If you’ve recently gotten into the world of martial arts, or you are looking to improve your reflexes for sparring or just in general, there is a sea of information to sift through which can seem pretty overwhelming.
Fast reflexes are probably the most important thing to learn when training to be a fighter. If anything, fighting in its most basic terms is a battle of reflexes at its heart.
Read on for some of our top tips, vetted by the pros to help get your reflexes up to speed in no time.
Is It Possible To Improve Your Reflexes?
There’s a big difference between being fast versus having trained instincts and fighting reflexes in the ring.
Like how jerking yourself back when faced with a hit, versus parrying and countering on reflex.
Whilst it is a long journey to improve these reflexes enough that your immediate reaction isn’t to flinch away from a punch and respond with a defensive or knockout move, it can be done.
A fighting reflex is in essence a physical response to a fighting stimulus. This could be anything from a punch, an opening in your opponent’s guard, or any opportunity provided by your opponent to land an attack.
This means that not only do you need to learn how to respond when attacked, but it’s about noticing when you are being given an opportunity to strike your opponent.
Your physical response could be a defensive move, moving away from the attack, intercepting your opponent, or striking when an opportunity presents itself.
An athlete or fighter who has trained reflexes will respond quickly to a stimulus with the right physical response.
Can you improve these abilities? Yes, you can.
As long as you have the innate reaction to respond to stimuli such as a hot pan, you can train your fighting reflexes to not only respond quickly but to respond correctly.
How To Train Your Reflexes
As mentioned before, a trained reflex implies having the most suitable reaction to stimuli.
So, the main thing you need to know is that to train your reflexes, you need to be able to look out for the stimulus.
In a nutshell:
To react to something quickly, you need to train your ability to watch for that stimulus. This means looking out for punches and kicks before they occur.
You can do this by reading your opponent and watching other people fight to recognize when people are about to attack.
The main thing that you need to get used to is training with a partner.
It is the number one thing you can do to quickly improve your reaction time, to not only avoid punches but also know when you have an opportunity to strike back.
If you are a boxer for example you’ll need to practice seeing how your opponent throws punches, so you can get used to the movements before the punch is thrown.
Below are a few drills you can do to improve your reflexes:
1. Slow Sparring
Slow sparring with a partner is the best way to build up your reflexes and speed up your understanding of how people respond during a fight.
This technique is often used in boxing but works for all styles of martial arts, as well as defending yourself from an attacker out in the real world.
Slow sparring gives you time to think about all of the information that is being provided by your opponent, such as where does their power come from, where do their jabs come from, or what’s the first thing that gives away their actions when they are about to attack whether that be in footwork, hand movement or builds in combination moves.
Taking things slow is the first way to gradually absorb enough information that you can eventually get to a point where this information is so ingrained that you don’t even have to think about it when you’re put into a position to fight.
2. Using Reaction Balls
Reaction balls are a good way of training your eyes so that you can follow fast movements easily.
Reaction balls can be used in a very basic way: simply drop one from waist height and try to catch it after a single bounce.
This will help you build up your speed, agility, and your hand-eye coordination.
As you improve, you can increase the drop height, or move on to trying to catch the ball with one hand. Throwing a reaction ball against the wall will work your reflexes even more.
Unlike a regular ball, a reaction ball won’t respond predictably, making it harder to follow with your eyes and thus improving your overall coordination.
3. Shadowbox Sparring
This is basically where you fight with an opponent but neither of you lands any punches or hits. This is all about training yourself to read your opponent’s movements.
It works in the same way that slow sparring does, but has the advantage of being in real-time so you can improve your coordination and timing, focussing on dodging and finding openings for attacks.
4. Double Ended Bags
Unlike traditional heavy boxing bags, double-ended bags are attached to the ceiling and floor with a cord.
When you throw a punch or a kick, the bag moves quickly, and it’s all about practicing your awareness of momentum and anticipating the bag’s movements so that you can strike again, or get out of the way of the swing-back.
By raising your overall awareness, you want to get to a point where you react without even having to think.
Of course, this takes time, but with preparation, motivation, and just a hell of a lot of hours, your reaction speeds will improve.
This can help you in your everyday life as well, not just when you need to fight, so it’s always worth keeping yourself on your toes and doing a few basic training moves to keep your reactions feeling sharp and limber.