Improving your reaction time to almost ninja-like degrees involves two things – training your fast muscle twitch fibres (and converting slow muscle twitch fibres into fast ones) and increasing the speed at which your neurons fire and communicate.
The latter point is like upgrading a computer’s processing speed, and accounts for the lag between your brain sending a signal and your muscle receiving in (and somewhere in between you need to see and interpret the stimuli too). If you can train both these things while finding some way to measure your progress then you will quickly be able to develop lightning reaction time that will help you in every aspect of life – from dodging low flying planes, to catching vases that you drop, to winning fights.
Firstly, to measure the current state of your reaction time you’ll need a friend (you’ve got one of those right?) and ruler. Now get the friend to hold the ruler above your hand by the finger and thumb and then have your hand open around the bottom of the ruler. Get your friend to drop the ruler randomly without warning and see if you can catch it before it falls to the floor. Now measure the distance the ruler travelled which will give you an idea of how quickly you reacted. Do this as you train and you should notice the distance slowly getting smaller as your speed improves.
Another test is to try and grab a coin from a friend’s hand. Get them to stand with their palm open a coin lying in it. Have your hands hanging limply by your sides then try to dart your hand into the palm and steel the coin before they can close their hand at all. This obviously requires significant speed on your part but you should be considerably faster if they aren’t also training. Bruce Lee could do this trick and as an added showy-offy element he would swap the coin for a different one without the other person even realising.
Now to train your fast twitch muscle fibres you need to engage in lots of ‘plyometric’ exercises, which are the kinds that require sudden explosive movements. Reactions generally refer to reactions of the arms, so this is what you need to speed up. Plyometric exercises for the arms include clapping press ups, shadow boxing, or even clapping handstands if you’re truly immense…
This will give you the physical ability you need to be able to dart your hand in reaction to stimuli, but in order to increase the speed of your brain signals you need to improve the transmission of neurotransmitters across the ‘synapses’ (the gaps between neurons). You can do this by simply strengthening the connections through use, or by ‘oiling’ them through the use of various drugs that aid the process. One product that aims to do this is CX717, which is currently being tested for military use with the potential for commercial marketing. Another is interestingly nicotine, though it’s not recommended that you supplement your reaction time with nicotine as nicotine is addictive. If you must use it however, steer away from the cancer sticks and instead stick to the healthier options – nicotine gum and nicotine water.
Practicing a specific ability such as catching or blocking will improve the neural network between the stimulus and the response, but this will only be generalised to other activities to an extent. In martial arts, practitioners are taught to constantly repeat the act of blocking an attack in a certain way so that the movement becomes ingrained into their mind and the response becomes automatic and unconscious. This is a state known as ‘no mind’. Train your reactions specifically then in the areas you want to improve through simple repetitions. For general reactions however, just bouncing a ball against a wall and attempting to catch it however will be a great way to increase your general reflexes and response time – particularly if the ball or surface are uneven as this will lead to erratic trajectories forcing you to react quickly and appropriately.
You should also aim to improve your response time to stimuli and your ability to pay attention to images in your peripheral vision. To achieve this you can have a friend attempt to attack you from just out of sight with the objective being to block the attack as soon as it comes into view. Another way to train both this and general reflexes is to use computer games – particularly the simpler 2D ones such as space invaders. Three dimensional flight simulators are also good, and generally the more things there are to dodge and to be aware of the better the brain training. There are actually many games you can find online that are designed specifically for the purpose of testing/improving your reflexes. Another thing that will work well as practice is driving. So play computer games and drive places – now that’s not bad homework!
The final piece of the puzzle is to improve how you react, which means improving your awareness of your own body and your surrounding area. Any physical activity or sport will help you to do this, but a good activity to practice is to find a dripping tap, then attempt to jab your hand between the drops of water without getting wet. Eventually you will be able to dance between the rain drops…
To improve your reactions in the short term you need to be alert and awake. Make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep and had lots of carbohydrates (creatine may also be useful). Drugs that increase awareness and alertness will also work well, such as caffeine or Guarana. Remove all distractions from your mind so that you’re not thinking about anything other than the environment. Take a second to listen to all of your senses and be aware of the world around you. Feel the wind on your finger tips and listen to the rustling of the trees. Then wait… and REACT! Obviously this only works when you’re expecting you’ll need to react however, truly great reactions come into play when you’re caught off guard. With true ninja-reflexes you’ll be constantly ready…