Most well equipped gyms have medicine balls. What exactly are medicine balls, what are they used for and should you get some for your home gym? Let’s find out.
Medicine balls are weighted balls that can be used as a normal weight. However they are especially good for training explosive power production and coordination because you can throw and catch them unlike any other type of weights. Coordination and explosive power are often overlooked in training.
Let’s dive into what these balls are, what they’re used for and if you need some below.
What is a medicine ball
Let’s start with the easy question you might be wondering about, what is a medicine ball? It sounds like something you might use in a doctor’s office but it doesn’t really have anything to do with healthcare. (Not directly anyways. Of course working out is a form of preventative healthcare.)
Medicine balls are also known as; Fitness balls, med balls or exercise balls. Medicine balls are balls that have a specific weight (usually 2-15 kg).
They are available in different weights from 1kg to 30kg although the most common weights are in the 2kg to 15 kg. range.
There is no standard size for medicine balls but most tend to be slightly bigger than a basketball (+-10”) but there are some that are a bit bigger (+-13”). That’s for a 10 lbs. ball. Lighter balls tend to be smaller.
The outside of a fitness ball can consist a lot of different materials. Unlike a football or basketball, it doesn’t have to hold air so there are more choices for materials. Leather is possible but PVC and rubber are two of the most common materials for fitness balls.
Most fitness balls will have a texture on the outside to improve grip. Some of these textures are very fine some are coarser. For most uses, a relatively fine texture will be good.
On the inside of a medicine ball you can usually find sand which is used for weight. With sand it’s easy to get the ball exactly the weight you want it to be. It’s also very cheap which is why most manufacturers use it.
The sand also does another job in a fitness ball: It replaces air. In most balls that’s the opposite of what you want but not in medicine balls. Medicine balls barely have any bounce and that’s what makes them good at what they do, more on that below.
Normal balls have a decent amount of bounce. That’s because they are filled with air. Air is almost like a spring. It’s easy to compress and when you compress it, it wants to get back to its normal size quickly. This causes an air filled ball to bounce back with some speed. The sand in a medicine ball doesn’t compress. The individual grains of sand move around a little on impact but they don’t get bigger or smaller. That means very little bounce.
Don’t confuse medicine balls with inflated exercise balls. The naming can be confusing. Both are balls and both are used for exercise. Besides those two characteristics, they are quite different though. Medicine balls are smaller and weighted. They are used for strength and coordination. Inflated exercise balls are much bigger, not weighted and used for improving balance.
What are medicine balls used for?
So now we have an idea of what medicine balls are. That leads to the next question, what are they used for?
There is no shortage of heavy things in any gym. So why do so many of them have medicine balls as well as so many other pieces of equipment? That’s because of the way you work out with them.
Of course you can hold medicine balls as a weight during sit-ups, squats, etc. You could use kettlebells for these things as well but there are two benefits to using a medicine ball for these exercises;
- More comfortable: Fitness balls are much softer than the hard exterior of a dumbbell or kettlebell.For exercises where the weight touches your body, a medicine ball will be more comfortable to use.
- Different hold: Kettlebells and dumbbells have handles. Medicine balls don’t. That means you have to hold and control them in a different manner. This means training hand strength and control in a different way that compliments other training methods.
Besides just using them for the same exercises, there are different exercises you can do with a fitness ball than with a kettlebell or other weights. The most obvious different thing you can do with these balls is; throw them. This is unique to medicine balls. It’s possible to throw them because they are relatively soft and they bounce a little but not too much. Try throwing kettlebells, see what happens. (Actually don’t try. you’ll probably damage your floor and the kettlebel.)
That throwing option means you can do many different things with fitness balls you can’t do with anything else. You can throw them on the floor, above your head, against the wall or even to another person. Those are very different movements than usual in the gym. Most equipment has to be used in the opposite way; please don’t drop them.
To throw them, you need to put a lot of speed/force into them to make them bounce back far enough to catch. That means a sudden burst of acceleration. And then to catch it you have to suddenly control the weight again. That means the power production in the muscle is much more dynamic than when using normal weights.
This dynamic character translates into a training of explosive power. You have to produce the power in your muscles in very short bursts. Also, when the ball comes back, it can bounce back in a slightly different way. That means you need good hand eye coordination.
You can further train coordination by using a medicine ball as a stability ball. For example; when doing push-ups, put one hand on the ball instead of on the floor. A ball is round and can roll away. That means to be able to push through the hand that rests on the ball, you have to control the ball from rolling away. This forces your body to use a lot more stabilizing muscles and control. This massively improves muscle control and coordination.
Medicine balls are a more comfortable and approachable tool for weight training. They are also used to train explosive power and coordination by throwing and catching the balls.
Who should use a medicine ball?
Almost anyone can benefit from working out with a medicine ball. Explosive power and coordination are often trained by professional athletes but often forgotten by most other ‘casual’ exercisers.
People in the gym or in other exercise tend to focus on; Strength, endurance, muscle growth and cardiovascular health. Most of those things require some level of power production and coordination but not that much. In fact, most of the machines in a commercial gym are designed to take coordination out of the equation (which is why I much prefer free weights for strength and muscle building.)
