Wrestling in high school: my 10 favorite moves

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I have 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 and high reward business. I prefer to put my money in a savings account or a CD with a guaranteed rate of return on my investment.

Likewise, in the sport of wrestling, I prefer to use my practice time to drill double legs, single legs, and stand-ups. In the sport of soccer you see a lot of transfers and short passes. You don’t often see very long tips or passes (i.e. the bomb). Often times, a team will throw a basket instead of trying for the touchdown because the basket is safer. I think you see where I’m going with this. It is good to learn the throws and counters to the throws. However, the fundamentals usually win wrestling matches. It’s probably a message you’ve heard before. Ninety percent of the time, you will probably use the same movements. You can use a different version of the move or set it up differently, but still use the same basic move.

I had a college teammate who liked to take the lead in everyone he struggled with. It worked in middle school, but it stopped working in high school. If you’re good at throws, go for it. But, most NCAA Champions and Olympic Freestyle Champions aren’t pitchers. Watch a video of John Smith or Tom Brands and see how often they throw. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of the wrestlers 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. These are basic movements. But, fundamental moves win matches, which is why everyone uses them. The key is to find the proper techniques to apply these movements. Remember the importance of setting up your moves and not just pulling wildly from 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’re good. Find out what works for you. Take the time to learn your trade (ie wrestling). Don’t get caught up in fancy moves or instant gratification. Practice and drill the fundamental movements religiously. Don’t spend time in practice or competition performing movements that are likely to work only two percent of the time. Now here are my ten favorite moves.

1. Withdrawal on two legs

The double leg is one of the first movements I learned. The double leg is one of the first movements most wrestlers learn. Judo has a similar technique known as morotegari (two-handed harvest or two-legged grip). What could be more basic than attacking someone by grabbing both legs? Kids probably do it all the time. Of course, it’s a little more difficult than that. Good technique is required. You don’t want to be overloaded. Your opponent might knock you over and spin or get you into a front-end. Therefore, be sure to take a deep penetrating step while keeping your hips under you. Some wrestlers like to go through their opponents and some like to lift their opponent off the ground to complete the double leg. In junior high we were always told, “On a double leg, you keep your head out. On one leg, you keep your head inside ”. Sometimes you can lock your hands while doing a double leg and then use your head as a lever to knock your opponent down. I had a high school teammate who used double leg takedown 99% of the time when he was standing. He placed third in the state tournament in his senior year. Sometimes you can get away with doing the same movement over and over when you are really good at it. You can often switch to a double leg after performing a high crotch. The double leg is a fairly low risk movement. If you don’t complete it, you often just find yourself back on your feet again. Former UFC champion Matt Hughes has often performed double legs in games and slammed his opponents to the canvas. Mixed martial artists often learn to perform a double leg. Of course, you can’t smack your opponent in folk wrestling. But, the removal of the double leg is a great move. Double leg is a high percentage move (i.e. it often works).

2. Withdrawal on one leg

The single leg is another basic setback. I mainly used dismounts on one leg in high school. There are many ways to configure and complete a single step. The single leg is also a high percentage movement. Push and pull your opponent by advancing the leg you want to attack. Do it “heavy” on the foot you want to attack. Lower your level and pull with your hips under you as a solid base. Keep your head inside and take an angle to its side. Or, don’t buckle up and just make sure you’re close enough to complete your shot without stretching excessively. I think it’s pretty easy to pull just one leg. I think the real secret is being able to finish it. You may need to pivot and grab his furthest ankle. You may need to put her ankle on your knee to help lift her leg. You may need to mount a tripod and then do a “boot scoot”. Spend a lot of time working on your ties, tweaks and finishes for simple legs and other takedowns.

3. Removal of the high crotch

The high crotch is a kind of single leg. It is also similar to a duck under. You can install a high crotch from a bottom hook, a two-to-one tie, or many other ways. I like to hit a high crotch and finish it off by switching to a double leg.

4. Whizzer

If someone shoots for a pullout, you can spread them out, whistle them, and pass them. I consider a whistle to be a basic and effective movement to counter leg attacks. Whistling involves passing your opponent’s close arm deep when they are deep during an out attempt. The pressure of a whistle on your opponent’s arm is often enough to repel their attack. Sometimes in a whistling situation you can wrap your free hand around his neck and lead him across the mat in a half-nelson. Other times you find yourself standing with the whistle still secure and you can try to throw your opponent at the hip. The whistle is an important movement and should be drilled often.

5. Stand up

This is the most standard movement to escape from the low position. Keep your elbows, get up explosively, break your opponent’s hold and turn to face them. Hand and wrist control is important. You will have to be good to fight. After breaking his grip, you can try taking his captured hand and placing it in your “back pocket” before quickly turning to face him. Stand-ups are great for getting that 1 point breakout. Make sure to aggressively seek a withdrawal immediately after getting the breakout.

6. Switch

I love the switch. The switch is the most basic inversion technique in wrestling. This is a hip turning type movement. Sometimes it helps to push your opponent back before you pivot and put your hips out to flip the switch. I really enjoyed doing the “standing switch” in high school. I would get up from the lowest position. When he brought me back to the mat, I immediately hit a switch. You must know how to make a permanent switch.

7. Sit-out

This is another fundamental movement from the low position. Once you’ve reached the sit-out position, you can often perform a hip heist and escape. Also, if your opponent puts his head over your shoulder, you can grab him, turn hard in the opposite direction, and put him on his back. The sit-out is fundamental and you have to know how to do it.

8. Cross-legged walk

The cross body turn is performed from the top position and involves putting one or both legs inside your opponent’s legs. We used to call it the “cowboy ride” if a wrestler put on both legs. I liked to use a cross-body lap when I was having trouble keeping my opponent in a low position. I used to make turks and guillotines in a cross position. Sometimes I would just use running to break my opponents. I was once ridden for a whole period by an opponent who put both legs on and used half-nelson force. It wasn’t fun. Cross-body may present a higher risk. You need to keep your back arched and not let yourself go too far over your opponent’s back. Nonetheless, I think it is an effective decision. Olympic champion Ben Peterson was in good shape.

9. Arm bar (aka the chicken wing)

The arm bar was my favorite pinning move. I have often used single and double arm bars. I loved securing a single arm bar, then swinging my leg over my opponent’s head and using it as a lever. This usually caused my opponent to roll onto his back. Dan Gable was exceptional on arm bars.

10. Nelson forequarter

The nelson front quarterback is a great shot after you’ve spread out and stopped an opponent’s shot. You place one hand on the back of his head while running your other hand behind his closest arm. You then place the hand you put behind his close arm on top of the hand at the back of his head. You apply pressure, raise her close arm, and force her head onto the mat. You can often turn your back on it this way. I used to apply a quarter nelson forward, get my opponent to move in one direction, then either shoot him with the arm or shoot him while I spun back for the takedown.

Other favorite movements

  • Granby Roll
  • Cradles
  • Low simple
  • Ankle choice
  • Inner journey (in judo it’s called ouchi-gari)
  • Slide the arm
  • Demi Nelson

Remember, fundamentals win wrestling matches. Practice hard and drill your moves religiously. Hope some of my favorite moves are yours as well.

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