Grappling uses muscles that don’t normally get a lot of attention in the gym. As evidence of this I’ll point to the muscle soreness in unexpected places that otherwise fit people experience when they grapple hard for the first time.
Today I want to talk about the importance and role of your thigh adductors, the muscle groups that bring your knees towards each other when your legs are apart. The adductors (spelled with a double “dd”) are not to be confused with the abductors (with a “bd”) because they do opposite things; I always used to get the two confused until someone pointed out that adductors (with a “dd”) ADD your legs together.
A friend of mine recently had the pleasure of grappling Kron Gracie, son of the famous Rickson Gracie. My friend (who is a very good grappler himself) was very impressed by the level of control that Kron was able to maintain in the mount position.
Whenever my friend tried to escape or move, Kron would really, really squeeze his knees together; as soon as my friend relaxed, Kron would relax his own legs as well. This squeezing action, using the leg adductors, made the bottom person’s movements to setup escapes like the elbow-knee escape much more difficult and energy-draining.
This fundamental counter to the elbow-knee mount escape makes sense if you think about it. How would you stay on a galloping horse if you couldn’t use your hands: you’d squeeze your knees of course (if you don’t know what an elbow-knee escape is you can see it here).
A good thigh squeeze can also help maintain other positions, including many half guard variations (both on the top and on the bottom). In addition to maintaining position, adductor squeezing can also really amplify the effectiveness of your submissions.
Try this experiment with the kneebar: place your partner in a kneebar, cross your ankles or triangle your legs but leave your lower body relaxed. Apply the lock and observe how much energy you have to exert to get your partner to tap. Also look at how far you have to hyper-extend his leg before he becomes uncomfortable. Now revert to your starting position and change only one thing: squeeze your thighs together as hard as you possibly can. Now see how much less energy you need to apply the lock and how much earlier he taps.
I originally made this point in my video and articles about the kneebar several years ago: in Kneebar Mastery I wrote “pinching the legs together as hard as you can is very important: this limits his movement and makes the lock come on faster.” It was true then and it’s still true now.
Using your adductors to pinch your legs and knees together is also important for finishing the armbar, the triangle choke, ankle locks, heel hooks and many other submissions.
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Does this mean that you have to run out and buy an industrial strength thigh master? Not necessarily…
If you have the time is IS possible to work the adductors specifically: most bigger gyms have several different machines for adductor and abductor strengthening, and if you don’t have access to that you could always try something I heard about from Oleg Taktarov: doing two legged jumps across the gym while keeping a medicine ball between your knees, held there only by the squeeze of your knees.
The most important method to strengthen the thigh squeeze is to use it in its natural environment, on the mat doing grappling techniques. Try to be aware of maintaining leg adduction for appropriate techniques both while practicing them and using them in sparring, and your opponents will be sure to start noticing how much harder they have to work to escape.