The greatest struggle the speed and power coach faces is the transfer of an athlete's strength to the specifics of the sport. There is much anecdotal evidence suggesting that many athletes make great gains in strength in the weight room environment, but relative percentage improvements out in the field fall far behind expectations. Many new training modalities have been used to aid in strength conversion; among them, towing and plyometrics. A training modality that was in vogue in Australia 20 years ago and has just started to make a revival is the use of medicine balls to transfer strength gains to speed and power movements.
Medicine balls come in a range of sizes and materials, ranging from 0.5-20kgs or more (to purchase med balls, click here). The traditional medicine ball is made from vinyl or leather covering a combination of sawdust, sand and padding material. New technology has lead to the latest development, that of the rubberized medicine ball. They have an advantage over the traditional leather medicine balls in that they are waterproof and do not lost their shape. They do not tear open, they are easy to grip even when wet, and they roll quite well if needed for that type of activity. They come in a range of sizes (each size is in a different color).
Medicine balls have an advantage over other types of weighted implements in that they are easy to throw and catch. They are soft and will do less damage than a weighted shot or dumbbell if accidentally dropped on an athlete. They can also be used in a variety of training situations, both inside and outside the weight room environment.
A large number of specific mid-torso exercises are done using a range of different sized medicine balls. General and specific body conditioning exercises (both isolations and multi-joint exercises) and sprint specific activities can also be performed.
1. SPECIFIC MID-TORSO EXERCISES (FIGURE 1)
Mid torso exercises are important when the goal is maximizing any speed or power movement. With the use of medicine balls, the coach can increase the number of exercises performed and can easily increase the number of repetitions per session in an enjoyable way for the athletes. It is not good training methodology to have athletes performing abdominal exercises that are non-specific to the activity at hand. Mid torso strength conversion can be achieved through a series of individual and paired exercises using a variety of weighted medicine balls.
The oblique musculature is vital in quality trunk stability. The following exercises aim to develop this region along with the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis in a functional manner.
- Standing twisting passes
- Overhead passes
- Rotational passes
- Seated twisting passes
- Supine ball raise with legs
- V-sit with ball
- Sit ups with ball catches legs grounded
- Sit ups with ball catches, legs off ground
- Isometric abs with ball catches
- Knee raise with ball between knees
- Seated twisting medicine ball abdominals
The correct development of the mid-torso and hip flexors is vital for maximal speed development, and many of these exercises develop both regions in a speed specific manner. The hip flexors should be able to contract maximally, with the mid torso controlling such a contraction minimizing inefficient movement through the hip region.
A new use for the ball is to assume a push up position with either the hands or feet on the ball, the athlete is then asked to perform a variety of leg/arm raise activities while staying balanced. This exercise is quite advanced and is a good indicator of improved mid torso stability as the athlete becomes more stable with time (see Figure 1A).
2. GENERAL AND SPECIFIC BODY CONDITIONING EXERCISES (FIGURE 2)
I use the following exercises as part of a dynamic warm up and between training sets either in the weight room or out on the field, track, court. etc.
- Big circles
- Head circlesltouches in prone
- Prone Medball raises (over head)
- Prone Medball raises (side)
- Overheadfigure of eight
- Medball lunges/Side lunges
- Hipflexor raises
- Hip extensor raises
- Medball kicks
All of these exercises are designed to strengthen specific body parts or develop general body strength and condition. The range of weights used varies from 1-4kgs, depending on the exercises and the strength level of the athlete.
I have found these exercises particularly beneficial in situations where the athlete does not want to do weights (or parents do not want their son/daughter to do weights). It has been quite easy to convince them (rather their parents) that this is a great alternative to weight training. While in the long term, strength gains will plateau, in the short term, the athlete can continue to do strength work without even realizing it. This example can be extended to the situation where as a coach, you are dealing with pre-adolescent children. These children can be performing a wide variety of strength activities for many years using medicine balls before they ever need to be introduced into a weight room environment.
3. SPRINT SPECIFIC ACTIVITIES
Another use of medicine balls is in sprint specific exercises. With a lot of our conditioning sprint work, it is more enjoyable to do these activities incorporating medicine balls into the program.
In the "Ball push from chest and sprint" activity, the athlete stands with the ball at chest height and performs the initial part of a standing long jump and attempts to push the ball as far as he can from his chest. Immediately following the explosive jump, the athlete sprints after the ball, concentrating on body position and usually stride rate (cadence). This activity can be repeated with good recoveries between repetitions (speed and power development). It can also be performed with only walk back recovery, and it becomes a very specific muscular endurance training session for sprint/power athletes. In its endurance form, this exercise is usually performed after all the quality training has been concluded in any training session. This exercise can be modified to have the athlete throw the ball like a caber and sprint or throw in a rotation fashion (like hammer) and sprint. I have added exercises such as landing in a push up position after the throw, one to two push ups and then sprint out of this position to the ball.
The variations of these exercises are only limited by the coach's imagination. I use these exercises after most sprint/power sessions, and if an athlete is looking flat during a session, I use these to supplement training once I stop high intensity work. This training is good for basic conditioning and strength endurance in specific muscle groups such as the hip and knee extensors.
In a team situation, I have used medicine balls as part of a relay. The athletes in each team have to carry the balls in certain positions (e.g., overhead, out in front of body, etc) and run to a certain spot. Upon placing the ball down, they run back and the next athlete has to sprint out and retrieve the ball in the same fashion. Once again, the variations on these activities are only limited by your creativity.