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 for 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 into it makes it perfect for developing power. The size and shape of a med ball also allows more varied movement patterns than a barbell does.
So, which specific med ball exercises should athletes be incorporating into their training program?
Here are my 10 favorite med ball exercises for athletes.
Table of Contents
Med Ball Exercises For Athletes
Med 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.
Start in a good athletic position, feet shoulder-width apart, arms holding the ball straight down in front of the body. Bend the knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips until the medicine ball is about at mid-shin height. Back should be feet. Hips should be higher than the knees, shoulders higher than hips.
From this position, aggressively extend through the hips, knees and ankles and throw the ball as high as possible. Allow the ball to hit the ground before trying to grab the ball for the next rep. (Catching the ball out of the air is a good way to jam a wrist or finger)
If you have a partner you can also do Cannonball Throws for Distance. Instead of throwing the ball straight up, you’ll throw the ball overhead and behind you to your partner. I actually like this version of the movement even better because it overemphasizes full hip extension.
Med Ball Slams
Want to let out some aggression and get some great ab work in? Try some Med Ball Slams.
Med Ball Slams involve reaching a medicine ball high above the head and then, utilizing your core to pull your body through, slamming the ball into the ground just in front of you.
The biggest mistake here is using your arms as the primary mover instead of your core. Make sure to engage the core and aggressively hinge at the waist. You may even notice your feet lift up off the floor. If they do, you’re doing it right!
Med 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.
Alternate back and forth or do all reps on one side and then switch. Either way is fine.
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 an 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.
Get in a good athletic position. Then rotate and reach the ball back toward the backside hip and then aggressively rotate and throw (should be underhanded) the ball against the wall. Make sure to focus on using the power generated through rotating the hips as opposed to trying to muscle the ball with just the arms.
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.
Med 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.
Stand tall with feet about shoulder width apart, med ball at the chest, hands resting under the ball with palms towards each other.
Perform a 4 to 6-inch dip with the hips and knees (keeping chest up) and then aggressively drive vertically and push/throw the ball straight up – throwing the ball as high as possible.
For those who are already familiar with Wall Balls from Crossfit, this is basically the same movement – just without the full squat and throwing as high as possible rather than at a target.
Med 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.
Med 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.
Start on your knees, sitting back onto your calves, ball at the chest and about 4 or 5 yards away from your partner.
Now, you’re going to explode through your hips launching yourself toward your partner and throwing the ball (like a basketball chest pass) to your partner. The follow-through after you release the ball should have you falling forward and catching yourself on your hands. Quickly do a pushup and drive yourself back to the starting position.
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.
Med Ball Drop Throws
Med Ball Drop Throws have always been one of my favorite med ball exercises to do with Offensive Lineman. 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.
Med Ball Situp and Throw
I saved one of the best med ball movements 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)
To perform the Situp and Throw, lay on your back with the med ball on the ground overhead. Now, just as the name implies, aggressively situp and throw the ball as far as possible.
I’ve found that if you focus more on throwing the ball as far as possible, the situp will take care of itself. Too often I see athletes turn this into a full situp and then a chest pass. That’s not what you want. It should be one powerful, dynamic movement.
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.