What’s round, heavy, something your grandmother played with, that’s being rediscovered by pro athletes in just about every sport? It’s the medicine ball. Weighing anywhere from 2 lbs to 30 lbs, they’re also called “medballs” or “Plyoballs™”. From grapefruit to basketball size, they’re not to be confused with those big inflatable balls that you sit and roll around on. No, these balls are for heaving and catching. Medicine balls have been around for ages. Legend has it, that the term “medicine ball” goes back to their use on transatlantic ships during World War I. They were promoted by navy medics who stuffed kapok and rags into a leather basketball for the seasick or bored crew to toss around as exercise. This was a much easier form of medicine to prescribe than pills.
Nowadays, a whole new generation is discovering the benefits of medicine balls. Athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. They’re hitting more home runs, hitting longer drives, jumping higher, and running faster. In the training room, the medicine ball seems to be a common denominator to many of today’s record breaking levels of performance. Just about everybody is training with medicine balls these days - body builders, golfers, pro baseball, basketball, football, tennis, soccer, and hockey players. Olympic swimmers. Strength trainers everywhere are recommending medicine ball training because of several key benefits.
First, medicine balls build your critically vital core muscles which are comprised of your abs, obliques, and lower back. These muscles are vital because arm and leg strength originate from here. Whether it’s swinging a bat, kicking a ball, or jumping for a rebound, the power transmitted through your arms and legs is only as great as the power generated from your core muscles.
Medicine balls prepare your body for realistic motions. You’re not fixed to a single plane of movement as with weight machines. Many different throwing, swinging, and rotational movements are possible. Instead of doing slow and restricted movements, your body is trained to perform explosive and ballistic movements. There’s nothing like the feel of thwacking the medicine ball against a wall - and nothing better to build up your softball swing. Your body’s newly learned muscle firing patterns result I impressive increases in power output for all types of sports movements.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and that is all to often your joints - your shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle. The most common cause of joint injuries - torn ACL’s, sprained ankles, shoulder and elbow problems - are from weak musculature surrounding those joints. Medicine ball training is one of the best ways to strengthen the supporting musculature around your key joints, building joint integrity to the critical shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle areas. This translates into real life benefits such as pitchers avoiding elbow blowouts midseason, basketball players avoiding the torn ACL going up for a rebound, football players avoiding painful hamstring pulls.
Medicine balls can be found in various styles and sizes. They come in bouncing and non- bouncing varieties. Bouncing balls allow you to do bounce tosses against a solid wall, or pavement. Tennis players can stimulate their muscles while simulating their game by hurling a bouncing medicine ball across the net. And then there’s the non-bounce ball. Many advanced users actually prefer this type of ball because they are softer on the hands to catch, and don’t roll away when they land. This is an advantage, for example, in outdoor squat throws where you hurl the ball high in the air and don’t want to go around chasing the ball when it lands. The same goes for indoor group exercises where a non-bounce ball is easier to manage in crowded situations where many people are tossing the balls back and forth with each other. A wall bounce exercise can be done more explosively because you have to throw the ball harder against the wall to get the same kind of rebound. As for construction of balls, most people seem to prefer the new rubber balls over the leather ones. Rubber balls (see Plyoball) retain their shape when smacked against a wall, are sweat proof with non slip grip coatings, and generally hold up better than leather balls which can get slick or scuffed up, with seams that eventually tear. That is, unless, if you’re the old school boxing gym type, who sees romance, tradition, and authenticity in a musty leather medicine ball held together with fraying duct tape.
How heavy a ball depends on your age, sex, size, and purpose. An 8 - 15
lb ball will give a good abdominal core workout. A 4 - 10 lb ball is good
for tossing exercises. Use a heavier ball around 15 - 30 lbs for leg exercises
that build hamstrings and quads. Women and juniors use balls on the lower
end of the range, men use balls on the higher end of the range. For a woman
or junior wanting to purchase their first all around ball, a 6 lb ball
would be a good choice. For a man, a 10 lb ball would be a good first choice.