Good Medicine: Using the medicine ball to enhance your core strength workout.
This article will point out a few exercises which can be done with that most venerable piece of equipment: the medicine ball. These exercises will target mainly core muscles (upper, mid, and lower abs; obliques, etc.) and may be done effectively both with and without a partner. As with any exercises which combine twisting motions with added weight, caution should be taken to prevent overloading your back or putting strain on your spine.
Of all the pieces of gym equipment, the medicine ball must have one of the longest runs as a useful and popular tool. Art from Greek and Roman times depicts athletes using a ball to enhance their workout and the ball would have been equally at home in a gym in the early 1900's as it is today. Part of the reason for this continued longevity is the utter simplicity and effectiveness of use. At heart, we're just talking about a big, heavy ball. If you pick the thing up, you are utilizing muscles for lifting, balance, and rotation control immediately.
Balls today can be found in both the traditional leather cover, and the currently more popular rubber covering. Balls come in a variety of weights from about 2 pounds up to about 20 pounds. This doesn't sound like a lot; however, using a ball requires coordination of several muscle groups at once, and using one can provide a good challenge no matter your fitness level. It is worthwhile to start with a lighter ball then you might think you need at first, and focus on toning the muscles rather than trying to bulk up with a heavier weight.
The medicine ball can be a very useful addition to standard crunches. Begin in your standard crunch position with the medicine ball resting on your chest, hands on the side of the ball. Slowly rotate through your crunches keeping the medicine ball steady and centered on your chest. As you get comfortable with the movement, the medicine ball can be centered higher up, finally reaching a position with the ball in your hands over your head and arms stretched out. The further the ball is held out from your abs, the more challenging the movement will be.
This exercise also works very well with a partner. Have your partner lightly stand on your toes, and as you pass through the top of your movement, toss the ball to your partner. The partner will toss the ball back as you make your reverse movement back to the floor. This technique requires you to control the rotational aspects of the ball while still moving through your crunch movement, bringing into play the smaller muscles on the sides of your abs. And it forces you to focus on the movement so you don't drop the ball on your head. Simple, but very effective.
To perform this exercise, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart with the medicine ball held against the chest. In a controlled motion, twist from the waist upwards side to side as far as is comfortable. Take care not to over-rotate, or to let the weight of the ball carry you further than you want to go. Always remain in control of the motion. Additional intensity can be found by holding the ball out further from your chest. The further the ball is from your axis of motion, the more difficult the exercise will be.
To perform this exercise with a partner, stand back to back and hand off the ball at the end of your motion and pick it up at the other side. So, the motion is twist left, pass off ball, twist right, pick up ball, twist left, pass off ball, etc. In both the partner and solo versions of this exercise, remember to go in both directions before finishing to keep your muscles balanced.
This exercise is effective for volleyball, basketball, and any other sport that requires explosive movement. To begin, assume your standard squat position, but instead of holding your arms out to the front, they should be down, holding the medicine ball between your legs with both hands. When set up, smoothly stand and bring the ball to full extension over your head. Don't lock your knees or elbows. The basic idea is to lower the ball as low as you can hold it, now raise the ball is as high as you can hold it. Smoothness is more important than quickness in this motion, but as you will see, the motion is very similar to going for a block in volleyball or a rebound in basketball and it works the fast twitch muscle fibers.
As with sit-ups, the humble push-up is enhanced by using the ball. A couple of quick examples include placing your feet on the ball as you do your push ups, or placing one hand on the ball as you do your push-ups with the other hand on the floor. Both of these force you to bring additional muscles into play to maintain your balance throughout the exercise. Remember to work both sides when keeping the ball under your hand.
For some additional spring in your step, try this exercise. Place the ball on the floor between your feet, then lift your heels slightly. Tap the top of the ball with your right foot, then your left foot, continuing to alternate feet and staying up on your toes. This looks kind of like a soccer exercise, but the medicine ball is a bit less likely to roll away from the motion since it is weighted. Speed up your pace as you are able.
This is an exercise straight from the boxing gym, and I didn't believe how tough it was until I tried it. Place the ball on the floor then lay down on it with the ball centered under your abs. Now roll around using your arms and legs to shift position. You don't really need to go anywhere; the effort of keeping your abs tight to support your torso on the ball will let you know it is working.
Let us also not forget the most basic of partner exercises which can be done with the ball: catch. Just play catch with the medicine ball. Try these three variations: throw with an underhand toss, a basketball style chest pass, then throw with each arm individually. These are all challenging exercises and will work your chest and back as well as your arms and shoulders. For an entertaining view of a game invented for the medicine ball, do a Google search on Hoover ball, a game invented by former President Herbert Hoover and played on the White House lawn.
I have not included any repetition recommendations since these exercises can be done with a lighter ball until you reach temporary muscle failure for toning, or with a heavier ball in numerous sets for muscle building. It really depends on your goals, and of course you can mix it up. Always remember to listen to your body and don't force any movements or repetitions which don't feel right.
I hope you enjoy these exercises; they are a good way to work some of the smaller muscle groups which can sometimes get neglected and should provide a change of pace from your standard routine. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work!