The Best Medicine Ball Exercise You’ve Never Done
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Medicine ball drills, particularly those that rely on explosive power output, are something I use on a consistent basis with my athletes. Some of these exercises and drills include, chest passes, rotational passes, overhead slams, hip tosses, push presses, partner drills, and more. However, one variation I’ve recently been employing with my athletes on a consistent basis with great success is something I refer to as a T-bench hip thrust chest pass.
Here’s one of my NFL athletes Vantrel McMillan demonstrating both the partner and solo variations with a 40 pound medicine ball.
Essentially he’s performing a lying medicine ball chest pass and catch. However he’s also turning this into a full body exercise with significant posterior chain activation by employing a hip thrust or glute bridge as he launches the weight up. There are 7 reasons why this is medicine ball drill is so effective.
1. The T-bench hip thrust chest pass is one of the best movements for teaching explosive hip drive and ingraining violent hip extension not just on lower body drills but for upper body movement patterns as well. That’s because it reinforces the idea of using the hips to create a powerful and functional kinetic chain. This does wonders for athletic performance as well as hip function and body mechanics as initiating explosive movements with hip drive is a foundational component for most sports and physical activities.
2. Traditional supine medicine ball chest passes whether done while lying on the floor or on a bench, are great for teaching upper body power. However they typically only involve isolation of the upper body. In addition, even if you were to use the legs and extend the hips such as during a floor press hip thrust maneuver, the lifter ends up pounding their head into the floor each time they launch the weight up. Besides compressing the cervical spine and neck which can lead to postural issues and spinal misalignment, the shoulders also can take a beating as it’s difficult if not impossible to create ample t-spine extension when the head is compressed into a another surface.
The t-bench position allows natural cervical elongation, which not only ingrains proper t-spine extension but produces optimal shoulder mechanics as well. In addition, it allows the lifter to fully extend the hips in an uninhibited fashion as the head won’t feel like it’s being jammed into a another surface as you violently move into hip extension – a common problem with glute bridges and hip thrusts.
3. Because of the quick and dynamic nature of medicine ball exercises it can be a bit difficult to clean up mechanical issues and technique aberrations. In addition, because many medicine ball exercises involve using the full body it makes it even more complex to correct and adjust mechanics when needed. However, the t-bench hip thrust chest pass is one of the easiest to coach full-body medicine ball power movements as it feels very natural with little room for deviation or error.
4. The t-bench hip thrust medicine ball chest pass is one of the single best exercises for teaching explosive bench press mechanics. Most individuals lack proper hip and lower body activation when performing horizontal chest presses. This dynamic exercise ingrains activation the lower body particularly the glutes and posterior chain to help launch the weight up which can do wonders for bench press strength and technique.
In addition this drill actually prevents excessive extension (i.e. butt coming off the bench or over-arch syndrome) as the hips naturally accelerate to the point where they are in line with the torso, not above it. Simply put, when moving at a rapid pace during a hip thrusting maneuver it actually feels very unnatural and potentially dangerous to over-extend at the top. Therefore the body instinctively inhibits excessive extension thereby reinforcing optimal levels of hip and leg drive for other bench pressing exercises.
5. Besides teaching powerful acceleration from head to toe this medicine ball drill also teaches the lifter how to use their whole body to decelerate and absorb force. That’s because when they catch the ball in the bottom position they can coordinate their lower body and hips to flex at the same time they flex their elbows and extend their shoulders (i.e. bottom of the chest press position). In other words this is a full body acceleration and deceleration movement – a combination that’s tough to re-create with other drills.
6. A common problem I frequently witness with standing medicine ball chest passes is allowing the body to essentially fall forward to create momentum rather than maintaining balance and popping with the hips. The t-bench hip thrust chest pass requires the lifter to extend the hips and eliminates the use of the “falling forward” syndrome.
7. When it comes to reinforcing full body power and teaching an individual how to integrate every muscle into one explosive coordinated movement, the T-bench hip thrust chest pass is tough to beat. In fact, this is my one of my go-to explosive movements for football players and fighters due to the specificity of movement and transfer of explosive skill.
Training Recommendations and Practical Application
I recommend pairing the t-bench hip thrust medicine ball chest pass with a heavier chest pressing exercise such as barbell or dumbbell horizontal pressing exercises. I also suggest pairing it with some form of rowing movement to help engage the upper back and lats. Several sets of 5-8 reps will help maximize power and improve technique and torque production on subsequent bench press exercises and upper body drills.
If you’re looking for a training program and instructional guide that teaches you how to incorporate different movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates Series.