Ah, drilling. Some people love it, most people hate it. Generally, those who love it see its
purpose and those who hate it don’t get its purpose and so “get bored.” Like any other element of
training there is a degree of preference in what percentage of your training involves drilling primarily,
but as a general rule you’re going to be doing a lot of it. The value of drilling – in both the physical and
technical dimension – is often under-appreciated.
The most rudimentary motive for drilling is usually the refinement of a specific technique. It’s
bone-chillingly obvious that by focusing on a small range of techniques – or even one technique or
combination – you will improve in your ability to hit that technique, perform it under pressure, hit it
with maximum speed or power, etc… For this reason drilling is invaluable to any athlete, never-mind
Many of the top athletes I’ve had the good fortune to interview have found drilling to be more
than an exercise to increase efficiency, but a laboratory for innovation. Ben Askren – one of the
NCAA’s most well-known champions – once explained some of the differences between how he
drilled and how most of his peers drilled. For Ben, each series of reps gave him an opportunity
to imagine and “feel” the opportunity for new moves, sequences, and combinations. He’d be able
to see – in his minds eye – the different variations that might spur from the technique (even
when he didn’t actually hit them – he just imagined them). Through this process he’d
leave each drilling session with a handful of good ideas.
In addition, Ben would focus on more than just burning his current technique into muscle
memory, he’d focus on details so small that most people didn’t pay attention to them. He’d focus on the
speed, angle, power, and positioning of each element of the move. Then, each 20 reps or so he’d tweak
these nuances to make his movement perfect. As you can imagine, these strategies made drilling more
engaging and fun for Ben, in addition to making him pretty good at that whole wrestling thing. Andre
Galvao touted identical benefits in his Jiu Jitsu game during our interview.
Again when we talk about obvious benefits of drilling, cardiovascular capacity is one that jumps
right out at us. We think of a room full of wrestlers shooting up and down a mat endlessly, or Thai
kickboxers pounding away on a heavy bag with the same kick over and over and over. Badabing –
cardio and endurance come to mind. Certainly this is another one of the true best physical benefits to
drilling, but it doesn’t cover the entire scope.
The great thing about drilling is that it allows you to control the muscles you use and the
intensity to which you use them. If you want to keep things light so as to not tire yourself out for an
upcoming tournament, you can drill your go-to moves lightly and barely break a sweat in half and hour.
On the other hand you can completely exhaust yourself by drilling striking combinations and
takedowns as hard as possible for ten minutes strait.
Similarly, if you want to get an explosive workout with your lower body, you can throw
powerful kicking combinations on a heavy bag or repetitively work on a double leg and lift. If you
want to feel the burn on your shoulders and arms you can focus on pummeling, hitting hand mitts with
punching combinations, or specific clinching and grip-fighting moves.
Lastly, most drilling is a lot easier on the body than sparring. John Smith – one of America’s
best wrestlers in history (multi-time Olympic champion) – used drilling extensively to keep his body
safe (but still strong and fast) over his many, many years of competition. Any combat sport involves a
lot of inherrent risk, and by focusing on drilling a lot of the physical risk can be offset while the body
and library of techniques can still improve greatly.
If you are interested in even more of my thoughts of drilling then look no further, just click this
link and you’ll find an article on 7 Ways to Improve Your Current Drills!
Its my belief that people dislike drilling (or get bored of drilling) because they don’t see enough
benefit from the activity of drilling. Once the depth of the activity is opened up, people end up doing
more (and more effective) drilling. Hopefully with some additional expert perspective on the deeper
benefits of drilling, you’ll not only have more fun – but get a lot more out of it as well.