The days of trying to achieve a chiseled six pack by means of thousands of back breaking sit-ups and hours incline walking on the treadmill are over. Core training should be fun, dynamic, and, more than anything, a damn challenge of the body and mind.
One of the most effective core training methods I use with my athletes and clients is the medicine ball slam at the tail end of heavy upper body training days to achieve a novel metabolic training stimulus that also works the core directly.
Here are my three favorite movements that will crush your core and your cardiovascular system together at once. And yes, these will skyrocket your heart rate and have you reaching for a garbage can after a few sets. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
1. Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
The overhead med-ball slam is one of the most versatile hybrid core conditioning tools for any lifter who wants to get ripped without sacrificing strength in the process. What makes this movement so effective is the use of triple flexion and extension of the knees, core, and hips together as a functional unit. As you bring the ball overhead, your knees extend with your hips and torso, hence referred to as triple extension.
After reaching maximal height into extension overhead, the ball is accelerated violently down into the ground bringing your torso, hips, and knees into flexion. Working these regions together provides targeted core work with the functionality to go along with it. For the basic overhead slam, the ball will be driven into the ground directly in front of your feet, working the rectus abdominis muscle directly with integration of the other layers of core stabilizers.
When programmed for extended time or number of slams, this overhead slam movement is also a devastating conditioning tool that can raise the heart rate very quickly. Remember, even though this is conditioning work, movement quality still matters, especially when repetition is used. Work hard to maintain optimal form with full triple extension and flexion on every rep, even as you get totally smoked!
2. Alternating Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
The addition of a slight variation to the foundational overhead medicine ball slam can provide another targeted core training approach on top of some pretty serious metabolic stress.
The alternating overhead medicine ball slam involves a left to right alternating slam just to the outside of your feet, which are placed in an athletic position. All of the same movement principles of the traditional slam such as the triple flexion and extension patterns still apply, but with the addition of a rotation and side bending component to the hips and torso.
By adding a rotation to the slam, the internal and external obliques are also targeted along with the six-pack muscle, the rectus abdominis. This movement once again provides a huge bang for your functional buck by integrating the hips with three layers of the core musculature.
One of the most common mistakes I see when executing the alternating slams as opposed to the overhead slam is the lack of range of motion bringing the ball overhead between each slam. Remember, it is paramount to bring the ball up overhead to maximal height to tap into triple extension and also to increase the force that you are able to slam the ball into the ground laterally.
Bringing the ball in front of your face, or even in front of your chest, will cause your spine to lose that nice extended position at the top of the movement, thus putting undue stress on the lower spine. That's never a good thing, especially when you are using this as a core conditioning tool.
3. Medicine Ball Bent Over Chest Press
The final medicine ball staple in my training programs is the bent over medicine ball chest press. Unlike the overhead slam and alternating overhead slam variations, the chest press involves a press dominant movement as opposed to the pull dominant motions above. This will provide another challenging training stimulus both to the core and the metabolic system.
First, start by getting yourself into a solid hip hinge with a neutral spinal position. For most trainees, achieving a 45-degree torso angle in relation to the ground is just about right for this dynamic ball slam. From this position, you are going to have your hands behind the med ball and drive it down into the ground in a chest press type movement. Think of passing a basketball with two hands, but doing so with violent explosion down into the ground.
As you can see in the video below, there is a bit of rhythm and tempo involved with my body position on this one to increase the velocity of the ball into the ground. I am giving you the green light to use a little momentum, but keep in mind that we want that momentum coming from your hips and not from your core extending and flexing repeatedly.
While the overhead slam variations involve dynamic actions of the core into both flexion and flexion paired with side bending and rotation, the chest press slam is a more isometrically oriented movement. Holding the core strong while the arms drive the ball into the ground will be challenging.
The most common fault I see with this specific movement is the lack of a rib-down position throughout the movement. Before you start slamming, get that spine in neutral, and bring the ribs down by doing a tension throughout your entire core, both the front and back side muscles.
These movements provide the perfect recipe to be added as metabolic finishers on top of any upper body emphasis training day. By targeting the upper body and core together, we are adding a component of metabolic stress to the upper body strength and hypertrophy stresses that were achieved during your training session.
Start off by using these movements in a heart rate ramp format. Simply define a set number of reps per set and a rest period duration. I recommend 10-12 reps with 30-45 seconds rest for beginners, and upwards of 25 reps with 20-30 seconds rest for more advanced athletes. Go for as many rounds as possible while maintaining your form and force of the ball into the ground.