Medicine balls great for workouts

Sep. 17, 2013 @ 11:14 AM

I enjoyed speaking to the Roxboro Kiwanis Club recently. My subject was the history of Duke sports, but we mainly talked about Duke football and basketball. I made sure to talk about former Roxboro native Enos Slaughter, who went on to be a Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player and also was the baseball coach at Duke in part of the 1970s. Some of the Duke athletes and coaches we discussed were Wallace Wade, Eddie Cameron, Vic Bubas, Bob Chambers, Jeff Mullins, Ace Parker, Bucky Waters, Dick Groat, and Sonny Jurgensen. Another subject was the 1942 Rose Bowl, which was played in Durham. If this is a topic of interest to you or your organization, let me know.
Do you ever use medicine balls in your workouts? Medicine balls look like small basketballs, until you pick one up. You then notice they are much heavier, ranging in different weights up to 20 pounds or more. They are commonly used as extra weight to do resistance exercises, such as holding one at arm’s length as you do abdominal curls. Also, medicine balls are great for throwing to a partner, such as underhanded, over your head, out from your chest, or throwing from the side of your body. These variations of tossing the medicine ball will use different muscles.  
Let’s look at some medicine ball exercises you can add to your routine. This first one you can do by yourself.  Put one hand on top of a medicine ball and the other hand on the floor in a pushup position. Do one pushup, then roll the ball sideways toward your other hand. Stop it by placing that hand on top of the ball and do another pushup.  Switch back and forth for a number of repetitions.
Here are two more medicine ball pushup variations. Place both hands on top of one medicine ball and do pushups. This will really stress your core muscles. For the next one, get into the same starting position. Release your hands and let them fall to the floor to the sides of the ball while lowering your chest to the ball. Now push yourself up in a powerful motion so that your hands land back on top of the ball. This is an exercise that will develop power and strength, and one that may be more suitable to more experienced exercisers or athletes. Be careful with this one.
Here is a good one to work your chest, especially, along with other core muscles. Sit on a stability ball about 10 feet or so from a partner, who is doing the same. Toss a medicine ball out from your chest toward your partner’s chest. Keep the elbows about the same height as your shoulders to really stress the chest. Do this like you would a basketball chest pass. Do this against a wall if you are by yourself.
To really work your oblique muscles (side of waist), stand several feet from a partner facing the same way with your side to each other. Toss the medicine ball in front of your partner so that he or she catches it in front of their body. After catching the ball, twist your upper body in the other direction while keeping the feet still, then reverse and twist back toward your partner and throw the ball in front of them. This catch and throw combination will cause you to perform quite a bit of trunk rotation, thus stressing your obliques. Be sure to keep the feet stationary.
I ran across this passage from a life of Mark Twain that I’m currently reading. Perhaps we can now attribute some of his great words to his recognition of the value of working out. In a letter to his mother, Twain wrote: “You have portrayed to me so often and so earnestly the benefit of taking frequent exercise, that I know it will please you to learn that I belong to the Olympic Club, whose gymnasium is one of the largest and best appointed in the United States. I think it nothing but right to give you the whole credit of it. I feel like a new man. I sleep better, I have a healthier appetite, my intellect is clearer, and I have become so strong and hearty that I fully believe 20 years have been added to my life.” 
Let me end this week with a quotation that just might inspire you a little: “You build up character just like muscles.  You use the same plan.  Use a muscle and it develops.  Use character and it develops.”    
Wallace Wade, former Duke Football coach.

Lewis Bowling  teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at