Medicine Ball Slam Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 11, 2022

The medicine ball slam is an overall plyometric exercise which places an emphasis on upper body strengthening. This exercise requires a significant deal of balance, coordination, speed, and mobility in order to produce power.

While the medicine ball slam is claimed to be a great exercise, there are alternative exercises that are capable of providing similar benefits. These alternatives include battle rope slams, sledgehammer swings, and kettlebell swings among others.

Understanding what a medicine ball slam is and what it works allows for better use of the exercise as well as its alternatives. Although alternative exercises provide similar benefits, knowing what they are and how to perform them allows individuals to modify their training program according to their needs and equipment availability.

What is a Medicine Ball Slam?

A medicine ball slam is an excellent compound exercise that works almost every muscle in the body. Although most of the movement might seem to occur in the upper body, the medicine ball slam is a great exercise to strengthen the core and enhance stability as well. It strengthens the core, back, and abdominal muscles while simultaneously training cardiovascular endurance.

To perform a medicine ball slam, the individual stands shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent, and the medicine ball held at chest level with both hands.

The lifter braces to lift the ball overhead by engaging the core muscles, and slightly lowering down the body to a shallow squat. The individual then extends the knees, drives the hips forward, stands on their toes, and brings the ball overhead with the arms extended at the top of the movement.

The second part of the exercise entails hinging the hips backward, bending the knees, and engaging the core as the ball is forcefully slammed to the ground between the feet. The individual then picks up the medicine ball by assuming a squat and then moves into the next slam upon rising to stand.

Alternatives to Medicine Ball Slams

Medicine ball slams offer an array of benefits such as strengthening almost every major muscle group in the body, but it may not always be the most practical exercise choice. Not everyone finds medicine ball slams a good fit into their exercise routine due to a number of factors, but similar benefits may be achieved through the use of the following alternatives.

1. Battle Rope Slams

The battle rope slam is one of many exercises that mimic medicine ball slams especially in the upper body. It requires explosive engagement of the upper limbs while working the lower limbs as well. It is a great alternative to doing medicine ball slams as it works the same groups of muscles and technically mimics the same movements. 

battle rope

Getting into proper battle rope slamming position entails maintaining a shallow squat with the knees slightly bent, core tightly engaged, and the trunk upright.

The ropes are gripped in each hand and in one explosive motion, the ropes are brought overhead simultaneously with a small jump. Upon reaching the top of the movement, the individual assumes a squatting position and slams the ropes forcefully back to the ground.

This exercise is only one of many things a person can do with a battle rope. Battle rope exercises might help with strengthening the same groups of muscles by challenging them with variations.

2. Sledgehammer Swings

Sledgehammer swings primarily work the abdominal muscles but do a number on the shoulders, back, calves, and forearms muscles as well. It is performed by slamming a sledgehammer onto a tire and bracing as the hammer bounces back. It also provides a serious cardiovascular challenge to the individual.

When performing sledgehammer swings, it is important to note that when starting, the dominant hand must be higher up the shaft of the sledgehammer while the other hand must grip the base. Upon lowering the hammer to slam the tire, the dominant hand on the shaft must lower down to meet the other hand at the base. When raising the hammer back up, the non-dominant goes up the shaft and the activity is repeated on the other side.

The sledgehammer swing is an excellent conditioning exercise which has gained popularity in recent years due to its undeniable effectiveness. Aside from developing core, back, and grip strength, it also increases work capacity and builds quick, explosive power. 

3. Kettlebell Swings

Like the medicine ball slam, another exercise that enhances overall strength, power, balance, stamina, and cardiovascular endurance is the kettlebell swing. It is a low impact exercise that reaps almost the same benefits as doing medicine ball slams.

Kettlebell swings primarily activate the gluteal and hamstring muscles. It may seem as if it is primarily an upper extremity strengthening exercise, but the movement that actually drives the kettlebell upwards comes from the hips rather than the shoulders. Hip extension drives the weight upwards and forwards, and the shoulders work to control the height of the bell.

Performing kettlebell swings starts with the individual squatting down to grab the kettlebell by hinging at the hips and slightly bending the knees. Upon grasping the weight and situating it between the legs, it is pulled backwards to create a momentum.

The hips then drive forward as the individual assumes a neutral back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height. As the weight drops, the kettlebell returns back between the legs and the activity is repeated until the set is completed. 

4. Kettlebell Snatches

The kettlebell snatch is a progression of the kettlebell swing that may be used as an alternative to the medicine ball slam. Doing kettlebell snatches strengthens the core and engages the posterior chain muscles while increasing cardiovascular endurance.

kettlebell snatch

The procedure of this exercise is similar to a kettlebell swing, but rather than raising the weight up to shoulder height, the weight is brought overhead with one hand instead.

Upon reaching the shoulder level, the elbow is slightly bent to allow the kettlebell to rotate in the grip using the momentum of the weight and to be able to punch the fist up to the ceiling. By bending the wrist forward and the forearm inward, the kettlebell rotates back, and the weight is brought back between the legs.

5. Woodchoppers

The woodchopper is a functional exercise that may be done using a range of gym equipment such as a dumbbell, a medicine ball, a cable machine, a resistance band, or simply bodyweight.

As the name suggests, the movement mimics swinging a hatchet to part lumber. Because of the twisting movement of the torso, they are also called "oblique twists."

wood chop

It is performed by standing straight with the feet shoulder-width apart, and choice of weights (e.g. dumbbell or medicine ball) or resistance bands in hand. The individual rotates their trunk to one side while raising the weight diagonally until it is over the shoulder.

The weight is brought back down by slightly bending the knees, rotating the torso to the other side while simultaneously lowering the weight diagonally across the body until it reaches the hip level. This movement is repeated until a set is completed before switching sides. 

In the case of using resistance bands, it is important to attach the band to a stable surface. It may also be performed with opposite resistance. The band may be attached higher than the individual stands so that the resistance works against the downward motion of the movement. This may be done using a cable machine too.

Benefits of Conditioning Exercises

All of the exercises discussed previously fall under conditioning exercises. Conditioning exercises utilize the whole body, engaging different muscle groups to tone, strengthen, and enhance cardiovascular health.

Increases Muscle Strength

As with all types of exercise, conditioning exercises help build strength. This translates to easier execution of daily tasks such as carrying heavy items, lifting a heavy load overhead, or simply climbing stairs.

Variation in the exercises allows the individual to move in different ways and engage different muscle groups which may deem beneficial in functional activities.

Enhances Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Regular exercise helps improve cardiovascular health and curb the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Physical activity aids in lowering blood pressure as well as increases insulin sensitivity which allows the body to use blood glucose more efficiently.

Burns Calories

Physical activity increases the amount of calories the body uses for energy. Because excess calories that are not used up turn to fat, body conditioning exercises are helpful in that they burn excess calories to avoid gaining weight. 

Final Thoughts

As a compound exercise that works almost all the muscles in the body, the medicine ball slam is able to provide benefits such as strengthening of the back, core, and abdominal muscles as well as enhancing cardiovascular endurance.

The available alternative exercises have similar benefits as that of the medicine ball slam and may even be more practical in some cases. However, the choice of alternative exercise to be used largely depends on individual preference. 


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3. Lake, Jason P.; Lauder, Mike A.. Mechanical Demands of Kettlebell Swing Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 12 - p 3209-3216
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Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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