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Coordination Exercises: How to Do Them and Why They Matter

Coordination is about much more than being athletic. Learn about the benefits of coordination exercises and simple ways to boost coordination.

Published Date: Jun 8, 2023
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You often hear people joke about not being coordinated. But what does that mean exactly? Coordination is defined as the ability to use your senses, like your vision and hearing, together with your limbs to perform tasks smoothly and accurately, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. And it’s important for everyone, even if you’re not, say, a professional dancer or athlete.  

“If I walk on a busy street and someone is headed straight toward me, my brain and body have to process the fact that a person is coming at me at a certain speed and I need to respond to avoid a collision,” explains Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “We rely on our coordination every day to move around safely.”

So what can you do to keep your coordination skills running at top speed? Here, we’ll discuss a few things that impact coordination and how to improve it, especially with exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Kristin Vinci, PT, DPT
Physical Therapy
Dr. Vinci is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in orthopedics, persistent pain, and mindfulness based stress reduction.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Why Is Coordination Training Important?

There are three main types of coordination:

  • Gross motor coordination involves the large muscles in your arms, legs, and torso, which you use for everyday activities like walking, lifting, throwing, running, and kicking.

  • Fine motor coordination focuses on coordination of the small muscles in your hands and wrists — the ones you use to write, type on your computer or phone, or do activities like sewing.

  • Hand/eye coordination is the coordination of the information your eyes take in, and the signals your brain sends to your arms and hands. You rely on this to do everyday tasks like drive a car, cook, or pick up something.

You use a combination of these types of coordination in everyday life, which is why it may be a wise idea to incorporate some coordination training into your routine. “Anytime you walk, make a grocery list, or step up and down from the curb, you’re using your coordination skills, even though you may not realize it,” says Dr. Vinci. In fact, that’s perhaps the best news about coordination training: If you’re moving, you’re already doing it to a certain extent in your everyday life, whether you’re carrying laundry or washing dishes in the kitchen sink.

Another reason coordination is important: It helps prevent falls. “You’re more able to respond quickly in a less controlled environment,” explains Dr. Vinci. “If you lose your balance, or stub your toe, your body needs to respond quickly and efficiently to stabilize yourself.”

Benefits of Coordination Exercises

Coordination is important at any age. However, many people experience normal, age-related changes in coordination as they get older. While some of this can be related to a decrease in muscle strength, some may be related to the brain and nervous system, points out Dr. Vinci. Research suggests this is due to small but subtle changes in the white matter that wires your brain and connects the different brain regions. One way you can help prevent these changes is to continue to do activities that help enhance coordination. Other benefits include: 

  • Improved cognitive function. A 2023 study published in the journal Applied Sciences found that a single 30-minute session of balance and coordination exercises improved attention among older adults during a demanding task.

  • Enhanced athleticism. A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that coordination training improved power and agility in soccer players, but this translates to all types of activities you enjoy doing. Whether you’ve played in a rec soccer league for years, run or bike in your free time, or are trying to learn to play pickleball, better coordination means it’s easier to participate in the physical activities you enjoy. 

  • Better balance. A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that 20 minutes of stability and coordination exercises twice a week for 12 weeks improved balance and strength among older adults with heart disease.

  • Reduced risk of falling. Exercise programs that include coordination exercises reduce rates of falls among older adults by almost 40%, according to a review published in the British Medical Journal. It also lowered the chances of taking a fall that required medical care by 30%.

  • Less joint pain. Many people who struggle with joint pain worry about their coordination. Although the presence of joint pain does not guarantee changes in your coordination, the two are related. The good news: A large review published in the Cochrane Review found that spinal muscle coordination exercises helped to reduce pain and disability caused by chronic lower back pain.

How to Improve Your Coordination

Now for the important question: What can you do to improve your coordination skills? Put simply: Keep moving. “Just about any physical activity increases coordination in physical fitness,” says Dr. Vinci. If there’s a particular activity you enjoy, just keep doing it, she advises. But if you’re looking for a new form of exercise to try or add to your workouts, here are a few activities that are particularly good for all forms of coordination:

  • Jump rope. Its steady cadence and rhythm can help improve the coordination between your eyes, feet, and hands. Plus, you’ll learn new motor patterns, which improves the communication between your brain, wrists, and lower leg muscles.

