In the 20 or so years since CrossFit started, the general exercising public has been exposed to a wide range of new and unusual training methods and exercises. CrossFit didn’t invent these things; they just borrowed them from sports training and made them more mainstream.
For example, before CrossFit, only Olympic lifters and athletes did things like cleans and snatches. In the same way, exercises like muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, and L-sits were largely the reserve of gymnasts.
Nowadays, and mainly because of the influence of CrossFit, many of the people working out for weight loss and fitness do exercises that were once viewed as specialized training methods.
One CrossFit exercise that has proven especially popular is medicine ball slams.
The medicine ball slam is a power exercise that works a large number of muscles, including your lats, arms, and core. To do medicine ball slams, raise your medicine ball above your head and hurl it down at the floor in front of your feet. Catch the ball as it bounces and repeat. Try to put your whole body behind each slam; don’t just use your arms.
Done with a heavy ball and for low reps, medicine ball slams will build explosive power. Power is a critical part of most sports and is best defined as your ability to generate force quickly. Examples of power activities include kicking, punching, throwing, and jumping.
But, on the downside, medicine ball slams are noisy, and you need the right kind of medicine ball to do them. Gel-filled medicine balls will soon split, and specialized “slam balls” are expensive.
The good news is that there are plenty of exercises you can do instead of medicine ball slams. In this article, we reveal our 11 favorites.
The 11 Best Medicine Ball Slam Alternatives
As good as medicine ball slams are, they’re not always practical. If you can’t do slams, try these exercises instead. Our alternatives either use different equipment or use different movements to deliver a similar training effect. Either way, you can use these exercises in place of medicine ball slams – either for variety or because you can’t safely do slams.
1. Band slams
Band slams are a low-impact version of medicine ball slams. They’re also virtually silent. As an added advantage, they keep your muscles under almost constant tension, which means they may be more demanding than the medicine ball variation. All you need is a strong resistance band and a suitable overhead anchor to do this effective exercise.
How to do it:
- Attach your band to a sturdy overhead anchor, such as a pull-up bar. Stand below the anchor and hold your band in both hands. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart. Brace your core.
- “Throw” your arms down toward the floor against the resistance offered by the band. Try to use your lats and core to generate maximum force.
- Raise your arms and repeat.
- Experiment with which direction you face. Some people find this exercise more effective when they face the anchor point, while others prefer to do it with the band anchored slightly behind them.
2. Sledgehammer swings
If you’ve got the space and don’t mind making a lot of noise, sledgehammer swings provide many of the benefits of medicine ball slams. Ideally, you should do this exercise outdoors, taking care that you’ve got enough space around you to avoid accidents. Use an old SUV tire as your striking target and use a standard sledgehammer.
How to do it:
- Place your tire flat on the floor. Hold your sledgehammer firmly in both hands. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart for balance. Brace your core.
- Raise the hammer up and over your shoulder, and then swing it down to hit the tire as hard as you can. The hammer will bounce back at you, so be prepared.
- Raise the hammer again and repeat, trying to put your whole body into each swing.
- Try and swing from both shoulders to avoid overloading one side of your body. This will feel weird on your non-dominant side, but with practice, it will become more natural.
- Wear work gloves to protect your hands if you are doing high-rep sets.
3. Battle rope slams
Battle ropes are a very useful training tool, and you can use them to work virtually every muscle in your body. Battle rope slams work the same muscles as the medicine ball version but, with no bounce to help you, you also have to raise your arms which may mean that the rope version is a little harder.
How to do it:
- Hold one end of the rope in each hand and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs.
- Raise your hands above your head, and then swing them down to slam the rope into the floor, dropping into a shallow squat as you do so. Raise your arms, stand up, and repeat.
- You can also do battle rope slams using an alternating arm action for variety.
4. Cable machine slams
This exercise is very similar to band slams but, instead of a resistance band, you’re going to use a cable machine fitted with a rope handle. Be warned, this exercise puts a lot of stress on the cable, so make sure the machine is up to the task. Also, you’ll be doing an explosive move using a machine that’s not really designed for power exercises. As such, it may raise a few eyebrows at your gym.
How to do it:
- Attach a rope handle to a high pulley machine. Take one end in each hand and take a step back to tension the cable. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and brace your abs.
- Putting your whole body into the movement, “throw” your hands down toward the floor, dropping into a partial squat as you do so.
- Stand back up and repeat.
5. Medicine ball sit-up and throw
This medicine ball slam alternative is a little more abs-centric. Your lats are still involved, but you’ll probably feel it in your core more. Do this exercise against a wall or with a partner who catches and then returns the ball to you. If working with a partner, ask them to throw the ball with a bit of extra power, so you have to work extra hard to decelerate the ball and work your abs even harder.
