Why Am I Not Getting Better at BJJ? – Drilling Is the Key


Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is widely known as one of the most complex martial arts. So to become a master in it, every student must spend many years rolling on the mats and training. But many BJJ pros are pointing out that training is not enough to succeed and become a black belt. BJJ experts often talk about the importance of putting a lot of effort into doing BJJ drills both in and outside the academy. In layman’s terms, drilling in BJJ is to repeat various technical movements many times until you master them.

The thing is, every sport in the world has some kind of drilling workout and so does the BJJ. It is one of those things that separate the great grapplers from the average ones. The champions are the ones who are always ready to spend extra hours practicing the moves they already mastered. 

The truth is, you can’t expect any progress on the mats without performing BJJ drills. The reason why you are not getting better at BJJ can trace back to a lack of drilling on your end. BJJ drilling is perhaps the most important thing to improve your BJJ skills and let me explain why so.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Bruce Lee

Drilling is the Road to Success just like any Other Sports

If you look at all the top athletes in the world, they all spend hours drilling the moves outside the practice. You can often hear them talking about the importance of dedication and drilling the moves on your own. 

For instance, the great Kobe Bryant used to count all of his made shots in practice, and stop when he would get to 400. For athletes like Kobe, drilling was never boring. It was a road to success. 

You see, Kobe didn’t become a legend by only playing the basketball game with other teammates at practice. He became great by putting a lot of work into drilling the moves and shooting thousands of shots on his own.

With this in mind, why would anyone think that BJJ is any different? Every great grappler spends many hours drilling the moves on their own. You can often see top-level BJJ practitioners staying longer at the practice and performing drills alone in the corner of the gym

You can’t improve your BJJ game or succeed by focusing on learning new moves all the time. Like Kobe or any other great athlete, you need to spend countless hours drilling the BJJ moves with or without a partner, sometimes even the most basic ones. This is how you truly improve your Jiujitsu skills. Once you mastered the BJJ movement through drillings, then everything becomes easier in BJJ.

That being said, let’s shift our focus to what are the actual benefits of drilling in BJJ so that you will see all the benefits from drilling. 

Drilling Makes Your Moves More Fluid

Most drills will improve the muscle groups you are using during the actual roll in BJJ, especially the ones in your hips. This is great since many BJJ students have a hard time learning how to move their hips. 

It is normal for every beginner to have a problem with doing hip escapes or bridges mostly due to the stiffness in the muscles. This stops them from moving their bodies in different directions during the rolls and limits them from executing many techniques. 

Drilling will make your body lose and allow it to move without much resistance. Also, the drilling exercises will make your muscles stronger and body more flexible which can prevent many injuries from happening. 

But mainly, BJJ drills will make your moves much more fluid and you will execute various techniques without putting much effort in it. 

Drilling Will Help You Execute BJJ Techniques Much Better

It’s fair to say that BJJ drill movements are the foundation of BJJ techniques. This is because most drill movements are closely linked with everything you do in executing BJJ moves. 

For instance, a popular drilling method named “Shrimping” is one of the basic moves in BJJ. Also, it is one of the first things you learn when you join the classes. Despite being a basic technique, shrimping dill improves mobility on your back. In BJJ, mobility on your back is as important as footwork in boxing. Basically, just about every technique you want to execute off your back starts with how good you are in shrimping.

Shrimping actually improves the hip movement. This allows you to shift between the positions faster and execute various BJJ moves. For instance, Shrimping movement is an essential part of escaping from the guard position, mount, or side control. 

Exercises like shrimping will upgrade your BJJ skills to another level. Some experts like the Renzo Gracie black belt Shawn Williams even believe that 60% of your BJJ training should be drilling. 

Drilling Will Improve Your Conditioning In Rolling

Most people see drilling as a light workout and something you can do at home or after the practice. But make no mistakes about it; it takes a lot of effort to endlessly repeat the moves, especially right after the training session.

So drilling on a regular basis will enhance your conditioning in two different ways: 


1) Most BJJ drilling workouts require all the muscle groups to work together. Thus, these exercises will improve your strength in both upper and lower body segments. This will give you the strength to sustain intense rolls with the partner and to not burn your muscles quickly.

2) Drilling falls into the category of aerobic exercises. So as most of us know, aerobic exercises improve your cardiovascular system and increase cardio levels. So you will have an easier time going through exhausting BJJ classes and having top cardio is always a huge advantage in BJJ matches as well.  

Also, most of the drills will improve your balance, coordination, and agility. 

