Medicine balls are weighted balls usually from 4 to 20 pounds that can be lifted, thrown, or slammed to improve strength, speed, power and overall body explosiveness. Medicine ball training has been used for decades by strength and conditioning professionals because of their low load and because they can be used almost anywhere including on the sports field or in a rehabilitation setting.  However, traditional strength and conditioning programs – those programs which include lifting large amounts of weight to make athletes bigger and stronger – have largely eschewed medicine ball training because of one main factor; the inability to sufficiently overload the athlete, the cornerstone of any strength and conditioning program.

However, as research continues and the strength and conditioning field has gathered more knowledge, a new age of strength and conditioning is upon us. While loading the athlete is still important, today is the day of functional training. Often an overused phrase, functional training can be defined as training the body in the movement pattern and velocity with which it is used in the sport the athlete plays. More simply, to improve the athlete you must train them to perform the skills that their sport requires and most sports do not require lifting a great magnitude of weight. Medicine ball training fulfills this need; medicine balls can be used in a variety of ways to approximate the body movements that athletes use in actual sport activities. Medicine ball tosses with a twist can be used to simulate baseball and golf swings, chest passes can be used to replicate basketball chest passes and overhead tosses can be used to mimic soccer throw-ins.

Additionally, medicine ball exercises can be performed at a velocity at or near that of the actual activity with which they are simulating. This is in keeping with the strength and conditioning tenet of specificity which states that to improve a fitness variable you must train that fitness variable.

In conclusion, while traditional weight training still has a place in strength and conditioning programs, medicine ball training provides a lot of benefits and should play an important role in a functional strength and conditioning program. If you would like more information on how to incorporate medicine balls into your training program, contact a FAST facility near you at www.fast-training.com.

*Black and white athlete pictures from ptonthenet

Every few years it seems there are buzz words in the fitness industry that gain popularity. Lately it’s the phrase “functional movement”. Although this is certainly nothing new in the arena of physical therapy, it has caught-on in mainstream exercise classes around the country.  The question is…

 What is Functional Movement?

Functional movements take place in multi-planes of motion with the use of multiple joints. These movements require the firing of multiple muscle groups in various positions, ranges of motion and varying intensity to achieve a common goal. For instance, in order to swing a golf club you have to tighten your right hip, rotate your shoulders over your hips, raise your arms across your body while maintaining your head still, allowing rotation through the spine along one axis. Pause, and reverse that entire process in a near mirror image back to the same point at which you started. Another example of functional movement is as simple as bending down and reaching over to pick-up your child and rotating through your core to put him/her in the car seat (or to help down a slide as seen in the photo). Functional training can be utilized after an injury or in preparation for an activity to mimic those actions and break them down into more basic components in order to achieve your “functional goal.”

 Why is Functional Movement Training Important?

Research has shown incredible gains in strength, balance and overall decreased joint pain with functional training. Functional training develops a healthy and well-developed body. It promotes kinesthetic awareness and body control, balanced musculature and a stronger core. Thus, functional training may decrease the number of injuries sustained in an individual’s life and sport.

 Who Can Benefit From Functional Movement Training?

Anyone can benefit from functional movement training. From the simple task of standing up from a chair or getting in and out of a vehicle, to training for your next tennis match, functional training attempts to adapt or develop exercises which allow individuals to perform the activities of daily life more easily and without injuries.

How Can I Tell if I Have Functional Movement Limitations?

There are many functional movement assessment tools. One simple test for the shoulder is to reach behind your back with both arms, one from above your head and one from behind your back, try touching your finger-tips together in the middle of your back. Another movement in the lower body is to assume a lunge position, with feet a good distance apart, then slowly lower your back knee down to the ground and back up again. If you are unable to perform either of these activities, you may want to seek a professional assessment from your local physical therapist.