You know that moment when someone tosses you the car keys and time goes into slow-mo? We’ve all been there.
What if you don’t catch them? What if they miss your hand and hit you in the face? Sure, it’s a potentially embarrassing moment, but it’s not a big deal in the long run, right?
Except that moments like this actually point to something really important.
Good coordination–the kind you need to toss or catch a set of keys–is fundamental to all sort of things you want to do with your body. But fitness programs often totally neglect it.
Coordination lets you perform complex movements faster, smoother, and with more confidence. It’s what lets you save a toddler from falling into a sharp-edged table, catch a glass your spouse knocks off the counter, or keep your grandma from falling when she trips.
And it’s really fun! It makes challenging things feel easier so you can explore new possibilities in your favorite activities.
How does coordination do all this? It basically wires your body for complex movement.
Take our client Dana, for instance. She has Multiple Sclerosis, so coordination is a big challenge for her. But using fun movements like what I’ll show you below helped her improve her coordination so she could move on to a higher level of practice. She’s an extreme example, but the benefits of improving coordination apply to just about anyone.
In this article I’ll show you how coordination programs your body for smooth, effortless movement. And I’ll share 10 of my favorite drills you can use to improve your coordination while having a lot of fun.
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Why Do You Need to Train Coordination?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of only thinking of improving strength, mobility, and conditioning as valid training goals.
After all, those attributes should make up the majority of your training time.
If you’re not strong enough or flexible enough to do the things you love, you absolutely need to spend time working on that. But for well-rounded physical performance–not to mention the ability to apply the strength, mobility, and conditioning you’re building–it’s important to work on your motor control and coordination as well.
Activities that specifically target coordination are helpful because our nervous system creates pathways from the brain to the body based on repetitive action.
The phrase “cells that fire together, wire together” means that whenever you practice a physical activity, the system learns from that activity as the cells learn to work together. Practice ingrains patterns, making our movements smoother with less effort.
And it’s also pretty fun. What?! That’s not allowed! But yes, a bit of coordination drilling can energize an otherwise listless and dull workout.
10 Examples of Hand-Eye Coordination Drills
There are so many examples we could include here, and really, you could find so many drills to do with whatever you enjoy the most. But to give you an idea of what I’m referring to when I say “hand/eye coordination,” here are some options you can try out.
Let’s take a look at each of the drills Ryan and Verity demonstrate in the video:
Drill #1 – Balloon Tossing
This fun partner exercise has you catching and bumping the ballon back and forth with each other using your hands, heads, and other body parts.
Change the angles and speeds to keep it unpredictable, and try starting out facing different directions or work on standing closer together or further apart.
You’ll see, this game can be a lot more challenging than it looks.
Drill #2 – Juggling
More than just for those creepy clowns at birthday parties, juggling is a great way to develop rhythm and timing.
Start with slow circles with just two balls, finding your pacing and coordination between both hands, then add the third ball. It’s amazing how the addition of that extra ball can make you speed up too much and lose your rhythm.
The benefit of this exercise is in the repetition and the awareness of how off-beat you can be when you are flustered.
Drill #3 – Small Ball Tossing
Another partner exercise, this time with a small ball, this drill allows for faster speeds than with balloons.
Change up the speeds, angles and throwing patterns for endless variations. Also work on facing away, then your partner tells you to turn as she tosses the ball over. This requires a quick orientation of direction that you don’t get from simply watching the ball as you catch it.
Drill #4 – Jump Rope Drills
A classic conditioning exercise, jumping rope also works on hand/foot/implement coordination when you progress beyond two foot hopping.
Running in place, one foot multiple hops, and crisscrossing are all options you can play with. Keep the rope moving at a steady pace while you get fancy in your footwork, and jumping rope can be an incredible coordination drill that teaches you how to maintain rhythm and control while fatigued.
Drill #5 – Target Practice
A staple hand/eye drill, target practice involves the complex but very natural skill of throwing and accurately sighting and aiming that toss.
It’s both surprisingly difficult and addicting to practice hitting at a target.
