Leg Locks Techniques Everything You Need to Know

leg locks techniques

Leg locks are among the most dangerous submissions in BJJ grappling. Moreover, they are reachable from almost everywhere and can effectively submit even the toughest grapplers.

So you’re in the wrong spot if somebody entraps you into a leg lock position. In this case, you have few options either rotate to the opposite side or tap because of pain. 

This jiu-jitsu blog post covers everything you need to know about leg locks! We will go over the various types of leg locks, how to properly execute them, and what to do to defend against them. Stay tuned!

What Does Leg Lock Mean and How Does It Work? 

jiu jitsu leg locks

A leg lock is a hold where a wrestler/grappler traps or immobilizes the opponent’s legs, holding or restraining the rival in that way. 

The leg locks work like this – the fighter traps the foe’s leg/legs with his arms or legs, putting the opponent’s limb in an unnatural position, which forces him to tap and forfeit. 

Leg locks are pretty much popular in BJJ fights. Although, in an MMA bout, an opponent is slippery, and he’s got way more options to defend due to strikes. Yet, a good MMA leg lock submission lets you spectacularly win the bout. 

Top Leg Lock Entry Positions 

There are many ways to perform successful leg attacks, especially in a no-gi fight. The tutorial below explains the five most often leg locking positions. 

Source: MMA Leech

We will give you a brief description of the most popular Brazilian jiu-jitsu leg lock positions:

  • Ashi Garami: Sit on the buttocks keeping your opponent’s leg under your armpit and the foot of the same side leg on the top of his hamstrings – great for ankle lock or heel hook UFC leg locks.
  • Single-Leg X GuardLay on your back, holding the opponent’s leg with your arm and wrapping your legs around his leg, controlled by your upper limb and hips. Suitable for all kinds of leg lock submissions.
  • Outside Ashi Garami: You’re on the flank, leg trapped in the same way as Ashi-Garami. Still, your knee is between the opponent’s legs while your bottom leg is on his bottom hip- works great for all kinds of straight ankle lock leg attacks.
  • Ushiro Ashi Garami: One of the best positions for all kinds of leg lock techniques – you’re on the flank. But you’re working on the opponent’s leg on top of you.
  • Game Over (Leg Knot): Great for a tricky BJJ leg lock, primarily works for brown belts or higher – the opponent’s leg is under your armpit, his same-side leg trapped with your leg. You rotate to the side to control his other leg with your foot.
  • 50/50: Tricky position, hard to escape, speed and quickness matter for a successful jiu-jitsu leg lock attempt. You’re on the flank, leg under your top armpit, trapping the opponent’s bottom leg with both your bottom limbs. 
  • Honey Hole, Saddle, Inside Sankaku, 411: Cross grip, throw both legs to the outside, then throw them to the inside and triangle your legs for a successful transition to inside Sankaku. You can attempt all kinds of MMA leg locks from here, but we recommend you try a side-heel hook finish. 

Best Leg Locks for Jiu-Jitsu Grappling

Many very effective leg lock submissions can finish the fight efficiently. We will focus on the five most often types of leg locks any BJJ practitioner can perform:

  1. Kneebar
  2. Straight ankle lock
  3. Toe hold
  4. Calf slicer
  5. Heel hook

Using these leg techniques, you don’t have to be Andre Galvao to finish the opponent. Moreover, you can do these BJJ locks in both gi and no-gi fights.

Indeed, the possibilities are limitless when reaching a leg lock position from quick finishes to back-to-back submission switches.  

Let’s explain each submission in depth!

  • Kneebar 

There were so many kneebar leg locks finishes in the UFC. In BJJ, it is easier to defend it because of a gi; that’s why many call it “the submission of masters”. 

What Is a Kneebar? 

A kneebar is a leg-aimed attack that tends to pressure the knee by pulling the leg and pushing the joint to the opposite side, causing knee hyperextension. 

How Do You Do a Kneebar? 

The best position for those types of MMA locks is a half guard. If you watched the fight between Luana Carolina and Ariane Carnelossi, you know how dangerous it can be.

Source: That Jiu Jitsu Podcast

Oh, by the way, here is an educational tutorial. 

Source: Evolve Mixed Martial Arts

  • Straight Ankle Lock

A straight ankle lock is also known as “the technique of beginners” in MMA leg locks. Many other disciplines have it – Sambo, Sanda, but it originates from catch wrestling. 

What Is a Straight Ankle Lock? 

It is the submission where your foot is wrapped around the aggressor’s arm with the top of your foot tucked under the opponent’s same-arm armpit. It is the most often move on the list of leg submissions in jiu-jitsu. 

How Do You Do a Straight Ankle Lock?

There are so many types and modifications of the straight ankle lock, but here is an educational video for the most often move on the list of leg locks in BJJ bouts. 

Source: Absolute MMA St Kilda – Melbourne

  • Toe Hold

Toe hold is one of the most challenging leg locks in BJJ. Unfortunately, some BJJ federations prohibit it, plus you need great quickness and timing to trap your opponent’s leg finger.  

What Is a Toe Hold?

Like a Kimura on the arm, a toe hold is a submission where the attacking fighter holds his opponent’s ankle close to his chest. The offensive guy uses a popular “Kimura” type of grip to control the end of the foot and mostly touches his little finger (pinky) to the foe’s toe. 

It is one of the trickiest submissions in BJJ, both for the offensive and defensive fighter, as you don’t need much pressure to finish it. Legendary Jim Miller is known for this leg lock in the UFC. 

How Do You Do a Toe Hold?

The attacking BJJ fighter turns the foot in a twisting motion, causing strain to the massive number of joints. The most significant effect happens on the talonavicular joint.

