Time to get explosive!
Medicine balls come in a variety of weights and sizes, making them a perfect tool for athletes of any age or size. These weighted spheres are an excellent tool for improving muscular power and sports performance. The balls can be caught, thrown, slammed and tossed (don’t try that with a dumbbell!), making for explosive movements that can improve overall athletic ability (everyone’s end goal).
When deciding on what weight to use, it is important to use a ball that is heavy enough to ensure there is added resistance, but not so heavy that your movement is dramatically slowed (remember the end goal here is #powerdevelopment.)
We also want to focus on keeping a high level of precision and accuracy with our movements, particularly if we are trying to keep it sport-specific. For example, if we are practicing a medicine ball throw to imitate our boxing punch, we want make sure that we aren’t just trying to generate as much power as possible with the medicine ball going nowhere near the desired target.
Below are the key benefits of medicine ball training:
1. Developing Core Strength
Improving core strength should be a goal for everyone. Movement and stability begin with the core—abdominals, lower back, hips and spine. The core is the body’s central axis of power. Using a medicine ball to train the core is perfect because you can perform so many functional movements similar to those that you use in everyday life.
In sporting movements we use our core for everything. From a lot of my work with youth athletes it is easy to notice that one of the greatest struggles is a lack of core strength as this, and coordination are often one of the last things to develop. However, young athletes who are able to strengthen their core faster will quickly see a dramatic difference in their overall movement competency. Adding a medicine ball to normal sporting movements is one of the fastest ways to begin progressing difficulty in the gym that relates directly back to the muscles being used in sport.
Some simple examples might include:
- Hitting a tennis ball
- Throwing a punch in boxing
- Completing a chest pass in basketball
Medicine ball training is said to have been a form of strength and conditioning for the ancient gladiators and Persian wrestlers athletes as far back as 1000 BC.
As with anything we do in the gym it is the small technicalities of HOW we do the exercise that is important, so ensure you take time to execute the exercise correctly with a light weight before moving on to a heavier medicine ball. To produce more power we must always remember one simple law from physics—that is Newton’s second law where Force=Mass x Acceleration. This law has great application in the strength and conditioning world.
Force = Mass x Acceleration
– Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion
In recent years many coaches have become obsessed with getting athletes stronger and forgetting that our job is to actually help athletes move better and improve overall athletic performance. One of the key factors in improving our force production is acceleration, so although it is important to develop our strength (foundation of the pyramid), it is essential to focus on improving our acceleration through exercises that are velocity-based (speed), such as medicine ball work and plyometrics.
2. Multiple Planes of Movement
Medicine ball exercises provide a freedom of movement that allows us to replicate movements found in many sports and learn to build competency in all three planes of movement that we were gifted with (frontal, saggital and transverse). It is often the transverse plane that gets completely overlooked in the gym, yet has the greatest direct correlation to athletic prowess. Although foundational movements such as Squats, Deadlifts and the Bench Press are great for building strength, they are limited by their single plane of movement and ability to transfer power throughout the whole body.
Not to say you should not build strength with those foundational lifts, but when combining them with medicine ball exercises, you are able to enhance your force production through acceleration training and incorporate the whole body through various planes of movement. You can think of the big compound lifts as your engine in the Ferrari—it is great, but without the wheels, tires and frame, the engine is useless (medicine ball work/power refers to the rest of the vehicle ;))
In any strength and conditioning program (whether sport-specific or for the general public) the No. 1 goal should be to prevent injury and create a strong, athletic individual without using exercises that have a high risk of injury. Another great benefit of medicine ball work is that there is a much lower risk of injury in comparison to certain kettlebell or Olympic lifting movements, which require a much greater level of technical competency.
I am not suggesting we don’t ever use these movements, but when time is of the essence medicine balls are often one of the safest and easiest ways to train for power. Particularly if you are working with a young or inexperienced athlete, often they may not possess the foundational strength to produce explosive kettlebell or barbell exercises, but training has proved to show that these athletes are still able to make force production gains safely by accelerating light medicine balls quickly.
Here are 5 of my favorite medicine ball exercises for developing explosive power (there are hundreds out there, but I like these for their simplicity and transferability to sport specific movements.)
1. The Medicine Ball Slam
Possibly the daddy of all medicine ball movements, I like it for its simplicity and enjoyment (who doesn’t love picking up and slamming something down). The slam is also very effective, when done properly it requires great trunk activation and use of the lats and posterior deltoids. It also develops excellent triple extension at the ankle, knee and hip if the individual takes the medball to maximum height.
2. Rotational Medicine Ball Slam
Very similar to the above but now we are adding a rotational element and working different planes of movement. The Rotating Med Ball Slam will start to challenge the obliques more and has greater transferability to sports that involve any form of rotation (throwing, punching, etc.)
3. Medicine Ball Punch
This is a fantastic exercise for developing triple extension with a rotational component. As a boxing coach also, I love this exercise for generating explosive punching power. It is a very simple exercise that combat athletes can use to imitate the punching movement but with added resistance. Always use a light medicine ball that isn’t going to simply drop to the floor when it leaves your grasp.
4. Medicine Ball Reverse Toss
This exercise is a great way to develop explosive hip extension, which is essential for almost every sporting movement and also day to day life. This exercise is a great way to eccentrically load the hamstrings before a rapid concentric contraction (the same movement used for jumping, sprinting and so forth)
5. Medicine Ball Explosive Pass
Sprinting, basketball, punching, throwing—this exercise is great for them all! This exercise can be done from a kneeling, split stance or bilateral position depending on what your focus is. The exercise allows us to link the upper and lower kinetic chain to produce a powerful pushing movement that replicates a pass or throw in different sports.
Start implementing these exercises into your training now to see great benefits in terms of your power development!!
- Take time to practice and master the movements
- Know what is the end goal you are using them for (maximum explosiveness vs metabolic conditioning)
- Focus on using a medball that doesn’t dramatically slow your speed of movement.
- Try and pick medball exercises that have the best carry over to the muscles and movement patterns used in your sport.
Photo Credit: steeler2123/iStock