Start close to the target and progressively move further away from it, and also play with standing at different angles rather than directly in front of it. You can add another level of difficulty by turning away, then quickly turning and aiming for the target.
Drill #6 – Ball Toss from Different Positions
Back to the ball toss, you can vary your orientation and positioning to add even more variety to the activity.
Try on both knees, moving in a squat, lying on your back or stomach or side, lunge positions–whatever feels most challenging and fun.
This is a great chance to incorporate some mobility work into your coordination drills.
Drill #7 – Balloon Hockey
Using a balloon instead of a small bean bag or “hacky sack” slows down the rate of fall, making this an easier exercise, though the ballon’s lightness can be a bit more unpredictable when you hit it strongly.
Work on finessing your movements to keep the balloon up in the air and play with the positioning of your foot and body. Again, different positioning changes the exercise entirely, so work from standing, squatting, kneeling, and on your back.
Drill #8 – Dribbling
Dribbling a small ball as you would a larger basketball is more unpredictable with the size of the ball necessitating changes in how hard you hit.
The distinct speed you need to maintain the right angles requires a good amount of practice and perseverance.
Practice dribbling with one hand and switching back and forth between both hands. Play with different speeds, and dribbling closer to the ground or further away from it. There are many possibilities here.
Drill #9 – Wall Ball Bounce
When you don’t have someone available to toss around a ball with you, all you need is a solid surface in front of you and bouncy ball. When you switch up how you toss the ball, and the angles from which you aim for the wall, there’s little predictability in the way the ball returns to you.
Work on throwing the ball from different distances and aiming for different points on the wall, or aim for the floor so that the ball bounces off the wall.
Drill #10 – Targeting through Rings
This is another version of target practice, where you are now tossing objects through an object with an open area. Hoops, rings, cardboard cutouts, large to small openings–these are all different sighting stimuli for targeting, and they add even more variation to your target practice.
The further away you are from the rings or other open area, the harder it will be to make your target. See how challenging you can make this fun drill!
How to “Program” These Drills Into Your Routine
How long should you do these for? Until you get bored or tired out. The goal here isn’t to “never miss a toss for five minutes straight” or to “make your training partner drop a ball.”
It’s to play with some activities you haven’t done in a while and stimulate your nervous system in these novel movements.
Movement exploration doesn’t have to be very physically demanding or a great test of your strength and flexibility. It can be within the range of what you can already do so you can concentrate less on its physical difficulty and more on the activity itself.
These are just a sample of the things you can do to improve your hand/eye coordination. You are limited only by your imagination!
Applications of Better Coordination
I’m very biased towards this, but one great way of using an apparatus as an extension of your extremities is different forms of weapon play. This is especially true in arts that emphasize combination movement and flow, such as in the Filipino and Indonesian martial arts.
Here is my friend Rob, who has been doing Filipino Martial Arts for many years, demonstrating his proficiency with the balisong, also known as a “butterfly” knife.
This is a prime example of the extremity/eye coordination we’ve been talking about.
Here you see great dexterity and control that is also augmented by the need to be precise with a sharp blade, otherwise you will hurt yourself. This adds on another layer of concentration. There’s nothing like the anxiety of getting cut to heighten your senses and make you pay attention!
I’m not saying everyone should go out and play with knives, but it is another fun and interesting option for exploring your movement palette.
Open Up Possibilities for Yourself With Better Coordination
I know these aren’t your typical “exercises,” and what we’re proposing–playing fun games–isn’t what you might expect for a workout routine. But, these types of varied and unique activities will help you improve your coordination and motor control like nothing else.
And when you have better coordination, you become more adaptable, and better able to handle curveballs when they happen.
Plus, with improved coordination, so many more possibilities are open to you. You can work toward so many more skills, can get involved in so many more activities if you want to. And you’ll move through life so much more easily.
The drills we’ve shared here are really just a fraction of the kinds of exercises and games you can work into your routine.
To get complete control over your body and start building strength, improving mobility, and increasing coordination, check out our Elements program.