medicine ball straight above your head each time you come out of the squat. Try 10 reps of this exercise at a time.
It's easy to use a medicine ball in a number of other ways to increase the challenges of your workout. Stand facing a wall and use a chest pass to throw the ball against the wall and catch it, or stand beside a wall and throw the ball across your body to the wall. You can also perform both these drills with a partner. For a seated twist, sit upright and swing the ball back and forth across your waist, or try standing back to back with a partner and passing the ball to each other by rotating your upper body.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.