Still, it can also hurt the knee ligaments if not released on time. Please watch the tutorial on performing one of BJJ’s most dangerous leg locks. 

Source: BJJ Fanatics

  • Heel Hook

The heel hook has been one of the most dangerous leg submissions in the history of UFC. It is hard to master, but once you do, your opponent will have a hard time!

What Is a Heel Hook? 

A heel hook is a submission that attacks many joints by twisting the foot medially (inside) or laterally (outside heel hook). It leads to a tremendous amount of torque on the knee and foot, which leads to submission. 

How Do You Do a Heel Hook? 

The video tutorial below shows you how to perform one of the most brutal UFC leg locks, the secret weapon of Ryan Hall and Rousimar Palhares. 

Source: Gold BJJ

  • Calf Slice

The calf slicer is undoubtedly one of the most painful leg locks in the UFC. However, you can do it in both gi and no-gi fights. 

What Is a Calf Slice Submission? 

A calf slicer is a submission attempt that presses the calf muscle to the tibia and fibula bones. It hurts like hell and forces your opponent to surrender. 

How Do You Make a Calf Slice Submission? 

This is a bit tricky, as you need to get a good hold of your opponent. Please check out the instructional video below – these are very detailed instructions. 

Source: Knight Jiu-Jitsu

How to Defend Leg Locks? 

Source: Bernardo Faria BJJ Fanatics

The best way to avoid a BJJ leg lock is to rotate to the opposite side. For example, if your opponent is trying to push your leg clockwise, you’ll have to move it to the opposite side under nearly the same angle to slip out of it. 

Alternately, in an MMA fight, you can sit on the opponent and unload a barrage of punches to prevent MMA leg lock attempts. Yet, punches cannot generate tremendous power, so rolling to the opposite side still works better. 

When the opponent attempts an MMA leg lock from a single X-guard or Imanari roll, you have to kneel or sit on the mat and close his angles (you can strike him too).

An excellent example is a fight between UFC leg lock specialist Ryan Hall and Darrick Minner. He defended tons of Imanari attempts by kneeling to the pressured leg. As a result, Hall’s elite jiu-jitsu leg lock attempts were useless. 

Top BJJ Grappling Leg Lockers? 

Leg lockers abound in BJJ and MMA today, but some stand out more than others.

Dean Lister: A multiple-time ADCC and IBJJF No-Gi World Champion, he is one of the most decorated leg lockers in recent history. Lister is known for his leg lock innovation and creativity, etc.

Craig Jones: The Australian-born grappler has recently been on the run with his miraculous leg lock victories. If he locks your leg up tight, you’ll have two options – tap or visit the hospital. More than 50% of his sub wins are via leg attacks. 

Lachlan Giles: The bronze medal winner at the ADCC 2019 tournament in absolute class who submitted three heavyweights on the same day. His leg locks, especially from 50/50 positions, are highly unpredictable. The guy can do everything, from figure four MMA leg lock to the most unorthodox submission switches of lower limbs.  

Garry Tonon: The ONE FC fighter is a leg locks expert. The former World No-Gi BJJ winner showed the world his power on the ground against Yoshiki Nakahara. 

Ryan Hal: A BJJ black belt most known for his outstanding heel hooks. BJ Penn, Frantz Siloa, and Johnny Nunes were the victims of this UFC leg lock specialist and TUF 22 winner. 

Rousimar Palhares: The first absolute master of leg locks in the UFC. He scored so many notable heel hook victories throughout his career.

Yet, Dana White had had enough of Rousimar when he failed to release the submission when the referee stopped the fight versus Mike Pierce. Hence, the promotion parted ways with him in 2013. 

Are Leg Locks Legal in BJJ? 

Well, legal jiu-jitsu leg locks depend on the tournament rules. So we will focus on IBJJF rules, but note that it depends on the federation too:

  • In the adult competition, white, purple, and blue belts can only do straight ankle locks. In this position, they should pivot away from the ankle when attacking the opponent’s leg (no turning towards the knee). 
  • Knee reaping is illegal for all belts in gi competitions.  
  • Toe holds, calf slicers, and kneebars are legal for adult black and brown belts. 
  • IBJJF gi competitions prohibit all kinds of heel hooks. 

Are Leg Locks Legal in MMA?

Leg lock submissions are perfectly legal in mixed martial arts. You can do submission switches; even toe holds as much as you want.

As a result, you will not get a warning, no worries. Amateur MMA might prevent some jiu-jitsu leg locks, but permitted MMA locks can also depend on the tournament rule set.  

Are Leg Locks Legal In Judo? 

Leg lock submissions are prohibited in Judo. It used to be allowed earlier, but nowadays, you have to focus on chokes and armbar BJJ locks if you compete in Japanese gi martial art. 

Final Thoughts

There are many leg locks, but the game is over when a good grappler locks his limbs around your leg up tight. Here is some other stuff we learned so far:

  • It is the easiest to enter the leg lock position when you’re already on the canvas; Imanari and takedown are riskier and risky in an MMA fight. 
  • Any leg lock could lead to a stoppage. The advantage of BJJ is that rules prohibit the opponent from hitting you, which leads to a more straightforward job. 
  • MMA allows all kinds of leg locks. They are prohibited in Judo, while BJJ depends on the federation and competition rules. 

Heel hooks are a very entertaining way to finish the opponent, especially in an MMA fight. Still, an outstanding level of entertainment brings a lot of risks. Would you like to be famous for leg submissions in the UFC one day? Then give leg locks a shot!


Related Article: 15+ Most Effective BJJ Submissions You Should Know