I always wondered ,I played volleyball for some years and I saw my reflexes on the field improve amazingly,my brain could process the information faster.But outside of the field my reflexes were not better than other people in normal tasks.For example reacting to a accident,or catching a phone that slipped from the table.

My question is:Is there a way to improve your brain reactions/reflexes generally?Any exercises to improve them?

I assume you can do certain exercises to improve them because It's a skill and any skill can normally be improved.

I'm not sure if I should ask this question on this SE site but I got no idea where to ask it.

  • Have you paying attention to your surroundings? As long as you have to do this actively, it is not a reflex, but it might become one at one point. People constantly think I'm pretty sharp and surprised when I don't walk into them in a blind corner before I stop very fast.
    – Yousend
    Sep 15, 2016 at 14:17
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    You cannot improve your reflexes in "general" only for specific tasks and only with repeated practice. bmartin.cc/pubs/comments/1206Syed.html "Desmond Davis, the greatest ever British table-tennis player, who stands close to the table and is known for his lightning reactions. However, in tests of reflexes, Davis came out the slowest on the English team, slower even than juniors." Feb 14, 2017 at 13:33

2 Answers 2


Reflexes can be improved for SPECIFIC actions. The rules of thumb are:

  1. When you react to stimuli, you strengthen neural pathways responsible for that action. In addition to that, you take out the element of "decision making" since your mind now immediately knows how to react. For example, you can train yourself to automatically block a round-house kick and follow up with a front kick counter. The more you do this, the faster it will be. This does NOT carry over to any other situations. In other words:

A soccer player, for example, can improve his running or kicking, and in the process, his knee jerk might get faster. But those kinds of improvements are specific to the activity. A soccer player's feet and legs might develop faster nerve conduction than average. But if that same soccer player were to engage in a contest of finger speed with a classical pianist, the pianist would win, hands down.

The real key to reaction time is practice. By repeating the same movements, you make them almost automatic. That's why professional baseball players can dive to catch a sizzling line drive. And it’s also why once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget.


  1. If your mind has multiple avenues of action (counter with round-house or counter with grab leg and sweep), your reaction time SLOWS down, because your mind has to decide between two well conditioned alternatives, and that takes time. I don't know if this was discovered by, but it's well understood in the SOF community, since seconds count, so they try to figure out what slows them down if, say, their primary jams - do they clear the malfunction, go for their sidearm, etc?
  2. There is some evidence that video games "increase reflexes", but it seems to have to do with mental processing, not actual reflex speed. See here: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/22692/do-video-games-improve-reflexes-reaction-time
  3. Finally, reflexes slow down with age, but apparently it can be reversed to some degree. From the same article as above (though without any "why"):

Reflexes do slow with age. Physical changes in nerve fibers slow the speed of conduction. And the parts of the brain involved in motor control lose cells over time. But the effect of age on reflexes and reaction time varies tremendously from person to person. You can actually slow down — even reverse — the effects of aging by staying physically active.

Remember the saying: If you don't use it, you'll lose it.

In short, this is a very good and important question. Reflexes fall into two categories - reflexive action with little processing, and more complicated actions involving a lot of mental processing. The actual speed with which signals travel "to muscles" cannot be improved. It is speculated to be somewhat genetic and faster in shorter people, simply due to nerve length, but I would imagine the difference is minuscule considering the speeds we are dealing with.

On a side note, I am pretty discontent with this answer and hope we can discuss it more. What I wrote is true, but I feel like it's just scratching the surface of the topic.

  • If you have a really fast mental processing speed lets say out of this world mental processing speed , don't your reflexes boost also? And by doing tasks again and again our brain can mental process them faster without our body physically improving our reflexes whatsoever ? For example:Lets say you take the brain of the fastest pianist of this world and place it on the slowest person in this world.Would he be fast as he always was or slow like the persons body that he now has in possession? Sep 13, 2016 at 13:58
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    The short answer is that the hypothetical pianist's brain/slow person's body combination would be faster than the slow person was. I will try to answer in more detail later, but it would take as much typing as the whole answer above. The "new person" would not be nearly as good a pianist as the original pianist though. One factor is that there are muscle strength/flexibility issue, but it also gets more involved than that.
    – VSO
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:04
  • +1 You can train your body to react faster in response to a stimulus by repeatedly subjecting it to that stimulus. Your body knows ahead of time what the response should be and so can react faster than you could normally (muscle memory).
    – John
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:04
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    Olympic table tennis medal holders performed no better than random individuals from the street in reflex tests. Also, they could not return a standard tennis serve. Bounce - by Matthew Syed matthewsyed.co.uk Feb 13, 2017 at 14:49
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    @VSO It is in the book Bounce but here is an essay confirming it. bmartin.cc/pubs/comments/1206Syed.html Feb 14, 2017 at 13:32

