Escaping with Iowa Wrestling

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By Matt Darnell

According to legendary wrestler Dan Gable, fighting from the bottom is the skill that young wrestlers have the most trouble with. Even the best can struggle with being stuck on the mat, because they're usually controlling the match—not in a position from where they need to escape.

According to Gable, now an assistant coach with the Iowa Hawkeyes, a good escape involves hand control, a strong base and mind, and hip heisting. Work on these areas to stop anyone from holding you down.

Hand Control

You need to get inside position so you can control your opponent's hands, or else you're gonna get a face full of mat. Your opponent can grab a wrist, break you down and keep you there.

Gable explains, "A rule of riding is to stay behind the arms; so, a rule of escaping is to force your opponent over your arms." If his arms are over yours, he has no control, which means you can escape.

Drill: From a sit-out position with your partner behind you and his arms under yours, dig your elbows between his arms and your body; work to get his arms over yours.


  • While digging in with your elbows, keep your arms on the outside
  • When fighting inside, don't reach with your hands; your opponent can grab your hands and gain control.

Strong Base

You're already at a disadvantage when you start from the bottom, but one thing that can make it worse is being broken down, flat on the mat. Maintaining your base can prevent that situation and help you escape. It gives you a better position from which you can initiate action, fight for hand control and work to your feet.

Drill: Start in the basic down position with your hips under you and elbows in. As a partner pushes to knock you over, forward, sideways and backward, work to keep your base. When he pushes you in any direction, instead of going to your belly or falling over, bring your legs and knees completely underneath you to keep your base.

Rebuilding Your Base

If you are flat on your stomach, your in a position from which you can't score. The first thing you need to do is rebuild your base. To do that, keep your arms and elbows in, and bring your legs and hips underneath you. Don't post your hands and push straight up, it gives your opponent the chance to grab a wrist.


  • Practice building your base from your back and side, too
  • You can perform this drill solo or with a partner

Hip Heisting

Hip heisting creates distance, clears your hips and breaks you away from your opponent. Whether from a sit-out or a stand-up position, hip heist drills improve your ability to cut away from the top man and get the escape as well as work your scrambling ability, because you learn hip control and power.

Hip heist drills are similar to break dancing. Start in a bridge with your hands and feet on the ground and your belly facing the ceiling. From there, move your right leg under you and left arm over you. Rotate your body as you move your leg and arm, so you end up on all fours with your belly facing the mat. Perform in 20- to 30-seconds reps, alternating which leg goes under.


  • Start slowly. As you perfect the movement, increase your speed
  • Keep your arms and legs close to your body, so you bundle your power

Strong Frame Of Mind

When you're in a hard position, have the mentality that you can and will escape. Gable says, "If you can get a kid who just says, 'Nobody can hold me down,' nobody should really be able to hold him down." Come to the situation with a positive outlook-that you won't be broken down, that you won't let his legs in, that you're going to keep moving, keep your opponent out, explode and initiate. With those thoughts, you're going to be good and you're going to escape.



Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock