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March 24, 2022
If there is such a thing as a single “best” workout tool for overall fitness and conditioning, a very good case can be made for the slam ball.
If you are not familiar with the slam ball, aka “dead ball” or “D-Ball,” it is similar but not identical to the more familiar medicine ball. Unlike medicine balls, slam balls typically run smaller than medicine balls of similar weight and heavier than medicine balls of the same size.
Slam balls utilize a rubber shell with a filler of moistened sand or metal filings. Since the filler usually does not fill the ball completely, slam balls of widely differing weights can be identical in size, unlike most other pieces of resistance gear. Slam balls are also squishier than medicine balls. Starting weights are in the vicinity of four to six pounds. The heaviest readily available weight is 150 pounds. It would take a man among men–and a rare and remarkable woman–to perform a protracted, high-intensity slam ball workout with a 150-pounder! Slam balls are available with either smooth surfaces or tread-like surfaces for a firmer grip. Having owned and trained with both, I don’t have a strong preference although I favor the smooth ones purely on aesthetic grounds.
Although the slam ball is a popular piece of workout gear these days, its history and development seem very murky. Repeated internet searches to find out when, where and by whom the slam ball was invented have come up fruitless. The topic is further muddied by the existence of a game called SlamBall. This is a sort of full-contact basketball played on trampolines and has no connection with the exercise ball.
A lot depends on your training goals: If your goal is to build a Mr. America physique or develop superhuman strength, then there are, frankly, better options if you are just getting started. Moreover, if you are really serious about achieving such goals, you will be best served by joining a gym that caters to such trainees and getting expert coaching.
For everybody else–everyone whose primary desire is a good level of general fitness and maintaining a well-toned, shapely body–then a slam ball is an excellent acquisition, even if you already have a well-stocked home gym. Only a very tiny number of men on this planet can compare with the great English strongman Eddie Hall, yet I recently read on this blog that he incorporates a fairly light (33-pound) slam ball as part of his warm-up routine.
You will find all manner of guidelines on-line about the best weights for a beginner’s slam ball. A lot of this strikes me as very questionable. For instance one exercise maven recommended eight pounds as a good starting weight for “elderly” men. Well, I started slam ball training with a 40-pound slam ball when I was in my late 70s, which put me past “elderly” in the proper meaning of the word. I was just plain old! Anyway, I found my first workout with the 40-pounder tough, grueling and brutal, and I just loved it – the way training should be! Admittedly, I had many years of experience with free weights and in more recent years kettlebells and macebells.
My advice would be to select a weight that you can clean and press overhead for about a half-dozen quick repetitions. This should be challenging, but not too strenuous. You shouldn’t have to worry about hurting yourself. Whatever that poundage may be, it should be a good starting weight for you. You may find as you progress with the slam ball that you will want more than one. In my case, I am presently using a 35-pound ball when I am in the mood for a lighter, faster, more cardio-oriented slam ball workout and a 45-pounder when I want a tougher, more challenging, strength-building session.
The best and most efficient use for the slam ball, as you may have surmised, is slamming it, as seen in this video:
Clean the ball to shoulder height, then press it overhead and slam it down hard! If you’re vigorous enough, you can rise on tiptoes or even spring into the air as you slam it down. You can slam it down at your feet or heave it some distance forward.
My friend Jeff Lewis, the proprietor of the 4th Street Gym in Long Beach, has remarked that slam and throws alone can give you a good total-body workout. The slam move can be followed by a burpee if you like too.
A variant that I particularly like is heaving the slam ball behind you over your head. I recently saw a documentary in which a Nepalese mountaineer, a veteran of Britain’s elite Special Boat Service, heaved a large chunk of stone over his head in this manner for a considerable distance. I was suitably impressed!
You can also slam the ball over your shoulder rather than down the center, alternating shoulders.
The ball can be raised overhead and hurled diagonally across the body in a motion sometimes called a “woodchopper.” To work your abdominals try heaving the ball laterally across your body, first one side then the other.
A movement I like (but haven’t seen in any exercise videos) is to balance the ball on the palm of your extended arm and then drive the ball forward as far as possible with your other arm. No doubt you will be able to discover other beneficial slams on the numerous slam ball exercise videos available online or devise others for yourself.
