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CindySays: Medicine ball is just what the trainer ordered

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Are you ready to shake up your workout? Ready to try something new? Great!

Fitness products are put on the market continually to spark interest and to pull the regular exerciser out of the doldrums. Sometimes, however, it doesn't require a new tool. Sometimes all that's needed is a new take on an old tool.

Fitness professionals oftentimes (often when bored themselves) simply dust off an old, underused piece of equipment and repurpose it. Take for example, the kettlebell lay dormant for decades, but now, given its place in boot camps and personal training, it is one of the hottest trends in the fitness arena.

Tricks of the trade

The medicine ball has been used to enhance sports performance for years. It can actually classify as "old school," considering its invention is placed at around 400 B.C. The name "medicine ball" comes from the Greek physician Hippocrates, who filled animal skins with sand to help his patients rehabilitate after injuries.

You may not need rehabilitation, but you may want to challenge your core and to improve overall strength. If so, the medicine ball may be excellent tool to infuse your workouts with variety and to promote greater athletic performance. Medicine balls, also referred to as med balls, range in weight from 2 to 25 pounds and should not be confused with the larger, inflated exercise ball that is used to facilitate balance and assist in core training.

There's a reason that after all these years the medicine ball ranks in the top 10 of current equipment trends. It's a multipurpose weight training tool used in multiple settings. This tool is a mainstay in boot camps and interval workouts, and children can use it too. Exercising with them not only builds strength, but also improves balance, power, speed, endurance, coordination and dynamic flexibility. This is the kind of medicine ball magic that's just not possible with a set of dumbbells.

It's how you use it

A medicine ball should not be used instead of free weights if you decide to include it in your training. You may be able to dead-lift 150 pounds, but a med ball is not just lifted and put back down. Its weight is combined with deliberate motion and explosive movement. This is why it can be advantageous to add a 6- or 8-pound med ball to your toolbox.

This may not sound like much weight, but used properly and with velocity, it can effectively work many muscles and provide you with some unbelievable results. The types of plyometric exercise in which med balls are used target fast-twitch muscle fiber, promoting speed, power and mobility.

I heart med balls

Versatile in their original form, med balls now come in more sizes and textures -- and some even bounce. Because med ball movements are explosive (for example, extending the med ball overhead and slamming it to the floor), it's easy to see it strengthens muscles and joints. But this type of activity is also cardiovascular. Ask anyone who has spent 30 seconds pushing and catching an 8-pounder into a wall from their chest, and they'll attest to the intensity that can be achieved.

Med ball exercises

Some common movements you can do with this weighted ball are ball slams, windmills, cross chops, figure eights and rotational crunches. Check with a fitness trainer for proper form and execution of these and any other med ball exercises. Technique is integral and should not be underestimated if you want achieve great results and avoid injury.

Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to cindysays@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.


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