Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 Apr

Medicine Ball Workout

medicineballIn the past, we’ve regaled you with tales of slosh tubes, kettlebells, sandbags, and clubbells. They are unstable, awkward to work with, and difficult to control. In a sense, they are perfectly Primal workout tools, developing functional strength and allowing us to emulate the types of movements Grok would have performed in daily life (swinging clubs and carrying asymmetrical loads). Most can be made at home with inexpensive materials – a particularly relevant characteristic, especially for the increasing numbers of penny-pinching fitness buffs.

Another piece of workout equipment with a similarly Primal profile is the medicine ball. Unlike the others, the medicine ball actually gets a lot of mainstream attention (but we won’t begrudge it for that), resulting in undeserved shunning from some of our more discerning (and naturally suspicious) peers. It’s actually a great piece of equipment with a lot of Grokkish parallels. For one, the medicine ball’s densely spherical consistency lends it an uncanny resemblance to one of Grok’s favorite tools: the rock. Toss it, heave it, shot-put it – all Primal movements.

The medicine ball has been around for millennia. Persian wrestlers trained with sand filled bladders nearly 3000 years ago, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates filled animal skins with sand, sewed them up, and had his patients toss them around for injury prevention and rehab. Today, boxers drop them on their stomachs to simulate punches, and athletes of all shades use them to develop explosive core strength. Medicine ball throws are even a component of the SPARQ rating, a sports-specific analysis of athleticism, core strength, total body power and coordination. Pretty solid foundation, no?

If you’re interested in incorporating the medicine ball into your workouts (as you should be), you have two options. You can either pony up the money for a professionally made medicine ball or make your own. Both options have different benefits. Buying a medicine ball can be expensive (upwards of 30 bucks for a mere ten-pounder!), but they are durable. They can also come with added benefits, like handles or rope attachments. Unless you’re especially crafty, a homemade medicine ball probably won’t have handles, meaning you’re stuck with two-handed workouts for the most part. Personally, I’m in favor of making your own. For one, you’re saving money. Two, you get to control the weight. And three, by building your own medicine ball, you have a personal connection to it for life. Some people might be more inclined to exercise if they spent big money on the equipment, but I’m the opposite – if I put time into making something, I’m definitely going to enjoy it more. It’s why I prefer a home cooked meal to one served in a restaurant.

To make your own, skip the exercise aisle and head for the basketballs. Buy either a cheap rubber one or a more durable pleather/leather ball; it’s up to you. Slice it open or poke a big hole, jam a funnel into the slit, pour sand down the funnel until the ball fills up, and stitch it up or seal the slit with a strong tape (like hockey tape). If you used a hole to fill it, plug it using a simple rubber tire repair kit. Make sure the sand is tightly packed by constantly shaking to settle – you want minimal interior shifting to preserve longevity and maximize weight. A full-sized basketball should weigh around 25 pounds. For lower weights, just buy the mini basketballs and repeat the process.

Here’s a video showing the poking method.

Okay, you’ve got a medicine ball. Now what?

You’ve probably seen the typical core workouts most medicine ball users perform. Stuff like the core twist or the medicine ball situp. These are all good exercises for the core, but why not try some workouts that you perhaps haven’t seen before?

How about hip flexor thrusts?

  1. Stand with the medicine ball between your feet.
  2. Squat down and squeeze the ball with your feet.
  3. Explode upwards from a squat jump, flinging the ball into the air with your feet.
  4. Catch the ball with your hands and return to starting position.

My favorite is the Grok toss. Before slings, arrows, or buckshot were used to bring down airborne fowl, we had rocks. Now, I imagine Grok wasn’t using large boulders to hunt birds, but where’s the fun (and muscular development) in throwing small rocks?

  1. Holding the medicine ball with two hands just under your chin, perform a squat.
  2. On the way up, throw the ball as high as you can.
  3. Be as haphazard as possible with your aim. Just concentrate on raw strength rather than accuracy; this will force you to constantly adjust and move around to catch the falling ball.
  4. You can adjust your grip on the ball and throw it underhand granny-style or overhead soccer-style.

Play ball!

Got your own favorite medicine ball tips or workouts? Share them in the comment board!

Further Reading:

Do I Need Exercise Equipment for Primal Workouts?

The Prison Workout

Video Proof You Can Exercise Outdoors

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I love using medicine balls. Glad you mention them here so I can come out of the closet with this information! I have a couple professional ones, but I think I want to make my own after reading this post. If you can get a second person to work out with you, throwing/tossing them to each other (particularly if you don’t aim accurately) makes a great, and fun!, workout too.

    Holly wrote on April 7th, 2009
  2. Thanks for posting this Mark. I made my own a few months ago. Went to Play It Again Sports and bought 3 used basketballs for somewhere around 2 dollars each. 2 bags of sand (which had a bunch of leftovers), a kitchen funnel (can be creative with this – making a paper funnel will work if you do it right), and a tire repair kit is really all you need. After “repairing” the hole in the ball with the standard auto tire repair sticky-stick, I doubled it up with a tube patch. 20# of sand is almost perfect for a standard size basketball. There’s a little room though which I just left flat but there shouldn’t be any problem adding air if you don’t want that “flat” feel and maybe have some bounce (make your sand hole opposite the air hole). That’s how I did it anyway and have been enjoying it. I’ll say though, it’s useful and can be used almost anywhere a normal med ball can be used, but it’s not quite like the real thing as the dynamics of it (bounce, etc) aren’t the best for wallball, slamball, etc. But the price can’t be beat with any commercial method, and it’s the same for med ball cleans, med ball thrusters, and wallball still works with it you just have to be situated a little differently. I’m with you, I get a lot more satisfaction out of it if I make it myself (like my KB, rings, and some other odds and ends). That’s my 2 pence.