How to do it:
- Lie on the floor with your legs bent and feet flat. You should be about 6-10 feet from a solid wall. Hold your medicine ball in your hands and lower it overhead.
- Sit up and throw the ball at the wall. Make this one single movement. Do not sit up and THEN throw.
- Catch the ball as it comes back to you and repeat.
6. Overhead medicine ball throw
The medicine ball slam is an anterior chain exercise – it primarily works the muscles on the front of your body. Overhead medicine ball throws are more of a posterior chain exercise, working those muscles on the back of your body. However, in terms of conditioning, it’s every bit as demanding as medicine ball slams.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, medicine ball in your hands.
- Push your hips back, hinge forward, bend your legs, and lower the ball between your knees.
- Stand up explosively and throw the ball up, overhead, and slightly behind you.
- Turn and chase after the ball, pick it up, and repeat.
Thrusters don’t look much like medicine ball slams, but for conditioning purposes, they are every bit as effective. They work virtually every muscle in your body, and done explosively, are a useful power exercise. Thrusters can be done using a medicine ball, dumbbells, kettlebell, or a barbell as preferred.
How to do it:
- Hold your weight(s) at shoulder height and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Brace your abs.
- Squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
- Stand up powerfully and use this momentum to help you press the weight(s) up and overhead.
- Lower the weight(s) back to your shoulders and repeat.
8. Sumo deadlift high pulls
Like thrusters, sumo deadlift high pulls do not bear much resemblance to thrusters, but they are still a very effective conditioning and whole-body power exercise. CrossFitters often use this exercise as an alternative to the rowing machine, but it’s also a useful medicine ball slam alternative.
How to do it:
- Place your barbell on the floor. Stand behind it with your toes under the bar, feet about 1.5 shoulder widths apart. Squat down and hold the bar with a solid, overhand, shoulder-width grip. Straighten your arms, drop your hips, and lift your chest. Brace your abs.
- Stand up explosively and, as the bar passes your knees, pull it up to about chest height. Your elbows should be higher than your hands.
- Lower the weight back to the floor and repeat.
- You can also do this exercise from the “hang” position, which means the weights don’t touch the floor, and each rep starts and ends just above or just below your knees.
9. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings work the same posterior chain muscles as overhead medicine throws but, because you won’t actually be throwing anything, they’re a better option for most indoor exercisers. No kettlebell? No problem; you can also do this exercise with a single dumbbell.
How to do it:
- Hold your kettlebell in both hands in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Push your hips back and lean forward, lowering the weight between your knees. Do not round your lower back.
- Drive your hips forward and use this momentum to swing the weight up to around shoulder height. Take care not to hyperextend your spine or bend your arms. Contract your glutes and core hard as the weight reaches the apex of the swing.
- Swing the weight back down and repeat.
No list of conditioning exercises would be complete without mentioning burpees. Combining a squat, squat thrust, push-up, and squat jump, burpees are a total body exercise that most people love to hate. However, if you are short on workout equipment and want to burn fat and get fit in even a small space, burpees could help.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides.
- Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor in front of your feet shoulder-width apart. Try not to round your lower back.
- Jump your feet out and back to land in the push-up position.
- Bend your arms and lower your chest to lightly touch the floor.
- Push back up to full arm extension.
- Jump your feet in and under your body, knees close to your elbows.
- Leap up into the air as high as you can.
- Land on slightly bent knees and then repeat, repeat, REPEAT!
You can make burpees a little easier by omitting the push-up or the jump at the end. There are also lots of burpee variations to try, many of which are detailed in this in-depth guide.
11. Jump rope
While jumping rope won’t do much for your core or muscle power, it’s a very convenient and effective conditioning and fat-burning exercise. There are many different ways to jump rope, but high knee sprints and double unders are arguably the most intense, making them great alternatives to medicine ball slams.
Learn how to jump rope like a pro, including high knee sprints and double under, in our in-depth guide.
Medicine Ball Slam Alternatives – Wrapping Up
Just because you LOVE medicine ball slams doesn’t mean you have to get married to them! They ARE a great exercise, but, like almost every other training method, if you do them too often, they’ll gradually lose some of their potency, and you won’t get such good results from them.
Medicine ball slams aren’t always practical, either. They’re VERY noisy, and if you work out in an apartment, your downstairs neighbors will hate it when you start slamming.
Thankfully, there are plenty of exercises you can do instead of slams. The 11 exercises in our list are all just as effective, even if they use different movements or equipment.
Keep your workouts fresh and productive, and stay friends with your neighbors, by using these medicine ball slam alternatives.