April 3, 2014
Heavy balls are a minimal-bounce, minimal-roll alternative to medicine balls designed for high-impact throwing. For years I simply used these as a weight—an alternative to dumbbells and kettlebells—until I learned the beauty of the “slam.” Similar to kettlebell work, using a heavy ball with different slamming techniques is a great way to work the entire body using a range of powerful moves. The benefit of using a heavy ball over a medicine ball is that one must go into full hip flexion (i.e., a perfect squat) to retrieve the ball.
Step 1: Heavy Ball Squat
Before going to town on your slams, review your squat form next to a mirror by picking up and setting down the ball.
How: Begin with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop your hips down and back, ensuring your spine and shin angle are parallel. Retrieve the heavy ball and stand back up.
Careful: Ensure there is no forward flexion (rounding of the back), the knees stay aligned with the middle toes and the feet remain flat. If you do not have the mobility to go down this far without breaking form, try setting the ball on a step or using a heavy ball with a wider diameter.
Step 2: Heavy Ball Slam From the Knees
To learn how to properly engage your hips during a heavy ball slam, begin your slams on the ground.
How: From a kneeling position, extend your arms and the ball overhead in a nice long stretch. While throwing your hips back and sitting toward your heels, release the ball to the floor.
Careful: Once again, don’t round the back and be sure the movement comes from your hips.
Step 3: Heavy Ball Slams
Now it’s time to put the two moves together into a full heavy ball slam. Remember, as is the case with other power movements, such as swinging a baseball bat or throwing a punch, the power begins in your feet and is transferred to the ball through the dynamic use of your hips and a tight, braced core.
How: With feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, reach the heavy ball above your head and stand on your toes to create a stretch. Drop the hips down and back (this creates the energy) and force the heavy ball into the floor. Drop into your deep squat to retrieve the ball and return to the starting position.
Careful: As you did with the prep exercises, ensure there is no forward flexion in the lumbar spine, the knees are lined up over the middle toes, and the spine and shin angles remain parallel.
Step 4: Heavy Ball Slam Progressions
Now that you’ve mastered a safe, effective and fun heavy ball slam, you can now add some variety and different planes of motion to this exercise. Don’t forget to do a five- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up before going through these heavy ball progressions.
1. Double Arm Push Slam
Try this fun variation of the heavy ball slam by beginning with the ball at chest height and pressing both hands down to the floor.
2. Single Arm Push Slam
To add some rotation to the double arm push slam, begin with the ball at chest height, release the grip of one hand and drive the working arm and shoulder toward the ground, all the while maintaining proper squat form.
3. Around the World Slams
Another way to add rotation to the slams is by reaching the heavy ball up and around, adding some pivot and hip rotation to develop power.
4. Slam With Side Skip
This is a great way to add lateral movement and some agility training to your heavy ball slams. Between each heavy ball slam, take a few shuffle steps to the side and repeat.
5. Burpee Slam
What fun is a workout without burpees? At the bottom catch of your heavy ball slam, press the ball into the floor, step or jump your feet out into a perfectly braced plank, step or jump your feet back into your squat position, and rebound back to the sky.
Not only do these exercises create a high calorie burn by incorporating every major muscle group into one movement, develop speed, power, acceleration and agility, they are also FUN! I can’t think of a better way to release the tension of a long, stressful workday than by slamming a ball into the floor as hard as possible. Just make sure you are doing so with proper form!
Shana is an American Council on Exercise and TRX Master Instructor and a six-time world champion lumberjack athlete. She also holds records as a collegiate pole vaulter and is a nationally ranked fitness competitor. She holds a degree in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is a certified personal trainer through ACE, NASM, and NFPT.
The Fitness Director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Madison, Wis., Shana is also a highly accomplished coach across multiple disciplines. She has guided her lumberjack athletes and fitness competitors to world best performances and her collegiate track and field athletes hold many school records. An energetic and personable speaker, she is also the national spokesperson for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.