Exercise Special - wake up your body and brain

A hand to knee reaction drill to improve speed, power and strength

Hand-to-knee reaction wake-up drill

In this ’s exercise of the month, we depart from our more usual ‘muscle conditioning’ routines and instead look at the hand-to-knee reaction/‘wake-up’ drill – an exercise designed to ‘wake up’ muscles by firing up the brain and nervous system. Regular PP contributor John Shepherd lights the blue touchpaper

Muscles involved: hip flexors (NB this exercise and its variations are less about the training of particular muscle groups and more about firing up the nervous system)
Joint motion: hip extension
Sports applicability: all, but especially speed, power and combat sports, such as boxing and martial arts

Conditioning benefits

  • General: It is not worth really focusing on the mechanics of the exercise in terms of strength development (this is only minimal), as this exercise is really all about firing up the nervous system and waking up muscle and the brain for dynamic and challenging sporting activity. Having said that, the exercise is closely related to the sprint running action, specifically the ‘hip pull-through phase’. This occurs after the leg drive, when the leg folds up beneath the sprinter’s body and the heel travels up toward the buttock, before being pulled through from the hips dynamically into the next stride.
  • Sport specific: The hand-to-knee reaction drill was brought to my attention over 20 years ago, when training with head Soviet track coach and former world long jump record holder Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, and is one of a number of drills that are designed to ‘light up’ an athlete’s neuromuscular system. The drill is designed to get you into the ‘right frame of mind’ before dynamic sporting activity. For example, if you’re about to run a 100m sprint, you don’t want your brain to be woolly and lacking focus. Rather, you need to explode out of the blocks, moving your limbs as fast as is possible (with relaxation of course).
    The hand-to-knee drill should form a part of warm-up and can be performed literally in the seconds before making an explosive effort. Its aim is to prime you optimally for this type of activity.

Start position

Assume a medium stance lunge position. Keep your trunk upright and look straight ahead. Extend the arm on the other side of your body to the front leg and hold the hand parallel to the ground, with the palm facing downward.


  • Summoning your mental energy and focusing on your hip, ‘drive’ the knee toward your hand as fast as you can, by driving your hip forward and up. Do not move your hand toward your advancing knee, to shorten the movement;
  • Return the foot to the floor and either pause for a second before repeating or immediately perform the exercise again.

Training tips

Maintain neutral posture and a balanced elevated chest position throughout the exercise. Concentrate and focus all your energy into the movement. Start with 3 x 6 repetitions.


  • Jog and rapid foot strike drill: This drill is used by sprinters to heighten their neuromuscular capacity, but can be used by those from other sports. Begin jogging and after 5-10m ‘dab’ your feet as fast as possible in an alternate action against the ground. Complete 6-10 dabs. The dabbing movement is achieved by lifting one foot at a time just a couple of centimetres from the ground and dynamically pushing back down, as fast as possible in a very staccato movement. Each dab should be about a foot’s length in front of the other. Foot-strike is made on the forefeet/balls of the feet.
  • Perform one set of dabs, jog for 5-10m and then perform another. Coordinate your arms with your legs, moving them as fast as is possible to encourage speed. A slight forward lean during the dabbing phase is permissible, with the knees pushed forward and head inclined toward the ground. However, particularly for sprint athletes, an attempt should be made to perform the drill from a more upright stance, as this better reflects the posture of the sprint action. This drill is best performed on an athletics track, or similar true and giving surface. Try four repetitions.


The author and PP take no responsibility for injuries caused by attempting this exercise. PP recommends that you always learn new exercises under the guidance of a professional.


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