If you’re looking for a simple form of exercise to help you tone your core muscles and increase your strength, balance, coordination and endurance and promote explosive power, medicine ball workouts fit the bill.
One of the first fitness tools invented, medicine balls were used by athletes in Ancient Greece, Persian wrestlers as far back as 1000BC and gladiators preparing for combat. Fast forward to more recent times and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has been using medicine balls as part of their training for over two hundred years.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of medicine ball workouts. We will also discuss the various types of weighted ball and how to choose one that will be safe to use and give you the most benefit.
What is a medicine ball?
Medicine balls are weighted balls that can be used to add resistance to certain forms of exercise. Approximately the size of a basketball, they come in various weights from 2 pounds up to 25 pounds or more. This means there is a medicine ball suitable for everyone, even those who haven’t exercised before.
Made of either leather, gel, dense rubber or nylon, the balls are filled with sand, another filler or even air, then laced up. Medicine balls are usually round. Some have a textured surface to enhance grip, and some have attached ropes or handles for easier gripping and handling.
Main Benefits of Medicine Ball Workouts
- Inexpensive & Portable
Medicine balls are inexpensive, and they can be used almost anywhere, indoors or outdoors. This makes medicine ball workouts a great option if you are on a tight budget or if you’re looking for a simple and effective tool that will help you improve your fitness.
Usually associated with exercising the core – including the abs, back, hips and buttocks – there are also medicine ball workouts that focus on the upper and lower body muscles. So by varying the way you use the medicine ball, you can get a total body workout.
Some exercises that can be done with a weighted ball include Squats, Lunges, Jumps, Deadlifts, Shoulder Presses, Push-Ups and Chest Tosses.
Regularly throwing a medicine ball will improve your hand-eye coordination, balance, and flexibility.
- Develops explosive power
Medicine ball workouts are excellent for developing explosive power, that being the ability to exert the maximal amount of power in the shortest possible period of time. This is something all professional athlete’s work on honing. It is just as important for the amateur athlete to develop this skill, as doing so will enable him or her to get the most from their exercise or sport and perform at their best.
A medicine ball can be used to help rehabilitate from an injury or surgery. Particularly beneficial in the rehabilitation of spinal, shoulder and knee injuries, a light weight ball can be employed early on, and a heavier one as the recovery process progresses.
- Training partner-friendly
When participating in group medicine ball workouts, the ball will be passed back and forth between you and your training partner or partners. Depending on how the passes are made, different muscle groups will be engaged.
To help develop condition, boxers and martial arts practitioners may choose to have a weighted ball dropped onto their abdomen to simulate an opponent’s punch.
Total Body Medicine Ball Workouts Demo
Types of Medicine Balls
Here we will look at some of the most popular kinds of medicine ball that are available today, along with their best use.
Leather medicine balls:
The first medicine balls had a leather composition. Still popular with many trainers, the leather medicine ball is used widely in boxing circles.
Coming in a wide range of weights, they are primarily useful for medicine ball workouts that focus on the core.
Soft gel medicine balls:
Gel filled medicine balls do not float or bounce. This makes them well-suited to throwing exercises that incorporate a trampoline. They are also ideal for activities that don’t require that the ball rebounds.
Very economically priced, soft gel medicine balls come in a wide variety of sizes and weights, making them ideal for rehabilitation exercises.
Medicine balls with grip:
Some medicine balls have a textured surface that improves grip. Usually made of sturdy polyurethane or rubber, this type of ball rebounds when it is dropped onto the ground or thrown against a wall or other solid surface.
Suitable for just about any kind of medicine ball workout, being favored by many fitness trainers, you will find them in most gyms. Unlike most other types of medicine ball, medicine balls with grip can float. This makes them a popular choice for aquatic workouts and to use in sports such as water polo. An example of this type of weighted ball that I like and recommend is the Valeo Medicine Ball. (Click the previous link to read a review.)
Air filled medicine balls:
The air filled medicine ball can also float and bounce. The more air the ball contains, the more it will bounce.
Commonly used for general resistance exercises and in plyometric workouts, it can be deflated and reinflated. This makes it popular with travelers who want to take their workout and training equipment with them.
Medicine balls with handles:
Some medicine balls come with one or two handles. Providing a very dynamic workout, this type of medicine ball can act as a dumbbell or kettlebell. If desired, you can use two at the same time.
Suitable for throwing and far safer than tossing a dumbbell, this versatile medicine ball is excellent for developing explosive power. The handles on some are removable, further expanding their use.
Some golfers use this type of weighted ball to practice their golf swing. The balls are also good for Wood-Chop exercises. Some even come with an optional ab-roller attachment.
Medicine balls with a rope:
Medicine balls with a rope are perfect for doing swinging exercises and core rotations. With some, the rope is permanently attached, while with others it can be removed. This adds to its versatility.
How to Choose the Right Medicine Ball
When deciding which medicine ball to buy, along with choosing the one that will best suit your requirements, you will need to decide which weight to get.
It’s common for people to buy a medicine ball that is too heavy. The best ball for you will be one that doesn’t negatively affect your form or reduce your control but is heavy enough to slow your movements and work your muscles without overly fatiguing them.
Keep in mind the type of exercises you will be doing with the ball. Many medicine ball exercises are done with the arms extended. A weight that is manageable when doing exercises that involve the ball being held close to your body can be too heavy to control when it is held at arms’ length. For this reason, it’s a good idea to buy two or more medicine balls of differing weights. You will then be able to swap balls to suit the exercise you are doing.
As a rough guideline, a medicine ball weighing 4 to 6 pounds will be suitable for most women and the majority of exercises. Most men should find a ball weighing 10 to 12 pounds manageable.
If you haven’t exercised before or you lack upper body strength, start with a lighter weighted ball. As your strength and fitness improve, you can progress to a heavier medicine ball if desired. However, building bulk is not the aim of medicine ball workouts. Using one that is too heavy for you to control could result in injury.
Something else to keep in mind is that when working with a training partner who will be throwing the ball to you with all of their might, the ball will feel far heavier when you catch it than if you are making light passes.
When using a weighted ball for group training, use one of a weight that suits the person with the least amount of strength.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Medicine Ball Workouts
If you’re looking for a way to inject variety into your exercise program and make it more interesting, challenging and fun, adding medicine ball workouts to your fitness regimen would be a great place to start.
In a day and age when many people opt for high-tech fitness equipment, the low-tech medicine ball is still an important part of many an elite athlete’s training program. This is because it provides as effective a workout today as it did the day it was invented, all those years ago.
Delivering an excellent means of toning the core and increasing strength, balance, coordination and endurance, medicine ball workouts are also one of the best ways to develop explosive power. This makes them well worth including in any fitness program.