Reflexes are nerve signal-induced muscular reactions to external stimuli. For example, if you spot a baseball flying towards your head, your brain will send a signal to your hand to block the ball before it can hit you. Having good reflexes aids performance in sports, exercise, and everyday physical activities like crossing the street or driving. Some people are born with fast reflexes, and others must practice attaining a quicker reaction time to stimuli.
Good reflexes are crucial to any sport as reacting quicker than an opponent can be the difference between success and failure. A tennis player must return serves in excess of 100 mph and the first sprinter off the blocks after the starting gun has an immediate advantage.
Why are good reflexes important?
In some sports, good reflexes can mean even more than winning or losing. Boxers dodge lightning quick and powerful punches, while Formula 1 drivers’ quick reactions can help prevent potentially fatal accidents. If a reflex is, “an action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus”, then how can we train to improve them?
It is possible to hone our reflexes and condition the brain to react quickly to certain conditions. Football goalkeepers require some of the fastest reactions in the sporting world. Guarding an eight-yard wide goal against powerful shots, often from a matter of yards, is extremely difficult, as anyone who has tried will know. Two weeks ago during the otherwise dull Premier League encounter between Liverpool and Manchester United, David De Gea pulled off an incredible save with his feet from point-blank range, highlighting why a keeper’s reflexes are so crucial.
Goalkeepers have many bizarre and intriguing ways of improving their reflexes. Recently, a video surfaced of veteran Petr Cech, of Arsenal working on his reaction. The legendary Cech a winner of four Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, was made to tap colour-coded cones before catching table tennis balls fired at him, with next to no time between shots. He succeeded every time. It is not the only technique Cech has used to help him become one of the best goalkeepers of the past decade. Much of his training for the national team during Euro2016 consisted of placing plastic bottles a few yards in front of the goal. When the balls struck the bottles they bounced up at unpredictable angles, a great way of replicating match scenarios and improving reaction times. All professional goalkeepers spend hours practising. Some use fairly regular drills, while others think outside the box, figuratively speaking of course.
Tennis balls are a common feature in a goalkeeper’s training. Whether it’s a coach whacking them at full speed with a tennis racket or throwing them at a device called a RapidFire football rebound net, they are a favourite of goalkeeping coaches around the world. Of course, it’s not only football goalkeepers that work hard to improve their reflexes.
Finally, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes Formula 1 Team used a Batak machine, which makes the user respond to lights by tapping a button, and the slightly less high-tech method of throwing apples at each other, to improve their response time.
Here are few ideas on how to improve your reflexes with physical exercises:
1. Practice catching a rubber bouncy ball or a “reaction ball”. Reaction balls are six-sided rubber balls that bounce at unpredictable angles.
2. Play Jacks.
3. Play dodgeball with a partner.
4. Try table tennis.
5. Pick a sport to practice regularly.
6. Run a nature trail.