The thunk of a medicine ball may evoke images of football players doing strength and resistance training, but its history reaches far beyond the advent of modern fitness regimens. ESPN the Magazine chronicles the medicine ball through the ages, from gladiators' workouts to Renaissance medical texts to the earliest days of the US Military Academy.
Long a fixture in European gymnasiums, the ball made its first American appearance at Harvard in the 1860s. Compared to today's complicated sports equipment, the medicine ball appears "so simple it makes people skeptical," says Mike Karney of the Saints. But devotees include QB Matt Ryan, the potential top pick in next week's NFL draft.