Wrestling Pin Drills for Inexperienced Teams

A few years ago I had to determine a philosophy of wresting—for a team that had never even seen a match.

This philosophy had to apply to each individual wrestler’s ability to score enough bout points in order to win the match.

The difficulty lay in the fact that the vast majority of our opponents had experience and we had none.

If we could win one bout by a pin, our opponents would have to win at least two by a decision to stay even.

To win by a pin and not get pinned ourselves was the only way that we could possibly compete with our experienced opponents.

Thus, our team philosophy was determined—Pin ‘Em! NOTE: Can you imagine trying to convince a first-year wrestler that he can pin the self-confident, experienced man on the opposite side of the mat? I knew in reality that pinning would be difficult in most bouts and impossible in others. Still, scoring from pinning combinations was the only way we could win bouts, and consequently matches.

Two ideas backed me up on this. First, near-fall points could add up to a major decision. Second, the bottom man’s exertion from bridging could wear him out to the point that he might be pinned.

wrestling pin drills


Through research into wrestling, I decided on the type of pinning combinations that we would use.

I found that 95 per cent of all pins are achieved with the half-nelson, or some combination of the half-nelson.

Therefore, the half-nelson and the reverse half-nelson became our primary pinning combinations, followed by the cradle series.

After researching the pin moves to be used, the next step was to determine exactly how to teach the moves.

NOTE: The number of pinning combinations a wrestler knows is not nearly as important as the number he can apply.

The most significant aspect involved is that the wrestler must know when each pinning move is needed. The correct selection could result in a near-fall or a pin; wrong selection could result in no points or a reversal.


Through pin drills, our wrestlers were put into situations where a selection had to be made.

The following drills are the most successful that have evolved from our practices. These and other pin drills are scheduled for 10 minutes every day.

This 10-minute period has proven to be the most rewarding area of our practices.

NOTE: Over the past two years, our drills have helped us win more than 60 per cent of our matches by pins and score three near-falls for every one by our opponents.

Remember, most bouts are decided by close scores. Even though a pinning situation may not achieve a fall, bout points awarded for the near-fall can give a wrestler a decided advantage in a close match.


Because the half-nelson is the most frequently used combination, it is important that every wrestler know how to change to other combinations from the half-nelson.

Thus, the majority of our drills involve switching to and from the half-nelson and reverse half-nelson.

Drill one: Begin with one man on his back (B) and the other on top (T), with a half-nelson crotch.

B turns away from T. As T feels the half-nelson slipping out, this point must be recognized as “change time.” To change from the half to the reverse half, the wrestler must do three things:

(1) Drag his elbow across B’s face, trying to wipe off his nose.

(2) Slide his hand around the top of B’s head.

NOTE: If the hand, rather than the elbow, goes across B’s face, there’s a hole of about 1 foot through which B can shoot his hand, since most forearms are about 1 foot from wrist to elbow.

(3) Grab B’s far armpit hard, thus completing the reversal.

To return to the half-nelson, B turns toward T’s waist. As T begins to lose his reverse half, he again:

(1) Drags his elbow across B’s nose.

(2) Slips his hand around B’s head.

(3) Finishes by sliding the hand between his own and B’s chest.

Many times, while in a half-nelson pin situation, we found ourselves being forced toward B’s head, ending up parallel and missing precious back points. Another drill was needed.

Drill two: Start in the half-nelson crotch position, with B turning away from T. “Change time” begins as the near arm of the bottom man is starting to work free.

With the crotch hand, T hooks the near arm down through the armpit, simultaneously moving toward B’s head.

T is now on both knees at B’s head, with a deep half-nelson and one arm hooked.

As B bridges and turns, T fights the pressure. When B turns into T, T turns his head in that direction and places the side of his head on B’s chest, applying pressure down.

Drill three: Beginning in the half-nelson crotch position, B bridges up and turns into T, trying to shoot his outside arm between their chests.

NOTE: Many wrestlers refuse to release the crotch and end up losing valuable back points.

“Change time” occurs as this arm starts reaching for the chest.

Using the crotch hand, T hooks B’s far arm down under the armpit.

Upon achieving this under-hook, he throws his elbow as high toward B’s head as possible. This stretches out B’s arm, forcing his shoulder toward the mat.


Through trial and error, we found that we could cradle a man from almost any position on the mat.

The easiest way to pin a man is to let him put himself in the pin position and then hold him there.

Drill one: Start with B broken down on his belly.

There are now only two directions in which B should work in order to return to his base. If he works his outside knee up, T sticks in the cross-face cradle.

NOTE: An important point about the cross-face cradle is that a man’s legs are stronger than his arms. In the cross-face cradle, you “stick your hip in his ear” and, with your legs, drive his head toward his legs until you can lock up.

If B works up with his inside leg, T reaches over B’s head and grasps his near armpit. He grabs through the crotch from the rear with the other hand, sticks his head in B’s side, and locks his hands to complete the inside cradle.

Next, in the base position, B performs four moves from which T can cradle him: (1) sit out, (2) switch, (3) inside stand-up, and (4) outside stand-up.

As B executes these moves, T moves directly into either an inside or an outside cradle.

NOTE: A man can be put into a cradle from anywhere, if the top man will maintain “pressure down.”

While preparing to lock your hands and sit through with your legs, you must keep your weight on the back of the bottom man’s neck, maintaining pressure down through the knees.

Drill two: Begin with B on his belly for two minutes, moving at half-speed and endeavoring to put T in as many cradle situations as possible.

As the skill level increases, the wrestlers can work at three-quarter speed.

NOTE: This drill takes four minutes of the 10 allotted for pin drills—two minutes in each position for each wrestler.


Each drill is conducted in much the same way.

The wrestlers pair off and spend equal amounts of time in each position.

NOTE: Half-nelson drills usually last one minute in each position. Cradle drills are generally practiced for one and a half to three minutes in each position.

Performance in matches determines the frequency with which each drill is practiced.


Until these pin drills became a regular part of our program, we were just like any other team of inexperienced wrestlers.

We now have some experience, but our philosophy has not changed: We try to pin our man before he can beat us with his moves.

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