Michael Zweifel, Building Better Athletes
The med ball might be the most bastardized tool in the gym.
The sad truth is we see the med ball be used more as a “core” or conditioning tool rather than the pursuit of actual athletic endeavors. Look at most Youtube or Instagram videos and you’ll likely see the med ball being used in a Russian twist, or crunch, or wall ball rather than it’s best use – possibly the best tool to bridge the weight room and playing field by developing global power through coordinative movements.
It will be a better world when we see more overhead throwing, slamming, and powerful rotational punches and scoops rather than the previous uselessness.
Instead of trying to add load to a poorly chosen movement (i.e. crunch), the med ball should be used to overload patterns to build coordination at high velocities. I have always found increasing the use of a variety of med ball movements enhances the athletes’ performance and execution of other movements in the weight room and/or field.
Another powerful way to look at using the med ball is to develop the ability to quickly absorb and re-produce force – or put in standard S&C terms – decelerate and re-accelerate. We see this idea used via many other methods – plyometrics, fast eccentrics, jumps, drop and rebound type movements – but rarely does this concept transfer to being implemented with med balls. There is huge potential for the med ball to expose freaky power and coordination that transfers to the field.
The other surprising element with med balls is the lack of detailed research in this area. Very little has been done in the way of examining a well thought out plan and progression with med balls; and what has been done hasn’t given us a clear understanding of it’s benefits/place in a S&C program. The likely reality is med balls are too light truly develop high-end power, especially in higher-level athletes, BUT it may help on the velocity side of the spectrum and enhance elastic properties, and it is this area I want to dig deeper today.
Like I said earlier, we strive to enhance velocity and elastic properties via other modalities, but why don’t we think of the med ball in the same manner? Could the med ball be a quality tool to enhance the velocity and elastic properties of vertical, lateral, and/or rotational movements?
The goal of the following movements is to spark discussion and ideas, NOT to spout as a replacement for traditional methods of power and strength. Think more of a bridge to gap the high load power activities and the high velocity, no/low load movements of sport.
As with any exercise selection, the goal is to progress from:
General → Specific and simple → Complex.
The following movements would fall towards the specific and complex end of the spectrum, and be used in a progression of prior general and simple variations.
We traditionally see the med ball being used for OH throws in the vertical plane. Taking this concept a step further, would be to add a reactive component with a catch and throw. I first saw these variations from my good friends John Garrish and Matt Gifford.
These are nice versions that naturally teach and overload a fast eccentric and subsequent powerful concentric action. We use 2 variations:
- Waist Level
The third video shows using a traditional depth jump, with a med ball granny. Another variation to safely overload a traditional depth jump and overcome large forces to reproduce in the vertical plane. Take a look.
* This is an advanced athlete and we are only using an 8-10lb med ball, heavier doesn’t = better.
Med Ball Drop to Granny
OH Med Ball Drop to Granny
Depth Jump to Med Ball Granny
When dealing with rotational med ball variations, we must know the goal is to help teach sequencing and a whip like action with the power deriving from the lower half and progressing through the trunk, arms, and finally to the implement. What I’ve found is adding these catch variations helps to naturally sequence and load this correct pattern.
When the ball is tossed at the correct spot, it forces the athlete to absorb and load from that location – so it correctly emphasizes where the movement must be initiated.
I’ve found that in some static variations of rotational med ball work, athletes struggle with the correct sequencing, but just adding a little toss (less than the videos show) help the body naturally understand the initiation of the correct sequence pattern. It may seem counterintuitive that adding the toss helps, but I relate it to learning the squat. Many athletes may struggle with a BW squat, but add a counter-weight (goblet) and it cleans up the pattern naturally – I’ve found this to be a similar case.
In the punch variations, we want to ensure the ball is thrown and caught, high and tight to ensure scapular loading and thoracic rotation. In the scoop variations, we want the ball thrown by the front pocket of the desired hip to ensure hip loading and lower half initiation of the movement.
Catch & Scoop Variations
Catch & Punch Variations
Slams are a wonderful tool to develop anterior core power, but in catch & slam variations, they are also a great tool to resist unwanted extension and learn front leg stiffness. In any rotational or throwing sport, the front leg needs to block and stiffen in order for powerful transfer over the front leg – think about this like the pole in a pole fault.
You can see in these variations ( ½ kneeling and split stance), how the front leg must be stiff in order to transfer efficient force into the ground. This component is key in any throwing/rotational action.
Split Stance OH Catch & Slam
½ Kneeling OH Catch & Slam
Tall Kneeling OH Catch & Slam
It is my hope this article sparks some ideas and discussion about creative ways to integrate med balls into your athletic development program. When used correctly, the med ball is a valuable coaching and learning tool for athletes and can help to bridge the gap between the weight room and field.
Would love to hear comments, questions, or suggestions as to ways you’ve found to best implement med balls into your program!
About Michael Zweifel
Michael Zweifel is the owner and head of sports performance for “Building Better Athletes” performance center in Dubuque, Iowa.
Michael is a CSCS, IYCA certified practitioner, and was the all time NCAA leading receiver with 463 receptions in his playing days at University of Dubuque.
Buiding Better Athletes (BBA) is committed to an evidence based practice towards sports performance, and attaching physical preparation from every angle possible – physical, mental, nutritional, soft-tissue, mobility. Our focus is building the athlete from the ground up by mastering the fundamentals of movement mastery, strength/power training, recovery modalities, and giving athletes ownership of the Other 23.
Using these methods and principles, BBA has been fortunate to help athletes to…
- 5 NFL Players
- 1 CFL Player
- 1 Gatorade State Player of the Year (Basketball)
- 7 Collegiate All-Americans
- 12 Conference Player of the Year
- 11 Division I Athletes
- 52 All-Conference Athletes
Of course, if you aren’t 100% satisfied, there is a money back guarantee. I am sure you’ll absolutely love this product, but if not, I am more than happy to get you a refund!