So you can see that explosive power production and coordination is a gap in the exercise routine of many people. That’s where exercise balls come in; they make this type of training very easy and approachable.
Should you use a medicine ball? That depends on what your training goals are. Do you just want to get as strong as possible? Then medicine balls aren’t going to do much to reach that goal. Sure there are a few ancillary effect that can help you get stronger in the long run, however, you can only do so many workouts a week. For most people that want to be as strong as possible without any considerations, another strength focused workout would probably be more effective.
However, most people that work out for general health and fitness reasons. They want to be in decent shape, have the strength to easily perform daily tasks, have good cardiovascular health and have increased longevity. For those people adding in a medicine ball workout can really round out certain aspects of their physical capabilities.
Pretty much everyone can benefit from doing a medicine ball workout, especially if you’re exercising to improve your overall health, functionality and longevity.
Should you get a medicine ball for your home gym?
As you can read above, a medicine ball can be used by pretty much everyone. There are many uses for them and they are effective.
If you should get one or more for your home gym depends on a few factors that are pretty specific to you and your home gym. Let’s go over a few;
You need a bit of space for medicine balls. Not only the space you need to store them but also the space to actually use them.
A single fitness ball isn’t that big and can easily be put in a cupboard or on top of a cabinet somewhere. However, when you get a full rack with different weights, it starts taking up some space.
That space could be used for other equipment you would rather use. If you’ve got enough free space to fit anything you want, that’s great. But most people don’t have that luxury.
But, as said, a single medicine ball is easy to put almost anywhere so that shouldn’t really matter too much.
The second part is the space to use it. You can buy all the equipment you like but if there’s no space to use it properly, it’s not going to help you reach your fitness goals in any way.
For some exercises, you have to throw the ball against the wall. Make very sure that you throw it against a solid wall and not a piece of drywall. A heavy medicine ball will go through drywall and you’ll be left with a nice hole.
Other exercises involve throwing the ball up above your head. Indoors, this is going to be a bit of an issue. Most people can throw higher than their ceiling. You could damage your ceiling this way.
If you can, going outside to use fitness balls is not a terrible idea. Of course you need some space outdoors you can use for this but it does solve all your space problems. You can throw as high as you want and outside walls are pretty much always very solid (unless you live in a tent in which case you have bigger things to worry about). If this is possible for you really depends on your local climate and time of year though.
For exercises that don’t involve throwing, just a space that’s big enough to do bodyweight exercises is going to be enough. If you can lay down and not hit anything when doing pushups and things like that, you’re good.
Medicine balls aren’t very expensive compared to other home gym equipment but money is a limited resource. You can only spend it once and pretty much everyone will have to make compromises one way or another in the equipment they get because of budgetary reasons.
So if getting medicine balls means you can’t get something else, you’ll have to think about what is more effective and what complements the equipment you already have best.
Of course you don’t have to buy everything at one time and you can add other things later on.
If you just want to get started by buying a piece of equipment that’s very multifunctional and can provide a full body workout, medicine balls are a good option. (Kettlebells and resistance bands are two other good options for that situation).
This is obvious but has to be mentioned. Do you have any need for medicine balls at home? Do your fitness goals line up with what fitness balls can do for you?
Also, do you already have other things that can do the same thing or at least very similar.
The more equipment you already have, the less need you likely have for medicine balls. If you have a clean slate, an empty room you want to turn into a home gym, then also think about the other equipment you’re going to get.
In an empty home gym, fitness balls are going to give you a large return on investment. For the price, medicine balls can be very effective (combined with the right workout program.) However, if you are going to get other equipment that does similar things (or takes up space) in the future, maybe you’re better off getting that other equipment from the start.
Medicine balls are pretty heavy and are often slammed into the floor or walls. That creates noise and vibrations. That’s not a big issue if it’s in your garage or basement but if you’re in an apartment building, that’s going to p*** off your neighbors pretty quickly. Nobody likes an earthquake above their head for 30 minutes every day.
You can mitigate this noise with good flooring and exercise selection. Gym flooring (or just a removable rubber mat) is always a good idea for home gyms. It helps with so many issues you can have in a home gym like grip, noise, comfort, hygiene, etc.
If you start changing the exercise selection, you start removing a lot of functionality that makes fitness balls so unique in the first place. Think about the exercises that create an impact and remove them from the workouts. What you’re left with is mostly just a weight you hold in your hands. At that point you might as well get a kettlebell or set of dumbbells.
So if you have to think about neighbors maybe medicine balls aren’t the right tool for the job.
Recommended medicine balls
You want a range of medicine balls that aren’t too heavy. For different exercises, you want different weights to train optimally. Also, you want to be able to progress to become better and stronger over time. You’ll need heavier and lighter weights for that.
That means you want to buy a set of medicine balls and not just a single one. If you buy a single ball, it’s possible that specific model is not sold anymore and you have to buy a ball from a different brand/model which looks different. Not a big deal but it doesn’t look great in your gym.
Also, if you buy a set, usually you get a rack to store them properly.