By Michelle Hodnett
Project Dojo is a nonprofit community outreach program in Pueblo, Colorado, that works with at-risk children. Through the power of martial arts, Project Dojo seeks to inspire and motivate kids within a safe environment, while continuing to teach the traditions of martial arts. This is the story of Project Dojo co-founder Michelle Hodnett’s experiences in her martial arts journey.
The Origins of the Medicine Ball
Hippocrates, a Greek Doctor in 360 B.C. was also known as the Father of Medicine. Hippocrates is said to have stuffed animal skins for patients to toss for medicinal purposes, like clubbed hands and fingers.
Today, you’ll find medicine balls in almost every gym in America, but when did they start appearing there? We might have a man named Aaron Hewlett to thank for that! Hewlett was the first African American instructor at Harvard University and oversaw the college’s gymnasium. His instruction included the use of exercise equipment and clubs to strengthen the body. This portrait of Aaron Hewlett, taken in 1866, is the first photograph of a medicine ball in the United States.
Athletes in all sorts of sports, from basketball to football, use medicine balls in their workouts to enhance their explosive strength. Martial artists of all disciplines can improve their training using medicine balls too – even kids!
Start with safety
A medicine ball is not like any regular ball. They are heavy, anywhere from six to 15 pounds. Throwing a beach ball at someone when they’re not looking is all in good fun – throwing one of these colorful, heavy balls at someone who’s not expecting it, or throwing it too hard, someone could get hurt. Especially since we work with kids, we make sure before the exercise they are aware the weight of ball. They’re encouraged to toss the ball to themselves, roll it around, and get a feel for the weight before they begin.
Group Drill: Pass the Ball
Have your kids stand in a circle, with one holding a Century Medicine Ball. They must toss it to another kid, then do a jumping jack. The child who caught the ball then throws it to another student, and completes a jumping jack in turn.
For a more difficult pass have your group pass the ball and then do a squat instead of jumping jack. In the most advanced version the passers will perform a forward splits going all the way around.
Medicine Ball Lunges
Depending on how strong your students are, have them hold the medicine ball one of three ways: cupped at their stomach (easiest), over their heads (harder), or stretched out in front of them with almost straight (but not locked out!) arms (hardest). This is where it helps to have several weights of medicine ball available!
Have your students move forward in deep lunges across the mat. They can either pass the ball to another student at the end, who then walks back across the mat the other way, or you can add an additional challenge: while continuing to hold the ball, they must perform a front kick to a Century Shield at the end. This will improve the snap of their front kick.
Standing Core Twist
Two students stand back to back, with one holding the medicine ball. The holder twists around to their right, as their partner twists to their own left, reaching for the ball. The partner now holding the ball then twists from left to right, passing the ball back on the other side. The students start to get each other’s rhythm in able to go faster. To add a competitive element and new challenge, have pairs compete against each other to see who can get the most passes (without dropping the ball!) in a set time limit.
This drill encourages team building and creates bonds and friendships – as well as strong core muscles!
Standing Twist using Medicine Ball
This is a great drill if you have enough medicine balls for each student to use. If you don’t, you could work this drill into a boxing circuit or have them pass the ball.
The student holds the correct medicine ball for their size and brings their knee up as they twist, bringing the medicine ball on the opposite side. This will improve knee strikes and kicking strength.
Pushups on Medicine Ball
Have students roll their tip toes onto the medicine ball and do as many push-ups as they can for a set time. Adding the additional obstacle of balancing increases the results.
Group Wall Sits
Have all your students line up with their backs to a wall, then go into a wall sit (backs to the top glutes pressed into the wall; knees bent at a 90-degree angle). The one on the end is handed a medicine ball; they must then pass it to the next person. See how many times they can pass the ball down and back to the starting point without dropping the ball or someone’s legs getting tired!
The Big Century Ball for Ab Twists!
For this one, we use the largest medicine ball Century has! We have students all sit next to each other in a row, with their backs straight, chests up, and feet off the ground. Their legs can be straight or bent. The students pass the ball down the line, keeping their feet up. This improves core strength and endurance.
Ab Tap Using Medicine Ball
Have students lie on the mat on their backs. Hold a medicine ball one or two inches above their core (aim for the navel, not the chest) and count down, “Three, two, one,” and on one, they are to tighten their core by exhaling and contracting their abs as you drop the ball. Clenching those muscles is the correct response to a kick or punch to the core. This drill is an training tool to increase their breath control and help them understand they are not glass and will not break.
This is a great drill for your more advanced youth students. Done correctly, it won’t cause any pain and they’ll get a kick out of being “tougher” than a medicine ball.
Note: Be careful with this drill. Make sure you don’t let any students with any medical issues involving their stomachs/gore/organs do this drill. Don’t go too heavy with this drill, and only use it with students who already have good core strength and understand how to tighten their abs.
Incline Bench with Medicine Ball
You’ll need an incline, a Century Medicine Ball, and partners for this drill! Have one student do sit-ups on the incline bench. As they reach the top of their sit-up, the partner passes the ball to them. Then they go down with the ball, come back up, and pass it to the partner, who then passes it back to them before they go back down. For beginners, start at a low incline and work up as the student progresses.
BONUS: Fun Non-Martial Arts Game
Bowling with a Medicine Ball
Every now and then, kids need a break from training – they only have so much mental focus to give, at a young age, after all! By using some pieces of gear you already have, you can easily come up with a few short games perfect for the end of class or a mid-lesson break.
We found that the smaller medicine balls work better for bowling. Set up your 9” Century Cones in a bowling configuration and watch the students have a few minutes of fun taking turns knocking them over.
Check out this video to see more!
Michelle Hodnett is the co-founder of Project Dojo. She is a third-degree black belt with over 15 years’ experience as an instructor.
Note: Century updated the look of their medicine balls! The old version is show in the article; the new version, which serves the same purpose and comes in a variety of sizes, and can be used the same way, looks like this:
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