And what can you do with a slam ball other than slamming it? Well, all manner of beneficial exercises…let’s have a look at some of them:
Try to complete with minimal rest between exercises and do 4-5 rounds. You can rest as needed between rounds, but try to keep it short (i.e. 1 minute).
Slam Ball Finisher:
Do as many slams as possible in 5 minutes.
An EMOM means 'Every Minute On the Minute'. So you would do the first exercise at the start of the minute and your rest time is from when you finish the last rep until the start of the next minute. You would do this for three total sets (3 minutes), then move on to the next exercise.
At this point you may be asking, “How different is a slam ball from the more familiar medicine ball, and can I use a medicine ball to perform slam ball exercises like those described above?”
The medicine ball and the slam ball are obviously very similar exercise tools. Almost all the exercises suggested above that do not require slamming can be performed just as well with a medicine ball. Many medicine balls, however, are not as stoutly constructed as slam balls, and the manufacturers may counsel against using them for slams. I have an Amazon Basics 18-pound medicine ball, and I did a fair amount of slamming with it with no accompanying ill effects that I could descry. However, I did limit my slamming to soft surfaces, either our back lawn or in a grassy park nearby.
Aside from durability issues, the main drawback to medicine balls, as opposed to slam balls, is that medicine balls bounce. Slam balls don’t bounce or bounce very little. When I used the medicine ball in the park, I spent a good deal of workout time chasing down the medicine ball as it bounced or rolled away. This never happens with slam balls. There are also safety hazards to using a medicine ball for slams: My wife slammed an 8-pound medicine ball down directly in front of her, and it shot right back up and smacked her full in the face!
You can read a more in-depth take on slam balls vs medicine balls here.
The major drawback to the slam ball is that you must have a place to slam it. This rules it out for apartment dwellers unless they can slam it in the building’s garage or courtyard or in a nearby park. Inclement weather is also going to put a damper on any outdoor slamming.
Moreover, when you acquire a lot of workout gear–free weights, kettlebells, macebells, clubbells and such–you will have a possession that in most circumstances will last you all your life and can be passed down for generations. It is obviously unrealistic to expect such durability from a slam ball. Rogue Fitness, for example, warrants their slam balls for two years. My stepson and I ruined my first slam ball attempting to re-inflate it, and my stepson is a serious competitive mountain bike racer, so he obviously knows how to handle a pump.
You may also find you have to go through several slam balls before you find the right weights for you. The slam ball that got ruined was a 40 pounder. I then decided to advance to a 45 pounder. I liked it and still do, but I found it a bit much on occasion. I concluded I needed a second, lighter slam ball for more fast-paced, cardio-based training…or when I was just in the mood for a less-demanding workout. I settled on a 30-pounder, but I soon found it was just too light and insufficiently challenging. I bestowed the slightly used slam ball on a neighbor as a birthday present and opted for a 35-pounder. This seems just right as my lighter slam ball, and I also continue to slam the 45-pounder as well.
At this point, I’d like to give a shout-out to Rogue Fitness. When the 35-pound ball I had ordered somehow disappeared in transit, they immediately sent me a replacement. With customer service like that, it’s no wonder they are such leaders in the field of fitness equipment.
Obviously, you don’t have to have a slam ball to achieve a good physique and considerable strength. Many people achieve these goals with bodyweight exercises alone. However, I take the view that varied workouts with a variety of fitness gear do much to stave off boredom, “plateauing,” and burnout. I’ll be turning 80 in a few weeks. I began serious resistance training almost 58 years ago.
Looking back, I regret that during my prime years many useful pieces of fitness gear like the kettlebell, medicine ball and Indian clubs had come to be perceived as “old hat” and had lapsed into obsolescence. Others like the modern macebell, clubbell or slam ball had yet to be invented. I really believe that had these training modalities been available to me in years past, I should have been a much better man physically. When you reach 80, you know that, realistically, most of the sand is out of your hourglass. However, I remain optimistic that I have some years of hard training ahead of me. If I am so blessed, be assured that one or more slam balls will constitute an important part of my fitness arsenal. And that’s about the best endorsement I can give the slam ball.
Author: Jan Libourel
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