Today we are going to talk 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Medicine balls are not a new invention by any means as there are historical references of using animal skin balls filled with sand dating as far back as 400 BC to ancient Greek and Hippocrates.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 a weighted ball roughly the width of your shoulders. In today’s article we will talk about medicine balls specifically. 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 width of shoulder, 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 weight anywhere between 2 to 25 lbs. They are typically made out of hard duty elastic rubber and are similar in feel to a heavy basket ball that’s a bit low on air.
There are also softer medicine balls made out of synthetic or real leather. They feel more like a bean bag 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 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 patient 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 using a medicine ball 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.
Building and maintaining strength and balance should be the main focus in exercise routine of older adults as these physical attributes will diminish fast as you get older, unless you actively train them.
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 of 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 load can make you lose that.
On the other hand using a too light ball will make virtually make the strength gains nonexistent especially after you get used to the initial weight.
We 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 body weight 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 build 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.
The general rule for choosing a medicine ball weight is that the ball must be heavy enough to visibly slow the motion, 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.
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.
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.
Let’s see what you can do with the medicine balls!
Medicine ball full body workout
This simple pair workout 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, take notion 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 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.
If you want to follow your heart rate and progression over time 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 use our recommendation is the TRX Training Slam Ball.
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 which 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 the 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.
We hope you found our 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 we 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 but besides that they require no special skill or prior athletic background are a good 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 and more conventional strength training, your fitness and health will improve without a doubt.
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See you next time!