Fun/rewarding exercise with a focus on controlled movement?
November 1, 2013 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I've never thought of myself as being in good shape, but lately I've noticed that I'm not just weak or slow, I'm also pretty uncoordinated. Now that I see it just I keep seeing it everywhere in my life, and it really bothers me. My movements are pretty twitchy and momentum-based, rather than being deliberate, something I could stop in the middle of at any moment. I want to fix this. When I think of activities that could help me develop that kind of control, I think of like martial arts, or yoga, or something, but I don't really know. I'd love to hear some suggestions.

In the past when I've told myself I would get in shape it's always been via weightlifting and I never stick with it. That's likely because I keep doing it on my own with no enforced schedule. This is especially dumb because I know I'm the kind of person who needs a lot of external motivation. So I like the idea of taking some kind of class, where at least some amount of social interaction with other humans occurs and where I would feel I was expected to show up.

To be honest, right now I'm also just worried that I'll pick something dumb or unsuited to my goals and will feel silly/humiliated (even though no one will actually care--this is an irrational thing that happens a lot with me and I am working on it). It's making it hard to "just pick something" and start. Hearing a "Oh, try this!" from an actual person would really help a lot. Thanks.
posted by a birds to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Taijiquan (or Tai Chi Ch'uan, if you prefer). Definitely improves balance and deliberate motion, plus it's fairly good isometric exercise for your legs if you practice it the way I was taught, which is that the teacher broke down each of the movements into three or four smaller movements, and had us hold each of those smaller movements to a count of 10.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:52 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Look into taking some training in a so-called "internal" martial art such as ta'i chi or wing chun, or yoga. These will get you using your body and training its reflexes in ways that will make you both graceful and aware of what your body is doing.
posted by gauche at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2013

I did Yang Style Tai Chi (aka The Chinese National Short Form) years ago and need to pick it up again. It was wonderful and I imagine I'd get more out of it now, with my body being 15-years-older than it was then. You move as if you're underwater, deliberately and slowly. I miss it and need to find someone to help refresh my memory on some of the forms and the transitions between them.
posted by jquinby at 10:56 AM on November 1, 2013

I noticed a big difference in my coordination and grace when I took a dance class. I took beginner's ballet, but I think any style of dance that you're interested in would work to help you know where your body is and how you are moving it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:01 AM on November 1, 2013

Pilates. It's great exercise, strengthens your core, and helps greatly with coordination, I think.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2013

Yoga, especially a vinyasa style that focuses on flowing transitions from pose to pose - the whole practice is about moving with your breath and focusing on where your body is in space. I am not a particularly coordinated person, but nothing makes me feel more graceful than a yoga class.
posted by hungrybruno at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ballet is underrated as an exercise. Ballet improves posture, increases flexibility, encourages weight loss, and challenges both the body and mind. I took ballet as a adolescent, years later people still remark on my excellent posture. Some people will remark that i must have been a dancer, when I ask if it is because of my posture, they say no, it is the way you move, smooth and flowing.

It would benefit you to take adult beginner classes if you have never taken a class before. I may be projecting, but I have a feeling you are a male. Just in case you think ballet are for girls only, Steve McLendon nose tackle of the Steelers would disagree, so do Vance Johnson and Akili Smith.
posted by JujuB at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2013

The key, I found, is to find a place that you like to go for classes. It probably won't matter too much which type of activity you do (yoga, pilates, kung fu, dance, etc.) in terms of improving your balance, control, health, etc., but what really matters is that you like how the place works that you are going to so that you want to go back each week.

I did Shaolin Kung Fu for 5 years. I really liked it and it improved my strength and balance considerably. What made me keep coming back for 5 years, though, was that I really liked how the school was run. I had a partner for a while who told me that other schools she had been to were run very differently--she didn't really like how this school was run, but for me, it was perfect.

So, I would suggest taking places up on their "first class free" offers, talking to other students and seeing if the school jives with the way you work.
posted by chiefthe at 11:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement? It's mindfulness and meditation rather than exercise, but it's all about becoming aware of your own individual movements and muscle control.
posted by nonane at 12:11 PM on November 1, 2013

I am uncoordinated and not a fan of most exercise, and I've loved taking adult beginning ballet classes. Class is usually a completely random collection of age/skill level/body type people (mostly women, one or two men), with a lot of stretching and a little practicing arm and leg movements while someone plays bits of the nutcracker suite on an old piano. Just one hour of this a week led to all sorts of compliments on my excellent posture.
posted by velebita at 12:46 PM on November 1, 2013

Given your poor history of training by weightlifting, I almost hesitate to observe that your shortest, best route to better strength and coordination of limb movements, and management of body mass in movement, may well be some kind of weight training. But there are many kinds of training that reduce to moving external mass in coordinated fashion, and what feels like weight lifting to some, is just shovelglove training, or Russian kettlebells or SteelBell workouts to others.

