In general, there are three main types of medicine ball training: sports training, injury recovery, and use in non-athlete exercise programs. Athletes have been using medicine balls, which are basically weighted balls, since ancient times. Top athletes today still train with them to increase their strength and surety of movements. Athletes and patients recovering from injuries or illnesses often use lightweight medicine balls to help during physical therapy for healing as well. Medicine ball, or med ball, training also is becoming increasingly popular in everyday gym workouts for exercise enthusiasts who are looking to get or stay in shape.
Med ball exercise might seem similar to weightlifting, but the balls have a very specific purpose that's hard to duplicate with weights. One of the most popular forms of medicine ball training is throwing and catching the ball. Doing this with a standard dumbbell or other free weight could be awkward as well as dangerous.
The movement of catching and throwing a weighted ball can help condition the arms and make catching and throwing lighter objects, such as footballs or baseballs, much easier and more effective. Athletes typically choose fitness medicine ball training with movements that are close to those he makes when playing his sport. A football player, for example, would throw overhead, while a tennis player would swing and throw the ball from the side while twisting her torso at the waist, just as if she were swinging a racket.
Med ball training can help with injury recovery as well, as long as a very light ball is chosen. This can be particularly helpful for someone who has trouble grasping a weight in his fist but is comfortable holding a larger object with two hands. Simply holding the ball while raising the arms up and down, or performing mild squats, can help condition the muscles and aid in recovery. Athletes may use light medicine balls for injury recovery also, but their movements usually will be faster, harder and more precise.
Exercise ball training is a good method of exercise even for non-athletes. The balls are usually lighter than the ones athletes might use, often weighing no more than about 8 pounds (about 3.6 kilograms). The balls also are used differently. For example, while a boxer might throw the ball with as much force as he can to work both the arms and the core abdominal muscles, everyday exercisers might use the ball during such workouts as yoga, Pilates and aerobic dance routines to add some weight and resistance.
"Fitness ball training" also can refer to the use of an inflatable ball designed for resistance and balance. These are lightweight and used for completely different movements than a medicine ball. While "fitness balls" might be used to refer to both inflatable and weighted balls, "medicine ball training" is consistently used to refer to workouts that use a weighted medicine ball.