    Jason Turnage wrote on April 7th, 2009
  3. Here are a couple of fun games to do with medicine balls:

    Instead of a volleyball, use a medicine ball instead. You’ll have to eliminate the serve but everything else remains the same. Each side has 3 opportunities to catch, pass, and throw the ball over the net. A 12lb or 14lb Dynamax medicine ball works great. Shameless plug!!!

    A great team game involves two 20lb medicine balls, two teams of 5 players, and an open field. Measure off 100 yards from start to finish (a football field works great for this game). Both teams start from one end and race across the field by throwing the medicine ball in whatever way gives you the best distance. Each team member will run to where the ball lands, no rolls or bounces count, and continue to throw the ball down field. Throw it like a two-handed shot put, fling it over your head, spin and twist, whatever it takes. Just get the ball down field before the other team. Rest and repeat 15-20 times.

    Phil Mancini wrote on April 7th, 2009
  4. One of my favorite Medicine ball exercises is from my boxing days. YOu would lay down on your back. The trainer would stand above you and throw the medicine ball down at your stomache. After absorbing the impact with your poor poor stomach you quickly throw it back up to him and repeat. Sounds fun huh?!?!?! Actually it is lol.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on April 7th, 2009
  5. While Swiss balls don’t get much love in these parts, they make a great accessory to a medicine ball workout.

    Kneeling on a swiss ball (hips extended adds difficulty) play catch with a medicine ball. I like to alternate the chest pass and overhead (soccer style) pass. The instability of the swiss ball forces you to keep your core rigid while performing a dynamic movement with your upper body.

    It’s a killer.

    Fate wrote on April 7th, 2009
  6. I have 12 and 20 pound Dynamax ball and man I love those things.

    George wrote on April 7th, 2009
  7. Great article! I have made a couple of medicine balls out of basketballs in the past. One thing that I found helpful, if want the ball to weigh less, but still use a standard basketball, is to add an insulating spray foam (like Great Stuff). It is low density and helps seal the sand in. Start by filling the basketball with 20% foam (try to cover one half of the inside of the ball). Let it dry. Fill with sand until 80% full. Then, fill the remainder with foam. This should allow you to make a 10 or 12lb medicine ball.

    Dan Hubbard wrote on April 7th, 2009
  8. Great post Mark… very helpful and creative.

    zesty

    zestycook wrote on April 7th, 2009
  9. Nice! I’ve always loved using a medicine ball.

    We used to break them out during martial arts training and spend ten or fifteen minutes just throwing them at each others’ bellies. We also used the for a more painful version of dodgeball.

    I made one a few months back from a dead basketball, sand, and a tire-patching kit.

    Both of the exercises mentioned above are killer too. I used to do a lot of granny tosses to train hip extension for jumps (then, of course, you have to sprint to where the ball lands).

    Anyway, thanks for reminding me – now that it’s spring I can bust the med-ball out again and have some fun.

    Andy Fossett wrote on April 7th, 2009
  10. One of my favorite ways to end any workout is to grab a 20lb medicine ball and spend 5 minutes throwing it as far I can with alternating arms and just jog around after the ball. After that, I like to spend another 5 minutes doing overhead slams.

    If you don’t have a medicine ball on hand, a heavy rock will work just fine for both of these.

    Nate - Fit-Life wrote on April 8th, 2009
  11. I’ve been experimenting with my son (12) taking turns throwing the medicine ball to each other on a trampoline, one of us on solid ground – very Grokish!

    Glenn Whitney wrote on April 8th, 2009
  12. You can take two bags of flour and duct tape the bejesus out of them for a makeshift med ball. Not aesthetically pleasing but great for a medicine ball on the cheap…

    Dave | The Intelligent Workout wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  13. Just a quick one here. I am a big fan of asymmetrical work out. Ever since I slung a bag of 20lb dog food over my shoulder and noticed how different and heavier it felt from a 20lb dumb bell, I have been looking for other “weird” work-outs.

    Here’s one:

    Medicine ball lunge.

    Hold the ball over your head from the neutral stance.

    As you step hammer the ball down in a wide arc. Hard enough to make it bounce.

    As you step back to neutral position try to time it to where you catch the ball coming down from the bounce.

    Pull the ball back over your head and repeat from the top.

    Do this about five time per leg and have your cardiologist’s number nearby :)

    An alternative, but much simpler way, is to hold a barbell or dumb bell.

    DKF wrote on May 14th, 2009
  14. Medicine balls are definitely worth a go. I would recommend them to anyone. Using them for core strength and stability is ideal.

    Truth About Abs wrote on July 28th, 2009
  15. Hey guys,

    As a boxer I will be using the med-ball mainly for wall throws. But, how do I make a home-made med-ball more bouncy? ‘Cuz filling it up with all that sand will make it a large rock.

    Help appreciated,
    Gardash

    Gardash wrote on July 17th, 2010
  16. Yes I agree with gar dash. I think medicine balls are used best for throws. I have seen tremendous results from that

    Chris- Medicine Ball wrote on March 20th, 2011
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    Exercise Buttocks wrote on November 22nd, 2011
  19. 1 word…. Hoover Ball! Playing this with a 6lbs Dynamax will leave everyone wiped out!

    Primaldog wrote on June 13th, 2012
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    Rachel wrote on March 6th, 2013

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