How to Practice Your Wrestling Sprawl for MMA

The sprawl is the single most important defensive grappling technique you can learn for mixed martial arts. In essence, the sprawl is what you do when an opponent attempts a takedown. To defend, you must move your legs away from him and use your weight to control his body. But before you learn to sprawl on an opponent, you must first learn the basic sprawl so you can drill it on your own. Read below to start drilling this essential defensive grappling technique.

1. Good Stance

The first thing you must understand about defending against takedowns is that your stance and body positioning (the position of your hips, head, hands, and legs) are the most important aspects. You can use the square stance or the staggered stance, but whichever stance you use needs to be correct. Without good positioning, your sprawl will be useless. If you need some extra help with your wrestling stance, check out the guide, How to Get in a Wrestling Stance for MMA.

2. Legs Back

Once you are in the proper position, shoot your legs directly backward to get your legs as far away from your opponent as possible. As you shoot your legs, place both hands on the mat to brace your upper body when your hips land on it. This is the sprawl. There are two ways you can do this:

  1. You can sprawl to both hips (square sprawl).
  2. You can sprawl just to one hip (single hip sprawl).

Here are descriptions of each.

Square Sprawl

When your opponent shoots a double leg takedown on you, you have the chance to get your legs back and use the full weight of both hips (square sprawl) to apply pressure on him. To do this, follow this sequence of steps:

  • Shoot your legs directly backwards and at the same time, place both hands on the mat near where your feet were.
  • As you kick your legs back, touch both hips and upper thighs to the mat as you hold your upper body up with your arms. This allows you to put all of your bodyweight onto your hips, making it difficult for your opponent to control you.

Hot Tip: No Belly or Knees

The key point of the sprawl is that you kick your legs away from your opponent and transfer all of your bodyweight to your hips. When practicing the sprawl, one of the worst things you can do is “flop” onto your belly; this goes against the whole point of the sprawl. Also, sprawling to your knees rather than to your hips is a bad position because it won’t allow you to place enough pressure on top of your opponent.

Single Hip Sprawl

When your opponent shoots a single leg takedown on you, place all of your weight on the same-side hip as the leg he is attempting to control. This type of sprawl (single hip sprawl) is very similar to the square sprawl, with a few minor adjustments:

  • Shoot your legs directly backwards. As you do so, place both of your hands on the mat near where your feet were.
  • Now, instead of going down to both hips, choose one hip to sprawl to (the same-side hip as the leg he is attempting to control).
  • Turn your hips slightly so the hip you are sprawling to is down and the opposite hip is up (this hip won’t touch the mat at all). As you turn, you should be landing on the side of your hip (near the hip bone). If your buttocks touch the mat, you have turned too much!

Remember, the point of the sprawl is to place all your weight on your opponent. So for the single hip sprawl, make sure that all of your weight is on the hip that is in contact with the mat.

Back Out, Circle

The biggest mistake new fighters make after they have successfully completed a sprawl is stepping forward with one of their legs. This is incorrect as stepping forward can leave you open for the shot or to be taken down immediately. So, instead of stepping forward:

  • Push off of your hands and get up on your toes.
  • As you push back, use your feet to shuffle in a circle (circle away from your opponent).
  • Circle until you are back on your feet and in a good stance.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

Sprawling is one of the single most important grappling techniques in all of mixed martial arts. Without a good sprawl you’d (literally) fall to every attack. As a new fighter, it is your job to practice your sprawl correctly until you have mastered it. This will ensure that you have what it takes to defend against the takedowns of even the toughest opponents.

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