Which sport requires the fastest reflexes

Training to improve reaction time

There are not many sports where reacting within seconds is not beneficial. However, quick responses depend on numerous factors, such as: B. the sense of hearing and sight or experience. The good news is that it can be targeted.

Athletes with very fast reaction times have more “time to think about” to show their skills in the respective sport and to achieve a victorious performance. An obvious example is a 100-meter runner who, in response to the starting gun, has already won a meter before the opponents rose from the starting blocks. Moving in fractions of a second is just as important in soccer or racket sports, as well as in numerous other sports. So z. B. Footballers who win a fraction of a second through their quick reactions, attack their opponents more effectively or score a goal. This article assesses reaction time related to responses to auditory and visual stimuli, and describes training sessions and exercises that can be used to improve reaction times.

Response times in sports

The International Athletics Federation (IAAF) believes that a person needs at least a tenth of a second to react to the starting gun; a faster time is an early start. However, not everyone shares this opinion (more on that later)! The fastest official reaction time ever recorded (according to IAAF criteria) was a 0.101-second reaction, which was achieved by the Canadian Bruny Surin in the 100-meter semifinals at the 1999 World Championships.

Racket sports
Badminton requires faster reaction times than tennis or squash, although table tennis may require even faster reaction times. The fastest reactions in badminton are required in men's doubles, where individual strokes can reach a speed of 320 km / h, as the opponent is often closer to a ball than in singles. In table tennis, where there are balls that are faster than 96 km / h, the player usually only has 0.3 seconds to react while the ball covers the length of the table (2.74 m).

A goalkeeper has approximately 0.3 seconds to react to a penalty shot at a speed of approximately 130 km / h.

Response to an auditory signal

As already mentioned, the IAAF has a starting rule for sprints that warn or disqualify athletes if their starting reaction is faster than a tenth of a second. However, some researchers believe that response times of less than a tenth of a second are possible, and recent UK studies conducted at the University of Loughborough seem to support this1.

The reaction times of nine athletes at the sprint start were taken into account. The starting blocks used here were equipped with pressure sensors similar to those used in competition. These measure the slightest changes in pressure (i.e. the pressure on the blocks that reports a false start to the starter - or in this case the researchers - in a race). This study showed that five sprinters achieved average times of less than a tenth of a second.

The theory was that this was possible because before the tenth of a second was up, the brain could send a signal to the reacting muscles and cause the muscles to discharge. This assumption was backed up by the measurement of EMG activity during launch, which measures the electrical impulses transmitted to the muscles involved, and it has been found that these can be achieved in less than a tenth of a second. The researchers concluded that "... the neuromuscular-physiological component of simple auditory reaction times can be less than 85 milliseconds ...".

Before starting blocks with pressure sensors were developed, sprinters often tried to simply estimate the shot in order to get out of the blocks faster, and this has resulted in very interesting research in France2. In fact, the research results determined there could provide indications as to why very fast reactions that are below the IAAF limit can be achieved even on the shortest sprint routes.

The French study was carried out with male 100 to 400 meter runners. What is particularly noteworthy about this study, however, is the fact that all athletes in their respective disciplines reached the finals at a World Cup or the Olympic Games. The analyzes showed that the reaction time to the starting gun played a significant role in the athletes' runs. The research team discovered 3 characteristics:

- The longer the sprint, the longer the reaction time, i.e. the reaction times at 60 meters were faster than at 100, 200 and 400 meters.

- The reaction times were dependent on the run length, i.e. the reaction time of the first runner in the sprint relay did not differ from that of a 400-meter sprinter. The reaction time of the first runner in the 4 x 400 meter relay was also slower than that in a single run.

- It was found that the reaction time from the heats to the finals decreased. Interestingly, the team found that less experienced runners in qualifying runs (juniors 18/19 years old who competed in their own world championships) did not experience this phenomenon.

These extremely interesting results led the researchers to conclude that reaction time is a skill that can be influenced by experience and learning and is largely determined by running distance. Because sprinters focus more on reacting faster on short journeys, they are also able to start faster. This behavior is determined by the factors that have already been determined, but according to the researchers also by "the degree of concentration and energy expenditure". Basically, they are of the opinion that training a higher level of concentration (together with experience) leads to faster reaction times on the short distances.

