Most exercises involve some degree of physical coordination, but it’s worth seeking out a few specific movements that work to synergize muscles and challenge balance as well. When your total-body coordination is strong, you’re less likely to suffer sports injuries when you’re active and dangerous falls as you grow older.
Fitness consultant Pooja R. Mottl recommends doing a form of hopscotch to improve your coordination at the same time you build endurance. You can do the exercise at home or outside; simply spot an object 10 to 20 feet away that will be your target. To reach it, jump on one leg, jump again and land on both legs, and finally jump on the other leg. Continue hopping in that pattern until you reach the target, then turn around and head back. The catch: hold your arms above your head while you do the jumping. That will force your core muscles to engage and work with your legs to improve stability and control your hops.
Juggling isn’t only for circus clowns. Keeping a few balls going in the air can improve your eye-hand coordination, rhythm, reaction time and even your brainpower. If you can’t do it, start with one ball or bean bag. Toss it gently from hand to hand, with the top of the arc reaching about eye level. Then add another ball, making two throws. Alternate your starting hands. Finally, start with two balls in one hand and a third in the other. Throw one of the balls from the two-ball hand and then continue throwing the balls in controlled arcs, trying to make smooth scooping motions with your hands as you catch the balls and throw again.
Side Plank Raises
A basic isometric side plank, in which you hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds, works the stabilizing muscles in your core and challenges your balance. Adding a coordination component makes the exercise more difficult and forces your obliques to work along with your hips and thighs. First, get into a side plank position. Place your right hand on the floor under your right shoulder, and straighten your arm. Keep your legs long, with your feet stacked. Your body should be in a straight line from the top of your head to your ankles. Tighten your abdominal muscles, making sure you’re in a stable position. On an exhale, lift your left leg up as high as you can, keeping it straight. Inhale and slowly lower the leg. That’s one rep; do 10 to 15 reps on each side. If you find the exercise too difficult, you can hold the side plank from your right forearm instead of your hand, or you can drop your knees to the floor.
You can boost the coordination potential of any routine exercise by adding dumbbells and a balance component, such as a single-leg stand. The weights will force you to use counterbalancing to stay level, and the single-leg stand will kick in greater core muscle activation. Start with a basic bicep curl. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and raise the foot on the same side off the ground. Perform a set of 10 to 12 curls, keeping the leg raised the entire time, if you can manage it. Repeat on the other side. You can also use single-leg stands with overhead presses, lateral raises, squats and lunges.
References & Resources
- Reuters: Strength, Balance Exercises May Prevent Sports Injury
- National Institute on Aging: Sample Exercises – Balance
- The Huffington Post: Exercises for Balance, Coordination and Agility
- CNN.com: The Benefits of Juggling
- American Council on Exercise: Side Plank with Straight Leg
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show – Balance Exercises