Are your reflexes slow? Are you strong but not fast and agile? Are you having trouble catching a ball faster? If yes, you may need to improve your reaction time.
But first, what is reaction time?
Simply speaking, it is your body’s ability to react or respond quickly to a certain stimulus. For example, how fast can you start sprinting depends on your reaction speed. How fast can you catch a ball depends on your reaction time.
That’s the reason why it is highly essential for athletes.
But having fast reflexes does not only prove helpful in competitive sports and other activities, but it is also important in one’s daily or ordinary activities like driving.
For instance, it allows you to react quickly when driving under poor conditions. It is even important for video-gamers.
That’s because reaction time is not only measured by one’s physical ability, but also by one’s mental flexibility and agility. After all, it is the brain that tells your body how and when to react when there is a stimulus.
While a reaction time naturally decreases as you age, this does not mean that you can’t do something about it. There are many ways to improve your reaction time.
But first, we focus on the physical:
There is a correlation between reaction time and fast-twitch muscles. That is, if you want to improve your reaction time and reflexes, you need to exercise and improve your fast-twitch muscles.
But what are these muscles? Let’s find out.
What are ‘fast twitch’ muscles?
To understand fast twitch muscles, let’s have a look at the two general types of muscle fibers first. The first is the slow-twitch muscle (type I). But let’s not delve so much on that.
The only thing that you need to remember is that slow-twitch muscles are essential for long-endurance feats. Think of a long-distance marathon.
The second muscle fiber type is, you guess it right, the fast-twitch muscles (type II). Generally, these muscles are essential in powerful bursts of movements.
They fatigue fast but they allow you to move quickly. So when you think of fast twitch muscles, what usually comes to mind is jumping and sprinting.
Since this type of muscle fiber is involved in quick explosive movements, it is important for people that play sports that require rapid movement and strength. We’re talking of high jump, sprinting, shot put, football, basketball, hockey, you name it.
So if you want to jump higher, lift heavier weights, or sprint faster, you definitely need to have an improved fast twitch muscle.
What are the benefits of improving fast twitch muscles?
As already mentioned, they are essential for improving your reaction time. They allow you to perform short but intense activities better.
They are good for:
- High-intensity cycling
- Agility and strength training
- High-intensity interval training, or HIIT
Now that you know the importance and benefits of fast twitch muscles, the next question is: can you develop fast twitch muscles?
The answer is a resounding yes. But in order to understand how to improve and develop fast twitch muscles, it is important for us to know first its two sub-classes.
Classifications of Fast Twitch Muscles
The two classifications or sub-classes of fast twitch muscles are type IIa (oxidative-glycotic) and type IIx (non-oxidative).
Let’s take a quick look at how the two types work and how do they differ:
Type IIa has a huge number of mitochondria and uses glucose and fat stores for energy. Like slow-twitch muscle fibers, they don’t easily fatigue or when they do, they recover quickly.
This makes them great for fast and repetitive low-intensity activities like bodybuilding.
In contrast, Type IIx has low mitochondria numbers.
It is larger in diameter and is non-resistant to fatigue. In other words, it easily fatigues and does not quickly recover like the Type IIa. This is the type you’d need to work on if you want to improve your reaction time.
It’s great for large power outputs and high-intensity activities. So if you’re into power-lifting and any field sport like high jump, this is the type of fast twitch muscle you need to focus on.
Now let’s go back to the question: how can you improve fast twitch muscles?
You might know the answer already since we’re talking of muscles. And when we speak of muscles, what immediately pops in the head is the word “exercise.”
What exercises improve fast twitch muscles?
If you want to improve your reaction time, you definitely need to improve your type II muscle fibers.
The best ways to do this, is heavy strength training, plyometric training, speed training, and even Olympic lift training.
You would not want to focus on long-endurance training because that would decrease type II fibers as such training is better designed for slow-twitch muscles.
Strength and speed training
This type of training is highly effective in improving type II fibers and developing maximum speed and force.
Strength training includes lifting heavy weights at slow acceleration or lighter weights at fast acceleration. Some examples of this training are:
- Heavy squats
- Bench presses
Speed training also helps improve reaction time and fast-twitch muscles. A few good speed training exercises include:
- Running sprints
- Agility drills
- Med ball training
Plyometric training and Olympic lifting
While strength and speed training are the more common ways to improve fast twitch muscles, there are other effective exercises that you can try too.
Plyometric training and Olympic lifting use what is known as stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). SSC also results in the development of maximum force. The process involves pre-stretching and then a rapid contraction of the muscle.
Effective exercises of this type include the following:
- Vertical jumps
- Broad jumps
- Power cleans
- Power snatches
- Depth jumps
Now let’s take 3 exercises and discuss each:
Med Ball Cross Behind Side Toss
As mentioned, strength and speed training like med ball training develops maximum force resulting to improved reaction time and developed fast twitch muscles.
