Medicine balls have been used for sports and power training for a long time. Easy to use and easy to hold, they can be used as extra resistance. The further away from the body, the greater the demand on the core. They can be gently tossed or thrown with determination, allowing for many training progressions. With medicine balls, the possibilities are endless.
The Right Weight for the Right Purpose
Medicine balls are just like any other tool we as personal trainers use: we need to know if our clients are ready to use them. We need to know why we are using them; we need to know when our clients are ready to progress; and we need to know how to progress safely. Med balls are not the best choice if your training goal is pure muscle hypertrophy. They are however, extremely valuable in integrated training, as you can challenge the entire body as a unit. You can address valuable components of fitness such as stability, proprioception, core integrity, power, deceleration, coordination, and just plain fun!
Start with a very light medicine ball with all of the following drills. Sometimes your client will say that it is easier for them when they use a heavier ball, as a heavier object can help the client stabilize more. It is just like when your client says that a slightly heavier barbell is easier when bench-pressing. Always be sure your client can support and control their own body weight without extra resistance before giving them any. Then, always make sure they can control the weight they are using before increasing it.
Full Body Warm Up with a Medicine Ball
What did your last 10 clients do as a warm up before your training session? Was it 5 minutes on a bike or treadmill? Did they tell you they just walked to the gym at 6am (and they live 2 blocks away?) and that is enough? How much movement in how many limbs did your client really achieve in that warm up? Using a medicine ball with a big body movement such as a squat and overhead reach can get your client moving in all planes, warm up the joints and get the muscles "ready" for action. It also will excite the neuromuscular system, which will enhance the efficacy or effectiveness of the entire training session.
Squat with Overhead/Diagonal Movements
Perform these exercises either as a warm up or start of a circuit.
Have your client stand with the feet about shoulder width apart. They should hold the medicine ball close to the body, as this is the easiest. They squat down to the floor as far as they can maintaining proper form and posture, then stand up and bring the med ball overhead as they stand up. After doing one or two sets with good control, have the client move with the ball further away from the body.
Your client should exhale as they stand up. If you want some cues, try these: "Exhale forcefully as you stand up, pulling your abs in as you do so" and "Pretend you are blowing out a candle that is three feet away as you stand up." If your client naturally inhales on the way up instead of exhaling, you may want to spend some more time on basic core training progressions before increasing the difficulty of this movement. Observe the movement and see if you can get your client to move as a unit, with the squat and overhead movement as a sequence and not as two separated segments. Ask your client to "feel" how the core/ab muscles actively slow the movement down as they get to the top of the movement.
If you are satisfied with the client’s movement, you can ask them to go a little faster. Be certain you don’t see the low back arch excessively, as that would be a sign that they are not keeping the core engaged.
Next, have the client rotate the torso as they come up from the squat, aiming the med ball to the top of the right shoulder, then the left. Cue the eyes to follow the movement. Allow the client to move other parts of the body that feel like they want to move For example, when the client brings the ball up to the right shoulder, the left foot will probably feel like it wants to lift up and also move - essentially moving the entire body. We have traditioally spent way too much time telling our clients to keep body parts still while other body parts are moving.
When you use this as a warm up, work up to at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions to each direction (straight up, and to each side). Even if you do a traditional training session, this is a great way to start! If you use this as part of a full circuit, you can do one set to one direction, then move onto the next drill. You can then change the direction in the next circuit.
In a stationary lunge position with the right leg in front have your client hold the med ball in both hands. As they lower towards the floor, they will take the ball and bring it towards the outside of the left thigh, and then as they come up, bring the ball up in the direction towards their right shoulder. Have them visualize a diagonal line across the front of their body. When your client looks fairly stable in this movement, have them follow the movement with their eyes, making it more difficult on their proprioceptive skills.
Stand a few feet away from your client. Have them stand in a staggered position, with one foot in front of the other, or even a modified lunge position. As they become more familiar with the drill, or just for variety, have them stand in a ready position, with the knees slightly bent and legs about hip-shoulder width apart. Start by giving them the ball, so they get a good idea of how heavy it feels. Cue them to stay engaged in the core. Have them toss you the ball, and then catch it from you. Allow them to get the feel of the drill, and then start working on deceleration. Cue them to catch the ball a little in front of the body, slowing down the movement as the ball comes closer to them.
I am going to show three ways to begin rotations with clients who have not done these kinds of movements before. We start on the floor in a supine position, then seated, and then standing-the most functional position.
Have your client lie supine on the floor with knees bent, and hold the medicine ball over the torso. Cueing to keep the core engaged, have the client slowly rotate a little towards one side. As they begin to come back to the starting position, you should visibly see the core muscles engage. If not, you should remove the med ball and go back to more basic core progressions.
Sit back to back, fairly close to your client. Rotate to the opposite side of each other, passing the ball back and forth. Keep the movements on the slow for now.
The idea is to get the client more familiar with core stability while they are moving in different planes. The role of the core is to react to the movement and/or position and to stabilize from the inside out. . In the next article we will begin more dynamic and powerful progressions.
The idea is to get your client to this standing position. All of the positions are good for variety, but we should try to have our clients in real life positions as much as possible. Avoid cueing the client to keep the lower body still, and let the body move as a unit.
Sample Progression for Beginners
Start with this first round, and do it one time as a warm up before a traditional training session, or 2-3 times as a circuit in your session.
- 6 squats with med ball going straight overhead
- 6 squats with med ball going over right shoulder
- 6 squats with med ball going over left shoulder
- 6 lunges with left leg in front-diagonal pattern to left shoulder
- 6 lunges with right leg in front-diagonal pattern to right shoulder
- 8-12 chest presses in stagger stance
- 6 rotations to each side--on the floor
Do this same sequence several times with your client before progressing. Progress by either increasing the number of reps by 3-5, or doing this circuit three or more times.
Progression of the first sequence (increasing difficulty)
You can also perform these exercises as a second circuit when your client gets more familiar with the drills:
- Alternate directions of the squats: 1 to the right, 1 to the center, 1 to the left: 6-8 to each side for a total of 18-24 reps. Work on increasing speed of movement.
- 6-8 reps of lunges; first with the left leg in front, then the right. Work on increasing speed of movement.
- 8-12 chest presses standing with feet hip-shoulder width apart. Work on deceleration.
- 6 rotations to each side--on the floor
- 6 rotations to each side--while seated
- 6 rotations to each side--standing
Progression of the sequence (increasing difficulty)
This sequence also works as a third circuit as your client gets more familiar with the drills:
- Call out the direction that your client should move the ball as they do the squats, making them react quicker. Total=20-30 reps. You can work on increasing the speed of movement, holding the ball further away, and potentially increasing the weight of the ball.
- Have the client do reverse lunges-stepping back as the right leg as they bring the ball down to the right side, then coming back to start as they lift the ball up towards the left shoulder. Total=20-30 reps
- 15-25 chest presses. Work on increasing the speed, deceleration, changing foot positions more often, and using a heavier ball.
- 12-20 rotations--seated
- 12-20 rotations—rotations—standing
In the next articles we will take these same progressions and increase the difficulty in several ways.
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