The origins of the medicine ball are shrouded in the mists of the history of the tribes of North America. Some have speculated that it refers to shamanistic practices, others to some sort of traditional healing ceremony. The story is rather more prosaic. In the 1500s explorer Vasco De Gama reported tribesmen using a “weighty spheroid in ceremonial activity” which may lend to the confusion about shamanism.

While no more detail exists from De Gama, a later journal of the explorer Franklin Seagraves describes a conversation with a chieftain about the unusual healthiness of its members. Seagraves writes, “The chieftain then explained that his people use a ceremonial ball with divers markings on it and totems in an activity called by some untranslatable word. He showed me this ball and while its appearance was normal, it was strange heavy. He then caused his sons to demonstrate all manner of passings and liftings and other odd comportations with the thing such like I have never seen fore or since. It was made a gift to me with the recommendation that its proper use was ‘great medicine’ and I should add years to my time in its application.”

References are scattered after this but sometime in the late 1600s some medical men are found to refer to “Seagraves Lifting Ball” and “Seagraves Great Medicine”. These intermittent usages finally settle into the usage “medicine ball” by the mid 1700s and the rest, as they say, is history.