They’re also easier to perform than, say, Olympic lifting.
A great example of med ball training is the Med Ball Cross Behind Side Toss. To do this, follow the steps:
- Start in an athletic position with one shoulder facing the wall and the med ball positioned at the back of your hip.
- Use a cross behind step (by crossing your back leg behind your front leg) and step forward to gain momentum as you throw the med ball against the wall
- Focus on snapping your core to toss the ball
Hang clean is a powerful exercise that works your body from top to bottom. Such exercise develops full body coordination, builds maximum force or explosiveness, and increases jumping power. It’s a kind of Olympic lifting training. Here’s how to do it:
- Hold the bar of your weights with a shoulder-width grip.
- Slightly squat down. Gain force from your heels to pull yourself upwards.
- Continue this momentum to help you pull the bar up to your chest.
- Pause for a second as the bar is up to your chest.
- Then slowly lower the bar back to your starting position.
Note: You can start with lighter weights and move your way up.
Med ball and hang clean are simple but effective exercises that help improve fast twitch muscles. However, if you’re up for something more challenging and complex, then you can try PAP Complex. Just a warning: it’s not for beginners.
Here are some ways to perform the PAP Complex:
- Do heavy sled drag and immediately follow it with sprints
- Do heavy squats and immediately follow it with a vertical jump
- Do heavy bench press and combine it with a med ball chest pass
- Do deadlift and follow it with a broad jump
But improving your reaction time is more than just performing several exercises. It requires not only physical training but mental activities as well.
What are the ways to improve your reaction time?
Developing your fast twitch muscles is just one aspect of improving your reaction time. Your lifestyle also affects your reaction time. So making lifestyle changes is key to improved reaction time.
This includes performing cognitive or mental exercises, mediation, mindful exercises, proper nutrition, and improving brain health.
Let’s take a look at each of these.
It’s not only the muscle that needs strengthening. Your brain needs to be strengthened too. You can do this by performing mental challenges and learning new things that will eventually strengthen neurons, and result to a faster response time.
Think of it this way: sharpen your brain for it to react more quickly.
A great way to do this is to challenge your brain by performing tasks using your non-dominant hand. Imagine how difficult it would be to draw basic figures or write your name using your left hand when you’re right-handed (unless of course, you’re ambidextrous).
Train your non-dominant hand to do everyday things like using your phone, pouring yourself a drink, even brushing your teeth. It’s not the hand you’re training actually, but your brain. This will rewire neural pathways and thereby making your brain work quicker.
Meditation and mindfulness
Another way to improve reaction time is to perform meditation and mindfulness exercises. You might be wondering why.
If your mind is not calm, you’ll react slower. If you’re mentally distracted, you will most likely not pick up or catch things faster. It takes more time for your brain to process things and react.
That’s why it’s important that you calm the mind.
A calm mind is a healthier mind. Studies show that those who practice guided meditation and perform mindfulness exercises have better, faster reaction time than those who don’t.
On top of having a positive impact especially on visual and auditory reaction time, meditation also helps improve alertness. An alert mind leads to an alert body. Even simple yoga breathwork helps increase mental awareness.
You learn to pay more attention to things. With that, you’ll be able to respond or react more quickly when there is an external stimulus.
Moreover, performing yoga asanas can improve mental functioning and physical mobility, resulting to an improved reaction time for those who practice it.
That’s why, it’s important to pay attention to your mind than just your body.
Nutrition and brain health
Eating healthy is not only beneficial to the body, but to the brain as well. There is a correlation between a healthy brain and fast reaction time.
If you eat a proper diet and take foods that are great for brain functioning, you will most likely have faster reflexes and better motor skills.
As a rule, eating foods rich in antioxidants is a great way to reduce cognitive decline.
This include raspberries, pomegranates, blueberries, and more. Foods rich in Vitamin K, like broccoli, can also develop proper brain functioning. Eat healthy foods that keep your mind healthy and alert.
More importantly, reduce your stress. Stress leads to cognitive decline. If you’re too stressed, it takes more time for your brain to respond and react properly. Eating a plant based diet would be the best, by the way.
Take care of your mind and body
As you would have understood by now, improved reaction time is not only great for gaming and athletic activities. A fast reaction time is helpful to your day-to-day activities. It is essential for healthy aging, faster reflexes, safer mobility, and more.
Remember that when you have a fast reaction time, you will become more alert in protecting yourself from potential dangers.
Since it will take more time for your brain to respond and for your body to react, you can prevent harm and injury (not only in sports but more importantly, in your daily life).
So exercise, practice your sport, even play videogames (as this has been found to improve mind and body coordination and focus). Challenge your brain, eat healthily, meditate. Do all these and you’ll have a healthier mind and body.
You’ll live life better and safer when you have a faster reaction time.