For the next four
years, the rich and powerful—cabinet members, U.S. Supreme Court justices,
friends and aides—showed up at the White House in old clothes and sweaters to
play mediball with the President, who was said to have a forehand drive
powerful enough to bowl opponents over. The games began at seven o'clock each
morning, Sundays excepted, and continued without a break until a factory
whistle down by the Potomac signaled the end of play at 7:30. "By this
time," says Irwin's article, "the players are usually in a reeking
perspiration." You bet.
recollection, in his Memoirs, differs only slightly from Irwin's. Where Irwin
reports a six-pound ball, Hoover remembers it as weighing eight. Irwin places
the net at 8 feet, Hoover at 10. But both accounts credit the game with keeping
the presidential bulk under 185 pounds, and being fun at the same time. "It
required less skill than tennis, was faster and more vigorous, and therefore
gave more exercise in a short time," Hoover wrote.
Had the Hoover
presidency been more popular, medicine ball might not have been consigned to
history's ash heap. Alas, the game did not survive the Great Depression, and
the medicine ball resumed its role as a seldom-used sports bystander. Even
through the '70s and '80s, with running, aerobics and weight-resistance
training all having their moments in the limelight, the medicine ball sat
mildewing in YMCA gymnasiums throughout the nation.
Everlast Sporting Goods continues to manufacture medicine balls at its Bronx,
N.Y., factory. They are still made in the classic manner, by hand-stitching a
leather cover around a sandbag core and a wrapping of cotton batting. Medicine
balls come in five weights, the four-to-five-pound ball being the lightest, the
14-15 pounder the heaviest. Our "eight-pounder" actually weighs nine
pounds. "It's not an exact science," concedes an Everlast spokesman.
Most balls are slightly out of round and will flatten further on impact, giving
an eccentric wobble to throws.
manufactures about 5,000 balls a year, which sell for $30 to $60. That leads to
the question: Who buys them? "The primary users today are boxing-oriented
gymnasiums," says John Toms, Everlast's vice-president of sales,
"places like Joe Frazier's Gym in Philadelphia and Gleason's Gym in New
York. Some boxers even buy their own personal medicine balls." If he had to
single out one figure as the medicine-ball guru, Toms would choose Frazier.
"He does a routine with a 15-pound ball that is really something to
routine requires a visit to Frazier's Gym, a windowless warehouse in the shadow
of a freeway overpass. There the former world heavyweight champion preaches the
gospel of the medicine ball to anyone who cares to listen. "I'm 43 now, and
I still weigh only 236 [seven pounds more than when he last fought, in
1981]," Smokin' Joe says. "I owe that to the medicine ball."
Frazier has two
medicine balls, actually—a 15-pounder and a special-order, two-foot-diameter
leather boulder that weighs 25 pounds. The balls are used in lifting and
stretching exercises, two-man sit-up-and-catch routines and the classic drill
in which a trainer repeatedly drops the ball several inches onto a boxer's
tensed abdominal muscles.
But that's just a
warmup. Frazier most enjoys a game of point-blank catch with the 25-pounder, in
which each player takes the full impact of the ball in the midsection, allowing
it to drop before catching it with the hands. Twenty or 25 such blows to the
solar plexus develops more than strength, Frazier says. "It keeps me
balls at Frazier's Gym reek of sweat and leather, but there is a new generation
of weighted balls that smell of high-tech chemicals and come in designer
colors. Of course, along with the new look comes a new name: plyoballs, from
plyometric, having to do with the rapid stretching and contracting of muscles
to develop power. Uniform in density and perfectly round, these balls have a
pliable polyurethane skin that is easy to grip.
and Fitness Systems of Morrisville, N.C., calls its updated medicine balls
Bodyballs and recently introduced three-and four-pounders in red and blue,
respectively. Another company, Athletic Training Consultants of Bowie, Md.,
offers Versaballs in 2-, 4-, 6-, 9-, 12-and 15-pound weights. "The idea
behind the Versaball is that it can be used as a regular medicine ball, but it
can also be used for upper-body plyometric exercises," says University of
Maryland strength and conditioning coach Frank Costello, a partner in the