You might have seen people using medicine balls in the gym, but did you know that there are tons of benefits of medicine ball training that could help you specifically?
If you’re unsure about this type of training then you’ve clicked on the right article. We’re about to explain exactly why incorporating medicine balls into your fitness regime is seriously worthwhile!
You might be thinking “what is a medicine ball good for?”, so we’ve listed 9 of the top benefits of medicine ball training and how they’re helpful to you.
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Written by Professional S & C Coaches
What is Medicine Ball Training?
Medicine balls are firm, weighted balls that are available in varying sizes, from 2 to over 110 pounds, and come in several variations including inflatable, rubber, or grip balls.
There are also specifically designed medicine balls: some are fitted with straps for Russian Twists and Toe Taps, and some slam balls are filled with sand or gel to absorb impact.
Medicine balls are thought to have evolved from an invention by the Greek physician Hippocrates, "The Father of Medicine", who used weighted balls to aid injury recovery in patients. It has also been suggested that medicine balls were used as strength and conditioning fitness equipment by ancient gladiators.
Today, medicine balls are often used as weights during workouts to work towards progressive overload. Medicine ball training is the integration of this equipment and training style into a broader programme (it’s not a complete training programme by itself).
One of the most valued medicine ball training benefits is the effective development of strength, balance, and endurance - three of the key elements of total body fitness.
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The benefits of medicine ball training are varied: this type of training can benefit rehabilitation from injury, enhance strength training and sports performance, and add a resistance element into metabolic workouts.
Medicine ball training is becoming increasingly popular, as it works a huge range of muscle groups and many of the explosive exercises done with medicine balls incorporate functional movements.
This positively improves athletic ability by mirroring the same movements that are needed on the field, in the ring, or on the court.
When choosing a medicine ball size and weight for your training programme, be sure to pick a ball that’s heavy enough to slow you down but not so heavy that control, form, or range of motion are negatively affected.
Benefits of Medicine Ball Training
Standing the test of time as possibly one of the oldest forms of athletic training, medicine ball training advantages (and disadvantages!) have adapted over time: here are 9 of the top benefits of using a medicine ball.
#1 - Building Strength
One of the greatest advantages of medicine ball training is that these exercises utilise a huge range of movement, which is effective for strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals in total body strength training.
Through short, high-impact, high-intensity movements, medicine ball training offers the ability to generate higher levels of explosive strength, which is essential for most competitive sports (especially rotational sports such as baseball, tennis, and golf).
Medicine ball training does this by introducing a heightened focus on acceleration as well as mass, whereas traditional weight training overlooks acceleration and only focuses on increasing mass by lifting heavier weights.
If you’re wondering why acceleration is important then consider Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Force = Mass x Acceleration. Acceleration in conjunction with mass is integral to force, and therefore key to increasing the ability to generate greater force effectively.
The same principle applies in strength training, so one of the benefits of medicine ball training is that it explores how force can be increased by accelerating the medicine ball, essentially moving a weight at high-speed. The result is the build-up of explosive, powerful, whole-body strength.
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Core strength in particular is targeted by medicine balls with exercises such as Medicine Ball Throw Downs benefiting the development of multi-directional, functional core strength. Plus, many bodyweight exercises can be adapted to include medicine balls, or weights, increasing their efficacy and benefits.
The Russian Twist and Wood Chopper exercises are also brilliant movements to engage the abdominal wall, and medicine balls are an easy way to add resistance to core-focused workouts.
#2 - Explosive Power
Alongside building strength, two additional benefits of medicine ball training are increased power and explosiveness.
In a 2006 study of 69 high-school students over 6 weeks it was found that students who participated in a medicine ball training program made significant gains in measures of speed, agility, power, and muscular endurance compared to regular physical activity.
The study states:
“The primary finding of this investigation was that regular participation in a progressive medicine ball training program produced greater magnitudes of improvement in muscular fitness and specific motor performances than traditional physical education lessons in high school students after short-term training.” (Faigenbaum and Mediate, 2006)
This is one of a number of studies that provide similar evidence for these benefits of medicine ball training.
This type of training involves a weight element combined with functional movements. The two trained together, whilst incorporating both elements of Newton's Second Law of Motion (force and acceleration), offer highly effective explosive power training.
Exercises such as the Medicine Ball Explosive Pass or the Overhead Toss, for example, require a sequence of coordinated movements and force generation, increasing strength in the back extensor muscles, thereby increasing the overall power of your throws.
The benefits of Medicine Ball Slams performed in 30-second sets not only include developing power but also improved strength and endurance, both of which are vital for enhanced sports performance.
Similarly, incorporating an appropriate weight medicine ball into high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can raise the difficulty of your training programme whilst allowing you to train for increased power.
#3 - Balance and Posture
Good posture and spinal alignment depend on a strong core, and the majority of everyday and sports-related activities require core engagement and balance. The benefits of using a medicine ball extend into improving overall posture and balance thanks to the fact that medicine ball training is a brilliant way to strengthen the core muscles.