Visual reactions

In field and racket sports, the athlete must react to a moving object or other player. The player's reaction can significantly influence the success of their respective reaction-based athletic ability (s). Successful goalkeepers show very quick reactions.

A team of researchers specifically examined the reactions of goalkeepers to saved penalties3 in a completely new way. The Dutch team used a video test for “anticipation skills”. The test required the goalkeepers to use a joystick to react to penalty situations displayed on a large screen. The number of saved penalties as well as the frequency and duration until actuation of the joystick were rated. The visual search behavior was investigated using a portable eye movement sensor (the basic eye movements were tracked). Using this test, the team found that the faster goalkeepers, who were best able to save penalties, were more accurate in predicting the height and direction of the ball, waited longer to react, and spent longer periods of time getting on the leg of the Focus on penalty takers.

Let's stay with football and look at the field players. What visual factors can improve their responses? British researchers from Liverpool examined differences in their ability to anticipate and visual search criteria during play4. 15 experienced and 15 inexperienced test persons were asked to determine the destination of passports on the basis of filmed football sequences that were shown on a 3 x 3 meter projection screen. It was found that the skilled players demonstrated superior anticipatory and reactive performance. Experienced soccer players fixated on peripheral aspects of the representation. So they observed z. B. the positions and movements of other players in far more locations than their inexperienced colleagues. And the better players were also able to look at different areas of the playing field on the screen more often. As a result, they processed a larger amount of information faster and more precisely. This led the researchers to conclude: "The increased frequency of eye fixation was found to be more beneficial in anticipating the course of the pass during the soccer game."

Also in Liverpool, research showed similar results almost a decade later5. The research team showed game scenes to good and less good soccer players and found that the good soccer players, in contrast to the less good players, were able to analyze the situations more effectively and to react to them. However, they went one step further than their predecessors and analyzed the speed and precision of the recognition patterns without depicting football scenes. Players were asked to analyze patterns that appeared as colored dots (points of light) on the screen. These patterns represented soccer sequences. Again it was found that the experienced players had better reactions and could better recognize the various scenes. The researchers attributed this to the players' point of view (how they perceived visual information) and, ultimately, to their experience.

Research in other sports led to similar conclusions. So Texas researchers have z. For example, the reactions to visual cues in 13 experienced and 12 inexperienced tennis players were examined. (6) In a test situation, the players had to predict the type of stroke and the direction of flight of the ball. The assumptions of both groups were more precise than the "random value". The experienced players were, however, significantly more precise than the inexperienced in live and video displays, but not in the light point display (unlike the soccer players).In connection with the topic dealt with here, it is particularly interesting that the reactions of 10 experienced athletes were significantly faster when they returned balls that had been hit by a real opponent than with balls that had been shot by an undercover ball machine. The researchers concluded: "The results indicate that experts are able to use information about movements [of their opponents] to determine the type of stroke and use this information to significantly reduce their reaction time delay." This is another example of how that "better" athletes are able to see through moves in a superior way, which has a positive effect on their reaction time.

Researchers from Brisbane, Australia, looked at cricket and came to conclusions that were similar to previous and previously neglected sports, such as sports. B. Squash, were almost congruent. (7) It appears that experienced athletes are better able to predict their opponents' moves, which leads to a reduction in their reaction time, so that they can react much more appropriately in an athletic manner. The researchers end with the conclusion that "... excellent cricketers also had the unique ability to derive preliminary information from certain early cues (especially cues relating to the throwing hand and arm), which their less experienced colleagues fail".

With a view to improving reaction times in field and racket sports, the sense of sight is clearly important if a player is to perceive one or more visual cues. This affects all aspects of vision. Sports scientists also speak of “visual acuity”. Basically, visual acuity relates to the ability of a player to correctly perceive movements and to react to them correctly and as quickly as possible. In detail are thus z. B. the eye fixed points and the length of focus on this and different types of sharpness meant, such. B. the contrast sensitivity, but more about that later.

Exercise to improve reaction time and exercises to increase visual acuity

As already indicated, early "seeing" a sports situation allows a faster reaction. This has led to the development of various innovative exercises. The soccer research cited above used points of light to assess sports scenes and the reactions to them. Real game situations were also shown as video, to which the players should react. Players and teams from a wide variety of sports have been using these methods for several years as part of their training in order to improve the reaction through their eyesight.

