When training individuals of all populations and backgrounds, there should always be one main underlying objective: "Do no harm!" As fitness professionals, we have an obligation to improve the lifestyle and performance of the people we train. If we are getting them injured, then we are literally doing the opposite of that goal. This means we must be smart with exercise selection and meet each and every person where they are when they walk inside the gym.
Olympic Lifts vs. Med Ball Exercises
How does this relate to Olympic lifting and med ball exercises? The parallel is quite simple. What sounds safer: Throwing a weighted iron barbell over your head and catching it? Or tossing a 10-pound medicine ball toward the ceiling?
It's a no-brainer.
Olympic lifting does, and will always have, its place within special populations. But the ideal circumstances for learning Olympic lifts includes having a single, knowledgeable coach over a long period of time who's with the athlete from learning the fundamentals through their mastery of the movement. In those situations, Olympic lifts are great. But as you might guess, those are very few and far between.
For the rest of us, the juice is just not worth the squeeze.
So what are the benefits of Olympic lifts?
In basic terms, Olympic lifts are used to develop explosive power and strength by requiring an individual to transfer force from their lower body through the core and into the implement that's held by their upper body. This transfer of force is done through "triple extension" (also sometimes referred to as quadruple extension), which refers to the simultaneous extension of ankles, knees and hips (the lower back is the fourth one that can lend to some people calling it "quadruple extension.")
Develop Explosive Power with Med Balls
Although those are certainly awesome benefits from a performance standpoint, don't med ball exercises accomplish the same goal? And don't they do it in a safer manner?
Developing explosive power is completely reliant upon velocity produced against a given resistance. With that in mind, the ratio of resistance (weight) to velocity will be higher when throwing a medicine ball as opposed to lifting a barbell for one main reason—the deceleration point.
During Olympic lifts, there must be a point of deceleration, or else the bar would continue to accelerate out of the grasp of the athlete. A loaded iron barbell flying through the air? Not ideal. But with medicine balls, there is no deceleration point! The goal is to throw the ball into the ground, wall or ceiling with as much velocity as possible. But that isn't the only beneficial difference between medicine ball throws and Olympic lifts.
As human beings, we're meant to move in different patterns and through many planes of motion. Athletes need to be powerful in each pattern and plane of motion. A barbell can't really, practically change plane of motion; it just goes up or down. Using a weighted ball, we can replicate any and every movement in any plane and develop explosive power to it.
Think about baseball players and golfers trying to add some speed to their swing or MPH to their exit velocities. Swinging a barbell is frowned upon, but rotational throws are incredible!
So what can you take away from this article?
If you're an athlete or someone who trains athletes, medicine ball throws can be an effective, safe and versatile way to build explosive power. I've found that adding 3 sets of 6 medicine ball throws pre-lift is a great way to incorporate them into your routine. You have a wide variety of medicine ball throws to choose from, depending on your goals and sport:
Goal No. 1 is to keep yourself and your athletes safe. Goal No. 2 is to develop explosive power and strength. With that in mind, medicine ball throws are an ideal inclusion in an athlete's training routine.
Photo Credit: Neustockimages/iStock
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