As their name suggests, medicine balls are often used in physical therapy -- but they're also a way for you to get the sexy arms and defined shoulders you want. By tossing and catching these weighted balls, you'll be forcing your muscles to work harder than they would with a regular, non-weighted ball. That can make a simple game of toss much more interesting. Follow some basic guidelines for medicine ball technique to see the best results and to avoid getting injured.
Medicine balls are essentially a resistance exercise. You wouldn't start with a heavy weight when you're lifting weights, so follow the same logic when choosing the weight of your medicine ball. Start on the low end of the spectrum, choosing a ball that weighs 1 to 5 pounds, and moving up in weight as you get stronger and the exercises get easier to do. As a general rule of thumb, the ball should be heavy enough to make the motions slower than normal, but not so heavy that you can't complete the exercise in its full range of motion or maintain control, advises the American College of Sports Medicine.
With the added weight comes an added need for safety. Improper throws or catches with a weighted ball can cause an injury that may not have happened with a non-weighted ball. When you do any exercise with a medicine ball, make sure your torso is stabilized by engaging the abdominals. Wear nonslip shoes, and don't use the ball in a tight space with low clearance; the American College of Sports Medicine recommends having at least 20 square yards of clearance. As with any exercise, a proper warm-up is essential. Walk, jog, ride a bike or do another easy exercise for five to 10 minutes, or until you've broken a light sweat. This helps you avoid injury, but it can also help you get a more effective workout.
Many medicine ball exercises involve throwing or passing and catching -- which usually means you'll have to work with a partner. Before each pass, ensure that your partner is paying attention and is ready to receive your throw. Hold the ball with one hand on each side of the ball when you're passing or tossing. If you're in a standing position during your throw, keep your feet in a wide "power" stance. Keep your eyes on the ball and follow through with your arms after you've released the ball.
When you're working with a partner you'll be catching as well as throwing. Let your partner know you're ready by looking her in the eye and placing your hands in the receiving position, which may be in front of you or at your sides depending on the movement. When your partner tosses the ball to you, receive it by reaching out toward the ball, placing one hand on top of the ball and the other on the bottom. If your partner makes a wild toss, don't lunge for the ball as you might with a regular ball -- that can lead to injury. If the ball falls before you can catch it, practice good lifting technique by bending your knees and keeping your back straight as you lift, advises sports coach Brian Mackenzie.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.