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Medicine Ball Training

Implications for
Rotational Power Sports
Jacob E. Earp, MA, CSCS1 and William J. Kraemer, PhD, CSCS*D, FNSCA2
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia; and 2Human
Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

SUMMARY of sport specificity to be attained body so that the greatest angular

because exercises can be performed velocity is transferred to a ball directly
that can more closely mimic the range while maintaining a high degree of
of motion (15) and velocities encoun- precision (1,6,14,16,18). Whether the
DEVELOPMENT OF MUSCULATURE tered in sport (3). Thus, such exercises movement is throwing or swinging the
THAT IS IMPORTANT FOR SPORTS can help build on the sport-generic focus of the movement can be consid-
PERFORMANCE. MEDICINE BALL exercises needed in every program ered ball (or implement centered), as
EXERCISES CAN ACHIEVE ANGU- (e.g., squats, bench press, power cleans, opposed to body-centered movements
LAR SPECIFICITY AND STIMULATE etc). Supplemental medicine ball exer- such as running or jumping, because
TISSUES THAT MAY NOT BE ACTI- cises should complement the generic the focus of the movement is to move
VATED IN EXERCISE MOVEMENTS component, and exercises should be the body around the ball for optimal
USED IN A TYPICAL STRENGTH chosen to emphasize sport-specific performance. Medicine ball training,
AND CONDITIONING PROGRAM. demands such as velocity, plane of using muscle patterns similar to these
MEDICINE BALL TRAINING ALLOWS movement, and body positioning dur- sport movements, can be beneficial to
COMPLEX SPORT-SPECIFIC ing the movement. baseball players and other rotational
MOVEMENTS TO BE PERFORMED power athletes (17,16).
RESISTANCE THAN THAT SEEN For the purposes of this article, rota- tered are vital to rotational power
DURING REGULAR SPORTS tional power sports are defined as sports. In these movements, the body
COMPETITION. SPORTS-SPECIFIC those sports that require explosive is manipulated to allow for greatest
DEVELOPMENT OF HIGH-VELOCITY movements in either the transverse or instantaneous velocity of ball or im-
POWER MOVEMENTS CAN BE oblique planes. All swinging sports, plement. These movements are opti-
ACHIEVED TO HELP TRAIN THE such as baseball, softball, hockey, mally performed in a closed chain
SPORT-SPECIFIC MOVEMENTS AT lacrosse, tennis, and golf, can be con- environment through a kinetic chain of
HIGHER POWER OUTPUTS ON THE sidered rotational power sports. In movements (11,19). When the feet are
FORCE-VELOCITY CONTINUUM. these sports, it is vital for athletes to in contact with the ground, movement
be able to create maximal angular can be initiated through the larger and
velocity of their sport implement so stronger muscles of the lower body and
edicine ball training has long that they can successfully strike a ball.

then transferred toward the ball or
been an accepted modality Speed of movement and ability to react implement through other muscle and
for resistance and power to ball position through a variety of tendon structures to allow for maximal
training (7). This mode of training is planes are vital elements in many of velocity toward the target (1,2,14,15).
beneficial for those sports that require these sports. Throwing sports, such as During throwing and swinging move-
a great deal of rotational power to be baseball, softball, javelin, shot put and ments, muscles fire primarily in
developed for performance. Athletes in discus throwing, and handball, or
rotational power sports can use med- sports that involve throwing move- KEY WORDS:
icine ball training as a supplemental ments such as a quarterback in football sports specific; supplemental exercises;
element of a periodized training pro- or a goalie in soccer can also be con- power; force-velocity curve; baseball;
gram for a variety of reasons. Medicine sidered rotational power sports. In tennis; golf
ball training can allow a higher degree these sports, the athlete positions their

