Progression and Intensification of Medicine Ball Training

Unlock the secrets of effective training progression. Learn how to strategically manipulate intensity, volume, and frequency in your Medicine Ball Training to maximize results while minimizing risk.
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Once training goals are identified, exercises are selected and loading is considered, coaches must then plan how they will overload and progress training over the training period. Intensity, volume, and training frequency are all important factors to consider within a general planning framework, as well as how these variables interact with and impact on sport training and competition demands.

When intensifying MBT, coaches should consider the athlete’s training history and current developmental level. Depending on exercise choice, MBT may be used to impose a high level of neural, musculoskeletal, or cardio-respiratory stress to a system. The coach must be conscious of both the desired and actual effect of what is being prescribed: is the athlete equipped to tolerate and perform what is programmed? Intensity is relative to preparation level. What is ‘low intensity’ for one athlete may be ‘high intensity’ for another. This has implications for training design between individuals.

Gradual and logically sequenced progression models are valuable tools to support this training prescription. These provide coaches with a general outline to aid training selection and allow a smooth transition through training phases. The rate of progression should be based on the athlete’s training level, their stage of development, as well as a coach’s observation of individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs. This allows for progressive improvement of relevant physical qualities over the course of multiple training cycles. Such considerations help ensure an athlete is working within their current capabilities and play a substantial role in allowing the body’s structures to respond appropriately to the training stimulus.

When constructing a suitable intensification progression, some key variables should be considered. Intensity is a general term and doesn’t differentiate between the relative load on different physiological systems within the body. In the context of traditional barbell strength training, Jovanovic and Flanagan (2014) previously described intensity across three intensity types: intensity of load, intensity of effort, and exertional intensity. In MBT, the intensity of load is increased by using a heavier ball. Intensity of effort is increased by athletes raising their intent to perform repetitions with maximal possible acceleration and speed. Exertional intensity is the proximity of failure in a set. Increasing rep ranges or increasing session density raises the relative exertional intensity of an exercise or training session. Exertional intensity is the proximity of failure in a set. Increasing rep ranges or increasing session density raises the relative exertional intensity of an exercise or training session. The interaction between these three intensity types will govern the overall output from any exercise and the magnitude of work completed relative to the athlete’s capacity.

Skill requirements and postural demands inherent to a particular movement are also crucial components that guide the placement of an exercise within a progression plan. Medicine ball training is an excellent tool to replicate and load ‘sport-specific’ actions. Increasing the skill complexity of an exercise is another way in which work can be intensified from a motor learning and cognitive demand perspective. Similarly, MB exercises can be performed from more challenging postural positions and therefore emphasise postural strength and stability demands.

Video: Intensifying Skill Demands - MB Vertical Jump to Forward Shot Toss

Video 2: Intensifying Skill Demands - Lateral Bound to Throw

Considering the traditional “intensity types” as well as the unique characteristics of MBT, intensification can be accomplished by manipulating any of the following “Medicine Ball Training Intensification Variables”:

Coaches should evaluate which variables are most important to the training context and the athlete and use these to construct a progression model in line with the overall training philosophy.

Coaches should be aware that these intensification factors “trade-off” against each other. Manipulation of one intensification variable can shift the training emphasis from one stimulus to another. Utilising a heavier MB will increase the intensity of load but can have negative effects on the quality of skill execution. Performing an exercise in a more challenging postural position (say a low lunge position vs a standing position) may decrease the intensity of effort which can be applied.

When constructing MBT plans, coaches should consider how manipulation of these intensification variables impact on the overall training output and the likely effects on the psychological and physiological systems of the body including:

Download the full Comprehensive Guide to Medicine Ball Training by Eamonn Flanagan and Cedric Unholz here!

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