The Perfect Drilling Session in 6 Easy Steps

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu

You go to class 4x+ per week, you’re on time, and your drilling is accurate. What else can you do to take yourself to another level?

Visualize. Visualization has been shown to improve performance in many activities to a degree that is comparable to actual practice! The same brain maps that send out signals to move are the ones that are used to imagine it. In one study on isometric training of the hands, physical effort created a 30% gain in strength and mental effort alone produced nearly 20%. An exercise as simple as identifying pictures of hands as left or right can “warm you up” by activating the motor cortex. Since thinking and doing are so closely related in the brain, one benefits the other directly. A fun demonstration of this from “A Guide to Better Movement” by Todd Hargrove:

“Try to imagine writing your name in the air with your dominant hand. Now try with the non-dominant hand. Did it take longer the second time? That’s because the skill of imagination lives in the same maps that control the movement.”

Train your off side. Everything gets better with practice. One of my training partners in San Diego, Jennifer Recinos, ALWAYS drilled techniques on both sides. To this day I think of her every time I mix it up. You will probably always prefer one side, but in a dynamic state such as training, you’ll want to have as many options as possible. If someone presents their guard to one side, they generally prefer that side and would LOVE you to come a bit closer. Having the option to switch to attack the other angle can put you a crucial quarter second ahead. Of course the guard player that can similarly switch sides will be able to lay more effective traps all around. I am often surprised to find my “off side” does even better than my “preferred” one.

Linking this to the visualization strategy above, you may get even better results if you visualize both sides doing the movements.

Be positive. The power of positive energy is practically a mantra in and of itself. You shape much of your own perception. If you can keep a happy head you’ll be much more eager to absorb new knowledge. Approaching things with skepticism will kill your moves before you even get started. Even if you don’t understand something, move as if it’s going to work every time. Don’t try to figure out all the ways it can and will go wrong. You’ll practice those counters when it’s time to. Assume that the move will work and deal with the alternatives after you’ve given it a fair shake.

Mix it up. You want to be flexible in your approaches. There are people that are so very good at a few things that you “no can stop” them even when you know they’re coming from twenty yards out. Roger Gracie’s cross choke from mount is the dream. The thousands of hours of dedication to the move can make you amazing at it but also risks that you become so grooved in to the associated movements that it’s hard to break out of them when you want or might need to. Your phenomenal knee-cross passing may not serve you well against someone whose A-game is to come underneath. If your movements are one-sided and automatic you may be in a bad spot before it registers to change course. Change “I don’t play that game” to “it’s not my favorite game” by putting earnest effort into becoming as well-rounded as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask the instructor whenever possible. That’s what they’re there for. It makes them better teachers to figure out how to explain things in new ways. If you don’t understand after you’ve given it an earnest try for at least three reps, raise your hand. The longer you try to drill something wrong, the more deeply grooved it gets in your neural pathways, and the more likely you are to do it wrong under pressure. Try your best to get it right out of the gate.

Finally, drill as if you’re training. This combines the positive thinking aspect with the visualization piece. Put on your best acting cap and pretend you’re actually doing the move live when you drill. You may not do it at full speed, but your attention will be sharp and focused, grips tighter, and you’ll be one step closer to performing in the moment. Since it’s a drill, it gets to work every time, and you may believe in it just a little bit more. That confidence will carry over into training. Sometimes just the tiniest bit of an edge in attitude or confidence makes all the difference between performing or failing a move when going live.