04 Jun The Best Medicine Ball Exercises
Are you considering more medicine ball exercises, AKA med ball exercises, in your routine but aren’t sure what to do or how to proceed? Perhaps you’ve seen some cool medicine ball exercises going down in your gym and on social media. Maybe you’ve come across some great deals online for med balls, which might be a nice addition to your home gym but you want to make sure you know how to use them! With that being said, understanding the purpose behind the different applications of medicine ball exercises will help you decide exactly how to begin when you pick up that med ball! Continue reading to learn how to determine the best medicine ball exercises for you!
Why Medicine Ball Exercises?
We may be biased but we believe med balls are one of the most underutilized and incorrectly dosed pieces of gym equipment! This is likely because this type of equipment is less commonly found in commercial gyms, as there is typically a lack of instruction and education that comes paired with the equipment, and more importantly, the environment does not promote or allow for proper application of the best medicine ball exercises. For example, are there signs in your gym that say, “Don’t drop weights on the ground! Don’t throw anything against the wall!” Well, how are you supposed to do med ball slams against the ground and med ball throws against the wall? You can’t, and this is the reason why sometimes we see interesting and unconventional medicine ball exercises being performed that really aren’t serving the med ball’s best purpose…
What is the Medicine Ball’s Best Purpose? Understanding The Force-Velocity Curve
With any training program or fitness routine, there needs to be a clear purpose behind what you’re trying to accomplish with the planned exercises and movements. Your goal may be focused on getting stronger, staying healthy, getting faster, or moving with less pain! With that being said, having a good appreciation for the force-velocity curve can help you pick exercises and appropriately dose their parameters to work towards your goals. The force-velocity curve dictates the relationship between the external load being lifted (Force) and the speed at which that load can be moved (Velocity).
You can appreciate the inverse relationship there is between force and velocity. If you want to lift something super heavy that requires a lot of force, it’s not going to move that fast. A perfect example of this is a crane lifting a gigantic rock. On the other hand, a baseball pitcher can throw a really light object (baseball) crazy fast achieving high velocity! Our motto at [P]Rehab is regardless of who you are and what you need to do on a daily basis, you want to possess skills and characteristics along the entire force-velocity curve continuum. This requires different types of training (with different exercises and equipment) along the curve as each stimulus is unique, which will drive unique adaptations!
So where do medicine balls best fit on the curve and why? When it comes to rotational and throwing athletes, the best medicine ball exercises will focus on developing strength speed, which is defined as moving relatively heavy loads as fast as you can. The design and weight of most medicine balls complement exercises that encourage max force output with high effort while simultaneously emphasizing velocity! This is especially true with med ball throw variations, throwing the ball as hard as you can and letting go of it helps to maximize force and velocity by eliminating too much energy spent on decelerating, which would be the case if you were holding onto the ball the entire time. It’s this perfect marriage of ingredients that cater to positive adaptations for performance, which is especially important in the sports world. That’s because most physical sports require power, which power = force x velocity, so if you can achieve positive gains with either force or velocity, in most cases you’ll see an improvement with your power output. The best medicine ball exercises are going to maximize both of these factors to achieve maximal power output gains!
Caveats to the Strength Continuum & Force Velocity Curve Shown Above
Well, can’t you argue that Olympic weight lifting, sled exercises, or exercises like kettlebell swings are a better fit for strength speed and maybe med ball exercises fit better in speed strength? Yes, you can argue that! However, the strength continuum depicted above is actually going to vary a bit depending on the athlete, the sport, and ultimately the goal. Depending on the size and weight of the medicine ball and the exact exercise you pick, where that exercise fits along the strength continuum may shift. But with that being said, we can safely say you will be working somewhere within the continuum of strength speed, power, and speed strength along the force-velocity curve depending on the weight of the ball and the speed at which you’re performing the exercise!
