How Much Should I Practice?

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This is a great question that I receive every so often. So, here’s an example of how you can begin spinning a rifle (or any other type of practice) and progress to a level of proficiency with which you are comfortable.

You are not going to be a world champion in six months after picking up a rifle for the first time. Patience, time, effort, hard work, dedication, etc., etc. are what it takes to progress in any activity.

I must say this here: You should not put undue pressure on yourself (or your team). Do not compare yourself (your team) to others. I know that when you go to a competition, you are ranked and rated against others, but don’t let that be your only gauge. Your competition is YOU. You (your team) needs to improve with each practice- even slightly. Constant improvement should be your goal. Trophies, ribbons, and other awards should be last on the list of achievements. They are fine, but if they are the ultimate goal, you are in for a big letdown. Achievement, progress, and improvement should be at the top of the list.

Don’t expect significant improvement in a week. At the beginning improvement will be very slow. It will increase.

Learning Phases

There is a cycle to training.

  • Beginning Education – Read everything you can about what you are to learn
  • Training – The initial learning the task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – Repetition of new task to include previous tasks
  • Repeat Education – Refer back to your original or updated training materials
  • Continuing Education – intermediate or advanced information
  • Training or Retraining – Continue the process or correct any action discovered in the previous Education phase
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Repeat


If you can only practice once a week for an hour, then you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. NOTE- there is nothing wrong with this if this is all you can do, just make you training and practice as effective as possible. However, you must realize that others with whom you will compete are probably going to practice more. All performers/teams should be cheering each other on, regardless.

The same goes for practicing 10 hours each week- you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. It’s similar for equipment. Your equipment can be a limitation. If you (or your unit) can only afford the lighter drill rifle for spinning, then that’s what you have and you should do your best to work with it. The effort you put forth is also going to come into play in how proficient you become. Are you willing to get up at 0400 to make it to practice at the field house or gym because 0500 is the only time the drill team can get at school? Are you willing to practice on your own?

To summarize:

The factors that affect your proficiency:

  • Time (how much time you can put into training and practice)
  • Equipment (the type of equipment you have at present)
  • Effort (how much hard work you are willing to put forth)

Rifle Spinning and More

This will be specific to learning how to spin a rifle, but can apply to anything.

First, don’t neglect what you have to do each day. Next, if you can put in only 15 minutes of practice each day, fine. Thirty minutes is good to start with. Sixty minutes is very good later on. Last, when you first begin, you don’t want to try to spin for an hour your first day and then end up with an injury or muscle strain. Yes, you are using muscles in a new way and they may ache, but you must build up your stamina and some people take longer than others.

Master the basics, add, master, add, master, etc. (refer to the Phases above). That means if you are going to begin rifle exhibition drill, master the manual of arms for your service and I mean MASTER those moves- know them inside and out and be able to execute them with minimal mistakes. Then, and only then, begin to explore individual exhibition moves. Work from simple to complex. You may find the simple moves too simple and want to skip over some- don’t. Learning everything you possibly can is how you are going to get more familiar with the rifle.

Familiarity with the rifle is key to communicating the quality of effortlessness when performing and that is what you want. It also gives you the ability to ad-lib (create on the fly or, what some call, monkey drill). The more familiar you are with that rifle, the better off you will be if you make a mistake during an exhibition drill performance.

Below are some beginning (and a couple advanced) videos of exhibition drill moves both for the rifle and marching.

For ANY Practice – Repetition

Whether you are working on ceremonial drill, regulation drill, or exhibition drill, you need to master a new task to become proficient and then move on to learning a new task. That takes repetition.

  • Vertical Repetition – repetition at one practice session
  • Horizontal Repetition – repetition over several practice sessions (not the same day)

Just one hour or even one day will NOT make you an expert or necessarily proficient to perform later that day (are you reading this Just-in-Time trainers?), it will take days or even a few weeks of repetition to master the task and create the necessary muscle memory.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory: The physiological adaptation of the body to repetition of a specific physical activity resulting in increased neuromuscular control when performing that activity again.

Standing at Attention takes a certain amount of muscle memory. Really. For example, if you stand with bent, hiked elbows, looking like you are ready to attack someone ( I did when I first entered AFJROTC in 1979), you have that muscle memory, but it needs to be changed to where your arms are relaxed. The same goes for any movement.

Mnemonic: What the Marine Corps calls a “Ditty” is a technique for memorization and, in our case – drill and ceremonies, it’s also used to maintain tempo. This can be as simple as saying, “One-Two” while executing a Right Face or something more complex.

The Seven Principles of Learning

This is really good to have in the back of your mind as you train others/yourself. Courtesy of Principles of Learning.

Principle #1 – Potential. Humans are endowed with an inherent potential for increase in capacity, the establishment of habit, and the definition of being.

Principle #2 – Target. Human potential may be channeled intentionally toward a specific, predetermined target of learning, or will otherwise follow incidentally from the conditions to which a person is subjected.

Principle #3 – Change. Learning is a specific type of change, which is governed by principles of (a) repetition, (b) time, (c) step size, (d) sequence, (e) contrast, (f) significance, and (g) feedback.

Principle #4 – Practice. Principles of change are activated and aligned with learning targets through models of practice, exercise, or experience.

Principle #5 – Context. Learning is facilitated by a context of practice that is the same as, or accurately represents, the context of performance.

Principle #6 – Engagement. Learners will often engage in certain activities as a matter of habit, though they are also influenced by their current capacity to engage, as well as factors of motivation and inhibition related to the activity as a whole, part of the activity, its circumstances, or its expected results.

Principle #7 – Agency. Learners are not passive recipients of learning, but active agents with the ability to choose how they will apply their attention and effort, and to choose what learning activities they will engage in. Others may exercise their agency to promote or inhibit the agency of the learner, and may play a role in facilitating or impeding successful learning.

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