How quick are your reflexes? Reaction time, why it matters and how to make it faster

reaction times | Arana Hills Physiotherapy

When thinking about reaction time we probably associate it with sprinters reacting to the gun at the start of a race or football players quickly evading a tackle or getting the loose ball before an opponent does.

However reaction times are equally important off the sports field as it is on it and play a role in us avoiding injury. The good news is that we can train our reactions to get quicker and more agile.

Examples of reaction time

  • If you are driving and you come across a crosswalk, the time that it takes from when you see the crosswalk to when you break and stop the car would be reaction time. This ability can prevent us from many dangerous car accidents.

  • In a netball match or football game, it is very important to detect the opponents move and know what they’re going to to in order to react as quickly and carefully as possible. Good reaction time is the key to scoring and winning.

  • A Sprinter reacting to the starters gun. The best start can determine the outcome of the race.

  • You’re in a building and you smell smoke all of the sudden. Reaction time would be the time it takes you to find and use the closest fire extinguisher after detecting a fire.

What is our “reaction time”?

Reaction times or response times refers to the amount of time that takes places between when we perceive something to when we respond to it. It is our ability to detect, process, and then respond to a situation. So using the 100m sprinter as an example it is the ability to react to the sound of the gun, however it is also our ability to avoid a sudden obstacle that may be in our path or reacting to get out of the way of danger.

What is involved in our reaction times?

  • Perception:

Seeing, hearing, or feeling a stimulus with certainty is essential to having good reaction time. When the starter shoots the gun at the beginning of a race, the sound is received by the athlete’s ears.

  • Processing the information:

In order to have good reaction time, it’s necessary for us to understand the significance of the information and what is the required response to it.

For the 100m sprinter this is knowing that the BANG of the gun means GO.

  • Response:

This is then reacting with the most appropriate movement strategy for the situation. The 100m runner explodes of the blocks and starts his sprint. For others it may be jumping out of harms way or side stepping a sudden obstacle when out running trails.

These components of reaction time, (perception, process, and respond), are done in a matter of milliseconds. If any part of these processes is affected then the response will be affected. In the example of the 100m runner they have a poor start, with a trail runner they may accidentally step on the branch and roll their ankle.

What affects reaction time?

  • Complexity of the stimulus-The more complex the stimulus, the more information that has to be processed, the longer this process will take.

  • Familiarity, preparation, and expectations: If you have to respond to a known stimulus that you’ve responded to before, the reaction time will be lower. Our responses to more unfamiliar stimuli will be slower. Remember we are dealing in milliseconds here !

  • Our state of readiness : fatigue, attention (being sleepy), high temperature, age, or even eating too much food. All of these can affect our reaction times. Nobody moved to quickly after a big feast.

  • Stimulated sensory modality: Each of our senses result in a different reaction time. We respond faster to sound than we do to visual cues.

Can we improve our reaction time?

Like most abilities we can train our reactions to be quicker. Here is a link to Daniel Riccardo training his reaction time for F-1 racing.

Here are some examples of reaction drills using simple equipment and the last one not so simple, ( hopefully coming to a clinic near you soon ).

Reaction Ball

Auditory Drills

Light Reaction Drills

You’re never too old to improve your reactions , it may just save you a visit to us in the future .

Cheers and thanks for reading,


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