No Barbell, No Problem — How to Use Medicine Balls to Develop Power

The barbell isn't your only option to boost your power output.

Sure, snatches, jerks, and cleans develop a strong and powerful body — but these are highly technical lifts that take years to master. If you’re looking to increase your power output (or for a less technical way to break a sweat), then trade in your barbell for a medicine ball.

Slamming and tossing a medicine ball isn’t a replacement for Olympic lifts. That said, you can generate a lot of force with medicine ball slams, which will help you learn to produce more power. Also, they’re much easier to do; so that’s a plus.  

So What Is Power? 

Power is equal to Force times Acceleration (P = F x A).

Think of “force” as a push or pull from the object’s interaction with another object, such as the pull of gravity or the concentric phase of a push-up.

Acceleration is the rate at which an object changes its speed, like when you’re sprinting to catch a bus or a car moving from a dead stop.

medicine ball exercises
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The Benefits of Using Medicine Balls for Power

  • Better cardiovascular function: Training power encourages the heart to pump more blood with each pump.
  • Increased strength: Medicine ball power exercises involve rapid contractions that build and enhance ‘fast-twitch’ muscle fibers.
  • Increased calorie burn: Using the fast-twitch muscles of your arms and legs increases the number of calories burned during the workout and up to 14 hours later. (1)

How Heavy Should My Medicine Ball Be?

When in doubt, go on the lighter side. The point is to develop power.  If the ball is too heavy to throw quickly, then you’re wasting your time. A great starting point is between four and 15 pounds (depending on your size and strength) with a sweet spot for most folks being between six and 10 pounds.

The Best Time to Train Power With Medicine Balls

Medicine ball power exercises are best trained between your warmup and your weight training exercises. At this point, your muscles are ready to go but aren’t fully taxed. Because power puts a demand on your neurological/muscular system which is best trained when you’re fresh.

Furthermore, it sets the table for the rest of your training because your fast-twitch muscles are now primed to lift some weight. (2

How Many Reps Should You Do?

When it comes to power output, reps are less of a concern. You want to focus on the quality of the rep. In this instance, is each rep, fast, hard, and fluid? If not, then you’ve done one too many. Start with three to five reps. Again, these should be done with absolute power. Here are four exercises you should consider adding to your training to develop power.

[Related: The Most Versatile Piece of Equipment You Might Be Forgetting to Use]

1. Squat Med Ball Throws

The squat med ball throw is deceptive. It looks like you’re using your arms to throw the ball, but the power is really coming from your legs. The arms are just going along for the ride. (If you know much about snatches and cleans, you know what we mean: power should be coming from the lower body.)

This mimics a lot of actions on the sporting field where you need to transfer power from your lower to upper body. And this acts as a nice exercise to groove your squats too.

Exercise Tip

If you have nowhere to throw the ball, do the exercise without letting go. If you’re throwing the ball, please keep your eye on the ball for obvious reasons.  

2. Overhead Med Ball Throws

Taking a strong step forward encourages transferring power from your lower to upper body. And if you’re an athlete whose sport involves throwing a ball explosively, this exercise deserves a spot in your program. 

Exercise Tip

This can be a partner exercise if you have no wall to throw the ball into. And you can either alternate feet or do all the reps on one foot then switch. It’s your choice.

If you have cranky or beat up shoulders, please let pain be your guide with this exercise.

3. Rotational Med Ball Throws

Golfers, baseball players, and quarterbacks have to transfer power from one hip to another to hit or throw the ball powerfully. If you play any of those sports, this exercise deserves a spot in your training.

This exercise trains the core explosively too, which not a lot of core exercises do. That means a more injury resistant core and spine, and of course, nicer looking abs.

Exercise Tip

Make sure you’re transferring your weight from the back hip to the front hip as this is where most of the power is coming from. If you’re feeling this in your lower back, make sure the rotation is coming from your hips and not your lower back.

[Related: 6 lateral stability exercises for the functional athlete]

4. Med Ball Shot Put Throw

 This exercise trains the chest, triceps, and shoulders unilaterally and explosively. If you’ve plateaued with any of your pressing exercises, this will help.

And if you’re throwing a ball for a living or recreation, this will help you throw the ball further and with more pop.

Exercise Tip

If you feel uncomfortable doing the step back (as demonstrated in the video) take a side on stance and make sure you transfer your weight from your back to your front hip.

If you have no wall to throw to, throw the ball to your partner in crime.

Wrapping Up

Med ball throws are a nice change of pace from the barbell and are an easy way for you to express power and to bring out your inner athlete. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be powerful enough to leap tall buildings with a single bound like another superhero you know.  

References

  1. Knab AM, et al. A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Sep;43(9):1643-8.
  2. McBride JM, et al. The effect of heavy- vs. light-load jump squats on the development of strength, power, and speed. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):75-82.

Featured image: OPOLJA/Shutterstock