Ever wonder where those unusually heavy dodge balls that you’re constantly slamming in your WOD come from? They were the brainchild of a guy named Dennis Montoya. The Slam Ball as we know it today is based off of an original design created and developed by Dennis, founder of D-Ball, a California-based medicine ball company that’s been in business since 1989. It’s also the last remaining fitness ball in its category still made in the USA.
I spoke with Dennis to take a closer look at this WOD essential and found out a deep history focused on durability, high quality construction, and a diversity of uses for the Slam Ball. What should be said first is this: Don’t call the D-Ball a slam ball. It’s tough to escape this because that’s exactly what you’re using it for in your box; but Dennis wants to remind people that it’s not the only activity you can use it for. The tough exterior makes it perfect for it’s primary use in WOD's: heavy slamming in workouts. But the D-Ball can also be used in specialized movements offering a very different workout than with free weights. The reality is that when you’re in the middle of a WOD and it’s time to do some ball slams, the D-Ball is going to be the only Medicine Ball/Slam Ball tough enough to survive the beating. And there’s a very specific reason for this.
Dennis first started making D-Balls in 1989, with the goal of creating the perfect alternative to free weights as a workout tool. It was about 10 years ago when he started perfecting the D-Ball for WOD's. He began the process of educating coaches and collaborating with them to incorporate the D-Ball into WOD routines. Montoya actually started working with affiliate coaches in battle testing the D-Ball for WOD use. The battle testing would go like this: Dennis would send some D-Balls to an affiliate, who would then send them back burst and broken after a few weeks. Dennis would then tweak the design and start the process over again. The day that the affiliate stopped sending back broken D-Balls was the day that Dennis realized he had finally hit the nail on the head. The D-Ball was tested and proven WOD proof, and it doesn’t get any tougher than that. Montoya’s been making the toughest Med Balls in fitness ever since, being used and abused at the Games every year and in boxes all over the country.
About the design of the ball, Dennis says, “The D-Ball exists the way it is because it’s exactly the way I like it.” It’s a testament to the age old American trait of being passionate about your craft and creating perfection because of it. The construction of the D-Ball would appear simple, but with everything, balance is key. The balls are made of thick textured vinyl and filled with a proprietary granular material. Unlike a basketball or a dodgeball, or even other Slam Balls, there is a breathable valve on the ball to allow for total equalization of air inside and outside the ball. This feature has been perfected over the years making it key to D-Ball’s durability and no bounce technology. Montoya created the D-Ball to be completely different than the standard, allowing for a completely unique set of uses. This paved the way for the Slam Ball market, all using his design as the template.
Dennis loves using D-Balls for WOD's, but he wants to remind people that there is an entire separate workout surrounding the D-Ball. The example he provided to spotlight the difference is this: “Do a few power cleans with a 100 pounds of free weights and that’s a warm-up. Now do a few power cleans with a 100 pound D-Ball. That’s a workout.”
He’s got a point: it’s different. The question is why? It took Dennis years to figure out the answer. The result today is he’s now an expert in the physics of training, and he’s created the world’s perfect ball. Just don’t call it a Slam Ball when he’s around.