How To Do The Shuttle Run Drill + 3 Tips For Success

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Running drills will not only improve your speed, form, precision, and running technique but can also be a great benchmark exercise to assess your progress in terms of your conditioning and fitness level over time.

Shuttle run drills can improve all of these metrics, and the shuttle run test can assess your speed, agility, and cardiorespiratory fitness. 

So, What is shuttle running? How do you perform the shuttle run test? How can you include shuttle run drills into your training to improve your speed, agility, and cardiovascular conditioning?

In this article, we will discuss what a shuttle run is, how the test is performed, its benefits, and tips for improving your test time and incorporating shuttle run drills into your workout program.

We will cover the following: 

  • What Is a Shuttle Run?
  • Benefits of Shuttle Run Drills
  • How to Do a Shuttle Run Drill
  • What Is a Good Test Time?
  • Tips for Doing Shuttle Run Drills

Let’s dive in! 

A person sprinting.

What Is a Shuttle Run?

So, what is shuttle running?

A shuttle run test or drills typically involve running back and forth continuously between different markers at a certain pace.

Depending on the specific protocol for the shuttle run test or drill you are performing, the distance between the turnaround points, the pace that you run, and the intensity may vary.

A shuttle run test measures speed because the pace that you have to run typically increases throughout the duration of the test. 

Agility also factors into these types of tests and drills because you have to quickly pivot and switch directions back to the starting point, much like the suicide running drill.

Lastly, your cardiorespiratory endurance will be tested because there are no breaks in between out and back shuttle running sets such that fatigue will accumulate, and it is a continuous running drill.

With that said, depending on the goals of the shuttle run test or drill, the exercise might be short and quick, primarily focusing on speed and agility, or it might be longer and slower in order to assess or improve cardio endurance.

A runner sprinting.

Benefits of Shuttle Run Drills

As you might imagine, a high-intensity sprinting drill like a shuttle run can provide numerous benefits. The benefits include the following:

  • Increasing sprint speed and improving sprinting performance
  • Improving agility and ability to rapidly change directions 
  • Improving neuromuscular coordination and increasing firing rates
  • Increasing leg speed and foot turnover 
  • Increasing anaerobic fitness 
  • Improving cardiovascular endurance
  • Maximizing acceleration 
  • Testing mental stamina and drive
  • Improving athletic performance in sports such as basketball, soccer, football, hockey, running, and tennis
A coach with a stopwatch.

How to Do a Shuttle Run Drill

There are various ways to perform these drills, but here is one to get you started:

20m Shuttle Run Drill or Beep Test

To perform a basic shuttle run drill, often called a beep test, you will need markers such as cones or pieces of clothing you can use to mark the start and turnaround points.

You will need a timer as well as some way to measure the distance between the two points. 

If you want to perform it as the “beep test,” you will also need an app that will beep according to the beep test protocol. However, the protocol described below is just for a basic 20m drill.

If you run your shuttle run test or perform your shuttle run drills on the infield of a running track or on a football field, you can use distance markers that are available on the field.

Cones on a field.

Here are the steps:

  1. Perform a good warm-up with some dynamic stretching exercises so that you are fully prepared to sprint.
  2. Set up your cones or markers 20 meters apart.
  3. Start the timer and sprint to the first cone, and without stopping, turn around and sprint back. 
  4. Hit the lap button on the stopwatch so that the time keeps running, but your lap split is recorded.
  5. Perform eight runs without stopping so that the total distance is 400 meters.
  6. Record your total time.
  7. Rest for five minutes, slowly walking around or jogging to catch your breath.
  8. Repeat the entire protocol or set of eight shuttle runs.
  9. Take the average of your two run test times.
  10. Cool down with some easy jogging.

Perform this test periodically throughout your training program, ideally every 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your training goals and phase of your training.

Monitor your improvement over time. Tailor your training program based on your progress or lack of progress.

Note that the beep test has a specific protocol for the pacing.

A person exhausted from the Shuttle run test.

What Is a Good Test Time?

There aren’t many readily available standards for these tests because what constitutes a good time depends on the test protocol, distance, and the type of athlete.

For example, a great 5-10-5 shuttle run time is typically in the 4-6 second range.

The 5-10-5 shuttle run is also called the Short Shuttle Run or the Pro Agility Drill. 

This test is used by the NFL to assess power and agility. It is an advanced running drill because it adds some lateral movement to the exercise.

Most of the top times of college athletes participating in the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine were in the 4- to 5-second range.

Other available data from elite tactical units such as military special forces and law enforcement SWAT teams revealed that the average time for the 5-10-5 shuttle run test was 5.2 seconds.

Tips for Doing Shuttle Run Drills

The following tips can improve the effectiveness and reduce the risk of injury when performing these tests or drills for sprinting faster

Warming up with the windmill exercise.

#1: Warm Up and Cool Down

It is important to do a thorough warm-up before you begin your test, especially if you are going to be doing shuttle sprint drills.

These drills typically involve running at maximal effort and performing explosive acceleration. You need to make sure that your muscles are warm and your neuromuscular system is primed for fast running.

Your warm-up should include easy jogging for at least 800 to 1600 meters (2-4 laps of the track), along with dynamic stretching exercises such as hip swings and walking lunges.

For a full dynamic warm up, check out our guide: 15 Dynamic Stretches For Runners complete with how-to videos and step by step instructions.

Then you can begin your actual shuttle runs. 

After your drills, jog at least one to two full laps of the track or 5 to 10 minutes to help facilitate recovery, increase circulation, and support the flushing of metabolic waste products from your muscles.

A person running on a track.

#2: Focus On Form

When you’re doing any type of sprinting drills, drive your knees up as high as possible, keep your heel back under your glutes, and pump your arms, sustaining a high arm carriage with your elbows bent no more than 90°, if not a more acute angle.

When you are doing a shuttle run test, use an upright posture, with a slight forward lean to your torso as you accelerate off of the line. Try to get upright as quickly as possible as you explode off the line.

Your stride should be short and snappy, with your foot landing directly under your knee with a perpendicular shin rather than on your heel with your leg extended far in front of your center of mass.

#3: Build Up Slowly

This drill is deceptively taxing. 

People running on a track.

It may look simple enough, but it is extremely demanding on your neuromuscular system and can cause significant central nervous system fatigue, particularly for beginners. It requires a lot of focus, coordination, and precision in your movement patterns.

For these reasons, it is best to build up slowly in terms of the number of sets that you complete in your shuttle running workouts, particularly if you are a beginner.

Start with just 1 to 2 sets during your first attempt, and gradually build up to completing longer shuttle runs and more sets per workout as your fitness and technique improve.

Beginners who take on too much too soon risk getting injured. 

There are a lot of directional changes, and anytime you are sprinting at maximal speed, you are testing the force demands of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones.

You need to build up gradually to give your musculoskeletal system and neuromuscular firing system time to adapt to the high-intensity workload, fast speeds, and demands for producing sustained explosive power.

For more information on running drills, check out our guide to track drills here.

A person running on a track.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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