Medicine balls are dense, weighty balls that can be used to promote physical fitness. These curiously heavy balls have been around a long time. The father of medicine himself, Hippocrates, is said to have recommended a weighted ball for “medicinal” use more than two thousand years ago. No doubt he recognized the links among physical strength, aerobic fitness, and optimal health. Tellingly, Hippocrates also recognized the link between a healthful diet and robust health. He is commonly believed to have said: “Let food be thy medicine”.
Typically weighing from two to 25 pounds, modern medicine balls are roughly the diameter of the shoulders (about 14 inches). They’re used in rehabilitation following trauma or injury, and for strength training. They’re especially useful for developing core muscle strength and balance.
Some medicine balls are as wide as 36 inches in diameter. Throwing—and catching—medicine balls from person to person was a common gymnastics training exercise for many years. As such, the balls were used primarily to build upper body strength. But the weighted balls are actually versatile enough to be used in any number of ways to add a strength-building component to one’s aerobic workout.
Medicine Ball: Not the Same as an Exercise Ball
Not to be confused with exercise balls, which are typically much bigger in diameter, and relatively lightweight (they’re inflated with air), medicine balls are typically smaller and anything but lightweight. Exercise balls, also known as Swiss balls, are ordinarily used to promote balance. Medicine balls take a more direct approach, relying on weight to promote muscle building.
Modern medicine ball workouts can be designed to harness the benefits of both strengthening (resistance) and aerobics (cardio) forms of exercise. Workout moves with names such as the Power Cross Chop, Figure-8 Scoop, Front Lunge Passover, and Balancing Burpee are all used in popular cross-training-style fitness classes.
Endless Possibilities: Get Creative
Another, called the Extension Pass, illustrates the flexibility of the medicine ball as a fitness tool. Whether you take a class, follow videos instructions posted online, or indulge your creative impulses to come up with an all-new workout, the medicine ball can enhance your cardiovascular fitness while building muscle and stamina.
Similar to Superman pose in yoga, the Extension Pass requires you to lie facedown with your legs extended behind you. Imagine you are flying over the metropolis, dropping all your baggage as you go. Instead of extending your arms directly out in front of you, movie-Superman style, spread your arms out to the sides with your upper torso raised. Raise your feet behind you. With the medicine ball in one hand, extend your spine, lift your thighs and chest, and pass the ball from one hand to the other. Repeat at least 10-20 times. This pose/exercise combination builds core strength, helping to strengthen the lower back muscles and abdominals.
A simple Superman pose variation is to hold the arms out directly in front of you, arms and legs raised off the floor, while supporting the medicine ball in your hands in front of you. Hold as long as you can, rest, and repeat. This obviously builds upper body and abdominal strength, while also giving the muscles of the lower back a good workout.