How To Safely Test Your 1-Rep Max
Curious how you can determine the appropriate external load for any exercise to best utilize the force-velocity curve and its dosage recommendations? Be sure to check out this excellent resource that will teach you how to find your relative 1-rep max (1RM) indirectly, making it safer and more feasible to determine!
Other Benefits of Adding Medicine Ball Exercises To Your Program
Here is an excellent breakdown of why adding medicine ball exercises to your program can be so beneficial, especially for athletes!
Some key takeaways of the overall benefits from incorporating medicine ball exercises into your routine
- Excellent for training and improving rotational power in athletes (baseball, golf, hockey, etc) while reducing the risk of overuse injuries
- Beneficial for sports and other activities that require coordination, change in direction, and propulsion
- Can help to teach you ‘how to move like an athlete‘ by improving kinetic chain linking and the ability to generate and transfer energy throughout the body
- A new piece of equipment = a new stimulus = a fun & engaging way to exercise!
- Great to blow off some steam!
- Easier to perform and harder to screw up or get hurt compared to other strength speed, power, and speed strength exercises out there like Olympic weightlifting
Before You Begin Medicine Ball Exercises
Just like any other exercise, you want to make sure your body is ready for medicine ball exercises. You want to make sure that you can move well without any mobility restrictions or limitations, especially the movements required in the med ball exercises you’re planning! Below are specific body regions and movements you absolutely want to make sure you optimal mobility with…
- Cervical & Thoracic rotation: rotation is key for power!
- Shoulder mobility in all directions: you don’t want to have limited arm movement with acceleration and deceleration especially!
- Hip mobility in all directions: “It’s all in the hips” has never been more true, this is where force is generated!
In addition, you want to be strong to help you generate force, especially in your core and your legs! You want to make sure you’re not dealing with any pain moving slow or fast through the movement pattern associated with the med ball exercise (as you’ll want to move fast with these exercises), thus practicing the movement first and going through the motions can be beneficial.
Check out our mobility programs! We have a handful of [P]Rehab programs that put an extra emphasis on stretching exercises to improve mobility, just scroll down to the mobility section! Hip and thoracic spine mobility are extremely important for rotational medicine ball exercises!
The Best Warm-Up Prior To Med Ball Exercises
Getting warmed up prior to med ball exercises is imperative for success and safety! Check out this 5-minute routine to get you prepped for med ball exercises!
Choosing The Right Ball To Exercise With
Not all exercise balls are created equal, and not all balls are medicine balls! Unfortunately, we know this can only make things more confusing, but we’re here to help. There are three common types of exercise balls that you throw, which include medicine balls, wall balls, and dead balls. Below is a quick summary of each one.
- Med balls are going to be the most reactive (AKA the most bounce-back like a basketball)
- The downfall of reactive balls is they’re easier to break, especially if you’re throwing them against hard surfaces with a lot of force. Remember it’s going to bounce back, don’t injure yourself!
- Med balls are going to be best used throwing for distance, doing easier continuous movements like light throws against the wall for endurance, using with core exercises, or as an unstable surface object (will discuss this later)
- Med balls are also nice for beginners and easier to use if you have smaller hands compared to larger wall balls.
- Our biased personal favorite because of its versatility!
- Less reactive (bouncy) than medicine balls, but still has some bounce to it depending on the brand
- Durable and great for ground slams and wall throws
- Definitely capable of any med ball exercise variation!
Dead Balls (AKA Slam Balls)
- The least reactive (bouncy) of them all because typically they’re made of sand
- The name says it all, these are best for floor slams or a one and done throw
Medicine Ball Exercise Variations
These are clearly some of our personal favorites, but without a doubt, if you want to develop strength speed, this is what you want to get started with! In terms of the continuum of med ball exercise progressions (AKA where to start and how to progress), you want to start simple and then add complexity in terms of the plane of motion, range of motion, body movements, and speed! Starting simple with a slam and then adding in hops and bounds to the slam is a simple example of this. Enough reading, it’s time to showcase the best medicine ball exercises!
