The Benefits of Soft Toss Medicine Balls
by Mike Boyle
I love soft medicine balls but I can't say I always did. About 10 years ago I bought some heavy Dynamax balls to do upper body plyometrics with. Primarily we did medicine ball bench presses. We have one partner drop an 18-20 lb ball and the other athlete throws the ball back. I really like this exercise for upper body power because it does not give the shoulders the stress that exercises like plyometric pushups do. The reason we use the Dynamax medicine balls is that they are softer and easier to handle when dropped.
A few years ago someone on my staff ordered some lighter Dynamax balls, probably for the younger athletes we train. The balls sat in the storage closet for years. I wondered to myself if we would ever use them. One day I took them all out. We had paid a lot of money for the balls and I was trying to think of a good use for them. Just for the heck of it I threw one of them off the wall in a side twist throw. Normally this throw is our standard rotational core / plyo exercise but is done with a more conventional rubber (bouncing) medicine ball.
My first thought was "these balls stink, they don't bounce back". In response I threw the ball as hard as I could off the wall to get it to bounce back. It did , but weakly. Suddenly the lights came on. What I had initially perceived as a drawback to the Dynamax ball suddenly became a positive. Think about this. Initially we had used rotational medicine ball throws for an explosive core exercise, a core plyo. The fact that the balls bounced back allowed us to get a rhythmic pace and a plyometric effect. The ball coming off the wall forced us to use the core not only to accelerate the ball but, to create a deceleration and a switching effect. For years I thought that was such a great idea. Then, as I mentioned above, I threw the light Dynamax ball. Suddenly I asked myself "what are we doing rotational power exercises for?" I immediately answered my own question. The goal was shooting harder, or hitting harder in sports like baseball, ice hockey, field hockey and golf. The next question I asked myself was "is the eccentric component of the ball recoiling off the wall important?". The answer seemed to be no. The skill of striking seemed to be a 1 RM type movement that was very powerful but was not repeated multiple times.
All of a sudden these light balls were not a mistake but a great new tool. I would say now we actually use the lighter Dynamax balls for more of our throws than we use the rubber medicine balls for. In fact, I think that medicine ball slams and side throws are far better with the Dyna max balls than with a bouncing rubber med ball. The exception to the rule might be on overhead throws. Here we still focus on light rubber medicine balls. We position ourselves further from the wall and catch the ball after one bounce.
My advice: if you have a med ball wall and like to use med ball throws in your program for core power order a few Dynamax balls. I like the 8 lb ball for most athletes. Perform Better made a great suggestion and had Dynamax introduce Dynamax Minis. These are smaller in diameter, easier to handle and are great for kids. For kids a 6 lb Dynamax Mini medicine ball works great.
In addition, the softer ball saves on fingers. We have sprained a few fingers and even broken one or two with our med ball throws. Yes, the Dynamax medicine balls are expensive but good tools are expensive. Try them, I think you'll like them.