How a Shuttle Run Tests Speed, Agility, and Cardio Fitness

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A shuttle run is a test that measures speed, agility, and cardiorespiratory fitness. Athletes may also use shuttle run drills to improve their performance in these areas. If you’ve played a competitive team sport, you’ve likely participated in a shuttle run test, which measures your cardiorespiratory fitness.

What Is a Shuttle Run?

Shuttle run tests usually involve continuous running back and forth between two line markers at a certain pace, and vary in degrees of intensity, duration, and distance. A shuttle run test can be short and quick or slow and longer. They are designed to evaluate an athlete's speed and agility.

Reasons for a Shuttle Run Test

The shuttle run test also assesses both aerobic (the body’s ability to take in oxygen and convert it to energy) and anaerobic (the body’s ability to convert glucose to energy without using oxygen) fitness. For the shorter shuttle run drills, the quickest time is often recorded as the shuttle run test score. For longer shuttle run drills, a test score may be determined by an average of the shuttle run times.

For athletes, a shuttle run test score can help determine their training regimen and potential for success in their sport. The shuttle run test score can also be used to track their progress from one competitive sports season to the next. Shuttle run tests are also often done in physical education classes to test student's physical abilities.

Benefits of Shuttle Run Drills

Because shuttle runs build explosive power, agility, and endurance, it is also an ideal exercise drill to add to any training routine. The intensity of shuttle runs range from basic to more advanced. Depending on your current level of fitness, you might begin with a basic shuttle run drill and practice it for a few weeks before moving onto an advanced drill, so as to avoid injury. Regardless, shuttle run exercises at any degree of difficulty will help you improve speed, build strength and endurance, and boost your aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

If you have health concerns or physical ailments, be sure to check with your doctor first before beginning a rigorous workout routines like shuttle runs.

How to Do a Shuttle Run Drill

Below are two ways of completed a shuttle run drill, with a basic and advanced option. If you've never done a shuttle run drill before, try the basic version first.

Basic Shuttle Run Drill

To do a basic shuttle run exercise, you will need markers such as cones, a timer, and a space to run 300 yards total. Make sure you are warmed up; consider adding this drill to the end of a brisk jog. You can use this shuttle run test score monthly to monitor your progress over a period of time.

  1. Set up markers such as cones about 25 yards apart.
  2. Sprint from one marker to the other and back. That is 1 repetition.
  3. Do 6 repetitions as fast as you can (300 yards total).
  4. Time your result for the entire 6 repetitions.
  5. Rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Repeat the drill.
  7. Add the times for each run together and divide by two to find the average time.
  8. Record this time.

Advanced Shuttle Run

A more advanced form of the shuttle run is the 5-10-5 shuttle run, also known as the Short Shuttle Run or the Pro Agility Drill. It is used by the NFL for testing and building agility and power in its athletes, and it changes up the basic shuttle run by incorporating lateral movements in the drill.

Set up the 5-10-5 shuttle run by placing three cones in a line every 5 yards. Mark lines at each of the three cones. You begin in the three-point stance, straddling the line at the center cone. 

The three-point stance is a position you've probably seen in American football. Begin by bending over at the waist and squat down very low so your thighs are close to parallel with the ground. Extend one hand in front of you and place it on the ground. The extended hand should be your stronger hand. Keep your head up and look straight ahead of you.

To do a 5-10-5 shuttle run drill:

  1. Start in a three-point stance, straddling the center cone line.
  2. Dash laterally in either direction, running 5 yards to the right or left cone.
  3. Touch the line at the cone.
  4. Sprint the 10 yards back toward the far cone.
  5. Touch the line at the cone.
  6. Sprint back to the middle cone and line.

As a basis for comparison, a great 5-10-5 shuttle run time for a professional athlete is around 4 seconds. During the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine (an annual NFL scouting event where college athletes perform agility tests like the shuttle run), many of the top times were in the 4- to 5-second range, although there have been years when top athletes ran the drill in under 4 seconds.

When elite tactical units (including military special forces and law enforcement SWAT teams) ran the 5-10-5 drill, researchers found the average time was 5.2 seconds.

How to Improve Shuttle Run Performance

You can improve your performance in this shuttle run exercise by shifting your weight to the leg on the side of the direction you will be sprinting in first. Stay low with your center of gravity closer to the ground to help maintain your balance and stability.

While it is a great way to track your progress, why stop there? Add shuttle runs to your training routine once a week and get a challenging interval training workout that is bound to improve your speed and agility and build endurance.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Mazurek K, Zmijewski P, Krawczyk K, et al. High intensity interval and moderate continuous cycle training in a physical education programme improves health-related fitness in young femalesBiol Sport. 2016;33(2):139-44. doi:10.5604/20831862.1198626

  3. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Assessing agility using the T test, 5-10-5 shuttle, and Illinois test.

  4. Brady J. SBNation. NFL combine drills explained: Shuttle run. February 21, 2015. 

  5. Pro Football Reference. 2020 NFL combine results.

  6. Maupin D, Wills T, Orr R, Schram B. Fitness profiles in elite tactical units: A critical review. Int J Exerc Sci. 2018;11(3):1041-1062.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.