Medicine Ball For All
By Dr. Avery D. Faigenbaum and Patrick Mediate
Avery Faigenbaum, EdD, CSCS, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey. He recently served as Vice President of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. Faigenbaum has published over 100 articles on fitness and conditioning and is the author of five books, including "Progressive Plyometrics for Kids" and "Strength and Power for Young Adults." Patrick Mediate, CSCS, is a former member of the NSCA Board of Directors and Regional Coordinator and State Director of the NSCA. He currently teaches physical education, coordinates the strength and conditioning program, and coaches track and field at Greenwich (Conn.) High School. Mediate and Faigenbaum co-authored the training handbooks, "Medicine Ball for All" and "Medicine Ball for All Kids."
Due to the poor performance of Greenwich High School students on standardized physical fitness testing, we developed a progressive, challenging, and inexpensive physical activity intervention. Our goal was to develop a physical activity program that would enhance physical fitness abilities and provide school-age students with a meaningful learning experience consistent with their developmental needs. We call our program “Medicine Ball for All” because it utilizes medicine balls and is appropriate for all school-age children regardless of body size or fitness level.
The results of a research study recently published in The Physical Educator support our initial observations that regular participation in medicine ball training can enhance physical fitness in high school students. In fact, the results were so impressive that we implemented our “Medicine Ball for All” program into all physical education classes at Greenwich (Conn.) High School. The following year, our school was ranked as one of the top schools in the state for physical fitness testing.
These findings, combined with positive feedback from physical education teachers, indicate that medicine ball training is an efficacious and enjoyable means of promoting physical fitness in high school students. Since these observations have practical relevance for designing physical education lessons for elementary and middle school students too, our “Medicine Ball for All” program is now a part of a district-wide physical education curriculum for kindergarten though 12th grade. This system-wide approach to fitness training has enabled all grade levels to rank among the best in the state in physical fitness testing.
In addition to aerobic activities such as rollerblading and mountain biking, activities that involve resistance exercise can also be part of a health-enhancing youth fitness program. While other modes of resistance training such as weight machines and free weights can be beneficial, medicine balls are becoming increasingly more popular in strength and conditioning programs.
We use medicine balls in our youth programs to enhance muscle strength, muscle power, flexibility, endurance, coordination, agility, balance, and speed. Unlike weight machines that isolate and train individual muscles or muscle groups, medicine ball exercises train the body to function as a unit. For example, when you swing a tennis racket you don’t think about each individual muscle, but focus on using all the muscles involved to create a fluid swing. It is the creation of these functional movements that mimic natural body positions and movement speeds in daily life that makes medicine ball training so valuable.
Since medicine balls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each student can start at a safe level and gradually progress as desired. Furthermore, since body weight exercises such as chin-ups and push-ups may be too challenging for some youths, medicine ball programs that involve throwing, catching, and rotational movements can be structured in a way that is appropriate for all body types and levels of conditioning.
Medicine ball training also requires students to use their minds as well as their body. While some medicine ball exercises are easy to perform, others are complex and require students to think about what they are doing and how they are moving. For example, how far can a child walk and still maintain dynamic balance if you add rotational and diagonal medicine ball movements? Each child creates the answer to this task on his or her own, thus learning the movement forever. From our observations, an interesting consequence of these exercises is the noticeable improvement in each student’s participatory self-efficacy.
Since medicine balls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, teachers, coaches and trainers can use them to enhance the health and fitness of children and adolescents with different needs, goals and abilities. With qualified instruction and an appropriate progression of training loads, “Medicine Ball for All” can be a safe, effective and fun method of developing and enhancing health-related fitness, physical competence, and positive attitudes about physical activity in school-aged youth. With a little creativity, exercises can be created for students with differing needs, goals and abilities.