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Medicine Ball Training, Part I
Wondering what to do with those small weighted balls in your gym? If you’d like ideas on how to train with medicine balls, read on. Below, we’ve included several partner balance and abdominal exercises for you to add to your training sessions. Next month we’ll share with you some climbing-specific exercises you can do with medicine balls.
Medicine balls are useful for balance or tossing exercises with a partner, friend or trainer (dumbbells don’t lend themselves to being thrown or caught easily without injury!) Nearly all exercises you can perform using dumbbells can also be done with medicine balls. They provide a good training option for rehab purposes, if gripping cable handles or dumbbells causes any elbow or finger tendon strain. Try working with an open-palm grip with medicine balls and see if your arms feel better.
For the following three exercises, you’ll need a partner, a ball weighing anywhere from 2-10 pounds, and an area at least 10x10 feet, preferably outside or at least free of any obstructions.
Standing Oblique Toss
Start with a 6-8 pound ball. Stand about 10-15 feet away from your partner and facing the same direction as your partner. Stand with legs wide for balance, and hold a medicine ball in both hands in front of you. Keep your knees slightly bent and abdominals tight as you turn away from your partner and release the ball toward your partner (as though playing sideways catch) so that it reaches a spot 6-12 inches in front of your partner. He/she will catch the ball and let the arms swing in the opposite direction, allowing the obliques to brake the catch, and throw it back to you. Continue until the set is finished, then complete the same number of repetitions to the other side.
Seated Oblique Toss
Try a 4-6 pound ball at first. This is similar to the standing toss, simply performed seated. Sit facing the same direction as your partner, but be sure to sit a little closer to your partner than you were in the standing toss. Lean back slightly with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and aim for a spot just above your partner’s knees for easier catching. The farther back you lean, the harder your abdominals and obliques have to work. Keep your abdominals tight in order to protect the lower back, and exhale as you toss to your partner.
1-leg Balance Toss
If you feel awkward crossing boulder fields or streams, or wish to develop a better sense of balance for friction climbing, try this exercise which challenges the small muscles of the foot, ankle, hip and knee. It also requires core stability, in order to absorb some of the impact transferred from ball to arms to foot on the floor, as you increase the weight of the ball. Both of you should stand on one leg facing your partner about 8-10 feet away. Toss a small 2-6 pound ball to your partner, throwing randomly to both sides, varying heights and velocities. As you progress, increase the ball’s weight, speed of throw, or distance thrown and caught. Try catching with one hand at a time, if the ball is small enough.
For the following strengthening exercises for the abdominals, start with a 2-10 pound ball. While ankle weights or dumbbells can be used in place of a ball, balls are generally more comfortable and easier to hold with the knees than a dumbbell for reverse curls and knee raises.
Seated ball oblique twists
Sit on the floor with knees bent roughly 45 degrees and clasp a ball in both hands. The first time you try this, you may want to start with no weight. Lean back until you feel the abdominals tighten, and then rotate side to side, forming a rainbow arc above the body, starting with the ball close to you, and then as you feel stronger and more comfortable with the movement, straighten arms out away from the body. To increase difficulty, add weight, lean back farther, or increase the distance between body and ball.
Crunches, ball between knees
Lie on your back with feet on the floor and knees bent. Position a ball between your knees and squeeze legs together throughout the exercise. Raise feet off the floor until thighs are perpendicular to the floor, feet close to the butt. With hands behind your head, exhale and lift the shoulders off the floor as you simultaneously lift the hips off the floor. Emphasize height above the floor, rather than elbows touching knees.
Parallel Bar Knee Raises, ball between knees
Support yourself on parallel bars, dip stand, or a cushioned apparatus with handles. It might be easiest to get into position by standing on a bench placed slightly to the side, and positioning a ball between your knees or ankles before you press up into position. Alternatively, have a partner place the ball between your ankles once you are in position. Exhale as you lift your knees to the chest and crunch slightly forward with the torso, inhale as you lower the legs and return the torso to vertical. Once you finish your set, simply allow the ball to drop to the floor. To make this more difficult, add weight or do not allow thighs to drop below parallel to the floor.
Weighted Hanging Knee Raises, ball between knees
Start with a 2-5 pound ball placed between your knees and hang freely from a pullup bar (or Olympic bar placed above or high in your power, Smith or squat rack) so that your feet do not touch the floor. Exhale and raise your knees to your chest, keeping legs squeezing tight against the ball. Inhale as you slowly lower the legs to starting position. To increase the difficulty, start with thighs parallel to the floor and do not allow feet to return to the floor.
Next month, stay tuned for more medicine ball exercises specifically for climbing!