Partner Medicine Ball Training for You!
Often in our zeal to find the next best thing in the fitness industry, we forget about some of the effective training tools we already have. Medicine balls are one such example. Other than throwing them against a wall or on the floor, most people are not aware of the countless ways to include med balls as part of a physical fitness or athletic training program.
We’re not saying that medicine balls can take the place of heavy squats or any exercise that can develop maximal strength or muscle size. Medicine balls can, however, improve many other athletic qualities, such as total body explosiveness, dynamic flexibility, core strength, and muscular endurance. They can also be a lot of fun, especially when performed with a training partner, as we will discuss in this article.
As a starting point, medicine balls can be described as weighted spears that can be used for throwing, catching, and as a form of resistance for general strength exercises. Go back a half a century, and you’ll find that most medicine balls were slightly larger than basketballs and had leather covers. They usually weighed about 12-16 pounds, and were especially popular with boxers and track and field throwers. Today, medicine balls are available in a variety of materials and sizes, depending on the exercise you’re doing and where you are doing them. Leather medicine balls are rare as their stitching often comes apart easily and they are pricey; now, most medicine balls have more durable cover materials such as soft rubber or vinyl.
For throwing, vinyl-coated-nylon balls are popular because they have the feel of leather and are easy to catch. Rubber-coated balls, especially those filled with gel, can be hard to catch if they are filled to capacity or have a smooth surface — they are often used for simply adding resistance to an exercise, such as a sit-up or back extension. From here, there are basically two types of medicine balls — those that bounce and those that don’t. Those that bounce are good for outdoor throwing drills, and those that don’t are good for indoor training (as gym owners don’t like balls flying around their gym causing damage and putting other clients at risk of injury).
One practical way to get started with medicine ball training is to perform a series of partner exercises. Having a partner is a time-saver as you don’t have to chase after balls that you throw, plus you can challenge each other. Let’s look at a few workouts designed to be used as a dynamic warm-up that will also increase core strength and total body power. This warm-up can be performed before a weight training workout, or as part of a general physical fitness program, such as an aerobics class.
The following workout is designed to be performed in a circuit format, with one set of each exercise being performed in the sequence presented. The progression goes from standing dynamic exercises (performed relatively slowly) to throws (performed explosively) to strength movements (performed at a moderate tempo). As this workout serves as a warm-up that will increase body temperature and respiration, higher reps are performed and minimal rest time is taken between sets. The entire warm-up only takes about 10 minutes.
Partner Med Ball Warm-up
A. Back-to-Back Twist, 1 x 12-15 (each direction), 1111, rest 15 seconds
B. Back-to-Back Over-and-Under, 1 x 12-15 (each direction), 1111, rest 15 seconds
C. Side-to-Side Toss, 1 x 12-15 (each direction), 10X0, rest 30 seconds
D. Squat to Chest Pass, 1 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
E. Underhand Throw and Jump, 1 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
F. Med Ball Sit-Up, 1 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
G. Chest Throw on Foam Roller, 1 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
H. Leg Curl, 1 x 6-8, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
Although the accompanying illustrations are self-explanatory, here are a few performance tips for these exercises:
Exercises A & B. As these are your initial exercises and involve a large range of motion of the spine, they should be performed relatively slowly.
Exercise C. To get the most out of this exercise, you want to move the ball through a large range of motion. A simple trick to do this is to watch the ball during the entire movement, rather than catching it and just using just your arms to throw it.
Exercises D & E. If you’re performing this warm-up indoors, it’s better to use med balls that don’t bounce. Because the balls will be moving fast, if you’re using heavy balls you should avoid catching it. You can also make this more explosive by jumping after your throw it.
Exercise E. So that you can use a heavier weight, you can lock your ankles together with your partner’s. You can also move further away from your partner and throw the ball, even lifting your feet as you catch it (rocking back as you do so) to gain momentum. Also, rather than catching the med ball on your chest, you can throw and catch it overhead to focus on the upper back (lat) muscles.
Exercise G. A foam roller increases the range of motion of the chest on this exercise, but the exercise can be performed without it. Standing on a low platform enables your partner to drop it and catch it from a higher height, making the exercise more difficult; however, they can just stand over you if no platform is available.
Exercise H. For this hamstring exercise, your partner rolls the ball down your legs and you flick it back to them by performing a leg curl. Because the hamstrings contract quickly in running and sprinting, many strength coaches consider this movement more sports specific than slow leg curls performed with a machine.
This workout can be modified in many ways. For example, the entire workout could be repeated for 2-3 sets, or just the exercises you want to focus on. Athletes who want to improve power and strength could perform several additional sets of the throwing exercises, as follows:
Partner Med Ball Athletic Fitness Workout
A1. Back-to-Back Twist, 1 x 12-15 (each direction), 1111, rest 15 seconds
A2. Back-to-Back Over-and-Under, 1 x 12-15 (each direction), 1111, rest 15 seconds
B1. Side-to-Side Toss, 3 x 12-15 (each direction), 10X0, rest 30 seconds
B2. Squat to Chest Pass, 3 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
B3. Underhand Throw and Jump, 3 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 120 seconds
C1. Med Ball Sit-Up, 3 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
C2. Chest Throw on Foam Roller, 3 x 12-15, 10X0, rest 30 seconds
C3. Leg Curl, 3 x 6-8, 10X0, rest 120 seconds
From this basic format, you can substitute or add exercises, and of course make the exercises harder by using heavier medicine balls. If fat loss, cardio, or muscular endurance is your primary goal, (or all three!), stick to higher reps and short rest intervals — however, for these purposes, you want to focus on standing exercises as they tend to use more muscle mass. Also, alternating between standing and floor exercises is not a good idea as it can be stressful on the cardiovascular system and can make some people dizzy; better to do all your standing exercises first and then the floor exercises. Also, consider that except for extremely weak individuals or beginners, medicine balls are not the most effective tools for building strength or muscle mass because the resistance is relatively light.
It’s often been said, “Everything old is new again!” This is especially true with medicine ball training. How about finding a training partner and rediscovering yourself how valuable — and fun — medicine ball training can be!
(Drawings by Sylvain Lemaire, www.physigraphe.com)
Squat to Chest Pass
Underhand Throw and Jump
Med Ball Sit-up
Chest Throw on Foam Roller