High School Wrestling: My 10 Favorite Moves
I never used throws in my wrestling career. Throws just weren’t my thing. High amplitude throws look cool and can score a wrestler 5 points quickly and maybe even result in a pin. But, throws are also high risk moves. Throws are high-risk, high-reward moves. Investing in commodities is also a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. I’d rather put my money into a savings account or a CD with an assured rate of return on my investment.
Similarly, in the sport of wrestling I’d rather put my practice time to use on drilling double legs, single legs, and stand-ups. In the sport of football, you see a lot of hand-offs and short passes. You don’t often see trick plays or really long passes (i.e. the bomb). Often a team will kick a field goal instead of trying for the touchdown because the field goal is more of a sure thing. I think you see what I’m getting at. It’s good to learn throws and counters to throws. However, usually the fundamentals win wrestling matches. This is probably a message you have heard before. Ninety percent of the time, you will probably use the same moves. You may use a different version of the move or set it up differently, but use the same basic move nonetheless.
I had a teammate in junior high who liked to headlock everyone he wrestled. That worked in junior high, but it stopped working in high school. If you’re good at throws then go for it. But, most NCAA champions and freestyle Olympic champions are not throwers. Watch a video of John Smith or Tom Brands and see how often they do a throw. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either wrestler do a throw in competition.
Most of the following moves can easily be found online or in books. Several are featured in online videos. I’m sure you know all of these moves. They are basic moves. But, fundamental moves win matches which is why everyone uses them. The key is to find the proper techniques for applying these moves. Remember the importance of setting your moves up and not just wildly shooting takedowns. Be aware of your position at all times. Don’t try to emulate other wrestlers or do moves just because your coach thinks they are good. Find out what works for you. Take the time to learn your craft (i.e. wrestling). Don’t be lured in by fancy moves or instant gratification. Practice and drill fundamental moves religiously. Don’t spend time in practice or in competition performing moves that are only likely to work two percent of the time. Now then, here are my ten favorite moves.
1. Double leg takedown
The double leg is one of the first moves I learned. The double leg is one of the first moves most wrestlers learn. The sport of judo has a similar technique known as morote- gari (two-handed reap or double leg grab). What could be more basic than tackling someone by grabbing both of his legs? Kids probably do it all of the time. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult than that. Proper technique is required. You don’t want to get overextended. You opponent could snap you down and spin around or put you in a front headlock. Therefore, make sure that you take a deep penetration step while keeping your hips under you. Some wrestlers like to drive through their opponents and some like to lift their opponent off the ground to finish the double leg. In junior high we were always told, “On a double leg you keep your head on the outside. On a single leg you keep your head on the inside.” Sometimes you can lock your hands while doing a double leg and then use your head as a pry to take your opponent down. I had a high school teammate who used the double leg takedown 99% of the time when he was on his feet. He placed third in the state tournament during his senior year. Sometimes you can get away with doing the same move repeatedly when you’re really good at it. You can often switch off to a double leg after performing a high crotch. The double leg is a fairly low-risk move. If you don’t finish it, you often simply end up back on your feet again. Former UFC champion Matt Hughes executed double legs in matches often and slammed his opponents to the canvas. Mixed martial artists often learn how to perform a double leg. Of course, you can’t slam your opponent in folkstyle wrestling. But, the double leg takedown is a great move. The double leg is a high percentage move (i.e. it often works).
2. Single leg takedown
The single leg is another basic takedown. I used primarily single leg takedowns in high school. There are numerous ways to set up and finish a single leg. The single leg is also a high percentage move. Push and pull your opponent causing him to bring the leg you want to attack forward. Make him “heavy” on the foot you want to attack. Lower your level and shoot in with your hips under you as a strong foundation. Keep your head inside and get an angle off to his side. Or, don’t tie up and simply make sure you are close enough to perform your shot without getting overextended. I think it’s fairly easy to shoot a single leg. I think the real secret is being able to finish it. You may have to pivot around and grab his far ankle. You may have to get his ankle on your knee to help you lift his leg. You may have to tripod up and then do a “boot scoot.” Spend a lot of time working on your ties, set-ups, and finishes for single legs and other takedowns.
3. High crotch takedown
The high crotch is a kind of single leg. It’s also similar to a duck under. You can set up a high crotch from an underhook, a two-on-one tie, or many other ways. I like to hit a high crotch and then finish it by switching off to a double leg.
If someone shoots for a takedown, you can sprawl, whizzer, and crossface him. I consider a whizzer to be a basic and effective move for countering leg attacks. The whizzer involves a deep overhook on your opponent’s near arm when he is in deep on a takedown attempt. The pressure of a whizzer on your opponent’s arm is often enough to fend off his attack. Sometimes in a whizzer situation, you can wrap your free hand around his neck and drive him to the mat in a half nelson. Other times you end up on your feet with the whizzer still secure and you can try to hip toss your opponent. The whizzer is an important move and should be drilled often.
This is the most standard move for escaping from the bottom position. Keep your elbows in, explosively stand up, break your opponent’s grip, and turn to face him. Hand and wrist control is important. You’ll have to be good at hand fighting. After you break his grip, you can try to take his captured hand and place it in your “back pocket” before you turn quickly to face him. Stand-ups are great for getting that 1-point escape. Make sure that you aggressively seek a takedown immediately after getting the escape.
I love the switch. The switch is the most fundamental reversal technique in wrestling. It involves a hip heist type movement. Sometimes it helps to push back into your opponent before you pivot and scoot your hips out to hit the switch. I really enjoyed doing the “standing switch” in high school. I would stand up from the bottom position. When he pulled me back to the mat, I would immediately hit a switch. You should know how to do a standing switch.
This is another fundamental move from the bottom position. After you achieve the sit-out position, you can often execute a hip heist and escape. In addition, if your opponent sticks his head over your shoulder, you can grab it, rotate hard in the opposite direction, and put him on his back. The sit-out is fundamental and you should know how to perform it.
8. Cross-body leg ride
The cross-body ride is performed from the top position and involves putting one or both of your legs inside of your opponent’s legs. We used to call it the “cowboy ride” if a wrestler put both of his legs in. I liked using a cross-body ride when I was having trouble keeping my opponent down in the bottom position. I used to do turks and guillotines from the cross-body position. Sometimes I merely used the ride to break opponents down. I was once ridden for an entire period by an opponent who put both legs in and used a force half nelson. That was not fun. The cross-body can be higher-risk. You have to keep your back arched and not let yourself get too far forward on your opponent’s back. Nonetheless, I think it’s an effective move. Olympic champion Ben Peterson was good at leg riding.
9. Arm bar (a.k.a. the chicken wing)
The arm bar was my favorite pinning move. I used single and double arm bars often. I liked to secure a single arm bar and then swing my leg over my opponent’s head and use it as a pry. This usually got my opponent to turn over to his back. Dan Gable was exceptional at arm bars.
10. Front quarter nelson
The front quarter nelson is a great move after you have sprawled and stopped an opponent’s shot. You place one hand on the back of his head while threading your other hand behind his near arm. You then place the hand you’ve threaded behind his near arm on top of the hand on the back of his head. You apply pressure, elevate his near arm, and force his head to the mat. You can often turn him onto his back in this manner. I used to apply a front quarter nelson, get my opponent moving one direction, and then arm drag or shuck him as I spun around behind for the takedown.
Other Favorite Moves
- Granby roll
- Low single
- Ankle pick
- Inside trip (in judo it’s called ouchi-gari)
- Arm drag
- Half nelson
Remember, fundamentals win wrestling matches. Practice hard and drill your moves religiously. I hope some of my favorite moves are favorites of yours too.