Improve Your Olympic Lifts And Athletic Performance With This Medicine Ball Toss
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to ingraining proper hip mechanics and triple extension, my go-to training tool is the medicine ball hip toss (behind the back). Not only does it provide a very natural and instinctive movement for the athlete to produce maximal power, but the violent hip drive and triple extension (of the hips, knees, and ankles), very closely mimics the same hip mechanics used during Olympic lifts.
Here’s one of my awesome powerlifting and bodybuilding clients Ben Lai showing how it’s done with a 40 pound medicine ball. Also notice the slow-motion clip (the second half of the video) where the video momentarily pauses in the maximal triple extension position.
This illustrates exactly what needs to occur not only on this drill but on a variety of explosive movements including snatches and cleans. Also notice the optimal hip hinge mechanics that precede the explosive extension. This phase of the movement is just as important as it sets the hips up for the most violent and explosive contraction. If the lifter drops the hips too much and turns the movement into more of a squat (a common problem resulting from lack of proper hip mechanics) this greatly decreases torque and power as it compromises both neuromuscular recruitment, biomechanics, and optimization of proper force vectors.
When it comes to Olympic lifts, many athletes struggle to reach complete triple extension oftentimes shortchanging the final phase of the hip drive by attempting to jump and leave the floor too soon (typically before the hips ever reach maximal extension). I refer to this as the “early jump syndrome” and it’s one of the most common mistakes than many “performance experts” and coaches still teach. Rather than jumping, stomping, and purposefully trying to leave the ground, focus instead on pushing through the ground as long as possible (while still producing a powerful and violent movement) as this will allow the lifter to drive into the ground and produce the largest impulse on the bar. As soon as the lifter’s feet leave the floor they no longer can produce any force on the bar. This is a topic that’s been extensively researched with ample support for this ideology.
By keeping the feet in contact with the floor for a longer period it not only optimizes force production but it also sets the lifter up for a better catch. That’s because reaching full triple extension helps create a better bar path where the bar travels up and slightly back towards the lifter rather than up and slightly forward (the common yet faulty bar path experienced with the “early jump” syndrome). The medicine ball hip toss not only represents the perfect exercise for ingraining complete triple extension but it reinforces the idea of keeping ground contact through the majority of the lift. That’s because it feels very unnatural to intentionally try to jump or at least “early jump" when performing a medicine ball toss. In fact, no athlete would ever intentionally do this. The same concept should be applied to cleans and snatches as the movement is actually quite similar especially the hip extension component.
With that said if the lifter reaches triple extension so violently (on cleans, snatches, or tosses) that it propels the lifter slightly vertically causing them to get momentarily airborne, then that’s fine. However, intentionally trying to jump and leave the floor is one of the worst cues as it often detracts from full hip extension and sacrifices significant power and torque.
Lastly, many Olympic lifters do momentarily leave the ground when performing snatches and cleans. However, this is not so much a result of trying to jump but more so a result of attempting to move their feet out wider so they can drop/pull themselves under the bar and catch the weight. With this in mind, unless you’re attempting to compete in Olympic weightlifting, I recommend keeping the feet in the same spot throughout the lifts without lateral movement. Regardless, if you do achieve a slight airborne effect, the key is the hips must fully extend first, otherwise you’ve compromised your mechanics and your power.
For the medicine ball hip toss I typically recommend using an 8-15 pound ball for beginners and intermediates, and a 15-50 pound ball for more advanced/larger athletes. Because it’s a power movement the key is to ingrain maximal power into your central nervous system while minimizing fatigue. Several sets of 3-5 reps is ideal for most scenarios.