Coordination is when multiple body parts work together at the same time to complete some kind of task. According to Cambridge Dictionary, coordination is “the ability of your arms, legs, and other body parts to move in a controlled way.” Certainly, athletes need good coordination for the agility and flexibility they need for better performance. However, improving coordination often gets lost in the world of fitness. Thinking about it, though, we can begin to see that good coordination is integral to so much of what we do in our daily lives. Everything from driving a car, running to hold open a door, or navigating crossing the street requires good coordination. Even tasks around the house benefit from good coordination - walking up the stairs holding a laundry basket or a child, getting up and down from a chair, reaching for a plate in the cabinet – everything we do on a regular basis requires some coordination. Having good coordination can help prevent all kinds of injuries and help you stay active and healthy as you age. It also provides you with better muscle control so that when you want to reach out and pick up that mug of coffee, you can do so smoothly, efficiently, and effectively.
Improving coordination can also benefit us in ways that go beyond just the physical. Coordination exercises activate the cerebellum, an area at the back of the brain linked with the ability to think and process information quickly. The cerebellum is also linked to the prefrontal cortex, where judgment and decision-making occur. Engaging in activities that require coordination can improve your brain function, help you “think on your feet”, and give you better self-control.
For children, having good coordination allows them to participate in sports and physical activities with a feeling of success. It aids in fluid body movement for good skill performance, self-regulation for daily tasks, as well as achieving a sense of belonging in a peer group. When children develop and maintain controlled body movements, it limits the energy required, reduces risk of injury, and minimizes fatigue. Since body and mind are so intricately connected, when children have difficulty with coordination, you may also see difficulties pop up in their learning. Problems with coordination can potentially show up with difficulties with handwriting and pencil control, distinguishing between their left and right sides, clarity of speech and spoken language, reading fluency and comprehension, computation, and sensory processing (accurate interpretation and response to sensory stimulation in the environment and in their own body).
Many people think that coordination is something that you’re born with – either you are clumsy, or you have rhythm. However, coordination is a learnable skill that is worth pursuing. Key foundations for good coordination include balance, self-awareness (knowing where your body is in space and being cognizant of what your body is doing), and sequencing (how one part of the movement is linked to and will affect the next movement). In addition to yoga and Pilates, dancing, swimming, and other individual and team sports will help improve coordination. Here are a few coordination exercises to get you (and the kids) started. These are beneficial for all ages and include 3 games and 3 poses:
1. Ball or Balloon Toss
Catch and bump and balloon back and forth using your hands, head, and other body parts. Since a balloon floats slowly, you can change the angles to make it less predictable. For more challenge, use a smaller ball like a tennis ball which has a much faster speed. Change up the angels, speeds, and throwing patterns as you toss the ball back and forth. You can even try tossing from different orientations – kneeling, lying on your back, in a squat, or lunge position to add mobility to the fun.
2. Jump Rope
A classic! Start off with classic jump roping. Progress and experiment with hopping from one foot to the other, slowly running in place, and moving into two-foot hops, or even crisscross jumps once you’ve found a rhythm. Keep the rope at a steady pace.
3. Obstacle Courses
These can be great fun to both build and complete – for all ages! Get as creative as you’d like. Use mats, chairs, blankets, yoga blocks, boxes, jump ropes, whatever you find. For younger kids, it may be practicing stepping over different objects and surfaces – a favorite stuffed animal even. School aged kids can practice adding in heel-toe walking, stepping quickly off and on different targets, crawling under, and jumping from hoop to hoop or “tight-rope” walking along a jump rope on the ground. For older kids and adults, you can change how you travel from target to target (feet stay together, hop on one leg, etc.). For adults, you can add challenges like hand weights, simple target practice (aim a small ball at a small pillow or through a hoop), juggling, and dribbling. These add in increased hand-eye coordination as well as control, rhythm and timing.
4. Eagle Pose
Stand on the floor with your spine tall, looking at a point at eye level. Bend your knees slightly, lift your left foot up and cross it over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor and balance on the right foot. Stay here, option to add arms: stretch your arms forward then cross the arms in front so your right arm is over the left, bend your elbows. From here, either bring your hands to touch opposite shoulders or wrap the right elbow into the crook of the left and press the back of your hands together. Hold for 15-30 seconds, unwind and repeat on the other side.
5. Twisting Lunge
From standing, step the right foot back. Stay on the toes or lower down to the knee. Keep the left knee directly above the ankle at a 90-degree angle. Take the arms out wide to a “T” then slowly twist the spine to one side. Pause here for 15-30 seconds, then release the twist and repeat on the other side.
6. Warrior 2
From standing, step the right foot back and plant it firmly down with toes at a 45-degree angle. Bend the left knee so the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the left ankle. Cartwheel the arms up and open to the right, right arm reaching back, right shoulder and pelvis opening up to the right. Left arm reaching left.
Bringing intentional coordination exercises into daily life can be helpful for everyone. They can help increase balance and agility, strengthen your mind-body connection, and make everyday tasks easier to perform. What will you do to exercise your coordination today?