9 Exercises That’ll Improve Coordination & Functional Strength


If you’re constantly tripping, falling behind in dance cardio class, or punching at the wrong time while boxing, adding a few exercises for better coordination to your workout routine may help you build up agility — and improve your fancy footwork — so you feel more self-assured.

While there’s a lot at play when your body moves, good coordination means all your muscles are working together with precision as you work out and complete tasks, says Kate Meier, a NASM-certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews. Coordination applies to exercise and sports, where you need to control all your limbs to dance, jump, or throw a ball, but it also applies to movement in your daily life as you do things like walk, run, or climb stairs.

“Coordination is crucial to everyday life because we constantly use it,” Meier tells Bustle. “Muscles virtually always move or work together, so their ability to do so impacts both your sports ability and everyday mobility.” When you lack coordination, it might feel like you’re always tripping over your own feet, or as if you aren’t good at sports or certain types of workouts.

Thankfully, you can improve your coordination with exercise. “Strength training, working on your balance, and exercising in ways that get your brain and body working in sync are great ways to improve coordination,” says Meier. She recommends starting off with dynamic (read: active versus static) coordination exercises, like jumping jacks or curtsy squats, once or twice a week. “If you’re adding gentler exercises and yoga poses to your routine, you can do coordination exercises most days during a warmup, cool-down, or as a standalone routine.”

Read on for a list of trainer-approved exercises for improving coordination that’ll help get you started.

1

Jumping Jacks

As a classic gym class move, jumping jacks help build coordination by improving your flexibility, balance, agility, and reaction time by working your upper and lower body at the same time, says Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, a personal trainer and founder of Everflex Fitness.

– Stand with your feet together and arms down by your sides.

– Jump up and spread your legs wide while bringing your arms to meet above your head.

– Land with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and arms above the head.

– Jump back to starting position with your arms down and repeat.

– Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with rest between each set.

2

Medicine Ball Throws

Medicine ball throws improve your hand-eye coordination, Hamlin says. They also train your reaction time as you move quickly to catch the ball.

– Hold a medicine ball at chest level.

– Take your arms overhead.

– Throw the ball up against a wall.

– Catch it as it bounces back your way.

– Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps with rest between each set.

3

Dead Bugs

This exercise gets each side of your body moving independently, which is another factor that helps build coordination. “The movement may feel difficult at first, but once you get into a flow it should become easier and allow you to really focus on engaging your core,” Meier says.

– Start by lying face-up on a mat.

– Lift your feet off the floor and bend both knees 90 degrees.

– Extend your arms straight up above your chest.

– Slowly lower your right leg down and forward, straightening it and hovering it just above the floor.

– At the same time, lower your left arm behind you and extend it over your head, lowering it until it hovers just above the floor.

– Both movements should happen simultaneously.

– Return to the starting position.

– Switch sides and alternate with each rep.

– Aim for 3 to 4 sets of 12 reps per side.

4

Curtsy Squats

Curtsy lunges are another move that builds strength and balance, two components of better overall coordination and athleticism,” Meier says. She recommends doing this exercise slowly and with intention, rather than rushing through the movement.

– Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.

– Step your right foot backward and to the outside of your left leg.

– Lower yourself into a lunge position.

– Once your front thigh is parallel to the floor, push to stand back up.

– Switch legs and complete the movement on the opposite side.

– Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps per leg.

5

Tree Pose

The tree pose in yoga is all about maintaining balance on one foot. “You can also lift your arms overhead to add another element of coordination,” Meier says. “Yoga in general is a great exercise method for coordination, as many of the movements work muscles that are necessary for good balance and stability.”

– Stand with your weight equally distributed between your feet.

– Move your weight to your right foot.

– Press into the floor for stability as you lift the opposite foot up from the floor.

– Bring your left foot up as you bend your knee and place the bottom of your left foot against the inside of your right thigh, or however high you can go comfortably.

– Keep your hips and torso facing forward.

– Raise your hands overhead and straighten them or bring them together.

– Stand in this position for several deep breaths, then switch feet.

– Repeat a few times per leg until you feel comfortable with the movement.

6

Bosu Ball Squats

Kevin Smith, PT, DPT, CBIS, a doctor of physical therapy and owner of Clarity Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, Inc, recommends adding an extra element to your usual squats by placing one or both feet on an unstable surface, like a foam mat or Bosu ball. “Performing a squat on an unstable surface introduces a challenge that your body has to adapt to,” he tells Bustle. “Your body has to coordinate to stay balanced.”

– Stand on a foam mat or place one or both feet on a Bosu ball.

– Lower your hips back into a squat.

– Press your heels into the surface to raise back up.

– Do 3 sets of 12.

7

Rapid Toe Taps

Smith says toe taps require balance, efficiency, and precise movements — all good things when you’re building coordination.

– Stand behind a low step.

– Tap your toe up on the surface of the step.

– Hop up and down to quickly alternate your feet.

– Perform as many rapid taps as you can for 30 seconds to a minute.

– Do 5 sets.

8

Bird Dogs

The bird dog exercise challenges your core and your overall coordination as you extend opposite limbs. For a challenge, Smith recommends trying this Pilates-based move with your eyes closed.

– Start on all fours in a tabletop position.

– Kick one leg straight back.

– Extend your opposite arm in front of you at the same time.

– Hold for 10 seconds, then alternate to the other arm and leg.

– Aim for 10 reps of 10-second holds.

9

Side-To-Side Shuffles

Any agility exercise that gets you moving quickly will help build coordination, Smith says. For this one, set up some cones or water bottles in a straight line about three feet apart.

– Face the cones.

– Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

– Begin to quickly shuffle sideways to one cone then back again.

– Repeat for 30 seconds.

– Do 5 sets and increase your time as the move gets easier.

Studies referenced:

Jørgensen, MB. (2010). Muscle activity during functional coordination training: implications for strength gain and rehabilitation. J Strength Cond Res. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181ddf6b5. PMID: 20543738.

Sources:

Kate Meier, NASM-certified personal trainer

Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, personal trainer

Kevin Smith, PT, DPT, CBIS, doctor of physical therapy

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