A medicine ball is one of the few pieces of equipment that can deliver results through either controlled or explosive repetition. It also brings a large percentage of your "total body" into play when performing the exercise.
There are two basic medicine ball styles: a standard weighted ball that will bounce, and a "slam" ball that's purposely designed not to bounce. Standard medicine balls have a synthetic cover, range from seven to 11 inches in diameter and weigh 4 to 20 pounds.
The "slam" ball is seven to nine inches in diameter, can weigh four to 50 pounds and is designed to be thrown with force without bouncing.
There's also another "standard" that you may be able to find in your fitness center, which I actually prefer — the 14-inch "Dynamax" ball. This one can't stand up to being thrown against abrasive surfaces like the standard balls can, but it can be thrown hard at a partner without fear of injury. The bigger diameter places the hands close to shoulder width, which works the upper back and shoulder muscles in a more natural way.
Here's one of my favorite workouts using both the standard and slam balls.
Do three rounds, with five minutes of rest after each round. As with all new workouts, if you haven't done a medicine ball explosive workout before, then start with a lighter ball, go for fewer repetitions and shorter distances, and increase rest time. Then work up to the weights and times indicated.
1. Wall ball (14 pounds/20 meters, 20 reps)
This is a CrossFit staple. You need to throw to a height of at least 11 to 12 feet. Place a target 10 feet high. Do not stand close to the target, as you'll be throwing the ball straight up so it just brushes the target and then falls straight down. If not done correctly, you may not hit the target at all. Give yourself an angle.
- Hold the medicine ball against your chest.
- Go into a squat, then come up and explosively throw the ball at the target. Put some force into it so it will bounce back to you. Always catch the ball with fingers pointed up. Don’t reach out for it; that will compromise your back.
- As you catch the ball, transition back into a squat, then come up again and repeat.
2. Triple Throw (50 meters up and back, 100 meters total)
This is a great cardio/strength combo. Don't rest during the throw. In bad weather, you can do this up and down the length of a basketball court.
Throw 1: With the medicine ball on the ground between your feet:
- Squat down, keeping your back neutral, and grab the medicine ball.
- Explode up like you are doing a squat jump (your feet should leave the ground); as you do, rotate the ball to your chest and explosively throw it up and out with an emphasis on the "up."
- Jog to where the ball stops, repeat until you cover 50 meters, then reverse and execute the throw until you return to your starting line.
Rest only long enough to get a few sips of water.
Throw 2: Get in a slight squat, holding the medicine ball between your legs (like the old underhanded style of shooting a basketball free throw), then:
- Explode up as in Throw 1, and throw the ball up and out with the same emphasis on the "up."
- Jog to where the ball stops, repeat until you hit your turnaround mark, then throw back to your starting line.
- Again, rest only long enough to get some water.
Throw 3: This one will give you the most distance of the three throws. Go into a slight squat with your back to the turnaround point, then:
- Hold the ball just below waist level.
- Explosively throw the ball up and back over your head.
- Turn, jog to the ball, repeat to your turning point, then repeat back to your starting point.
Rest only for some water.
3. Slam ball (15 pounds/20 meters, 15 reps)
This is the ball that doesn't bounce. Fifteen pounds is the lowest weight I use for this exercise. This is the area in which to increase weight as your fitness level increases.
- Hold the ball at waist level.
- Raise it over your head with full extension; you should rise up on the balls of your feet.
- Explosively bring the ball down and throw it — slam it — into the ground. Target a spot close to your feet so you don’t have to "reach" when you grab the ball again. As you release the ball, it’s important to continue following the downward flight of the ball, with your body ending up in a deep squat, your back neutral and your hands very near the ball. This also cuts down on rest time, since you pick up the ball again almost immediately.
- Grasp the ball, come out of the squat extending upward to the balls of your feet, and repeat the throw.
4. 800-meter run
Do this at 85 percent effort.
You should notice a definite increase in heart rate with an explosive workout like this. You can make this a "marker" workout — do it once every couple of months and track heart rate, lengthening workout times and any reductions in rest times.
Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org