I can’t believe how many people reach out to me and ask questions about how to improve reaction time. Honestly, I didn’t really know if you could actually improve reaction time, so I thought I should do a little research into this important topic. Before you read further, go ahead and take the test above and see what your reaction time is (Tests may not work on mobile devices, use PC).



It looks as if reaction time can be slightly improved through training but it seems to be much more dependent on genetic influence. Through training, we measure improvement in milliseconds. That may or may not be the difference you are looking for in your quest to perfect your gate start. Let’s look at some other factors that go into reaction time, and explore ideas that could make meaningful improvements to BMXers reaction time. Below are some of the things that I find very interesting about reaction time.

Visual vs. Auditory (Lights vs. Beeps)












Could this possibly settle the ongoing debate about what is better…
the lights or beeps of the starting gate?


Numerous studies have concluded that auditory reaction time is faster than the visual reaction time. This means you will react faster to a sound than you would a light. The reason is, it just takes our brain less time to process certain sounds than visual information. The study found it took on average 331 milliseconds to react to a visual signal vs. the average auditory reaction time of 284 milliseconds. The type of sound actually matters. A study showed that humans react faster to non-speech sound vs. speech. So the beeps of the random gate allow us to react quicker than if it were still the old ABA gate cadence.


State of the Nervous System


In sports where reaction time, power, recovery, agility matter (like every sport in the history of ever), a high functioning Central Nervous System (CNS) is what we are actually training. We often think of sprints, gates, weight lifting, etc. as building strength and muscles. But, what we are really training is the ability of our brains to send the signal for those muscles to fire harder and faster. If your CNS is fried, good luck with moving quickly.


There are many ways to get an idea of the state of your CNS. Simple and free apps on your phone like the tap test are a great way to see how you are functioning on a particular day. You can also track your resting heart rate and pay attention to fluctuations from day to day. There are also great apps (most cost money) that have the ability to monitor the rhythm of the heart and give you a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) score. Grip strength, Vertical and Broad jumps are also good ways to monitor state of CNS readiness.


Why is this important? Because, if you happened to try the tap test app while completely stressed and exhausted, you will probably notice you have difficulty in moving your finger quickly. You may also notice your vertical jump will fluctuate from day to day. It also makes sense that maybe your reaction time wouldn’t be quite as quick as normal… and that’s exactly what this study found.


What’s particularly interesting about that study, is that they found that humans with a high HRV scores (high score is optimal) had significantly faster reaction times when the signal was variable. So to make that simpler and in BMX terms…


A person with a high HRV score would react much quicker to a random signal, such as the random gate than a person with a low HRV.


How to improve HRV score is a blog post or two in itself. But there is one tip I’ll give you to help little Johnny at the next national get a faster gate… DON’T STRESS HIM OUT BY YELLING TO GET A BETTER GATE! Which leads me to the next point.



Not that kind of arousal you pervert! I mean how stressed, nervous, excited, stoked, pumped, jacked are you when it’s time to perform. This really matters when it comes to your ability to react in the gate. What sport scientists have found is probably what you have also noticed. Too much and too little arousal is NOT optimal. What you want is somewhere in the middle. Walking your bike up to the gate in a semi-comatose state isn’t ideal, but neither is listening to Pantera and punching yourself.


Fixed vs. Variable

This is probably the most important variable to consider in getting consistent gate starts. Remember that test you took at the beginning of the article? Pretty easy, just look for the light and click the mouse when you see it. You probably had a pretty good reaction time. Now take the next test and see how you do.



If you were like me, you were probably wildly inconsistent. You possibly screwed up and clicked the wrong pattern. This is a perfect example of how thinking too much can slow your reaction time dramatically. Consider how difficult it is to respond quickly to an unknown signal the next time you are working with your child or even your own gate. If you have trouble balancing.  Difficulty executing perfect mechanics. Then adding in the variable of a random cadence will make reactions that much more slow and/or inconsistent.


To get consistent gate starts that you see the high-level riders pull off lap after lap, you need to be using subconscious thought during your start. The mechanics need to be drilled before you can react quickly. One really fun game that I like to play with my kid’s group is Rock Paper Scissors Tag.


This perfectly demonstrates just how bad reaction times are when you need to process information first. Try it – Losers have to chase the winner. Best case is your reaction time will be super slow. Worst case, you will most likely both get confused at some point and run into each other. Compare the reaction of Rock Paper Scissors Tag to a simple test of catching a falling stick.


Simple to Complex


One of the biggest mistakes new coaches make is using complex methods too early. I spent years making this mistake. Not considering how hard certain things were for some people. When learning new skills, it’s important to take as many variables out of the movement. Move from simple to complex.

If the mechanics of the riders gate starts are less than ideal, then improving them while reacting to a random gate cadence is about as complex as possible. This is where sprints can be very useful. Although a sprint is not a gate start (nor should be treated like one), it is a more simple movement. If the rider has the habit of throwing hips into the bar without shoulders moving forward during gates, then teaching them proper mechanics moving slowly, on a slight downhill, with no time constraints could be a good place to start.


Spark Weekly BMX Training Tip: This week I’m showing you a simple and effective way to get a rider into a better position as they sprint and do gate starts. ………………………………………………………. Breaking the bad habit of throwing hips forward without also moving head and shoulders forward is critical if you want to develop a great gate start. The rider should slide their hips, shoulders, and head forward on the initial movement. …………………………………………………… One way to ensure that the rider moves forward rather than up is to create a constraint. The beauty is that you don’t have to coach them. They will most likely figure out the correct movement needed to accomplish the task. This leads to more efficient movement and retention. …………………………………………………….. Also, you have now created context with the rider. You should only have to use this drill a few times and after that you can just tell them to IMAGINE the stick while sprinting or on the gate. ……………………………………………………………….. As the rider learns a new skill, do not worry about speed or timing yet. Think of each part as a building block. First they learn the movement without having to overthink. Then they add speed without sacrificing movement. Then you can have them do it all perfectly as you work on reaction time.

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Reaction time can be improved through training such as exercises like the stick drop video I shared earlier. You can incorporate running sprints and other athletic skills where the athlete reacts to a particular signal. Structuring drills in order of simple to complex would look something like this – Have athlete start by giving them a countdown (3,2,1, GO!). Then you would just give them a visual signal (drop a flag). Next, you may give them an auditory signal at a random time (GO). Then to make it more complex, alternate between the two.

You can also improve the physiological side of reaction time by optimizing arousal levels and HRV scores. Maybe a switch from lights to beeps will help some too.

These drills will help, but remember – training reaction time at best can be improved only a very slight amount. Where you are going to find big improvements in reaction time and consistency will be through turning conscious mechanics into more of a subconscious movement.



I’m running a BLOWOUT SPECIAL on my 3-Month Expert Peaking Program.  This was designed to take a rider with a good base level of strength and optimize it through smart weight and a sprint training program. This was used by riders as they trained for the 2016 USABMX Grands. I intended it to be for riders that are around 15 – 30ish age range that take racing seriously. It addresses mobility, warm-ups, and foundational endurance on and off the bike. You will build power as you find peak performance by the end of the program. You will have PDF printouts of the program that you can take to the gym to follow along. Or you can click on the link and watch the video of me coaching you through each movement. You will also have access to a private Facebook coaching page where you can ask any questions and get almost immediate answers.

For the next week, the price is only $14.95! This is the lowest the price has ever been. In fact, it normally retails for $34.95. Sale ends Friday May 12th.

Enter promo code – BMXBLOWOUT for a $20 discount! 

Click on the picture above to find more details.




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