BJJ solo drills: will they make you better at jiu-jitsu?
According to John Danaher, the world’s greatest BJJ coach, the answer is a resounding yes.
According to John, not only are BJJ solo drills beneficial — but there is a direct need to do them if you want to make progress.
If you’re injured, doing solo drills will help prevent skill degradation. And if you do the solo drills explained in this article, you will come back better than you were before.
In this in-depth article, I’ll discuss…
Let’s dive in.
NOTE: This article is based on John Danaher’s free BJJFanatics instructional: Self Mastery: Solo BJJ Training Drills By John Danaher. I encourage you to watch it in full to see John perform each movement.
What Are BJJ Solo Drills?
BJJ solo drills are the athletic movements that you perform in jiu-jitsu without a training partner.
Think of it this way: every position and technique in jiu-jitsu has underlying body movements.
You can’t perform techniques or submissions if you can’t do the underlying body movements.
So, BJJ solo drills enable you to practice the underlying body movements that BJJ is made of.
Bridging, shrimping, and forward & backward rolling are all examples of BJJ solo drills.
These body movements are essential to hitting techniques and submissions on a live training partner.
If you perform these movements as a warmup before class, you are doing some form of solo drilling.
However, in Self Mastery: Solo BJJ Training Drills John Danaher makes the case for a more useful form of solo drilling, which I’ll describe below.
Benefits Of Solo Drilling
Why should you do BJJ solo drilling?
According to John Danaher (Gordon Ryan‘s coach), BJJ solo drills are a way for you to enhance your skills.
The entire purpose of jiu-jitsu is to control your opponent. And you cannot control your opponent until you first learn to control your own body.
For beginners, solo drills are a fantastic way to develop “ground athleticism.” Brazilian jiu-jitsu is primarily done on the ground. Your athleticism from other sports doesn’t carry over. So, solo drilling is a way for you to develop your ground athleticism.
If you are traveling or injured, solo drills enable you to maintain your skills.
The more you practice your solo drills, the better your movement skills. Your body will become more dexterous, and you’ll find greater ease of movement. This will make it easier for you to learn and perform movements when you are rolling.
Ultimately, by solo drilling productively, you’ll make faster progress in the sport.
18 BJJ Solo Drill Movements
In Self Mastery: Solo BJJ Training Drills By John Danaher (a free instructional on BJJ Fanatics), John Danaher describes 18 movements that are essential to jiu-jitsu.
Bridging is a motion where you lie on your back, bring your feet to the mat, and push off to your shoulder. The purpose of bridging is to get off your back onto your hands and knees.
Example: If you are in bottom-side control, bridging into your opponent will create space, allowing you to bring your bottom knee in and re-guard.
Key Tip: When you are bridging, bridge out to the side, not straight up. The idea here is that you want to displace your opponent’s weight so that they slide off you.
Shrimping is a body movement where you take your hips off the mat and backward, allowing you to move on your shoulder. It’s one of the most important movements in jiu-jitsu and is the basis of any bottom game.
Example: If you are in bottom-side control, after you bridge, you create space in order to shrimp — that’s what creates enough space and distance for you to bring your legs into play and re-guard.
Key Tip: Use shrimping to help bring your elbows and knees together, which gives you protective “frames” and makes you harder to submit.
3. Reverse Shrimping
Reverse shrimping is shrimping where you move forward instead of backward. Reverse shrimping is a pulling movement where you plant your toes on the mat, bringing your shoulder and head towards your knees.
Example: If you are getting your guard passed, reverse shrimping enables you to change the angle between you and your opponent,
Key Tip: Try reverse shrimping if you are pinned and can’t shrimp backward. You can reverse shrimp to spin and bring your legs in to re-guard.
Scooting — or “butt scooting” is a movement where you move forward or backward on the mat while you’re seated on your butt. While seated, you use your hand and your feet to either pull you forward or push you backward.
Example: If you’re a guard player, you might start from the butt-scooting position and try and access your opponent’s legs by butt-scooting towards them. It will bring you close to their legs than the standing position.
Key Tip: Butt-scooting helps you move faster from bottom than shrimping because there is less contact with the ground. Butt, if you need to, you can fall onto your back into open guard.
5. Supine Heisting
After a shrimp, where you bring your elbow to your hip, you “scissor” your top leg over your bottom leg, and push off your feet to get into the turtle position, facing your opponent.
