Monday, January 08, 2001

Medicine Balls: A Powerful Prescription for Today's Athletes
(ARA) - Many physically active people turn to a quick pick-up game of basketball or football for a little exercise. But athletes in just about every sport today are gaining endurance and strength from a different kind of ball -- one that may have been used by your grandfather.

Weighing anywhere from 2 lbs to 30 lbs, medicine balls are used for heaving and catching and are once again becoming familiar additions to weight and training facilities everywhere. Also known as "medballs" or "Plyoballs", they range in size from a grapefruit to a basketball and have been around for decades. The term medicine ball goes back to their use on transatlantic ships during World War I. They were promoted by navy medics who stuffed kapok and rags into a leather basketball for the seasick or bored crew to toss around as exercise. This was a much easier form of medicine to prescribe than pills.

These days, a whole new generation is discovering the benefits of medicine balls. Athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. They're hitting more home runs, jumping higher, and running faster. A common denominator for many of today's record breaking levels of performance is the use of medicine balls during training. A wide variety of athletes have again started training with medicine balls -- body builders, golfers, baseball, basketball, football, tennis, soccer and hockey players, and even Olympic swimmers. Coaches and strength trainers everywhere are recommending medicine ball training because of several key benefits.

First, medicine balls build vital core muscles comprised of your abs, obliques and lower back. These muscles are vital because they are the origin of arm and leg strength. Whether it's swinging a bat, kicking a ball or jumping for a rebound, the power transmitted through your arms and legs is only as great as the power generated from your core muscles.

Medicine balls also prepare your body for realistic motions. Instead of repeating slow, restricted movements, your body is trained to perform explosive and ballistic movements. Unlike weight machines, in which you are fixed to a single plane of movement, a number of throwing, swinging and rotational movements become possible with medicine balls. Your body's newly learned muscle patterns results in an impressive increase in power output for all types of sports movements.

Strength trainers have also realized the benefit of medicine balls in key joints surrounding the muscles. You're only as strong as your weakest link, and that is all too often your shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle joints. The most common cause of joint injuries -- torn ACL's, sprained ankles, shoulder and elbow problems -- are from weak musculature surrounding those joints.

Medicine ball training is one of the best ways to strengthen the supporting musculature around these joints, building joint integrity to the critical areas. This translates into real life benefits not only for professional athletes, but for anyone in an exercise program or involved in any type of sporting activity.

Just like athletes themselves, medicine balls are available in a number of styles and sizes, and come in bouncing and non-bouncing varieties. The bouncing balls allow you to do tosses against a solid wall or pavement. Tennis players can stimulate their muscles while simulating their game by hurling a bouncing medicine ball across the net. The non-bounce ball is used by many advanced athletes because it is softer on the hands to catch and doesn't roll away when it lands. This is an advantage in outdoor squat throws where you hurl the ball high in the air but don't want to continually chase it. The same goes for indoor group exercises in which a non-bounce ball is easier to manage in crowds where there are multiple balls and multiple users.

Most people prefer the new rubber balls over the more authentic leather ones. Rubber balls retain their shape when thrown against a wall, are sweat proof with non slip grip coatings, and generally hold up better than leather balls which can become slick or scuffed up.

The recommended weight of a medicine ball depends on your age, sex, size and purpose. An 8 to15 lb ball is a good weight for an abdominal core workout. A 4 to 10 lb ball is good for tossing exercises. Use a heavier ball, around 15 to 30 lbs, for leg exercises that build hamstrings and quads. Women and juniors usually use balls on the lower end of the range, while men typically use balls on the higher end of the range. For a woman or junior purchasing a first all around ball, a 6 lb ball is a good choice; for a man, a 10 lb ball is a good weight for a beginner.

Visit to view a variety of medicine balls that can be purchased online.

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