However, if your primary problem is just getting motivated to reliably do some physical exercise each day, I'd suggest either team sports (and believe me, most kinds of amateur team sports leagues are happy to have beginners join, to level the teams composed of more skilled players), or getting an energetic dog, that needs an hour or more a day of active outdoor exercise. The dog ownership route can be rewarding on many levels, but it is also a much greater commitment than just as a conditioning partner, that you could conveniently ignore when you like. Still, if you want long term motivation towards a more energetic, physical lifestyle for yourself, taking on an energetic young dog as a pet can be the foundation for a 10 year or longer plan for that kind of change in yourself.
posted by paulsc at 12:52 PM on November 1, 2013

+1 for Tai Chi and also that its important to find a class or teacher where you like the approach.
posted by crocomancer at 1:06 PM on November 1, 2013

I love circuit training classes. It's not a big leap from just weightlifting on your own but having an instructor who is introducing and explaining different exercises means you learn fun new moves, or learn a new piece of equipment, and get a more well-rounded workout. I also find it more efficient (I work harder without stopping because I don't have to think of what exercise I'll do next) and I'm more likely to keep going regularly. Great for coordination and strength and cardio.

Nthing pretty much any sort of dance class. Following choreography is all about controlling your movement and is also great exercise. Ballet is great. Other flavors of dance class that should be easy to find and accessible for beginners: Beginning hip hop or hiphopcardio type classes which are popular these days, Zumba (this is "dance fitness", upbeat, salsa-fusion stuff). Or salsa, swing, ballroom, various African styles (often just called "African" unfortunately). Modern or Contemporary dance classes are my all time favorite but can be hard to find. Have fun and don't feel bad if you feel like you're messing up. It takes time to actually learn how to watch/learn/follow the movements of an instructor, it's a different skill but really satisfying.
posted by dahliachewswell at 2:59 PM on November 1, 2013

Tai-chi. Even though I haven't done it actively for quite a while, I still have the body awareness I picked up from doing it weekly for a few years. Also, I've seen people of all different body types (very old, overweight) do it, and they all seem to be getting something out of it.

There seems to be classes that emphasize the martial arts aspect, and classes that emphasize the meditative aspect. I prefer the meditative ones, and if you find this type I think it will reduce your fear of seeming silly.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:41 PM on November 1, 2013

I'd suggest bouldering. While there's a lot of people who get into it for training for rock climbing, or else competitively in its own right, it's got a lot going for it both as a practice and a culture that's unrelated to either climbing (ropes, harnesses etc) or strictly competitive activities. Strength, sure, it plays its part, but for the most part boulder problems require you to hold, balance, and move in a measured, controlled way, and that can be done in low-powered way (and helps to build core strength). I fall off the first moves of boulder problems a lot (a humbling experience - to unintentionally fall a whole 3 inches and be bothered by it), usually just while I'm working out how to make them, but after the fifth or sixth attempt I have the movements rehearsed and I can start falling of the second and third moves instead. Eventually I try to tie them altogether, and I start working on going from sitting on the crash mat to touching the final hold in a single sequence. Once I get it strung together, well, it's pretty satisfying, and not in a straightforward "Yeah, I totally nailed that problem!" competitive sense, but more just because when it works, it feels smooth, efficient, purposeful, decisive. So I figure this is something you could enjoy exploring/experiencing.

Culturally, while there are always going to be people who like nothing better than to take their tops off, haul up on tiny handholds with their massive arm and back muscles bulging, and cut loose with their (comparatively weedy looking) legs flailing, there are a load of sociable people at climbing gyms who like to just sit around on the mats resting between attempts who like to talk through the problems, and about how they've found they've had to manipulate their body position to be able to solve the problems ("I'm kinda chunky, so I find I have to drop my knee just there to keep my body close to the wall, but you're slim so maybe you can just twist your hip in"). You find yourself talking about body-geometry, and watching other people's moves and trying to emulate them. It's encouraging, constructively critical, and yeah, helps to develop a sort of purposive / decisive grip on where bits or your body are staying or going at any one time.
posted by Joeruckus at 1:49 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, excellent answers. I'm drawn to yoga and Tai Chi just because they seem very directly applicable (my dad likes both, too, so that doesn't hurt), ballet is a great thought that would feel more "adventurous" for me, and I actually love the idea of doing bouldering the way Joeruckus described. I'll probably pick some combination of those--I've got a lot of free time. Thanks to everyone who responded.
posted by a birds at 5:12 PM on November 2, 2013

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