Leg Locks – Why are they so popular and 5 basic types

The leg locks are a number of BJJ moves that, if performed properly, put your opponent’s leg joints and/or muscles under tremendous strain. That being said, even though these moves are very effective – there used to be a time when they were not held in high esteem. In fact, you’ll see that this is the case to this very day in many instances – even in high-level BJJ schools. However, since you’re reading this article, it means that you either know of the powerful potential of the leg locks and you want to learn a bit more about them – or you are at least interested in learning something about them, even if you may be a bit distrustful.  So, if you want to learn a bit more about leg locks, read on…

The rising popularity of leg locks

With the help of the work of the leg lock pioneers in BJJ, the leg locks are taking their rightful place in the BJJ arsenal. John Danaher, Marcelo Garcia, Dean Lister – these are the leading minds in the field of BJJ leg locks today. It should come as a surprise that leg locks were considered unworthy of attention not that long ago. If used properly, they can be positively devastating.

So, you will see that the leg locks steadily enter the curricula of BJJ schools all around the world. And you will see that many of the high-level BJJ matches in high-level BJJ tournaments end with a skillfully executed leg lock. The so-called Danaher Death Squad immediately springs to mind. This is a small group of leg lock specialists that work under the guidance of John Danaher. They are experts in performing various leg lock combinations and winning matches in this way.

That being said, there are a number of different leg locks that you can execute in a match or in sparring. Here are the five most popular types of leg locks.

5 Basic Leg Locks

Straight-foot lock

The straight-foot lock is a classic in the field of leg locks. It’s also known as the ankle lock or the foot lock. You do it by grabbing your opponent’s leg and shoving his foot under your armpit. You put your outside foot on his hips and your inside foot under his thigh. Then put your outside forearm underneath his ankle and you grab your hand with your other hand. You squeeze and your opponent taps out. It’s that simple. This move is legal in most, if not all, high-level BJJ organizations that hold tournaments. For a demonstration of this move, see:


We have started the list with a classic move that is held in high esteem and is condoned for use in most BJJ organizations and schools. The heel-hook, however, is anything but held in high esteem. Sure, nobody can deny its devastating effectiveness. In fact, if you perform the heel-hook to the bitter end, then your opponent will get multiple fractures along his leg. He will be crippled. And this is why you should be very careful when doing this move. You can do the inside heel-hook from the 50/50 guard. All you need to do is take your opponent’s leg and then put your elbow under his heel. Grab your hand with your other hand and twist his heel. Tap out. The outside heel hook can be done with reaping – another potentially dangerous move. The same thing goes here.


Many of the leg locks can cripple your opponent if they are done to the end. The kneebar is no exception to this. This move works by overextending your opponent’s leg at the knee joint. Typically, the knee is strong enough to withstand a moderate amount of pressure. But if you overdo it – then it may very well snap in half. Again – you need to watch out when doing this move. You do this move by putting your opponent’s knee between your hips. You do a rear naked choke on his foot and you pull it towards you. Tap out.


The toehold can ruin your opponent’s foot if brought to the end. His knee will also be in trouble. A great way to do this move would be from the knee shield position. All you need to do is rotate a and grab your opponent’s foot at the fingers. You slide your other arm underneath the foot and grab your forearm – much like you would do for a Kimura lock. And then you shove his foot towards your opponent’s butt for maximum leverage. Beware – this move can be dangerous as well.

Calf Slicer

There are certain opponent’s that will never tap out to a calf slicer. This may be due to the fact that their calves are strong like steel. Or it may be because they can withstand high levels of pain. Which is exactly what this move is. You can do a triangle on your opponent’s upper hip with your legs. Then you need to place your forearm below his knee joint, at the weakest upper point of his calf. You use force to generate pressure and put him into a lot of pain. Few people can withstand this and there are instances where the entire calf muscle tears apart under the force of this submission.

In conclusion

We recommend you start drilling the 5 basic types of leg locks no matter who you are. Just make sure that you’re careful with their application in BJJ. You wouldn’t want to cripple someone while sparring or competing. Granted, it’s your opponent’s responsibility to tap, but you will see that some people don’t really care (or know) about the devastating leg locks they are captured with. In this case, the smartest thing to do would be to make a note in your mind that you have finished the move without actually finishing it – and to let your opponent go. By learning the 5 most popular leg lock types you will shoot your BJJ skills through the roof.