High School Wrestling Moves

Overview of basic moves in high school wrestling. Great resource for first-time wrestlers, coaches, or fans!

High-school wrestling features hundreds of potential moves and variations of moves but the most essential techniques fall into three categories: moves from the standing position (offensive and defensive), moves from the top and moves from the bottom.

Under the rules in which most high school wrestling teams compete - known as collegiate rules - these categories correspond to the three periods of engagement. Both wrestlers stand in the opening period and then begin the second and third periods in the referee's position. The wrestler who opts for "bottom" in the second period opens on his hands and knees with the opponent kneeling behind him, one hand on his elbow and one on his stomach (or both on his back). The grapplers switch position to begin the third period.

Some high school teams (and tournaments) operate under different styles, such as Greco-Roman or Olympic freestyle, in which the rules and scoring are slightly different and the types of moves vary.


When the referee blows the whistle to start the match, wrestlers typically circle each other looking for an opening to their opponent's legs or clinch arms and heads to focus on their opponent's upper body. Often, grapplers in the lower weight classes, using quickness and agility, will "shoot" in on the legs to try to bring down their opponent while the brawnier wrestlers in the upper weight classes will use their strength to throw their opponent to the mat.

Basic takedown moves include the ankle pick, the single-leg takedown and the double-leg takedown.

The ankle pick is a lightning snatch by a wrestler as he reaches out and grabs the back of the opponent's opposite ankle (right hand, left ankle) and lifts it to his waist. From there, he can use the captured leg as leverage to trip the other wrestler to the mat. In both the single- and double-leg takedowns, the wrestler will shoot under the opponent's hands and clasp one or both legs to his chest, and then lift and turn to force the other wrestler to the mat.

Takedown artists - wrestlers uncommonly good at forcing the opponent to the mat under their control - will sometimes use these moves to take down the other wrestler only to let him up again. For a skilled grappler, this method is an effective way to dominate a match, because the takedown is worth two points and an escape is worth one. Thus, a wrestler who can secure a takedown every 15 seconds - not unreasonable for a takedown artist - will be leading the match 16-8 at the end of the two-minute first period, more than halfway to the 15-point margin of victory that determines a technical fall.

The only real defense against a single- or double-leg takedown is to "pancake," where a wrestler throws his legs backwards and brings all of his weight onto the attacker's back. If the pancaker can flatten the aggressor to the mat, he might be able to block an arm and spin around behind, earning the takedown himself.

Some typical throws from the upright position include the fireman's carry, the headlock hip-toss and the duck-under.

The fireman's carry is similar to the double-leg takedown in that the wrestler shoots under his opponent's arms to get to the lower body. However, instead of clasping the leg, the grappler seizes the opponent's arm with one hand and thrusts the other hand between the legs, then throws the opponent over his shoulder to land back-down on the mat. This move must be executed from the knees or it illegally endangers the other wrestler.

In the headlock hip-toss, a staple move of the heavyweight, one wrestler grabs his opponent by the arm and head, rotates his hip into the stomach of his opponent and then pops the helpless wrestler over his hip onto the mat, landing on top of him. When heavyweights use this maneuver and thunder 220 pounds onto their opponents, the match often is quickly resolved.

The duck-under is a surprise attack. When one wrestler reaches out his arms to lock up, the other wrestler pushes his outstretched elbow into the air and ducks under it and around the body to the first wrestler's back. From there, he can lift the first wrestler into the air, stick out his leg and trip him over it to the mat.


Many wrestlers opt for the bottom position to open the second period if they win the coin toss to earn the choice. The reason is because the only way to earn points from the top position is to turn the opponent onto his back for a near-fall, which is notoriously difficult. One can earn points from the bottom position by escaping via a standup, or reversing the opponent via a switch or a roll.

The simplest move from the bottom is the standup, or escape. When the whistle blows to start the period, the wrestler on bottom grabs the hand on his stomach by the wrist, rotates slightly and gets to one foot, then completes the move by standing up and peeling the wrist away from his stomach. The move has to be executed quickly to prevent the wrestler on top from grabbing an ankle, which neutralizes the move.

The switch is designed not just to escape but also to reverse the opponent to the down position, which is worth two points. The switch is begun by whipping one leg under the other to transition to stomach-up and slightly out to the side of the opponent on top. Then the wrestler reaches with the near hand back to the opponent's leg and pulls himself around behind to gain control.

With the roll, the wrestler again seizes his opponent's wrist and rolls across his shoulders in the direction of that hand. When executed properly, the bottom wrestler will end up to the side and behind of the wrestler who was on top, and maintain control of the wrist.


Two of the most common and recognizable moves from the top position are the wrist-and-half-nelson and the cradle, both of which are used to earn near fall points or to pin the opponent.

The wrist-and-half is begun by driving the opponent to the mat so he is prone and will have difficulty executing any defensive move like the standup, switch or roll. The wrestler on top must get firm control of one of the down wrestler's wrists and then force his other hand up under the arm of the opponent and behind his neck. Using the half-nelson for leverage, the grappler can force the bottom wrestler to roll to his back and then turn the half-nelson into a reverse headlock while keeping the wrist immobile. One must be careful not to let the wrist-control hand slide up behind the neck to create a full-nelson, which is illegal and dangerous.

The cradle is a relatively simple move once the top wrestler has firm control and is one of the most difficult holds to escape without being pinned. The top wrestler hooks one elbow behind the opponent's knee and one behind his head, then locks his hands to fold effectively the opponent in half. The top wrestler finishes the move by sliding one knee high into the back to brace the opponent in the air and rocks him back onto his shoulders.

The only defense against either of these moves, once the bottom wrestler has been turned to his back, is to "bridge" by arching back on his head and balls of his feet. A good bridger can suspend his entire weight - and the weight of his opponent - on his neck.

Wrestling is one of the most popular sports for boys in high school. Increasingly, it is a popular sport for high school girls. Combining the need for strength, agility and endurance, it is an extremely difficult and rewarding physical exercise. It teaches the participant about teamwork, discipline and it tests mettle and character like few other pursuits of any kind.

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