If you are anything like me, you are constantly looking for ways to make your training time more productive. As an older athlete, I can no longer train every day as life and my limitations get in the way. That said, training smarter is something younger people should also try adopting to get the most out of their lessons.

The follow four ‘hacks’ are things you can do today to make your time on the mats a little more productive. In addition to helping develop your Jiu Jitsu, an additional advantage of following these tips is you will likely learn more about your community and earn the respect of you instructors.

1. Switch up your training partners

This one is tricky. Depending on the school you go to you may not feel comfortable changing partners too often because of your size, weight, maturity (or lack of maturity in your potential partners), and a variety of other reasons. One thing I have seen in the past is a bad experience with a training partner can make some people hesitant to train with them again, even if the experience was an accident. I once had a particularly clumsy two-hundred-and-eighty-pound partner land on me and dislocate some of my ribs. I avoided him after that. These reasons can be valid, but most of the time they are just personal fear or not understanding the benefit of practicing techniques with an unfamiliar body. You will be surprised at how much you learn about your favorite techniques when you switch up your partner.

2. Ask questions

Just like in school, this is important. I must qualify this with adding there is such a thing as a stupid question, especially if it was just answered prior to you asking. Pay attention and use questions to clarify points. For example, if you are learning about a butterfly sweep and you are not certain about the proper hip position or you are confused about a grip, ask away. If you start thinking about questions related to what the five variations you saw on YouTube are, keep it to yourself and be respectful to your classmates. You can always pay for a private lesson for those questions.

Questions help us clarify complex techniques and make learning more efficient once things are clear.

3. Practice the technique of the day when rolling

It always amazes me when I am in class and we spend sometimes half an hour learning and practicing a new technique and no one tries to use it when rolling. This is a formula for developing a very limited game. I understand that not every technique is going to fit into everyone’s game, but there are other advantages to trying to use a technique during rolling. One of them is that you find out if it is definitely not something you want to add to your game. You also learn quickly how it feels when someone is trying that same technique on you. Another added benefit is your instructors will appreciate you trying to use what they just taught. Try the technique when rolling, you might be surprised what works.

4. Set goals

Everyone learns in different ways. Some people can see something done and have no problem understanding it. Others need to learn through trial and error. Some people learn well when they get a lot of verbal instruction and criticism. The one thing I see in common for people who excel at learning is they have goals. These can be daily, weekly, monthly, or longer term goals. Personally, I set monthly goals and then supplement them with weekly goals for training. For example, last moth I set the goal of being more aggressive with my takedowns and starting from the knees. Since I focused on my bottom game for the previous few months I needed to change things up. In addition to this goal I set a goal a few weeks ago to work on getting to the back from side control. This meant that I did’t go for knee on belly or mount. I only tried things that would result in my transitioning to the back. Did it work out most of the time? Hell no. I got swept more times than not the first week. The second week I started to see the gaps in my technique. The third week I could get the back half of the time. Who knows, maybe next month I will focus on taking the back and then building techniques weekly off of that.

Goals help you keep track of your progress and give you things to work towards. Another benefit of goals is you quickly learn what is possible. You learn what is too much to aim for and understand how much you can accomplish in a specific amount of time.

These four hacks will help you learn faster and help you at least feel like you are progressing, even when you hit a dreaded plateau.