In this post, you will learn about medicine ball exercises for seniors and the elderly. Learn how you can use medicine balls to improve your strength at home or at the gym.
Medicine balls are a great way to improve your dynamic strength and balance. You can see them more commonly in the gyms these days but for a while, they were more of a physiotherapy rarity.
Medicine balls are not a new invention by any means as there are historical references of using animal skin balls filled with sand dating as far back as 400 BC to ancient Greek and Hippocrates.
The first thing is to get the terminology right. It’s easy to confuse medicine balls with exercise balls, Bosu balls, or balance balls. They are all distinct exercise equipment with different purposes and uses.
Medicine balls are weighted balls roughly the size of basketballs. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the history, construction, and usage of medicine balls.
What Are Medicine Balls
So as we established, medicine balls are roughly the size of a basket ball, usually around 14 inches but they come in many sizes. What’s common with all medicine balls is that they are heavy and not air-filled.
They are typically filled with sand or similar heavy substance and weigh anywhere between 2 to 25 lbs. They are typically made out of hard-duty elastic rubber and are similar in feel to a heavy basketball that’s a bit low on air.
There are also softer medicine balls made out of synthetic or real leather. They feel more like bean bags due to the lack of elasticity in the skin.
Medicine balls are most commonly used for something called ballistic training, which is a form of strength and power exercise. It aims to improve explosive strength as the idea is usually to toss or move the ball as fast as possible.
Ballistic training typically involves throwing and jumping with the weights, as well as doing dynamic core exercises holding the weight, in this case, the medicine ball.
This type of work activates the fast-twitch muscle fibers which have the most potential for growth and strength. Traditionally power and ballistic training has been done to improve strength and athletic performance because it requires a relatively high amount of skill. Since power training is also very metabolically demanding, it’s being used increasingly for metabolic conditioning in sports like CrossFit.
Medicine balls have been used for improving physical fitness since ancient Greek. Hippocrates stuffed animal skins with sand for patients to toss to improve their health. The term medicine ball was first used in 1876 in American Gymnasia and Record so they are definitely not a new invention.
Benefits of medicine ball exercises for seniors
The benefits of medicine ball exercises for seniors are virtually the same as any form of strength training. What’s great about medicine balls exercises is that they improve your balance and stability at the same time exceptionally well.
This is because the exercises are done dynamically and require you to challenge and maintain your balance while performing them.
Medicinal balls are relatively affordable (affiliate link, I will earn a small commission if you end up buying) and a good option for doing strength training at home instead of using a dumbbell or a kettlebell.
Building and maintaining strength and balance should be the main focus in the exercise routine of older adults as these physical attributes will diminish fast as you get older unless you actively train them. They are very important for maintaining independence and for fall prevention.
Medicine ball exercises will improve dynamic explosive strength which is very useful for health and mobility and something older people generally lack.
The exercises require both coordination and balance to perform, so they are perfect for maintaining and improving these skills as well.
What Weight Medicine Ball Should You Use
Choosing the correct weight medicine ball is very important especially for older people. Using a too heavy ball can increase the chance of injury because doing dynamic movements require full control and too heavy a load can make you lose that.
On the other hand, using a too-light ball can make strength gains nonexistent. Especially after you get used to the initial weight.
I recommend that you don’t start your strength training with medicine ball exercises if you haven’t done strength training before or in years. You should start by doing simple bodyweight movements to build a base level of strength instead.
This makes doing dynamic movements with a medical ball much safer as doing explosive movements with insufficient strength and muscle control can lead to injury.
After you have built a good base it’s better to get a medicine ball that is just a tad too heavy rather than light. That way you will have some room for improvement in the future.
But don’t go overboard. It’s always wise to start light and build up the resistance as you progress. This is the principle of progressive overload which we use in all strength training.
That said, seniors should plan medicine ball training with a physical therapist or a qualified trainer since the risk of falls or injury with bad technique or too heavy a ball is real.
The general rule for choosing a medicine ball weight is that the ball must be heavy enough to give some resistance, but not so heavy that control, accuracy, or range of motion suffer. So, if you lose control and balance while performing the exercise, the ball is too heavy but it should be substantial enough to feel heavy.
Power Vs. Strength
One consideration is that medicine balls can be used for both power and strength training. Power equals fast expression of strength and is explosive in nature. Power training is best done with smaller weights than strength training and generally, you will need two different weights for these uses.
If you want to learn about the difference between power and strength in more detail check out the articles Powerlifting For Seniors [Fountain Of Youth?] and Weightlifting For Seniors – Is Oly Lifting Good For Seniors?.
A good starting point is around 6 – 8 lbs for most older females and 8 -15 lbs for most older males. Of course, your size, strength, and prior exercise background will affect the suitable weight for you, so you might have to try around a bit and preferably listen to your physical therapist or trainer.
Medicine Ball Exercises For Seniors
This simple pair workout by The Best Exercises For Seniors (YouTube embed, content not created or owned by ElderStrength. All rights belong to the creator) will challenge your whole body. It consists of a series of throws from different positions. While it’s just like playing catch with a friend, pay attention to the different positions the throws are performed in.
Because of these different positions, this kind of workout can activate your whole musculature and improve your conditioning in a short 10-minute workout. And the best part is that it’s fun and addictive!
If you don’t have a training partner, you can do this simple full-body workout. It activates most of the major muscle groups in your body and will get your blood pumping. Here’s a great example of full-body workout by Ben Hunter (YouTube embed, content not owned by ElderStrength. All rights belong to the creator).
If you want to follow your heart rate and progression during the workouts I recommend getting a fitness tracker. I think the Fitbit Charge 3 is the best fitness tracker for seniors.
Best medicine ball for seniors
If you are looking to get a medicine ball for home I recommend you get one from a well established brand. TRX Training Slam Ball (affiliate link) is a good example.
It is a heavy-duty medicine ball that can be used for lifting, throwing as well as slamming. Slamming is an advanced form of medicine ball exercise that quite literally involves slamming the ball to the ground or the wall.
This means the ball is extremely durable and designed so that it won’t bounce and roll around. Kinda a like a mix between a bag and a ball. This gives a nice extra challenge to throwing it around.
It features an easy-grip textured rubber surface and comes in various sizes from 8 lbs to 50 lbs, so you will definitely find a suitable size for your individual needs.
I hope you found the tips for medicine ball exercises for seniors useful and will try them yourself. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Medicine balls are a simple and affordable way to do strength training at home or at a gym. They require a bit of coordination and base strength and with the guidance of a physical therapist or a trainer are a great option for most seniors.
Medicine ball exercises build strength, coordination, power, and balance which are all very important for healthy aging. Improving these should be the main focus of your exercise program. If you combine medicine ball training with low-intensity cardio like walking, cycling, or swimming, and more conventional strength training, your fitness and health will improve without a doubt.
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See you next time!