Linear (Sagittal Plane) Focused Med Ball Exercises
Lateral (Frontal Plane) Focused Med Ball Exercises
Rotational (Transverse Plane) Focused Med Ball Exercises
If you’re going to give some of these advanced med ball exercises a go, you definitely want to supplement some speed-strength training, specifically plyometric exercises to work on your coordination, balance, and ability to perform these body-weight exercises!
Plyometrics [P]Rehab Program
Looking for a comprehensive guide that will take you through a step-by-step linear progression of plyometrics in a safe manner? our Plyometrics Program is designed to expose your body to all of the various potential landing and jumping movements that sports demand. This includes double and single-leg variations as well as multi-directional and continuous movements! These programs are rooted in scientific evidence, strengthening & conditioning principles, and our clinical expertise as physical therapists!
Unconventional Med Ball Exercises
So by now, we can appreciate why med balls exercises are an excellent piece of equipment to improve strength speed, power, and yes even speed strength. Depending on how heavy the ball is and how fast you’re moving it, we can safely say you will be working somewhere within the continuum of these three along the force-velocity curve. However, med balls are not exclusively used as a piece of throwing equipment. They can also function as an object you hold and move for a wide variety of reasons and they can serve as an unstable object you balance on with your hand(s). Below are a few examples of this, so don’t be afraid to grab that med ball even if you don’t plan on throwing it!
Medicine Ball Exercise Alternatives
Don’t have access to a med ball but really want to do exercises like this?! Grab a towel and get to it! Below are some excellent options that we feature as an alternative exercise in our [P]Rehab programs including core, groin, and golf!
Towel Scoop Toss
Squat Towel Slam – To Side, Alternating
How To Dose Your Medicine Ball Exercises
Now that you’ve picked your exercises out, it’s time to dose them correctly! Focus on the following tips below…
- 2-3x/week is a healthy dose!
- Limit yourself to about 50-70 throws max per session if focusing on strength speed and power
- Think power parameters: 1-8 sets of 6-8 reps, but reps can increase if you’re throwing lighter and continuously with the goal of fitness and endurance
- Pending the exercise, make sure you’re placing it correctly in your workout so that you have adequate energy and minimal neuromuscular fatigue
What About Form?
The beauty of medicine ball exercises is the fact that they require less skill than trying to hit a golf ball, baseball, hockey puck, or any sport-related task for that matter. We don’t have to be too picky about form, rather we can just focus on being explosive, the body will self-organize accordingly!
Key takeaways about the best medicine ball exercises you should be performing…
- Med balls are one of the most underutilized and incorrectly dosed pieces of gym equipment! You’re already ahead of the game after reading this article
- There are caveats to the strength continuum, but we can safely say you will be working somewhere within the continuum of strength speed, power, and speed strength along the force-velocity curve depending on the weight of the ball and the speed at which you’re performing the exercise!
- Just like any other exercise, you want to make sure your body is ready for medicine ball exercises with the prerequisite mobility & strength
- Make sure you pick the right type of ball for the exercise you want to perform and if you don’t have a ball grab a big towel as a substitute!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder, Chief Content Officer
Craig was born and raised in Blackwood, New Jersey and grew up with a passion for sports. Craig played soccer at a competitive level through high school. Craig found interest in physical therapy as a career after experiencing it first-hand due to a quadriceps injury. Because of this exposure, Craig went on to college at Pennsylvania State University to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a focus in Movement Science. Craig has experience with athletes at the D1 level as he worked with Penn State Women’s soccer team. After undergrad, Craig packed his bags and drove to California to pursue his Doctor of Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California. With his spare time, Craig enjoys golfing, hiking, traveling, and spending time with his wife and dog. Craig has a special interest in adolescent athletic development, soccer [P]Rehab and performance, and ACL rehab.