  • Pickleball (or tennis). It’s not just a trendy or popular activity right now — it’s really useful for coordination. Specifically, it improves eye-hand coordination because it requires your eyes to pick up on the motion of the ball, and then your brain needs to send a message to the rest of your body telling it to respond. 

  • Swimming. Whether you do the breaststroke, side stroke, backstroke, or even the doggie paddle, you have to coordinate your arm movement with your leg movement, points out Dr. Vinci. Plus, you’re remembering to breathe too!

  • Tai chi. This ancient martial art helps to enhance coordination because it increases proprioception, or your body’s awareness of space. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found tai chi more helpful for coordination than stretching or resistance training among patients with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Dance. Dancing uses information from multiple areas of your brain to time your movements with the music. Don’t worry about your rhythm: Moving along to your favorite songs will help improve your coordination no matter how smooth you look. Plus, you may have fun doing it! 

  • Try something new. Simply learning a new activity can challenge your brain to work in different ways and create new movement patterns for your muscles. 

Coordination Exercises

If you’re a Hinge Health member, you’re in luck, because all of the exercises in Hinge Health’s exercise therapy programs will help to enhance coordination, says Dr. Vinci. If you’re not a member of the Hinge Health program, or are simply looking for additional ways to boost your coordination, Hinge Health physical therapists recommend the following modifications to common exercises to help:

  • Instead of lunges, do a lunge to knee raise. As you stand out of the lunge, raise one knee toward the sky while balancing on one leg.

  • Instead of side lunges, try jumping jacks. 

  • Instead of squats, try jumping in place, just like you would if you were jumping rope. 

  • Instead of a slow and controlled sit-to-stand, do a fast sit-to-stand. For an extra burst of coordination, stand from the chair as quickly as you can then sit down slowly. Or, each time you stand from the chair, catch a ball. You can have someone throw the ball to you or toss it in the air yourself. 

Another technique to consider is doing some of your exercises with your eyes closed. Since the balance system normally relies on visual information, it will help cultivate proprioception, says Dr. Vinci. If you feel unbalanced, unstable, or have fallen recently, it’s best to avoid this one to ensure you stay safe when doing your exercises. 

PT Tip: Count Backward From 100 While You Walk

Want to add a coordination challenge to your routine, everyday activities? Next time you’re out on a walk, count down from 100 by five (100, 95, 90, 85, and so on). “It’s a great way to improve overall coordination because it forces your brain to work while you’re exercising your body,” says Dr. Vinci.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References 

  1. Liguori, G., Feito, Y., Fountaine, C., Roy, B., & American College of Sports Medicine. (2022). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (11th ed., pp. 1–21). Wolters Kluwer.

  2. Seidler, R. D., Bernard, J. A., Burutolu, T. B., Fling, B. W., Gordon, M. T., Gwin, J. T., Kwak, Y., & Lipps, D. B. (2010). Motor control and aging: Links to age-related brain structural, functional, and biochemical effects. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34(5), 721–733. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.10.005

  3. Dunsky, A., Unger, L., Carasso, R., & Fox, O. (2023). The Effect of a Single Session of Balance and Coordination Training on Cognitive Function in Older Adults. Applied Sciences, 13(6), 3598. doi:10.3390/app13063598

  4. González-Fernández, F. T., Sarmento, H., Castillo-Rodríguez, A., Silva, R., & Clemente, F. M. (2021). Effects of a 10-Week Combined Coordination and Agility Training Program on Young Male Soccer Players. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(19), 10125. doi:10.3390/ijerph181910125

  5. Segev, D., Hellerstein, D., Carasso, R., & Dunsky, A. (2019). The effect of a stability and coordination training programme on balance in older adults with cardiovascular disease: a randomised exploratory study. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 18(8), 736–743. doi:10.1177/1474515119864201

  6. El-Khoury, F., Cassou, B., Charles, M.-A., & Dargent-Molina, P. (2013). The effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adults: British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(20), 1348–1348. doi:10.1136/bmj.f6234

  7. Saragiotto, B. T., Maher, C. G., Yamato, T. P., Costa, L. O., Menezes Costa, L. C., Ostelo, R. W., & Macedo, L. G. (2016). Motor control exercise for chronic non-specific low-back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2016(1). doi:10.1002/14651858.cd012004