On a simple, but potentially just as effective level, exercise equipment such as B. "Visual acuity rings", developed by companies specializing in speed training, such as B. SAQ ™ (SAQ stands for speed, agility and quickness). Three different colored balls are attached to the visual acuity ring. The ring is thrown to a player and a suit is called. The player must then catch the ring on the named color. The aim is to train the player's reactions and his or her sporting "visual abilities".

Numerous balls have also been developed to improve response times that bounce in an absolutely unpredictable manner. Since the players have little predictability of the ball's spin, or the likely angle of rebound off the ground, they must rely solely on their reaction to attempt to catch the ball (i.e., there is no opponent to whom they can Can see motion sequences).

Eye training specialists

In sport, there is an increasing trend to use specialists for eye training. These specialists will conduct tests to uncover players' visual strengths and weaknesses in relation to different types of "visual acuity" (see "What is visual acuity") and take countermeasures.

The US ski team has been using a special form of visual acuity analysis and training for over ten years. (9) The researchers found that in this sport, which requires good eyesight and responsiveness, nearly 40% of team skiers had visual acuity less than 20/20 (this value is considered normal, but not optimal). Glasses and contact lenses have been prescribed to correct this obvious disadvantage. Analysis and remedial measures were also introduced to improve team members' visual acuity.

Contrast sensitivity

Contrast sensitivity describes the ability of the eye to differentiate between gray and black tones from white and the ability to see in different light conditions. This type of vision affects the reaction times of players who have to play in changing lighting conditions, e.g. a day / night cricket game. The contrast sensitivity can be tested using special ophthalmic equipment. If the athlete does not show optimal reactions despite contact lenses for correcting visual acuity to 20/20, he still has the option of using sports sunglasses to improve vision in changing light conditions, e.g. B. with self-tinting glasses (photochromic glasses).

What is visual acuity?

Visual acuity is often referred to as "Snellen" visual acuity, named after the Dutch ophthalmologist Snellen, who developed visual acuity tables to determine visual acuity in the 19th century. Visual acuity refers to being able to see clearly and is a measure of how well a person can see.

Figure 1: Eye chart according to Snellen

A person with visual acuity of 20/20 is just able to recognize a letter that is facing the eye at an angle of 5 arc minutes (written 5 ') (5 arc minutes is 5/60 of a degree because 1 degree out of 60 Minutes of arc). This means that if you draw a line from the top of a 20/20 letter to the eye and another line from the bottom of the letter to the eye, the size of the angle at the intersection of these two lines on the eye is 5 minutes of arc. The distance between the eye and the object is irrelevant. At a viewing angle of 5 arc minutes, a person with a visual acuity of 20/20 is just able to see what is being shown.

Although 20/20 is considered normal visual acuity for most people, better visual acuity is also possible. Many people actually have better visual acuity than 20/20, meaning they can see objects at an angle of less than 5 arc minutes. So have z. For example, many people have 20/15 visual acuity, which means that they can stand 6 meters from an object and see it just as well as a person with 20/20 visual acuity who is 4.50 meters away from that object .


The response time depends on numerous factors. The athlete has to process what he sees and / or hears and then has to show the most appropriate and quickest response to get his muscles moving. As we have seen, more experienced athletes seem to be able to react faster and more appropriately than less experienced athletes (a result of their superior playing ability and experience). It appears that reaction time can be improved with proper training. Depending on the sport in question, there are different exercises in competition training for conditioning, test kits and visual acuity analyzes and means with which one can improve this ability, which is essential for sport. (Movement aids)


1. Journal of Sports and Science, 2007, Vol. 25 (1), pp. 79-86

2. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1999, Vol. 88 (1), pp. 65-75.

3. Ergonomics, 2005, Vol. 48 (11-14), pp. 1686-1697

4. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1994, Vol. 65 (2), pp. 127-135

5. Perception, 2006, Vol. 35 (3), pp. 317-32

6. Journal of Motor Behavior, 2005, Vol. 37 (2), pp. 164-175

7. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Colchester), 2006, Vol. 59 (12), pp. 2162-2186

8. Journal of Sports Science, 1990, Vol. 8 (1), pp. 17-34

9. http://www.visualfitness.com/ski/ski_team.html