One Drill to Build Athleticism?

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Today’s guest post is not only the last guest post of 2014 (sad face), but comes from good friend and regular contributor, Michael Anderson.


When you are in your first year of damn near any Exercise Science or Strength and Conditioning program in college, one of your professors will inevitably ask you to define “athleticism”.

One guy will always raise his hand and say “it’s being athletic” and you will laugh at him but really he’s sorta right. Having “athleticism” (to me) means that you contain and exhibit the traits of coordination/balance, power, strength and suppleness (the ability to absorb external forces and remain uninjured) as well as being able to tie those all together into the context of your sport.

As strength coaches, many of us are out there trying to figure out the best ways to improve and fine-tune the athleticism of our athletes. There are a ton of drills that you can use to try and do this, but my personal favorite is the medicine ball shot-put.

It, through several variations, can really do a lot in the way of increasing the way an athlete performs.

Note from TG: Not to take away from Michael’s thunder…..HERE’s a video I shot for Stack Magazine on how we coach some popular med ball rotational drills at Cressey Sports Performance.

Through the several variations I’m going to present, your athletes will be challenged in several ways.

– They will be required to exhibit a good base of balance in their lower body will producing a ton of force through their upper body.

– They will also be asked to demonstrate some coordination and proprioception while throwing the ball hard. If they are missing any of the “links” that connects their feet to the arm pushing the ball then they are going to get a pretty lame sound when the ball hits the wall. When an athlete is able to figure out how to connect each piece of the exercise they should get a really satisfying “pop” from the MB slamming against the wall.

On another note, I believe you should always err on the side of light when performing medicine ball work. I’m 6’1” and 210 pounds and in the following videos I’m using a 6# dynamax ball. Using a ball that is too heavy will result in the movement looking a helluva lot less crisp and explosive.

Half-Kneeling Shot Put

This variation is great for beginners because it takes the lower body totally out of the equation; the fewer things for a novice to think about, the better.

The half-kneeling position will allow the athlete to create a strong position to keep their hips stable while allowing for good torso rotation if you have the requisite mobility. Without the proper mobility, this drill won’t feel quite as powerful as it should and you’ll want to work a little more on your upper body and hip mobility. Athletes who have a tough time figuring out how to brace their lower body to create power will benefit from this drill as well.

Base Position Shot Put

This is the seated box jump variation of the shot puts. It requires the athlete to start in a complete stable base position and create forward propulsion of the ball without any countermovement whatsoever.

The big benefit I find with a static start like this is that athletes are forced to learn how to brace and fire muscles without just relying on momentum to get things going. Weaker athletes who tend to rely on their springs rather than muscles will find this drill awkward and will probably hate it a lot. This will also be a good opportunity for you to teach them how to drive off their back leg and snap their hip to create force from the ground up.

Rockback Shot Put

This is probably the first variation where your athletes are going to feel like they can produce some serious power. Start them in the base position and have them transfer their weight over their trail leg and load up their back hip.

Once they feel comfortable with their weight shift they can explode forward and pound the ball into the wall. This is my favorite drill to teach athletes how to drive off of their back leg to initiate the movement. This drill will allow for enough force production that they will start to need to bring their trail leg around for a little bit of a decelerative effect.

I like the rockback to be a controlled movement rather than just all-out ballistic. I feel that this allows the athlete to understand the movement that you’re looking for better than just trying to bounce off of their back leg to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle as much as possible.

Step-Behind Shot Put

All things considered, this is my favorite medicine ball drill. From the first time I learned it (from a CSP blog, surely) I knew it was a good way to produce a bunch of power. It took me a little longer to understand just how useful a drill it was to get athletes doing athletic things.

It’s a very complete drill: the footwork requires more coordination than you’d think, the forward momentum created plus the power from the throw requires the athlete to decelerate properly, and the lower body and upper body are doing two different things at the same time.

If the athlete is unable to link all of these pieces together they are going to end up performing a pretty flaccid medicine ball throw. Much like the rockback exercise, I think the step-behind portion of this is best performed with a measure of control rather than being completely explosive from the get-go.

Crow Hop Shot Put

This is the most technical medicine ball drill that I’ll give to most athletes; if they can’t perform the step-behind shot put without a high level of proficiency then asking them to perform this drill is going to be like watching a monkey hump a football.

The “crow hop” is a movement that baseball players use to gain some momentum in a short amount of time/space to create more power to deliver the ball further/harder.

We can use that same movement to our advantage to teach athletes how to create a bunch of power as soon as their feet hit the ground. This requires a high level of reactivity from the athlete, or else the movement will become awkward and cumbersome. Teaching an athlete how to transfer fluidly from one movement (in this case, a hop) into another one (a lateral push to throw the ball) will have a great carry over effect to their sport of choice.

Sport Specific?

I hate the phrase “sport specific” because it’s been so bastardized in the last few years, but these are some of the most sport specific drills that you can do in the weight room. Teaching athletes how to move laterally, create rotational force starting at the their feet and transferring it up into their torso and how to decelerate their body after force production will help just about any athlete in any sport.

Spend some time working these drills into your athletes programs over the next several months and take some measures to see how their performance increases. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Additional Commentary from TG

How we implement med ball work in our programming depends, in large part, on where we are in the year. In the very beginning stages of the off-season, our baseball guys are pretty banged up and the idea of throwing anything, much less a med ball, is about as enticing as a colonoscopy. That said we’ll still implement *some* med ball drills, albeit at a very low volume.  However, it’s not uncommon to OMIT then altogether depending on total innings pitched, etc.

Once we enter the meat and potatoes of the off-season we’ll hammer a TON of med ball drills. We’ll typically try to hit one rotational drill and one overhead drill (per training session) 2-3x per week. Although we’ll also divide it up like this:

Monday: Overhead Med Ball, Box Jumps, Lower Body strength training.

Tuesday: Rotational Med Ball, Upper Body strength training.

Wednesday: Movement (skipping, marches, linear sprint work)

Thursday: Overhead Med Ball, Box Jumps, Lower Body strength training.

Friday: Rotational Med Ball, Upper Body strength training.

Saturday: Movement (heidens, change of direction work)

Sunday: eat dead animal flesh.

As we inch closer to the competitive season and guys start throwing bullpens and preparing for Spring Training, we’ll tone down the med ball work and reduce volume significantly.

However, outside of rotational dominant sports (where it’s almost mandatory), placing med ball work into the mix regardless of what sport you play or if you don’t play a sport and you’re just Ron from Accounting or Hillary from Scottsdale, can be highly advantageous and fun!

What’s more, I’ve found that med ball training is about as close to a self-limiting modality as you can get. Meaning just about anyone, regardless of experience (and assuming there’s no contraindications), can implement it into their program without much of a learning curve and risk of injury. Granted you make look like you have two left feet out of the gate. But as with anything, with a little practice and consistency, you’ll look like an athlete before you know it!

Author’s Bio

Mike Anderson is a graduate of the UMass Boston Exercise Science program and spent a year interning with Boston University Strength and Conditioning. After spending five fun years physically developing absolutely savage doctors and teachers as a personal trainer in Brookline, MA he is now residing in sunny Cleveland, OH and works as a Performance Coach at Michael Johnson Performance at the Spire Institute in Geneva, OH. You can read his blog HERE or email him at if you have any questions.

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