Example: From bottom side control, you bridge and shrimp to create distance. You then perform the supine heisting movement to get into turtle, where you can then begin to wrestle your opponent with a takedown.
Key Tip: Keep your top shoulder over your bottom shoulder. This will make it easier for you to get up on your knees — which is the entire purpose of this movement.
6. Hip Heisting
AKA the “technical standup” — hip heisting is where you start from the scooting position, put your weight on one leg, lift your unweight leg back to your knee or fit, and stand up.
Example: From an open guard situation where you are on the bottom, you can use hip heisting to stand up and get your head above your opponent’s head, giving you the height advantage.
Key Tip: When you heist, make sure your chest is facing the floor, not the ceiling. That will make it easier for the top player to push you onto your back.
7. Leg Pummeling
While on your back, make circles at three hinges: your feet, knees, and hips.
Example: If your opponent is trying to pass your guard, you use leg pummeling to prevent them from getting underneath your legs to complete the pass. Your foot goes from a vulnerable position over his back, to underneath their arm — like getting an underhook with your foot.
Key Tip: If you’re having trouble performing leg pummeling on both legs, try practicing with one leg first. During live rolling, you’re more likely to pummel with a single leg. Combine shrimping and pummeling to make it most realistic.
8. Leg Scissor
Leg scissoring is a movement where you swing your top leg over your bottom leg (in a scissor-like motion) and switch your body to face the opposite side.
Example: If one of your legs gets passed during guard passing (like during Torreando pass), use leg scissoring to use your other leg to defend.
Key Tip: Whenever your opponent starts to pass your guard and changes your direction, use a post hand and then leg scissoring to re-establish your frames.
9. High-Leg Spin
Throw your leg directly over your head, put one foot on the mat, and spin 180 degrees to face back toward your opponent.
Example: Use the high-leg spin to re-guard if you’re on the bottom of the north-south position.
Key Tip: When you’re doing this against a live opponent, you use their body weight to assist in your turning, making it easier to do with a training partner than solo.
10. A Sit-out
A sit-out is performed when you are on all fours (like turtle), you put your hands on the mat, sit up on one leg, and slide your bottom leg along the mat where you come down onto one hip.
Example: Perform a sit-out when your opponent has a front body lock, and you are in turtle. This will create an angle where they will slide off your back, allowing you to turn into them and get into the top turtle position.
Key Tip: When you do this move, don’t oversit. You’ll end up too far out and lose stability. Instead, ensure your chest remains pointed down to the floor.
Rolling refers to three types of rolls (shoulder rolls, Granby rolls, and forward rolls) where you get into a ball-like shape, enabling you to roll around on the mat.
Example: If you’re in the turtle position, you can perform a shoulder roll in order to get into a guard position, facing your opponent.
Key Tip: You only need to open your legs as much as it allows you to put your opponent back into your guard. Keep your legs relatively close together so that it’s harder for your opponent to isolate a leg and go for a leglock.
12. Inside Leg Standup
The inside leg standup is done when you go from being on your hands and elbow onto your inside leg. Then, you walk forward, monitoring your opponent’s hands, and turn back to face them.
Example: If you are in Turtle and you want to get back into a neutral position, you can use the inside leg standup instead of trying to roll and re-guard.
Key Tip: When you get up on both legs, keep your weight forward so that your opponent has a tougher time taking your back.
To perform a sit-back, you start on all fours (Turtle). Then, you put up a post leg. Your bottom leg turns and goes inside your post leg. Your head moves back, and you slide into a guard position, with your legs in front of you and your opponent.
Example: If your opponent has a seat-belt grip from top turtle, you can perform a sit-back, catch one of their legs, and re-guard.
Key Tip: Move your head along the mat as you perform the sit-back. This will help you create enough space to get back into a guard position, instead of relying on your neck strength to create space.
14. Guard Standing Up
To perform the guard standing-up movement, start on all fours and put your hands on the mat. Bring one foot up, and swing the other leg outwards. Then, get onto both feet and stand up into a vertical posture.
Example: If you are inside of an opponent’s closed guard, this movement enables you to stand up within their closed guard so that you can open it and pass.
Key Tip: When you are performing this movement, ensure that your feet are wide apart. This gives you a larger base, making you harder to off-balance.
