Adding variety to a workout – different exercise variations and “props” like kettlebells and bands – is a way to work your muscles in different ways. Doing this can help you break out of a plateau and get new benefits from your current workout. It can also make a workout more psychologically stimulating. Why not add a new element to your routine with medicine balls?
Fitness Benefits of Medicine Balls: What is a Medicine Ball?
Medicine balls are not the same as fitness balls, also known as stability balls. Fitness balls are larger in size and inflatable, large enough to lie down on to work your abs. A medicine ball is smaller, usually about the size of a soccer ball and comes in various weights. Because they’re weighted, they can be used to add resistance to exercises.
Some medicine balls bounce while others don’t. You can even find medicine balls with a rope attached or a handle so you can swing it kettlebell style. Some coaches use medicine ball drills as part of plyometric training to help athletes develop greater power but that’s not the only way you can use them. They have other benefits as well.
Medicine Ball Drills Improve Functional Strength
Functional training includes exercises that help your muscles work together as a unit as opposed to in isolation. They enhance your ability to do everyday activities like carrying an object up and down a flight of stairs, moving furniture, lifting a baby or reaching for something on a high shelf. Strength exercises, especially those that work an isolated muscle group, don’t train your muscles to work together to achieve specific functional goals. They only develop strength or muscle endurance, depending upon the resistance you use. Functional training also improves joint mobility and stability.
Functional drills using a medicine ball strengthens communication between your brain and the muscles you’re targeting to perform a movement. The pathways that lead from the brain to muscles are reinforced through functional training. As a result, you’re able to activate synergistic muscles better to complete a particular task. You can also more efficiently recruit additional muscle fibers to increase force production when needed.
Athletes involved in sports that require power use medicine balls for a reason – medicine ball drills recruit high threshold motor units that are important for speed and power development. For these drills, you’ll need a medicine ball that bounces so you can do dynamic drills that involve bouncing the ball or throwing it against a wall. For variety, you can incorporate plyometric drills using a medicine ball into a circuit workout or use them as part of a standalone workout for increasing power.
An example of a plyometric exercise using a medicine ball are scissor lunges holding a medicine ball. This dynamic exercise is great for developing power and agility. To increase the challenge, increase the weight of the medicine ball as you progress. Another variation is to jump into the air and toss the medicine ball against the wall. Catch the ball and repeat. This is a good drill for agility and improving hand-eye coordination.
Build Core Strength
If you choose a medicine ball that’s heavy enough you can use it as a replacement for dumbbells when doing some strength exercises. If your goal is to use a medicine ball to build strength, you’ll need a heavier ball, one that’s 12% of your body weight or greater. Medicine balls alone don’t create enough of an overload to build static strength but they can be part of an overall strength and conditioning program.
Lighter weight medicine balls are best for speed and agility training. Always start with a lighter ball so you can use good form and gradually work up to heavier ones. Shake up your push-up routine by placing one hand on a medicine ball as you lift and lower your body. You’re working balance with this exercise too.
Medicine ball drills also build core strength and stability -and they’re a great way to add resistance to your ab routine. When doing leg lifts, place a medicine ball between your feet or knees to increase the resistance. Hold one in your hands when doing abdominal crunches, toe crunches, and Russian twists. Wall throws are another way to engage your upper body and core while working on agility. Working with medicine balls can make you an overall better athlete.
The Bottom Line?
Medicine balls are a fun way to build functional strength and increase power, speed and agility. They also add an element of fun. See what they can do for you.
Related Articles By Cathe:
Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs: