If you’re a frequent visitor to the gym, you have probably already seen a selection of large basketball-like balls in the free weights section. Medicine balls are possibly one of the oldest pieces of gym equipment used today, dating back to Hippocrates, who told patients to throw balls crafted from animal skins for medical purposes.
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or somebody who can barely manage a push-up, a medicine ball is one of the best ways to achieve a challenging workout. The best thing about a medicine ball is its adaptability to any fitness level.
Let’s consider what you should look for in the best medicine ball to suit your needs. The only limits to what you can do with a medicine ball are your physical ability and your imagination.
What is a medicine ball
A medicine ball refers to a weighted ball that is generally used for strength or conditioning training or rehabilitation. They are normally about shoulder-width in diameter, or about 13 inches. Medicine balls come in a variety of weights, ranging from 2 to 30 pounds.
They shouldn’t be confused with inflatable balls you often see people balancing on in the gym. A balance or exercise ball will be much larger and lighter.
Medicine balls allow for more dynamic and explosive training, which is why they are often found near the dumbbells or kettlebells—the main difference between these and weights is that you can throw them as part of your workout.
Put quite simply, a medicine ball is a highly effective strength training tool that delivers core explosive power and an all-over body workout.
Medicine Ball Trivia: Many think the name refers to the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates. In fact, the first reference to it as a medicine ball was recorded in an 1889 publication of Scientific American Supplement. Professor Robert Roberts referred to it as a medicine ball, noting that playful exercise with it “invigorates the body, promotes digestion, and restores and preserves one’s health.”
What weight medicine ball should you choose?
If you’re a beginner or just looking to slightly rev up your cardio workouts, it’s best to choose a medicine ball at the lower end of the weight scale—approximately 4 to 6 pounds. For more advanced workouts, a medicine ball weighing 10 pounds or more can help you achieve a higher intensity.
If your workout features throwing the ball overhead, you will need something which is large enough to catch with both hands. It will also need to be heavy enough to work all your major muscle groups. For more targeted ab exercises, a smaller and lighter ball will allow you to target speed, more reps, and form.
The following clip from Men’s Health demonstrates 33 of the top medicine ball moves.
What to look for in the best medicine ball
Not all medicine balls are created equally. Having decided upon the weight of the ball, you need to consider what fabric the ball should be made from and how durable it is.
Medicine balls with attached handles or ropes can allow for more dynamic routines, as they will be easier to grip. However, if you intend to perform an exercise where you bounce the ball off the floor, the handles will hinder the rebound of the ball.
Leather is one of the most durable materials, and it’s naturally water- and sweat-resistant. However, it requires more care and attention than modern synthetic leather. Leather medicine balls will be better for two-person workouts, as they’re easier to catch and more forgiving if you miss and the ball hits your chest.
Faux leather is more commonly used today. It costs considerably less than real leather yet still offers that durability. Although they require less attention, often just a wipe down after use, faux leather balls can be more slippery if you have wet hands.
By far the most popular exterior shell of a ball is textured rubber. Rubber is the perfect material for a medicine ball, as it provides a better grip and added durability.
Although we’re not looking at slam balls here, medicine balls can still be thrown about or against a wall, but this will cause greater wear and tear.
The best medicine balls
I have researched and looked for medicine balls of all weights and for all budgets. Only the balls designed for use as a medicine ball were considered, and very few feature a warranty, as people tend to use them for slam balls. If you intend to perform slam ball moves, you’ll need a ball which can withstand more abuse and is guaranteed for such use.
You may be wary when I suggest a piece of exercise equipment from Amazon’s in-house brand. However, Amazon has produced a quality piece of equipment, which you may even see in your local gym.
A bright colorful stripe denotes the different weights, from 4 to 20 pounds, with the weight also clearly indicated in the center of the ball. The durable and rugged rubber is textured for better grip. The ball will easily bounce off hard surfaces, like walls or floors. This ball should last many years, as long as it’s not used for slam moves.
- Variety of weights available for your progression
- Durable rubber exterior is easier to clean than cloth or leather balls
- Textured surface for better grip during body weight exercises or when throwing
- A strong chemical odor from the rubber, especially when new
- Very bouncy with little or no give (definitely not for use as a slam ball)
The Valeo textured medicine ball features a similar design to the Amazon Basics ball, with bold colors available for different weights. However, the weight range is much more limited and only goes up to 12 pounds, which may rule it out for more intense workouts.
The textured surface provides a more secure grip on the ball. The sturdy rubber is able to bounce off hard surfaces. What I particularly liked about this ball was the reports of it holding up to use in water aerobics. Held between the legs or arms like a foam block, it can add extra drag or weight when swimming.
- Safe for use in water
- Textured rubber for better grip
- Includes a free wall chart: Medicine Ball Training Made Easy
- Limited maximum weight of 12 pounds
- Not as much bounce as expected
- Will split at seams if slammed
- Paint can flake off on certain models, especially the red paint
This ball differs from the ones looked at so far as it features two easy-grip handles built into the ball. If you have avoided medicine balls for fear of dropping them, this ball could be the ideal solution.
The dual handles make the SPRI ball great for cross-body training, and you can replicate the swing action required for sports like tennis or golf. With a choice of seven weights, from 6 to 20 pounds, you can really push your body to the max. The solid, evenly weighted construction means it can be used like a kettlebell for core workouts.
- Ideal for rotational abdominal exercises
- Comes with an instructional DVD
- Robust and sturdy construction
- Chemical rubber smell
- Not suitable for throwing exercises due to handles and very little flex or bounce
The slightly larger size of this medicine ball will help improve your coordination and balance while adding difficulty to moves like lunges or squats. There is a range of weight options from 6 to 30 pounds. The triple-stitched covering ensures the ball is heavy duty and can absorb impact for many types of exercises.
The soft outer core has been beefed up to allow for more explosive tossing drills, although it’s still not a slam ball. A special combination of recycled cotton, sand, and rubber in the interior core means the ball keeps its shape.
- Triple-stitched shell makes the ball more durable
- All weights use the same 14-inch diameter for improved balance
- Tested by the manufacturer to keep its shape over time
- Weight can be unbalanced, which makes the ball harder to catch
- Soft outer synthetic covering can be slippy, especially if used without gloves
- Not suitable for slamming, as stitches will come undone if thrown too hard
This faux-leather medicine ball sports a vintage look that harkens back to the long presence Champion has earned in the sports equipment industry.
Champion is the only manufacturer I looked at who has bridged the gap between medicine balls and a slam ball. These balls will withstand the abuse of slam work but might need reshaping afterward.
When your hands are sweating, the faux leather will be easier to grip than many rubber or PVC balls.
- Extremely durable synthetic leather exterior
- Stands up to occasional slam work
- Available in a range of weights from 4 to 22 pounds, clearly indicated on the ball
- Shape may shift
- If they do break, leaking white powder causes a mess
My choice for the best medicine ball
When looking for the best medicine ball, you will want the ball which offers the most versatility. The sturdy rubber used by the Amazon Basics medicine ball makes it the smart choice for users who plan on using it for bouncing off the floor or wall.
The textured surface and variety of weights available make it ideal for passing drills or isometric exercises. It’s an affordable price and should last many years too.
However it’s not a slam ball. If you intend to perform slam drills, you are better off buying a ball rated as a slam ball.