Drilling Will Speed Up Your Learning Progress

BJJ beginners can really benefit from drilling since it helps them remember the moves they learned in class and how to execute them the right way.

By drilling the same BJJ technique so many times at a slow pace, you can refine the movement that you might struggle with and improve technical speed in BJJ. This is called technical drilling. You can read further about technical drilling and other types of drilling here.

There will be lots of information to process in the beginning for new BJJ students, and it’s very hard for every new student to keep up with the classes. You will learn a lot of techniques and how to perform them. But don’t be delusional thinking you already have mastered the new moves. 

Taking 20 minutes of your time to drill the new technique that you just learned is one of the best and fastest ways to speed up your learning progress.  The difference between students who drill the moves on a regular basis and the one who doesn’t is huge for a white belt student. For this reason, white belt students can progress faster by drilling regularly.

The ones who don’t do drilling exercises must spend the next class repeating the moves from the previous session. But the ones who put the extra work will come in prepared and ready for new lessons. So looking in the long term, drilling can speed up your progress twice as fast. 

Drilling Will Help You To Win In The End

The endgame of drilling is to boost your BJJ game and become good at submitting other people. Spending extra hours drilling the moves can bring you nothing but huge gains. It will improve every aspect of your BJJ game and you will have an easier time submitting people in sparring and here is why. A World-class BJJ practitioner Andre Galvao said the following:

You are drilling to fight! You are not drilling to drill.

Andre Galvao (World Jiujitsu Champion)

Drilling consists of endless repetition of certain moves and techniques. The key is to do them long enough so that these moves become stamped into your muscle memory. The term “muscle memory” means we can train our nervous system to adapt to the certain moves we are practicing. 

So this means you will need less conscious effort to pull off those moves. Or in other words, muscle doesn’t need a command from our brain as the body will react by itself. 

So when you roll against someone, expect to pass their guard with ease and without even thinking about it. Top grapplers can even use their instincts to pull a submission or escape from troubles. We know this may sound odd and crazy. But drilling helps our nervous system to remember the moves and when is the time to execute them

This also allows you to stay calm and focused during the sparring or competition. Instead of being scared, your body will see certain patterns and you will react with your instincts. So naturally, this boosts the reaction time and you will have an easier time placing a submission.

How To Drill The Techniques The Right Way

Whether you want to drill the moves at home or in the gym, make sure to do a proper warm-up first. Then, start out slow to get your body going and make sure to perform the drill movement the right way. 

As you become more familiar with it, you can increase the speed of drilling as if you are sparring against the real person. Remember, it’s not just about drilling; it’s about preparing yourself for the real-time situation. So make sure to also visualize the partner and how would you escape or attack while performing BJJ drills.

Now let’s go back to the basketball analogy for a moment. Kobe Bryant didn’t practice three-point shots at a slow pace all the time. His goal was to speed up the shooting to simulate the real-time situation in the game

It’s ok to start slow if you have any issues with performing the moves fast.  But whenever you feel comfortable and loose, make sure to increase the speed as if you are sparring with the partner. 

You Can Do Drilling By Yourself Anywhere

Unlike sparring, you do not need a partner to do drilling exercises. Drilling is something that can be done anywhere and anytime without a partner. No matter if you are on vacation, traveling, or at home away from the gym. You can always take 15-20 minutes of your time to drill the moves. 

Drilling is perfect for students who can’t attend the classes more than twice a week for instance. Repeating the solo drilling moves such as shrimping or guard pass drill at home helps you to keep up with the classes and stay in shape. 

But even if you are fully dedicated to BJJ classes, it is the best thing you can do outside the gym to polish and refine the movement through drilling. All you need is a piece of a small mat to do a complete BJJ drilling workout. 

Also, many BJJ students have a grappling dummy at home. This workout tool gives you an even wider range of exercises you can perform. 

But with or without the grappling dummy, the most important thing is to be consistent and dedicated. Since you can do it anywhere, there’s no excuse for you not to start exercising tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

If you are still NOT convinced about the importance of drilling, ask the world-class BJJ practitioner Andre Galvao. You will find out how much work he puts into drilling and how this helps him to win almost every BJJ match. Thus do not estimate the power of drilling. Consistent drilling will improve your BJJ skills far more than you might assume.

We understand repeating the same techniques may seem boring. But the benefits of it are so big that you have to make conscious effort to make a big part of the training if you are serious about your BJJ journey. As said above, drilling a couple of times a week will speed up your progress, improve the movement, and give the agility to execute various BJJ moves during the sparring. 

Every BJJ students must realize the importance of these exercises and that drilling is essential to their long-term success as BJJ practitioners.  

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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