Medicine ball exercises are an important tool for developing sport-specific power. They can be used as part of a circuit training format or plyometrics program. In fact, upper body plyometric exercises are limited without their use.
Strength training for sport, for the most part, is very different from bodybuilding. While a phase of the strength training program should focus on maximal strength development and occasionally hypertrophy, it is explosive power and/or strength endurance that should be the end-goal for most athletes. While there are various methods to increase power, a common element is speed of contraction. Medicine balls are relatively light allowing exercises to be performed explosively.
Medicine ball exercises allow the athlete and coach to devise drills that closely match the movements within a particular sport. Take tennis training for example. Mirroring the movement patterns of a forehand or backhand stroke with traditional free weights is difficult. Torso twists, where the ball is released to a partner incorporate many of the same muscle groups in the same firing pattern as a tennis forehand or backhand stroke. And of course medicine ball exercises are not limited to tennis. They have obvious application to sports such as:
- Athletics (field events)
- Squash and Racket ball
- Soccer (goalkeepers)
Incorporating Medicine Ball Exercises into A Program
Medicine ball exercises have their place in an overall strength program. That doesn’t mean to say they should replace all forms of strength training however. Rather than following a medicine ball ‘routine’ as such, a more appropriate approach is to select a few exercises and incorporate them into a circuit or session designed to increase power and/or strength endurance.
Remember also, that medicine ball exercises are effective and should only be selected if the closely mirror the movements within the sport. Athletes spend a great deal of time and energy training and all exercises should be chosen with care to ensure they make the very most if the training time available.
The very best to incorporate medicine ball exercises into the overall conditioning program is to use the principle of periodization. By splitting the annual strength program into several phases, different elements of strength can be developed that will enhance the next phase of training. Medicine ball exercises used to develop explosive power will be more effective if they are performed after a phase of maximal strength training. The idea is that the more strength you have to work with, the more of it you can convert into sport-specific power.
See the various sport sections on this site for more specific examples of how medicine ball exercises can be built into the conditioning program.
- Warm up thoroughly before starting a medicine ball routine.
- Ensure you have plenty of space and a competent training partner when performing these drills.
- Medicine ball exercises, as with other forms of power training, should be completed when you are fresh before heavy aerobic or anaerobic training if completed in the same day.
- Focus on speed of movement but not at the sacrifice of technique.
- Do not choose a ball that is so heavy it slows the movement of the exercise down.
- Complete 1-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions for each exercise. (This can vary however depending on the format of the session).
- When standing and throwing from behind the head, be careful not to hyperextend the spine too far.
Sample Medicine Ball Exercises
Kneel to Push Ups
- Start Position: Your body will be in an upright position sitting on your knees.
- Hold medicine ball at chest level. Keeping your torso erect fall forward and chest press the medicine ball to a partner or a wall.
- Upon releasing the ball drop your hands to the floor and immediately complete a push-up.
- Advanced athletes: To make this more challenging have a partner throw the ball back to you. You will have to explode up with the push-up so that you are back in the seated upright position on your knees. Your partner will throw the ball back to you and then repeat the exercise until the desired repetitions are met.
Single Leg Chops
- Starting Position: Stand on right leg and your arms are extended holding the medicine ball up and to your right.
- Bring medicine ball down in a wood chopping motion towards your left foot.
- During this place motion switch feet so your left foot is now on the ground and your right foot is in the air. Repeat this motion for the desired repetitions and then repeat in the opposite direction.
- Stand with feet parallel and knees slightly bent.
- Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball down on the ground as hard as possible.
- Catch the ball on the bounce from the ground and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
Figure of Eights
- Start Position: Hold medicine ball with your arms extended over your right shoulder.
- In one continuous motion bring the ball down in front of you like you are chopping wood and the ball should end towards your left foot.
- Stand back up and raise the ball straight up over your left shoulder and now bring the ball down towards your right foot.
- You will have to bend at your knees to complete this.
- Return to starting position and repeat.
Medicine Ball Lunge Crossovers
- Stand with feet hip width apart. Take left leg and step back approximately 2 feet standing on the ball of the foot.
- Start position: Feet should be positioned at a staggered stance with head and back erect and straight in a neutral position. Hold medicine ball in front of your chest.
- Lower body by bending at hip and knee until thigh is parallel to floor. Body should follow a straight line down towards the floor. As you are lunging reach to one side of the leg with the ball.
- Return to start position and repeat by reaching to the opposite side with the ball. Alternate or switch to other leg after prescribed reps.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Hold medicine ball with both hands and arms only slightly bent.
- Swing ball over to the right hip and forcefully swing ball forward and around towards the left side. Reverse back in the opposite direction. Keep the stomach drawn in to maximize proper usage of muscle.
Single Leg V-Ups
- Start position: Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent, both hands behind head. Keep elbow back and out of sight. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
- Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominal and raise shoulders off floor or bench. Extend arms and also raise one leg up toward ceiling.
- Return to start position.
- Remember to keep head and back in a neutral position. Hyperextension or flexion may cause injury. To increase resistance, hold medicine ball in hands. To decrease resistance, position hand closer towards body.
Medicine Ball Obliques
- Starting Position: Lie on your back and raise your legs with your knees bent.
- Holding a medicine ball between your knees rotate your legs to the side and then return to the starting position. Repeat to the other side.
Lateral Flexion w/ Stability Ball
- Starting Position: Lie on your side over the stability ball and spread your legs for balance.
- Hold a medicine ball over your head and curl up towards the ceiling. Lay back down across the ball and repeat the movement.
- Repeat with the other side.
- Start position: Lie with back on floor or bench with hips flexed at 90 degrees and feet in air holding onto a medicine ball. Position arms at sides with palms down on floor.
- Leading with the heels towards the ceiling, raise glutes (butt) off floor or bench.
- Return to start position.
- Remember keep legs from swinging to prevent momentum throughout the exercise.
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.