Medicine Ball Training for Youth Athletes
By Ben Hawkes
Hammer Throw athlete
AN INTRODUCTION TO MEDICINE BALLS
Medicine Balls are one of the most versatile tools in the Athletics coach’s kitbag. You can use them to build strength, work capacity and mobility, and aid in upper and lower body plyometric training. They can be used with athletes from all event groups and abilities, especially with well thought out session planning (as described later in this article).
From my experience in Athletics, a general rule of thumb with medicine ball training was to use the weight you would use if you were throwing a shot or hammer, determined by your age group. Despite this, it may actually be wiser to use a slightly lighter ball for most of your medicine ball training to a) ensure efficient movement & reinforce correct technique, and b) maximise the velocity athletes can perform the exercise at. I like to use a ball somewhere between 3 and 5 kilos.
THINKING ABOUT MEDICINE BALL TRAINING
Medicine balls can and should foster creativity. Because the body is so free when using a ball, you can link multiple movements together to perform a more complex exercise, and you can do the same routine in very different ways. For this reason, we’re going to define some different movements from here on out before defining a few different positions and directions you can do these movements in.
MEDICINE BALL POSITIONS
- Standing: Double Leg, Single Leg
- Kneeling: Tall Kneeling, Half Kneeling (Lunge position)
- Lying: Supine (Face Up), Prone (Face Down)
- 90/90: Feet on a wall, hips and knees at 90º
MEDICINE BALL MOVEMENTS
Squat, Lunge, Side Lunge, Rotate, Heave, Push Throw (Double Arm, Single Arm), Scoop Pass, Slam, Hold
Videos illustrating these movements & positions are available here:
With this information, you should be able to link different movements to different positions to create an extensive exercise library for yourself that you can refer back to at any time.
MEDICINE BALL TRAINING CONSIDERATIONS
Because of their lightweight and (relative) accessibility, medicine ball training is best used as part of a wider session instead of, say, weightlifting - which you might do as a standalone session. Despite that lightweight, you still need to think about why you’re using them and what you want to get out of the session.
To get the most from your medicine ball, you’ll want to consider a few things before starting training:
- What do you need from the session? What qualities do you need to develop for your event?
- How can you target those adaptations in this session? Think about which muscles are working, the angles of the joints, and the secondary muscles & structures which support the prime movers (in 95% of cases, this is probably the foot/ankle, hips and/or core).
- How can you structure the session to make it fun, time-efficient and effective?
Another, more specific consideration you might have to think about is your emphasis on each exercise. Are you looking for repeated reactivity, to develop elasticity whilst staying in a nice solid position (think side throws or overhead throws against a wall - keeping the spine in a stacked, neutral position)? Are you looking to generate as much force as possible to develop neuromuscular coordination and maximal power (think chest passes or overhead heaves for distance)?
TRANSLATING THINKING INTO PRACTICE
To give you a hand with these considerations, here’s how I might go about putting together a session including medicine ball training for a group of U13 & U15 athletes.
- They’re aged between 11 and 14, so won’t have (or at least, shouldn’t have) specialised in a single event or event group yet. So the qualities we need to develop are more global, fundamental athletic motor skills: pushing, pulling, squatting, accelerating, decelerating, rotating and bracing, amongst others.
- Because we’re essentially looking to develop everything, I’m looking to target as many of these skills & qualities in each exercise to make the session as time-efficient as possible. After considering the ‘fun’ element of things, this means we’re looking at a few regular exercises, a few partner exercises, maybe a challenge or race to finish up.
- Personally, I would structure the session as follows: split the exercises into 1 or 2 mini circuits within a wider event-specific or strength & conditioning session. 2 or 3 exercises per circuit, 3 rounds of each one. In each circuit, have one technically / cognitively demanding exercise, paired with one or two simpler, fool proof exercises.
That might end up looking something like this:
So you’d split the group into 3s, have one person on each exercise (apart from the partner one, of course), and have each exercise run for, say, 30 seconds before switching. You’d be free to coach the most challenging thing in each circuit, and your athletes don’t have to get cold waiting for something to get free.
At the bottom of this article is an excellent exercise library featuring some of the movements from the above video, categorised into challenging and simple exercises so that you can design your own mini-circuits like the ones here. This format is never-endingly adaptable to your situation and can be regressed or progressed with ease to suit the needs of your athletes. Just remember always to go back to those key considerations we mentioned earlier!
You can look at Neuff’s collection of medicine balls here:
NEUFF MEDICINE BALL
NEUFF ROPED MEDICINE BALL
MEDICINE BALL EXERCISE LIBRARY
Tall Kneeling Scoop Throw against Wall (Rugby Pass)
Half-Kneeling (lunging) Side Throw against Wall
Side Lunge with a rebound into Rotational Chest Pass against Wall
Deadbug with MB in Hands
Single-Leg Rotational Throw
Slam into Single Leg Hinge & Catch
Single-Leg Squat to box/chair with MB in hands
Squat with MB Overhead
Single Arm Overhead Push Throw
Roped MB Hammer Swings
Rotational Slams (standing or kneeling)
Chest Passes (standing or kneeling)
Single Arm Chest Passes (standing or kneeling)
Overhead Wall Taps (football throw-in against the wall)
Squat with Ball
Lunge with Ball
Side Lunge with Ball
Bridge with Ball
Sit Up & Throw to Partner
Lying Chest Pass to Partner
Overhead Push Throw
Jump & Throw (forward, backward)
Forward Throw into Sprint