Toning Balls vs. Medicine Balls

Toning balls can help improve your balance.

Toning balls can help improve your balance.

Toning or stability balls are large air-filled vinyl balls suitable for unstable-surface training. For example, perform crunches and pushups with a toning ball to give your stabilizer muscles a workout. You can also sit on the ball to watch your favorite game show, munching on popcorn and improving your posture at the same time. A medicine ball is primarily used for power training as a weight. In contrast to a toning ball, you can’t just fling a medicine ball into the air and expect your child to catch it.

Origins

The toning ball emerged in the 1960s as a child’s toy. Swiss physiotherapists then used the ball to help children with cerebral palsy improve their balance as well as treat other neurological and orthopedic conditions. Medicine balls were used by Persian wrestlers dating back to 1000 B.C., according to David Fleming’s article, “The Ball That Just Won’t Die,” on the ESPN website. While the Romans called the weighted sphere a “paganica,” gladiators in Egypt used medicine balls to train for their combat games.

Sizes

Toning balls typically come in four sizes, ranging from 45 centimeters for people 5 feet tall and under to 75 centimeters for a 6-foot-tall person, according to the “Men’s Health Workout Bible” by Lou Schuler. In comparison, modern medicine balls now come in all shapes and sizes. People may remember the medicine ball as the smelly brown leather ball collecting dust in the gym, but today the ball is covered with a polyurethane cover. Some even bounce and are shaped like a football. According to Fleming, a medicine ball can weigh as little as 2 pounds or as much as 200 pounds. The average ball is basketball-shaped and weighs between 8 to 20 pounds.

Toning Versus Building Power

The vinyl ball is a flexible tool and can be used by people in all age groups, ranging from children to the elderly, to stretch and strengthen the muscles. For example, you can place the ball between your head and a wall. Use the muscles in your neck to push the ball toward the wall and hold for a few seconds. You can perform a variety of exercises on the ball, including planks, trunk rotations, and leg and shoulder extensions. Medicine balls are most often used in upper body plyometrics training, which is based on the stretch-reflex attributes of your muscles. By quickly stretching your muscle, a triggered reflex causes your muscle to contract explosively in the opposite direction. Athletes can build power by simply whipping a medicine ball against a wall.

Complementary Tools for Exercise

You can use both balls at the same time to strengthen your muscles. For example, in a back extension, kneel and bend at the hips, placing the toning ball under your hips and belly. Hold the medicine ball in front of you and bring it to chest level. Slowly lift your upper torso up and off the ball. Hold the peak position for a few seconds and return to the starting position. Add a trunk rotation to the exercise by turning one shoulder toward the middle of your spine as you lift the medicine ball. You can also perform a circuit, alternating exercises with the toning and medicine balls. For example you can start the circuit with a pushup on the toning ball on the first station. On the second station, you can hold the medicine ball while doing squats. Perform crunches on the toning ball on the third station and then toss the medicine ball to a partner on the fourth station, and so forth.

 

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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