A medicine ball, in the most basic terms, is simply a round weighted ball. There are several different types of medicine balls available to trainers today and many of them are designed for specific purposes. Some medicine balls are designed to bounce while some are specifically designed not to bounce so you don't have to chase them. Some balls have tough tread or grip for easy catching while others are smooth. You'll find medicine balls that float and are soft to the touch and some that are attached to ropes or have handles designed to be used in much the same way as a kettlebell.
So, with all of these choices which do you chose? That answer is simple yet complicated. I know that is an oxymoron, but the more you learn about medicine ball applications the more you'll understand why. Let's breakdown several different types of balls on the market today and some common uses for each.
Leather Medicine Balls
The traditional leather medicine ball has been around the longest. You've seen them in boxing movies or in old issues of strength magazines. They are still around and they still are popular with many trainers. The balls usually range in weight by a few pounds. For example, one medicine ball may have a labeled weight of 12-14 pounds. Although it is not an exact weight it usually works for most general applications.
These balls are generally easy for most people to catch for short distances and are primarily used for abdominal work, although they can be used for a variety of other exercises.
Soft Gel Medicine Balls
These medicine balls are made of a soft vinyl and are filled with a gel. They do not float and do not bounce, which makes them perfect for throwing exercises using a trampoline, or any other surface in which you do not want the ball to bounce back to you.
The gel filled medicine balls can also be found in a wider variety of sizes and are perfect for rehab work. These balls also tend to be more economical.
Medicine Balls With Grip
There are a few different types of medicine balls on the market that have additional grip on the outside. These balls are usually made of solid polyurethane and bounce when dropped or thrown against a hard surface. You can use these for just about any exercise and they are therefore the most common type of ball used by major gyms and trainers alike. Another advantage is that most of these balls actually float. This is important for aquatic fitness and sports such as water polo.
Air Filled Medicine Balls
For those trainers who do a lot of long distance traveling or who are just looking for a ball that will float and bounce, there are air filled medicine balls available. The more air put into the ball the more bounce you will get out of them. These medicine balls are commonly used with plyometrics and general resistance exercises.
Balls With Handles
For more dynamic workouts there are medicine balls available with handles on one side and medicine balls available with handles on two sides. These are excellent for wood-chop exercises, any exercise that requires more than one ball to be used, or for any exercise that would traditionally use a dumbbell or kettlebell. These balls make throwing an external weight easier since they are generally much safer than throwing a dumbbell. This makes it good for developing explosive power. The NRG ball falls into this category but also has extended handles that can be removed one at a time. The handles themselves extend 12 inches each direction and by removing one handle you can simulate a golf swing and then remove the other handle to use the ball as you would any other medicine ball. There are also optional handles such as a golf handle attachment and an ab-roller attachment.
Medicine Balls With A Rope
Some medicine balls are available with a rope attached to them. Some have the rope permanently attached to the ball while others allow you to use the ball with or without the rope. These balls are perfect for swinging exercises and core rotational movement patterns.
Although this list covers the majority of the types of medicine balls available it is by no means a complete list. There will no doubt be innovations in technology allowing for medicine balls to be made out of different materials and the invention of medicine balls for more specific purposes. When deciding which type to use for a particular exercise it is important to consider the movement pattern or the end goal in mind.
As professionals in the field of fitness we have many resources available to accomplish our chosen goal. Medicine balls provide a dynamic way of improving upon sports performance or adding to a general workout to curb stagnation. In a upcoming article I will discuss ways to incorporate medicine ball training into a fitness program.
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