20 VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 4 | AUGUST 2010 Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association
a proximal to distal sequence. This amount of angular velocity to an can be manipulated to emphasis those
sequence of activation allows a peak external object through gross and finite aspects that are most vital to an
velocity of more proximal muscles, body movements. Performing medi- athletes individual sport needs.
such as the calves, quadriceps, and cine ball throws is an excellent form of
Throwing movements are often in the
glutei, to serve as prime movers and resistance training in that it allows
oblique plane progressing forward and
movement initiators (1,2,14). Further exercises to be performed at relatively
downward across the body. For throw-
rotational acceleration and mainte- high speeds but with greater force than
ing athletes, movements that focus on
nance of the angular velocity already those performed during normal sport
this direction of movement, such as an
developed by the hips is then trans- competition (5,7,17,16). This increased
overhead diagonal throw, are beneficial
ferred to the torso. The muscles of the force allows for greater power de-
(Figure 1). Movements focusing on
torso are oriented in a continuous velopment at that part of the force-
individual parts of the entire chain of
chain that runs through a multitude velocity curve, which can potentially
movements, such as kneeling wood
of planes from the hips to the upper be beneficial to athletes because force-
chops (Figure 2) and internal rotation
back and arms. These muscles include, ful high-velocity movements are often
throw, can help to isolate small and often
but are not limited to, the external neglected during sport and resistance
neglected muscle groups (12).
obliques, internal obliques, teres major, training exercises. In addition, throw-
rhomboids major, and latissimus dorsi ing exercises can be performed with In contrast, swinging movements vary
(2,13). Finally, the angular velocity is minimal end of movement deceleration, based on the sport and the task being
transferred to the extremity muscles, which is a downfall of many optimal performed. For example, a baseball
which serve to not only maintain the power weight training exercises (9,10). swing is performed mostly in the trans-
high degree of rotational forces already Also increases in strength verse plane with a quick reactive
developed but also fine tune the pre- and coordination within the ranges of countermovement triggered by a step
cision of movement that is used. These motion encountered in sport may also be (14), whereas a golf drive is performed in
muscles include the deltoids, triceps beneficial to injury prevention. Tradi- the oblique plane moving downward
brachii, the internal and external rota- tional weight training exercises per- then upward with a slower controlled
tors of the arm, and the flexors and formed in frontal or sagittal planes only countermovement of the torso and arms
extensors of the hand (14). Because may not achieve the range of motion that (8). Sport specific exercises for a baseball
of this complex system of order of a medicine ball exercise functionally can. player can include a medicine ball
activation and action of muscles, re- baseball throw (Figure 3) or lateral
sistance training movements, such as medicine ball bounces (Figure 6). In
medicine ball throws, should be used contrast, the golfer would be better
for training for rotational power sports. suited performing a golf static stance
When performing medicine ball exer-
downward toss instead (Figure 4).
Medicine ball training is a unique form cises, different training considerations
of power training that has been used for need to be taken into account during With sports such as tennis, differences
athlete development for many years (7). program design. The plane of move- can be seen not only in comparison to
Similar to the movements in rotational ment, body position during movement, other sports but also between different
power sports, the goal of medicine ball speed of movement, and the amount of tasks within the sport itself (1,2). For
movements is to transfer the greatest countermovement are all variables that example, 2-handed backhand volley

Figure 1. Overhead diagonal medicine ball throw.

Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-lift.org 21

Medicine Ball Training

Figure 2. Wood chop throws.

based on the time to react to a given

stimuli within a sporting movement.
Because of this training, a variety of
speeds are important for rotational
power sports that have a large reactive
component. In addition, often times in
sport, it is favorable to sacrifice power
for reactive speed. In such cases,
a spectrum of speeds of movement
and preload conditions should be
implemented with medicine ball train-
ing exercises. For example, that same
tennis player can perform quick re-
Figure 3. Medicine ball baseball throw. active lateral bounces with a light ball
against a wall (Figure 6), a more
powerful power throw that moves
through a full range of motion throw
from the same position (Figure 7), or
a power throw in a preloaded condi-
tion after catching the ball thrown by
a partner (Figure 8). Although all 3
types of throws should always be
thrown with as much power as possi-
ble, in the reactive throw to accomplish
the same movement in the time allot-
ted, the weight of the ball and the
amount of countermovement can be
sacrificed to allow for a quicker move-
ment. A summary of sport specific
Figure 4. Static stance downward toss. consideration for throwing (Table 1)
and swinging sports (Table 2) can be
found in the Table 1 and 2.
differs compared with a serve in di- power in a variety of angles, directions,
rection of rotation, plane of movement, and from a variety of stances. These
the countermovement (single plane types of throws include throws from PRESCRIPTION CONSIDERATIONS
versus circular), and the number of a forehand side and backhand side, With rotational exercises, care must be
limbs involved. Furthermore, this same which can be performed with an open, taken in the general preparation phase
tennis player should work to develop closed, or mixed stance (Figure 5). to prepare the range of motion
a strong forehand swing with the body for subsequent higher stress exercise
in a variety of positions (1). For this In addition to the form of the move- movements. Strengthening, flexibility,
athlete, a variety of throws can be used ment differing within a sport, the speed and then progression in the loading
to help the athlete better produce of the movement can also change of the medicine ball exercises is vital in

