The Fitness Behind Medicine Balls

Mar 25, 2011

Written By: Nicki Wilson, Personal Trainer, O2 Fitness Brennan Station

Medicine ball training is one of the oldest forms of strength and conditioning training – the first reference to wrestlers training with sand filled bladders appears in Persia nearly 3000 years ago. In ancient Greece the physician Hippocrates had them sewn out of animal skins and stuffed with sand. His patients threw them back and forth for injury prevention and rehabilitation. Since then, we have come along way with practice!

The medicine ball can be a useful part of a fitness workout. Weighing anywhere from 2 lbs to 30 lbs, it 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. The value of the medicine ball is that it targets your core strength –or the area that includes your back and your abs. Strengthening your core will directly fortify the joints in your elbows, shoulders, and knees, thus providing more raw power for your arms and legs.

As an example exercise, stand approximately 6 feet from a sturdy wall and face it, knees slightly bent, with your abdominals contracted and your hips out so your back is completely upright. Then toss a medicine ball against the wall like you’re making a chest pass in basketball. Rotate your torso while tossing the ball against the wall, catching it and doing it from the opposite side, trying to hit the same spot each time. You’ll notice your dominant side is easier than your non-dominant, so it's important to train your non-dominant side. You will balance out your body’s strength.

In addition to the more traditional uses for the medicine ball, there are other uses that are often overlooked. For example, in doing sit ups: Bend your knees slightly, keeping your feet flat on the floor as you lie on your back. Holding the medicine ball directly out in front of you, slowly lift your shoulders off the floor, lifting your upper torso until it’s bent at a 45-degree angle. Slowly let your back drop down to the floor before repeating this motion as many times as you can.

It also can be used as a upper-body exercise, particularly to strengthen the triceps and the chest. For example in doing push-ups: Place your hands on top of the medicine ball with the ball directly underneath your chest. Your hands, obviously, will be placed close together. Your legs should be straight back with your toes planted straight into the floor. Push your torso straight up from the ball until your arms are fully extended. Then slowly lower your upper body until it nearly touches the ball. Repeat this motion as many times as you can. Keep in mind that the firmer the  ball, the more difficult the exercise will be.

Here is a regular exercise known as the "Abdominal Crunch" I have for my clients that is simple, yet effect to get the best results for tighter, toner abs:

  • Sit on the fitness ball with your feet resting on the floor, about hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, cross your arms on your chest and tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Lean back until you feel your abdominal muscles tighten.
  • Hold for three deep breaths.
  • Return to the start position and repeat.

Start with up to five repetitions, as long as you're able to maintain good form. As you get stronger, gradually increase to 10 to 15 repetitions. Remember to breathe freely and deeply during the exercise.

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