Because reflexes are automatically programmed, they do not rely on conscious or unconscious brain activity. The interaction between reflexive and conscious responses can be more complex. In certain situations, a brain-moderated response would be too slow, so reflexes come into play. Reflexes are automatic, hot-wired responses to particular, extreme stimuli. For example, if you pick up a very hot plate, you will probably instantly drop it. But if you pick up a hot plate that is valuable, you might reflexively drop it and, a split second later, consciously catch it. The two responses might vie with each other for a second or two as you juggle the plate while searching for a surface to place it on.

As mentioned in the above answer, you may learn to quickly react to certain stimuli, but if you generally want to get better reaction time then I recommend working on your agility(mental and physical) for reaction time.

You can start by

Improving physical agility

  • Improving your balance. Practice balancing exercises to increase overall agility. Visit link for exercises

  • Run multiple cycles of suicide runs.

Suicide runs are a great way to improve your speed, and ability to switch direction quickly and effectively. [2]

  • Do ladder drills.

  • Bench taps.

The main objective of agility ladder programs is to promote a wide range of different foot and movement patterns. Through practice these movements will become second nature and the body will be able to respond quickly to various sport specific movement patterns.[3]

Improving mental agility

  • Eat the right breakfast foods. Hard-boiled eggs (vitamin B) to increase verbal and visual performance. Bran cereal (rich in zinc) because Zinc plays a pivotal role in cognitive stability and memory formation. It also improves your skin tone. Antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, they help with the increase of mental capacity and memory. Small cup of coffee (caffeinated tea) first thing in the morning to improve your mental performance and memory as well as increasing your concentration

Eating the right kind of breakfast is one of the primary ways you can boost your focus at the beginning of the day. Dr. Mehmet Oz from The Dr. Oz Show told his audience it is important to consume three foods during breakfast that have been linked to boost your concentration to prevent short term memory. [4]

  • Exercise during the day.A short workout at any point during the day to increase mental performance. It also helps with mental health and agility by reducing stress, boosting mood improving chemicals in your brain, relieving anxiety, increase relaxations, and increasing creativity

Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis. [5]

  • Read more. Reading engages many parts of your brain linked with memory, cognition, and imagination. Reading also improves mood and increases relaxation.

Reading is a great activity because it can stoke the imagination and ignite so many different parts of the brain. [6]

  • Play games (with friends). Choose those games that require skill and multiple levels of cognition to help improve focus and memory retention. Play the game a few days a week to engage your mind and increase your cognition.

Games are a great way to build up your brain muscle. Even fast-paced action video games may boost your ability to learn new tasks, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. The study found tentative evidence that video games may increase your attention span, reaction time, and task-switching ability. [6]

  • Learn something new. Learn a new way to complete your normal routine and your everyday tasks. These tasks help your brain create new neural pathways.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality. Doing new things in new ways appears to help retain brain cells and connections. It may even produce new brain cells. In essence, breaking out of your routine can help keep your brain stay healthy. [6]

  • Can you add sources to back up your numerous claims? i.e. "Hard-boiled eggs (vitamin B) to increase verbal and visual performance", "Bran cereal (rich in zinc) because Zinc plays a pivotal role in cognitive stability and memory formation/skin tone"
    – John
    Sep 14, 2016 at 14:42
  • Sure, here they are. Couldn't add them all in the post because there are too many links. pastebin.com/qURBN4X8
    – SHPstr
    Sep 14, 2016 at 19:50
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    That isn't a issue on SE, there are no "maximum number of links". Look at how many i put in my answer here: fitness.stackexchange.com/a/29899/19738
    – John
    Sep 15, 2016 at 6:45
  • @JJosaur, for comments on answers there might be no link limit but for answers it is a number of maximum links (2) for a certain number of reputation, below 10 if I correctly recall. I'm new on this community and just started on sharing information. Please do your research before arguing with someone.
    – SHPstr
    Sep 15, 2016 at 10:33
  • Didn't know that, you are now on 11, feel free to add away.
    – John
    Sep 15, 2016 at 13:07

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