Utilizing medicine balls in a strength and conditioning program is an excellent way for athletes to focus on building power. Medicine balls offer a few unique characteristics that make them a perfect supplement to training done in the weight room.
Med balls allow athletes to completely accelerate an object without any need to hold back. For example, when doing exercises like Bench Press and Back Squat a lifter has to decelerate towards the end of the movement to stay safe and under control.
However, the ability to release a med ball after applying as much power as possible to it makes it perfect for developing power. The size and shape of a med ball also allow more varied movement patterns than a barbell does.
So, which specific med ball exercises should athletes be incorporating into their training program?
I’ve been a sports performance coach working with elite level athletes for 20 years and here are my 10 favorite medicine ball exercises for athletes.
Medicine Ball Exercises For Athletes
Medicine Ball Cannonball Throws
Cannonball Throws are probably my favorite of all the med ball exercises. The reason is this specific movement replicates the same triple extension that is trained by Olympic lifts and is arguably the most important movement pattern in all of sport.
It’s the reason Cannonball Throws are one of my favorite Power Clean Alternatives.
- First, make sure you have enough ceiling height to be able to do Cannonballs. I recommend doing them outside to avoid this issue altogether.
- Grab the ball with both hands cradling under the ball. Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Pull the shoulder blades back, engage the lats and core, slightly bend the knees and hinge forward at the hips.
- Allow the medicine ball to fall in between the shins.
- You should now be in a good athletic position that looks very similar to the starting position of a Hang Clean.
- From here, explosively drive the feet through the ground and aggressively extend the hips and throw the ball as high as possible*.
- Allow the ball to hit the ground, grab it, then reset and repeat.
Do NOT try to catch the ball directly out of the air. This is a great way to jam a wrist or a finger. Allow the ball to hit the ground first before grabbing it for the next rep.
*Cannonball Throws can either be done straight up in the air or behind you to a partner. If working with a partner, stand facing away from them and throw the ball at about a 45 degree angle. The goal is to throw the ball as far as possible in the air.
Medicine Ball Slams
Want to let out some aggression and get some great ab work in? Try some Med Ball Slams.
- Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
- Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips.
- Follow through with the arms and release the ball.
- Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat.
First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their face smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.
The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.
Medicine Ball Side Slams
Med Ball Side Slams are very similar to the Med Ball Slams I just went over with a slight twist, literally.
Instead of hinging forward and slamming the ball into the ground straight in front of you, twist to one side as you drive down and throw the ball into the ground just beside your feet. Everything else about the movement should stay the same.
- Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
- Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips – while simultaneously rotating to one side.
- Follow through with the arms and release the ball. The ball should hit the ground just to the outside of the feet.
- Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat (alternating back and forth to each side).
Just as with regular Medicine Ball Slams, the biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Side Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms.
Med Ball Side Throw
Utilizing medicine balls is one of the best ways to develop rotational power. This is critical for rotational sports like baseball and tennis. Being able to aggressively rotate and release your weighted implement is definitely something you can’t do with a barbell or dumbbell.
For Med Ball Side Throws you’ll want to either find a sturdy wall (that can withstand having a med ball slammed into it) or a partner.
- Grab a medicine ball and stand perpendicular to a sturdy wall*.
- Distance away from the wall will vary based upon the type of medicine ball you have.
- Stand in a good athletic position, feet shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent.
- Begin by rotating away from the wall, reaching the medicine ball toward the back hip.
- Now, aggressively rotate toward the wall, turning on the ball of the back foot, opening the hips toward the wall and releasing the ball into the wall.
- Catch the ball off the ball, reset and repeat.
The biggest mistake I see athletes make is using their arms (and not their hips) way too much to throw the ball. Power for the throw should primarily come from rotating the hips and torso and the arms should be secondary.
*If you have a partner, you can throw to each other instead of into a wall.
Med Ball Counter Movement Side Throw
Adding a Counter Movement to the Side Throw adds a layer of force absorption, redirection and then power development.
Start in a good athletic position just like with regular MB Side Throws. Let’s assume your left shoulder is toward the wall. Start the movement by performing a medium sized lateral hop off of your left foot (hopping away from the wall).
Land on the right foot and quickly redirect, rotate and throw the ball into the wall.
Medicine Ball Power Jerks
Med Ball Power Jerks might be the most self-explanatory exercise on this list if you’re already familiar with Power Jerks.
- Make sure you have clearance above you to throw the ball. (Either outside or inside with high ceilings)
- Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly hip-width apart.
- Med Ball should be at the chest. Hands under the ball, palms facing towards one another.
