Fitness Tips

5 Simple Moves That Can Improve Your Coordination

Photo: Getty Images/ Prostock-Studio
Coordination, the ability to execute complex, controlled body movements smoothly and without excessive effort, is important for everyone—not just serious athletes or Beyoncé’s backup dancers. Why? Because it makes life easier. “If you have good coordination, you’re more likely to perform day-to-day tasks more safely and efficiently,” says Molly Frankinburger, DPT, PT, CSCS. “We often think of coordination as just being about sports,” she explains, “like being able to throw or hit a ball.” But according to Dr. Frankinburger, there’s a lot more to it.

When it comes to coordination, there are three main types: hand-eye skills (using the visual system to control movements), fine motor skills (small hand movements like writing and pointing), and gross motor skills (using large muscle groups to walk, sit, stand, etc.). Good coordination means you have the ability to execute smooth, accurate, controlled actions on all three levels. This involves appropriate speed, timing, and direction of targeted muscle actions, according to Dr. Frankinburger. So “being well coordinated” is all about adjusting your movements based on feedback from multiple body systems, such as vision and proprioception (knowing where you are in space).

Dr. Frankinburger points out that many activities of daily living (ADLs) are far more complex, biomechanically speaking, than you may assume. Even something as mundane as washing dishes is a complex maneuver for your brain and body to execute. “Most of our daily movements involve more than one joint or body region, and are inherently variable, based on feedback from our nervous system and musculoskeletal system,” she says, referring to the framework for your muscles made up of your bones and connective tissue.

Think of coordination as your body’s very own symphony orchestra. “Our bodies and brains are constantly accepting feedback from multiple systems to produce what looks like one unified movement,” Dr. Frankinburger says, “just like the different sections of an orchestra come together under the conductor to produce beautiful music.” One of the best ways to fine-tune your instrument (as in your body) is by practicing exercises to improve coordination.

“For coordination exercises, you’ll want to focus on the repetition and speed of the movement,” advises Dr. Frankinburger. “Slowly increase the speed of the motion until you can perform it smoothly and precisely.” You can even break down each of the below exercises into pieces before trying to coordinate the complex movement as a whole. Aim to do 30–50 reps of each exercise three to four times per week.

5 exercises to improve coordination

1. Jumping rope

“This is an easy one to do at home, even if you don't have a rope,” Dr. Frankinburger says. “Just coordinating the motion of your hands with hopping makes for a good coordination exercise.”

How it helps: You’re combining fine motor skills (the motion of your hands turning the rope) with gross motor skills (the jumping).

2. Bird dog

Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under hips. Lift your right arm and left leg off the floor at the same time, extending both to straight and reaching your fingertips as far from your toes as possible. Lower both limbs back down and switch sides. That’s one rep.

How it helps: “This alternating motion is a lot like the coordination required for a standing alternating arm and leg extension,” says Dr. Frankinburger. “You’re building core stability and capacity for distal movement.” That means large movements that require you to move limbs away from the center of your body.

3. Standing march

Start standing with feet under hips. Lift your right knee up so your thigh is parallel with the floor and hold for a breath. Then, lower it back down and switch sides. That’s one rep.

How it helps:Balance is correlated with coordination,” Dr. Frankinburger says. “They’re two separate things, but there’s overlap between the two. Here, you’re coordinating your motion using hip flexion and core stability, on alternating legs.”

4. Overhead squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and extend your arms up overhead. While keeping your torso upright, sit back into your glutes and bend both knees deeply (pressing them away from each other), lowering your seat toward the floor. Make sure your butt doesn’t go lower than your knees, which shouldn’t go forward of your toes.

How it helps: Much like the standing march, you’re coordinating whole-body movement using hip flexion (bending) and core stability.

5. Walking lunge

Start standing with feet under hips. Take a big step forward with your right leg, then bend deeply through both knees, coming into your lunge. Press down through your front heel and push off your back foot to stand up and step your left leg forward to meet the right. Now repeat with the left leg. That’s one rep. Continue alternating, and turn around if you run out of room. As in the overhead squat, make sure your knees track in line with your second and third toes and don’t collapse inward.

How it helps: “This requires balance, stability, and the coordination of the trunk,” says Dr. Frankinburger.

Final takeaways

Coordination is an essential part of performing everyday movements with ease and avoiding injury. It involves, speed, agility, and precision, whether you’re talking about hand-eye skills (using the visual system to control movements), fine motor skills (small hand movements like writing and pointing), or gross motor skills (using large muscle groups to walk, sit, stand, etc.).

Ideally, you should practice exercises to improve coordination three or four times a week, because repetition is a key component of building the brain-body connection good coordination requires.

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