22 VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 4 | AUGUST 2010

Figure 5. Power throws from a variety of stances.

within a given movement while main-

taining proper form. Because of this,
consideration should be given into
how to best incorporate medicine ball
training with other forms of training.
The easiest way to incorporate medi-
cine ball training is by performing these
explosive moves during a separate
power or light workout. During these
workouts, medicine ball exercises can
be incorporated with other high-veloc-
ity or ballistic movements, such as squat
jumps, bounding, and bench throws.
However, medicine ball training can
also be added to other workouts by
performing them at the beginning of
Figure 6. Rapid lateral medicine ball bounces.
a workout. Performing these move-
ments at the beginning of a workout
will help to ensure that fatigue from
other exercises does not deteriorate
technique or diminish power develop-
ment. Medicine ball training can also be
incorporated on a heavy workout by
using complex training; by performing
a nonfatiguing high-resistance move-
ment before an explosive movement
with similar mechanics, a potentiation
of performance in the explosive move-
ment may be obtained (4,5).
When peak power and velocity with
a high degree of precision are the main
goals of training, repetitions should be
kept below fatiguing levels for mainte-
Figure 7. Lateral power throws. nance of power and proper technique
carefully monitored. For most rota-
the first several workouts to minimize strength and power gains (7,11,17,16). tional power exercises, only 36 repe-
the potential for muscle strains and When prescribing medicine ball exer- titions should be performed at a time,
pulls, especially in novel movements to cises, the acute program variables (4) with fewer repetitions in a set as ball
the athletes. Medicine ball training is should all be controlled to best accom- weight increases. In addition, at least 3
a supplemental component of a training plish the desired results of increased minutes of rest will ensure that fatigue
program and should be integrated as performance. The goal of medicine ball does not become a major factor be-
part of a periodized progressive re- training is to achieve the greatest tween sets. The weight of the ball
sistance training program to optimize amount of speed and power possible should be selected based on the

Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-lift.org 23

Medicine Ball Training

individuals ability to maintain speed

and form (3,10). Weights should start
out relatively light and progress as the
athlete becomes stronger and more
proficient in the movements. Further-
more, training across a spectrum of
weights will allow the athlete to focus
both on velocity and power develop-
ment and may have further potential
benefits. When excessive repetitions or
weight are used for highly coordinated
medicine ball exercises, the likelihood
of loss of finite motor skills increases
Figure 8. Lateral power throw starting from catch. and these repetitions can then enforce
poor motor patterns, so care must
always be taken when performing
movements, which mimic those en-
Table 1 countered in sport. Medicine ball
Throwing sports exercises will typically train the higher
Mass Reactive Stationary velocity component with some loading
to stimulate tissue growth, resistance to
Baseball pitch 0.3 lbs No Yes fatigue, and improvement of function
Baseball throw 0.3 lbs No Yes/no on that phase of the force-velocity
curve, which is associated with higher
Javelin throw 1.31.8 lbs No Yes absolute power (11). In addition, the
Shot put throw 8.816 lbs No Yes use of medicine balls allows loading of
tissues that typically will not be loaded
Discus throw 2.24.4 lbs No Yes in the same plane or angle of move-
Handball shot 1.01.2 lbs Yes Yes/no ment allowing for a great supplemental
utility for the modality.
Cricket bowl 0.3 lbs No Yes
Football pass 0.9 lbs Yes Yes/no In conclusion, medicine ball training is
Mass refers to the mass of the ball or implement thrown. Reactive movements are those that an effective way of increasing perfor-
have movements that may need to be adjusted after initiation of the movement has already mance for athletes involved in rota-
begun. Stationary refers to if the movement originates from a standing position or a moving tional power sports. Medicine ball
training allows complex sport-specific

Table 2
Swinging sports

Zone Reactive Stationary

Lacrosse 1, 2 Yes/no Yes/no
Tennis serve 1 No Yes
Tennis groundstroke 1, 2, 3 Yes Yes/no
Baseball swing 2 Yes Yes
Cricket 3 Yes Yes
Hockey slap shot 3 Yes/no Yes/no
Golf 3 No Yes

Zone refers to the height of movement: high (1), middle (2), or low (3) movements (see associated image). Reactive movements are those that
have movements that may need to be adjusted after initiation of the movement has already begun. Stationary refers to if the movement
originates from a standing position or a moving position.

24 VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 4 | AUGUST 2010

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