15. Footwork Drills
In this context, footwork drills refer to your footwork when passing an open guard.
Example: You are using a Torreando pass, where you are square to your opponent, and you step to the side to create an angle and get around their open guard.
Key Tip: Use your footwork to create angles, giving you a favorable angle to get past your opponent’s leg and into a more dominant top position.
16. Stance And Motion
Stance and motion refers to a standing position solo drill, where you iterate between a defensive square posture and a staggered offensive posture.
Example: If you are against a standing opponent, you use these different stances to gain slight advantages during the stand-up portion of the match.
Key Tip: When you are reaching for your opponent from a staggered offensive posture, try using your rear hand. If you use your lead hand, you are leaving your forward leg open to attack.
17. Sprawl And Circle
Sprawl and circling refers to a defensive posture where you move your legs down and away from your opponent. When your opponent shoots, you get down onto your knees to block your opponent from accessing your legs.
Example: If your opponent is going for a single-leg or double-leg takedown, you execute the sprawl to defend them from taking you down, and circle to get back to your feet.
Key Tip: In BJJ, you don’t have to sprawl dramatically and overextend yourself. Just get your knees to the mat, and then you can decide if you need to get into a full sprawl.
18. Weight Bearing Posture
Weight-bearing posture refers to your ability to bear your opponent’s weight. Your hips should be forward, with your body and head postured up.
Example: If you are getting taken down via a single or double-leg takedown, you use this posture to stop the takedown and get back onto your feet.
Key Tip: This posture helps you avoid extension with your head down, a position from which your opponent can much more easily score points or submit you.
John Danaher’s BJJ Solo Drill Workout Plan
Here is a simple BJJ solo drill workout plan created by John Danaher:
- Set a timer for three 5-minute rounds. In between each round, set a 1-minute break.
- For each 5-minute round, picture a resisting opponent. Perform the 18 solo drill movements as if you were rolling with an invisible training partner. This is called shadow grappling.
- For your 1-minute break, perform a movement that will help you develop your core strength: bear crawling, crucifix rolls, or a set of toes to bar if you have a pull-up bar.
Using visualization and shadow grappling is key to making your solo drilling productive. Unlike using these movements to warm up, visualizing a resisting opponent helps you engage your mind.
And if you want to engage more of your body for solo drilling, invest in a BJJ dummy like the Grappling Smarty.
By following this routine, John has seen grapplers come back even better than they were before after a long layoff. At the very least, you’ll prevent skill degradation if you’re off the mats.
If you do this simple 18-minute workout each day, you’ll make faster progress — and master the movements that BJJ is made of.
BJJ Solo Drills Equipment
To do these solo drills at home or in your apartment, I recommend investing in 3 pieces of BJJ equipment.
1. Jiu-Jitsu Mats
BJJ mats are critical for anyone who wants to improve their game at home.
You’ll need a pair of mats to do these drills comfortably. 2 of the BalanceFrom mats will do the trick (read my in-depth review of them here). They’re thick enough so that they are comfortable to roll around on.
2. Pull-Up Bar
Pull-up bars are a must for any BJJ player’s home gym. They’ll help you develop your grip and pulling strength.
With a pull-up bar, you can do the “toes to bar” exercise to develop your forearm and core strength. Invest in a pull-up bar that you can attach to your doorframe.
3. Grappling SMARTY
You can do these BJJ solo drills without a BJJ dummy as John Danaher describes in the instructional. However, I like to do my solo drill workouts with my Grappling SMARTY.
That way, instead of having to imagine a resisting opponent, my SMARTY functions like a resisting opponent. Plus, with a SMARTY, you can practice submissions during your solo drill workout.
If you want to make faster progress in BJJ, do your solo drills.
You’ll become more efficient at the body movements that make up jiu-jitsu. Learning the art will become easier for you.
“A day without training is a wasted day.”
What’s your solo drilling routine? How have solo drills helped you improve your game?
Leave a comment in the section below. Or, if you have a question about BJJ solo drills, drop your comment and I’ll get back to you there.
Happy rolling. 🤙
Tsavo is the founder of BJJ Equipment and BJJ blue belt who started training in 2019. He’s a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado who wanted to share his favorite pickups with other jiujiteiros. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for jiu-jitsu practitioners to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.