The main core muscles include the multifidus, the rectus abdominis, the transversus abdominis, the external obliques, the internal obliques, the quadratus lumborum, and the lumbar erector spinae.
Check out OriGym’s guide on how to engage your core to make sure you’re doing it properly!
Medicine ball exercises work the core muscles through a range of movements that impact balance, posture, and flexibility, whilst also training intermuscular coordination.
The benefits of a medicine ball workout means they are commonly used in athletic training, for example to throw an athlete off balance and to work the deeper muscle groups that are important for balance and posture, thereby improving overall athletic performance.
This is the reason top-level athletes warm-up or train with medicine balls. When used in competitive sports, the medicine ball can boost speed, accuracy, perception,and awareness of how your body is positioned.
Not only is working your deep core muscles important for athletic training, but it's also important for exercising safely in general and helps with performing everyday movements.
Interested in exploring medicine ball training for balance and posture? The challenge to balance and focus of Medicine Ball Push Ups benefits makes it an effective exercise to incorporate into your regular routine.
#4 - Cardiovascular Fitness
Having good cardiovascular health is a common goal when starting training programmes, and increased cardiovascular fitness is another one of the benefits of medicine ball workouts.
A 2018 study found that medicine ball training requires the same cardio demand as intermittent running or cycling.
The study stated:
“Given the known neuromuscular benefits of resistance training, MBIT [medicine ball interval training] performed at the requisite weekly frequency has the potential to enhance both cardiometabolic and neuromuscular fitness.” (Faigenbaum et al., 2018)
This means that medicine ball training is as effective, if not more, as running or cycling for maintaining a healthy heart.
This is because medicine ball exercises are generally full-body movements that combine cardiovascular and strength training at the same time.
For example, exercises such as Medicine Ball Slams benefit cardiovascular health as they require total-body engagement, speed, and explosive power to slam the medicine ball down.
The muscles worked in this exercise include the shoulders, triceps, glutes, back, and hamstrings, while the core redirects energy into the movement. Ultimately, this builds overall power and strength, but also spikes the heart rate, boosting cardiovascular health.
Medicine Ball Slams are a beginner-friendly exercise that develops explosive power. They are also a brilliant way of working on fast, high-power moves (such as Squat Jumps, Box Jumps, and Speed Skaters) that also offer a cardio workout to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
If you're particularly interested in muscular endurance and body conditioning as well, then completing 40 seconds of explosive Medicine Ball Passes in sets of 4 will put your body to the test and get your heart pumping.
#5 - Fat Burning Capacity
When exploring medicine ball training benefits, it's important to note that this type of training can be "metabolic" with bouts of high-impact, heart-rate-revving sets that will maximise your calorie burn both during and after your workout.
General metabolic training (or metabolic resistance training) consists of executing short but intense compound exercises with minimal rest intervals in between, with the purpose of amplifying calorie burn before and after exercising.
It’s important to incorporate the right amount of rest days into your training regimen if you’re regularly doing metabolic workouts. Read our article on the importance of rest days and how many you need to make sure your training plan is right.
High-intensity metabolic circuits with medicine balls incorporate two old-school pieces of equipment: light-to-moderate weight medicine balls and resistance bands, with movements that ramp up power output and burn fat.
By incorporating medicine ball training elements into normal metabolic training, you’ll be building strength and power along with burning fat and calories.
For muscles to train at this intensity it takes huge amounts of energy, and consequently, the metabolism rate becomes elevated due to EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). This is the increased consumption of oxygen that is needed to help the body restore itself and rebuild muscle after intense exercise.
This means that overall calorie burn is extended for hours post-exercise. This offers huge benefits in the amounts of fat burnt, and it requires a shorter amount of time exercising than that of other non-metabolic exercises.
Furthermore, due to the compound nature of the majority of medicine ball exercises, this metabolic effect is easier to induce through some more regular medicine ball training workouts as well!
#6 - Functional Movement
Unlike traditional weight training using barbells and dumbbells, the twisting, turning, and bending of medicine ball exercises demands multiple muscle groups to engage at once: a form of compound and functional movement.
Medicine ball training works through all 3 planes of motion: frontal (a vertical plane that separates the body into anterior and posterior halves), sagittal (a vertical plane that separates the body into right and left halves), and transverse (a horizontal plane that separates the body into upper and lower sections).
There are only a small number of body movements that only use one plane of motion, and the simplicity of these movements means that it’s much more beneficial to incorporate multi-planar training, such as medicine ball training, to build fitness effectively
The effect of this in regards to medicine ball training benefits is that it enhances athletic performance by replicating more natural and functional movements whilst still increasing heart rate, calorie burn, and building strength and power.
The increased variety in movements with medicine ball exercises means that you can train movements not necessarily found in other strength training programmes: exploring exercises in the different planes of motion means identifying and targeting muscle weaknesses is much easier.
Not only that, but better functional movement means day-to-day activities which require similar movements to medicine ball exercises, such as carrying shopping or playing with your children in the park, also become easier!
