The Little Ball That Could (Tone)

Playing ball isn't just for the playground anymore—you can play at the gym or at home, as part of your exercise routine, for a full body tone up.

Ever wonder about those cantaloupe-size orbs rolling around the gym? These “medicine balls” can do more for your body than dumbbells or even loaded machines. Ranging from 2 to 25 pounds, these babies bring an element of play—and challenge—into your everyday exercise. And they’re a perfect excuse to play catch with a partner.

This total-body workout uses nothing but a weighted medicine ball to introduce new movements, wake up your muscles and start toning your body.
  
Medicine ball lunges with oblique twists

Muscles worked: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, obliques
Sets/reps: two sets of 8 to 15 reps

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a medicine ball against your torso, just below your chest. Lift your right foot and take one long step. As your foot lands, bend both knees until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your left is perpendicular to it (your left heel will come up off the floor). While you're executing the lunge, twist your torso to the right. Go far enough that you feel some work happening at the waist. Pause for a second and, pressing off the ball of your right foot, unwind from the twist and step back to your starting position. Repeat all reps on the right side, and then switch to the left to complete one set.
Note: As you lunge, do not let the knee of your lead leg extend past your toes. If it does, lengthen your stride so that your knee remains in line with your ankle.

Modification: If ordinary lunges hurt your lower back, hips or knees, try this exercise in a split lunge position. Instead of stepping into the lunge, start with your right foot already forward and simply bend both knees as you twist.

Figure eights
Muscles worked: back, hamstrings, glutes, shoulder girdle
Sets/reps: two sets of 8 to 12 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your abs drawn in. Bend your knees until you're in a quarter squat (your thighs aren't parallel to the floor but are approximately halfway there). Tighten your glutes and lift the medicine ball to just below shoulder level. Make sure your elbows are slightly bent and your hands are on either side of the ball. While maintaining your posture and keeping your abs drawn in, slowly draw a vertical figure eight with the medicine ball extending from shoulder height down to your knees. Do not allow your pelvis or head to move or your shoulders to hike. Reverse direction halfway through your reps.

Plyometric basketball squats
Muscles worked: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, shoulders
Sets/reps: 2 sets of 10 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your weight shifted back toward your heels. (You should be able to lift your toes and wiggle them.) Hold a medicine ball at your chest and draw in your abs. Look ahead of you to help keep your head in line with the rest of your spine. Slowly squat down as far as you can go without leaning your upper body more than a few inches forward. Ideally, your thighs should end up parallel to the floor, but no lower. Your knees should not venture beyond your toes. From this position, jump up, extending your arms overhead. Land with bent knees, and repeat.

Modification: For an easier, low-impact version of this exercise, simply reach your arms overhead as you stand up out of the squat. For this version, try two sets of 20 reps.

Medicine ball plank hold
Muscles worked: total body with a special emphasis on core muscles
Sets/reps: hold position for at least 30 seconds and repeat 3 times

Get on your hands and knees on the floor and hold a medicine ball between your palms. The ball should be in the middle of your chest, at about shoulder height. Extend your legs and balance on your toes in a push-up position. Your elbows should be slightly bent and your legs and back should be straight so that you look like a flat plank in profile. Look at the floor but do not let your head drop down. Your neck should be straight, in line with the rest of your spine. Draw your abs in tight and hold this position for at least 30 seconds. To increase the challenge, try lifting one extended leg and then the other.

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