Build Sports Agility and Endurance With Shuttle Runs

Black athlete doing shuttle runs on track
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

It may be a throw-back to grade school gym class, but the shuttle run is a commonly overlooked drill for building speed and agility. The standard shuttle run drill is often used to measure the kind of endurance you need for stop-and-go, high-intensity sports such as soccer, hockey, basketball, and tennis.

Testing an athlete's shuttle run time over a season can help measure training routine success and track progress from year to year. Because the shuttle run builds explosive power, agility, and endurance, it is also an ideal exercise drill to add to a training routine. You probably did shuttle runs in grade school or high school. This workout drill is no different.

The Basic Shuttle Run Drill

To do a basic shuttle run drill:

  1. Set up markers such as cones 25 yards apart.
  2. Make sure you are warmed up; consider adding this drill to the end of an easy jog.
  3. Sprint from one marker to the other and back. That is one repetition.
  4. Do six repetitions as fast as you can (300 yards total).
  5. Time your result for the entire six repetitions.
  6. Rest five minutes.
  7. Repeat the drill.
  8. Add the times for each run together and divide by two to find the average time.
  9. Record this time.
  10. You can use this test monthly to track your progress over time.

The 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 performing lateral movements in the drill.

Set up the 5-10-5 shuttle run by placing three cones in a line, every 5 yards from each other. 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 bent over at the waist while extending a hand in front of you and placing your three forward fingers on the ground.

The extended hand should be your strong hand. Bend your knees, dropping your rear down so thighs are close to parallel with the ground. Keep your head up and look straight ahead. 

The 5-10-5 Shuttle Run Drill

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

  1. Set up markers such as cones 5 yards apart.
  2. Start in a three-point stance, straddling the center cone line.
  3. Dash laterally in either direction, running the five yards to the right or left cone.
  4. Touch the line at the cone.
  5. Sprint the 10 yards back toward the far cone.
  6. Touch the line at the cone.
  7. 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 special weapons and tactics or SWAT teams) ran the 5-10-5 drill, researchers found the average time was 5.20 seconds.

You can improve your performance in the drill by shifting your weight to the leg on the side of the direction you will be sprinting in first. Stay low and keep your center of gravity closer to the ground to help keep you in balance.

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 major interval training workout.

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Article Sources
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  1. 2020 NFL Combine Results. Pro Football Reference.

  2. 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. Published 2018 Aug 1.