By Paul Chek, HHP, NMT
Founder, C.H.E.K Institute

When chicken soup was the preferred antidote for the common cold and Rocky Marciano was boxing's heavyweight champion (1952-56), medicine ball training was the method of choice for power development. This seemingly forgotten conditioning tool is on the comeback, and rightfully so.

Medicine balls are those spherical, heavy objects traditionally made from leather and often found tucked in the corner of a gym covered in cobwebs. Newer versions are made of rubber or vinyl and are filled with air, water or a gel.

Varying in size from a tennis ball to a small beach ball, these are some of the most versatile pieces of equipment available.

Unlike the machine training rage of the 90s that concentrated on isolating muscles in a specific plane of motion, medicine ball training promotes integration of muscle actions and allows the exerciser to condition the body in all planes of movement. Simply speaking, you can do things with medicine balls that are just not possible on machines, or even free weights!

Building Strength

Let's suppose you want to develop explosive strength and power for throwing a baseball. Following the Principal of Specificity of Training, you'll get the best results when you overload the muscles in the exact pattern of movement. Most gyms, however, will not appreciate your membership if you start to throw dumbbells across the weight room. Compare this to training with a partner or rebounder and a medicine ball.

In this case, an exercise like the medicine ball throw would meet the requirements of the Principle of Specificity of Training (see Figure 1) and improve your throwing power greatly.

Or, if you are training quick, explosive movements, most weight machines can be tricky, dangerous and generally not very effective. Remember what happened last time you did an explosive hamstring curl on a machine? Is the leg curl machine still in one piece, or is there a hole in the ceiling of the gym?

Using a medicine ball can be more effective and you don't necessarily have to be lying on your stomach (see Figure 2 for the standing dynamic leg curl). Fact is, machines are neither designed, nor sensible, for explosive high-speed resistance training but medicine balls are!

This sort of explosive training is extremely important. Explosive medicine ball training integrated into a bodybuilding program will give your nervous system a jump-start. I have seen weightlifters increase their bench press by as much as 15 pounds in two days, after performing explosive push passes and kneeling push passes in just one session (see Figures 3 and 4).

Medicine ball training provides a much-needed stimulus for the high threshold motor units and wakes up those fast twitch muscle fibers – the ones responsible for greater strength and size. This type of training also improves start strength, allowing you to get those big weights moving more easily.

If your goal is to increase strength and size and you have been lifting weights for over one year, you should vary the speed of movement at least every four weeks for optimal strength or size gains. Medicine ball training can be extremely helpful in making these changes in movement speeds.

Getting Faster, More Agile

Training with a medicine ball can be helpful for coordination and speed as well. Have you ever seen a bodybuilder attempt speed, agility or quickness drills with other athletes such as wrestlers, football players or boxers? It becomes very obvious that too much machine-based isolation training and not enough integrative exercise makes you slower and hampers coordination.

One of the favorite sayings of Al Vermeil (strength and conditioning consultant for the Chicago Bulls) is "Train slow, be slow." If you lift weights with the intent of improving sports performance, your speed of movements in training must approximate those of your sport, at least during some phases of your program.

By training exclusively on machines or free weights, you may be limiting your ability to reach full potential.

In general, all good strength coaches cycle speed of movement, contraction types, rest period length and exercise selection throughout their athletes' programs, and almost always include doses of explosive plyometric and medicine ball training to stimulate the nervous system and activate fast twitch muscles fibers.

The oblique toss, squat push press and back toss (see Figures 5, 6 and 7 respectively) are three medicine ball exercises I use for this purpose. Not only does this kind of training increase speed, but also allows for increased strength during regular weight training.

Charles Poliquin, one of the world's most successful strength coaches, uses medicine ball training and, as a consequence, has bobsled racers weighing less than 220 pounds squatting more than 390 pounds. Strong and fast is a winning combination in the sports arena.

Finally, while there are all sorts of in the gym benefits, medicine balls have a definite leg up on other training equipment when it comes to practicality. One of the great benefits of medicine ball training is that it can be done practically anywhere.

You can pull out a medicine ball at the beach, in the park, in a squash court – the choice is yours. This makes a wonderful change from always training in the gym.

I highly recommend you add a medicine ball training session to your workouts one or two times a week. After only four weeks, you will be amazed at the difference in your lifting, sports performance and overall health.

For more equipment for and information on medicine ball training, I highly recommend the following C.H.E.K products:

  • Dynamic Medicine Ball Training, Vols. 1-3 (video)
  • Paul Chek's Medicine Ball Workout (video)
  • Dynamic Medicine Ball Training (correspondence course)
  • D-Balls
  • Dynamax balls

Paul Chek, Holistic Health Practitioner and certified Neuromuscular Therapist, is the founder of the C.H.E.K Institute in Vista, Calif. He is also sought-after consultant to sports organizations, his services have benefited numerous professional sports teams, athletes and individuals seeking optimal health worldwide.

Paul has produced more than 60 videos, 17 correspondence courses and is the author of several books, audio programs and articles.

For more information on Paul's popular "You Are What You Eat" audio/workbook program, or for any of his other health/exercise courses, videos and books, call 800/552-8789, 800/552-8789 (New Zealand or Australia), 44 (0)1273-856-860 (Great Britain) or visit the CHEK Institute Web site. To learn more about Paul and his upcoming Personal Professional Spiritual (PPS) Mastery Program, visit his new Web site at

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