#7 - Lower Risks, Higher Safety
For beginners new to fitness, perhaps with poor coordination and/or balance, some exercises require more complex technical skills and could pose a safety risk.
Similarly, if inexperienced trainers or athletes don't possess a great foundation of strength then there is a higher chance of sustaining an injury.
Medicine ball movements, however, are easy to learn and to perform, making them a brilliant entry-level training style with much less risk of broken toes or ACL tears.
Additionally, medicine ball training can be used in place of other types of training when injury or safety are a concern, for example if you have issues with gripping dumbbells then exercising with a medicine ball can help build muscle without additional stress.
Similarly, lacerations, damaged knees or even head injuries are all things which can be avoided when using medicine balls for strength and power training; if you drop a medicine ball it's much less of a hazard than if you drop a barbell!
Don’t let the associated risks of weight training put you off: take a look at OriGym’s guide on common weightlifting injuries to help prevent any damage!
The goal should always be to have athletes train safely and effectively. Medicine balls are a simple yet dynamic fitness tool that can provide restorative exercise or provide proficient progression for strength, endurance, or recovery, with much less chance of overworking muscles or joints.
#8 - Rehabilitation
Medicine balls were originally intended for rehabilitation purposes, as opposed to fitness. From as early as the mid-1960s physical therapists across Europe, especially in Switzerland, used them for posture and back rehabilitation.
American physical therapists became fascinated with Swiss rehabilitation methods in the 1980s, bringing medicine balls to the United States and implementing them into their own rehabilitation exercises. They renamed this equipment the Swiss Ball.
Today, due to the benefits of medicine balls, they are still regularly used for rehabilitation. Medicine ball training is effective for regenerating endurance and response, especially in spinal and knee injuries, whilst carrying a low risk of further strain on the body.
Medicine ball benefits, as mentioned, include increased core strength. This is extremely important in rehabilitation because the core keeps the body stable and supports the muscles needed for everyday movement.
For people suffering lower back pain or those with a lower back injury, medicine balls effectively strengthen deep abdominal muscles, back muscles and lower back muscles that support the spine and pelvis. This leads to more uncomplicated recovery through better spinal alignment, which will help ease the pain felt in the lower back.
Patients should use lightweight medicine balls, gradually increasing weight as they recover. Some exercises can help to build back mobility, others can support healing thigh or calf muscles.
Medicine ball training can also be used to target injured muscles or muscle groups in physical therapy with prolific results!
#9 - Socialisation and Teamwork
Typical gym workouts using barbells, dumbells or machines are more commonly done with the athlete working out alone. Medicine ball training is different as it can be done with a partner or in groups.
Not only are group exercises typically more fun and versatile but they can increase the effectiveness of the training session through better engagement and activity variety, both of which have a positive impact on mood.
Studies show that people that feel positive about exercise are more likely to maintain a regular exercise routine.
For example, researchers at The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that working out in a group can lower stress by 26%, improve mental health by 12.6% and emotional health by 26%.
With actions such as rolling, passing, and tossing, medicine ball group training offers full-body engagement - muscle groups are both targeted and work as stabiliser muscles - and presents the benefits of medicine ball exercises for the whole group.
Group exercises with medicine balls, as well as those performed alone, can also be performed anywhere without the need of any other specialist equipment, so groups can workout on the beach or in a local park. Overall this makes a positive and energetic workout, building trust as well as group socialisation skills.
If you’re now looking to invest in a medicine ball then check out our top 17 medicine balls here!
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Written by Professional S & C Coaches
With such a brilliant array of medicine ball benefits, this type of training is effective for a variety of workout programmes and fitness goals, so you’ll be able to incorporate them into your next gym session with ease.
Want to take your fitness prowess to the next level? Become a personal trainer with OriGym: we’ve got online personal trainer courses as well as a variety of personal trainer packages. Download our course prospectus today for all the information.
- Borghuis, J., Hof, A.L., and Lemmink, K.A. (2008). The importance of sensory-motor control in providing core stability. Sports Med, 38 (11), 893-916.
- Dayna M. Yorks, Christopher A. Frothingham, Mark D. Schuenke. Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. (2017). The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 117 (11): e17 DOI: 10.7556/jaoa.2017.140.
- Faigenbaum, A.D., Mediate, M. (2006). Effects of Medicine Ball Training on Fitness Performance of High-School Physical Education Students. Sports Research Intelligence Support, 160-168.
- Faigenbaum, A.D., Kang, J., Farrell, A., Ratamess, N.A., Ellis, N., Vought, I. and Bush, J. (2018). Acute Cardiometabolic Responses to Medicine Ball Exercise in Children. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 50(5S), p.527.
- Hagberg, L.A., Lindahl, B.., Nyberg, L. and Hellénius, M.-L. (2009). Importance of Enjoyment When Promoting Physical Exercise. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 19(5), pp.740–7.
- Vincent, J., Traywick, L., Washburn, L. (2013). Increasing Physical Activity as We Age Strength Training With Medicine Balls. Division of Agriculture Research and Extension, 1-8.