- Perform a 4 to 6-inch dip of the knees and hips, keeping the torso vertical and feet flat-footed on the ground.
- Now, aggressively drive up, fully extending through the hips, knees and ankles and push/throw the ball as high as possible.
- Allow the ball to hit the ground before resetting for the next rep. Trying to catch the ball out of the air is a good way to jam a wrist or finger.
Drive through both arms equally. There is a natural tendency to allow your dominant arm to take over and shift more underneath the ball. Make sure you’re staying balanced with each rep.
Medicine Ball Exercises like Med Ball Power Jerks are great movements for athletes to build explosive power. I recommend incorporating them early in your workouts while you’re still fresh to maximize power output.
Medicine Ball Overhead Throw
Med Ball Overhead Throws look very similar to a soccer player doing a throw-in. Although it’s predominantly an upper-body movement, there is still an element of core stabilization and power transfer from the lower body.
You can do Overhead Throws by stepping into them first or from a flat-footed shoulder-width stance. Like a few of the other med ball movements listed here, these work best if done to a wall or a partner.
- Find a partner or solid wall and stand a safe distance away*.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Reach the medicine ball overhead and brace the core.
- Now, throw the ball as hard as you can – aim for maximum distance.
*If throwing with a partner, stand far enough away so that the ball will bounce before it reaches your partner. Catching a medicine ball out of the air can lead to a jammed wrist or finger. If throwing against a wall, allow enough space so the ball bounces once after it hits the wall before you catch it.
Medicine Ball Chest Throws (with Pushup)
Med Ball Chest Throws combined with a dynamic pushup is the first of the three med ball exercises that are best if you have a partner to work with.
You can make this exercise very competitive very quickly by trying to throw the ball back to your partner before they’re back off the ground and ready to catch it.
- Grab a medicine ball and a partner (or a solid wall)
- Start on your knees, sit back onto your calves and hold the ball at your chest.
- Explosively drive forward with the hips and throw the ball forward to your partner.
- The forward hip extension should cause you to fall forward.
- Catch yourself with your hands and then explosively push yourself back up to your starting position.
Medicine Ball Chest Passes can be done from the knees as described above, but can also be done from a standing position. Regardless of what starting position you use, brace the core and be explosive!
Medicine Ball Drop Throws
Med Ball Drop Throws have always been one of my favorite med ball exercises to do with Offensive Linemen. The quick absorption and redirection of power is very specific to what linemen have to do on the field.
Lay on your back and have a partner stand above you. Having the partner stand up on something, like a bench or box, works best. Start with your arms extended (just short of lockout) and have the partner drop the med ball down to you.
Catch the ball and quickly drive it back up as quickly and with as much force as you can. It’s encouraged to bend the elbows when receiving and throwing the ball, but do not allow the ball to hit the chest.
Personally, I love to superset Drop Throws with Bench Press to emphasize force development.
Medicine Ball Situp and Throw
I saved one of the best medicine ball exercises for last. Med Ball Situp and Throws are easily one of my favorite dynamic core exercises.
Like Side Throws, this movement demands a wall that the ball can be thrown against or a partner. (Although I have done competition-style races where a medicine ball had to be ‘Situp and Thrown’ 100 yards as fast as possible. Those are fun.)
- Find a partner (or wall) and sit down an appropriate distance away*.
- Lay on your back holding the medicine ball overhead on the ground.
- Brace the core, engage the lats, aggressively begin to raise off the ground and throw the ball as hard as possible for distance.
- The follow-through of the throw should bring you to a full situp position.
- Allow your partner to throw the ball back (or retrieve the ball coming back from the wall) and repeat.
*The distance away from your partner should be far enough that the ball will hit the ground before reaching your partner so they do not have to catch the ball out of the air. If using a wall, the distance away will be dependent upon the amount of bounce the ball gets off the wall.
The biggest mistake I see with athletes trying to learn Sit-up and Throws involves the timing of the movement. The throw should initiate the sit-up, not the other way around. If you try to sit up first, the movement will turn into more of a sit-up followed by a chest pass – not the intention of the movement.
I cue my athletes to just concentrate on the throw. If they throw the ball hard enough the situp will happen naturally.
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The amount of exercises you can do with a medicine ball is limited really to your own creativity. It’s honestly such a versatile tool that it’s one of the first things I would make sure I had access to after a barbell, plates and a squat rack.
I hope you can take a med ball exercise or two from my list and begin incorporating them into your own workout routine to help build more dynamic power.
Finally, if need a medicine ball for your home gym, I bought and tested 10 of the most popular medicine balls on the market. Here are my favorites.
Looking for something more sport-specific? Check out the best medicine ball exercises for these sports: