Reaction Time and the Oeshitt Reflex


If you go to any high school track meet around the country and listen up for the feedback between coaches and athletes after the 60m or 100m you’ll inevitably ALWAYS hear someone make a comment about how slow their reaction time was and how it just killed their race. I want to take a look at this phenomenon and see if there’s anything to it. I’ll take a Does / Does Not approach where I’ll provide the arguments for and against the importance of reaction time and then we can discuss these viewpoints in the forum.

REACTION TIME DOES NOT MATTER: The difference between a bad reaction time and a great reaction time is about 0.1seconds. The worst reaction time I recall seeing in championship 100 meter races is about 0.25 seconds. The best reaction times are around 0.13 seconds (with the fastest allowable reaction time ever recorded being Jon Drummond at 0.10 seconds at Monaco in 1993) with a mean and median reaction time for elite level 100m races being about 0.15s for men and 0.17s for females. This means that for 10.1x second 100m performances on the men’s side, and 11.1x 100m performances on the women’s side we’re talking about the reaction time portion of the race taking up between 1 to 2.5% of the total race time. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem like it would be worth devoting much time to to improving reaction time. Also, there’s some evidence to suggest that reaction time (not movement time) is somewhat of a hard-wired trait and there’s not much evidence that it can be improved significantly. I put together a video to further substantiate these points. Take a look.

REACTION TIME DOES MATTER: 95% I take the viewpoints stated above as my own. I generally don’t think reaction time is that big of an issue. Having said that, I think there are cases when a poor reaction time can ruin a race effort. The detrimental affect, however, isn’t so much due to the greater cumulative time as I showed that even the difference between a sub-par and great reaction time is relatively negligible. I think any detrimental affects are a result of what it known in scientific circles as the ‘Oehshitt’ reflex. Although research efforts are underway and the findings are not yet readily available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Oehshitt reflex is more likely to occur when the athlete is in a race of great significance, racing against competitors equal to or better than them, or find themselves in an unexpected position in the field after block clearance. When this reflex kicks in it inevitably causes athletes to press (losing elasticity and wasting energy along the way) or rush their race distribution efforts. It is these secondary by-products of poor reaction time that CAN ruin a race. This is especially true at the 60m where the reaction time is a significantly greater percentage of the entire race performance. Like most reflexes, the Oeshitt reflex is difficult, but possible, to control. Only through awareness of its existence and real-life experience can athletes learn to control and overcome it’s detrimental affects.
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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young


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Mike Young
Mike Young