Improve your butterfly and breaststroke pullout with this medicine ball exercise

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Here you can see one of the best breaststrokers in Sweden, Tom Andersson, execute a med ball slam. It is a common exercise seen in swimming, but it is not often used in the right way. With most exercises, we're looking to stimulate neuromuscular components related to force production differently than what we can achieve in the water. We're not working on the skill of butterfly or a breaststroke pullout when performing the med ball slam. We're are working on producing more force in less time with a similar movement pattern as both butterfly and the breaststroke pullout. Ultimately, the end goal is the same as swim practice; to improve the athlete's performance.

Focus on keeping the elbows high and fully extend the arms. Tom is doing a great job here and keeping his body still and driving the ball with his arms and back. As with all power exercises, MAXIMUM EFFORT is required. If max effort is not used, the point of this exercise is misplaced. To achieve max effort, focus on moving the weight, in this case, the med ball, as fast as possible.

A common mistake I see with the med ball slam is that too many reps are performed. The med ball slam is a great exercise to develop power, and if to many reps are executed, the emphasis on power is lost. As mentioned before, this exercise stimulates neuromuscular components related to force production differently than what we can achieve in the water. In the water, the athlete can get a lot of reps and are working more on muscular endurance, so why put the same emphasis on land? Don't perform more than 10 reps or as long as you still feel powerful on each rep. Don't use a med ball that is to heavy find but find a weight that you can move fast. A good starting point is 5kg(11 lbs) and then work your way up in weight as you get more experience. I would recommend to start off with 3 sets of 6 reps.

To discuss the science behind this exercise, the posterior chain of the upper body(back and triceps) going through a concentric(shortening) phase. The goal of concentric training is to maximize intramuscular coordination, increase motor unit recruitment, and maximize force production. How can we achieve this? The answer is simple and straightforward - train fast. One of many things that we're trying to improve with concentric training is intermuscular coordination, especially the inhibition of the antagonist muscle. The antagonist muscle is eccentrically contracting to deaccelerate the speed and the force of the concentric contraction to protect the joint from tearing. However, this defense mechanism is overprotective and must be detrained. If we can inhibit the antagonist muscle, it will result in maximal rate of force development(RFD). Like I mentioned earlier, we're not working on muscular endurance with the med ball slam but increasing force production. If we manage to do that on land, it can later be applied in the water.

Sport is about producing force at high velocities and a high RFD. Therefore always perform the med ball slam with maximum power and focus on throwing the ball as fast as you can!

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