Wrestling is an exciting sport that is enjoyed all the way from high school gymnasiums to Olympic Stadiums. There are a few main types of wrestling you are likely to come across, depending on the venue, including folkstyle, Greco-Roman, and freestyle. However, the rules are distinctly different between the styles, with one of the biggest differences being whether or not the use of legs is forbidden.
Greco-Roman wrestling strictly forbids the use of legs. Meanwhile, freestyle wrestling, the other main form of wrestling found at the Olympics, permits the use of legs in its matches, as well as in folkstyle wrestling, also known as scholastic wrestling.
In the rest of this article, we will explore each style of wrestling to see where the use of legs is against the rules. We will also see some other key rules that distinguish these disciplines and where you are most likely to encounter each one.
Why Can’t You Use the Legs In Greco-Roman Wrestling?
With a name like Greco-Roman, you might be thinking that this style of wrestling has roots in the ancient Greek and Roman empires. However, the story of Greco-Roman wrestling as we see it today starts much more recently.
Beginning in the early 1800s, the wrestling community in France mimicked the style of the ancient Greek Olympics in an effort to bring more historical traditions to the sport, which later took on the name of Greco-Roman wrestling.
From my understanding, we do not really know why they chose to forbid the use of legs in Greco-roman wrestling other than it being adapted from other styles of wrestling. Many attribute the rules of Greco-roman wrestling to Jean Exbrayat, who was a soldier in Napoleon’s army. For whatever reason, many say it was him who chose to forbid the use of legs in Greco-roman wrestling.
How Greco-Roman Wrestling Works Without The Use Of Legs
This category of wrestling is seen both at the Olympics and regularly on an international level, but the use of legs is completely forbidden in this style of wrestling. Any hold that occurs below the waist is strictly not allowed, which means leg attacks are not permitted as well as holding your opponent’s thighs if you find yourself on the bottom.
To compensate for the lack of legs in this style of wrestling, more importance is placed on the upper body. Moves like headlocks, throws, and arm drags are predominant in this style of the sport.
Another distinctive feature of this wrestling style is the need to maintain bodily contact with the opponent as you take them down to the mat. In other styles, it’s permitted to lose contact with them as you throw them to the mat. You can simply regain contact after the takedown. But in order for your takedown to count in Greco-Roman wrestling, you must not lose contact with your opponent, even for a moment.
The Use Of Legs In Folkstyle Wrestling
Folkstyle wrestling is also called “scholastic wrestling” and is what you are likely to find in middle schools and high schools in the United States. This term can also apply to the style of wrestling found at colleges and universities but is more likely to be heard under the term “collegiate wrestling.”
No matter the age and ability level it is found at, folkstyle wrestling allows the use of legs, as a wrestler can use their legs to take down an opponent or use relevant holds in their defense.
Two very common takedowns using the legs are the double leg takedown and the single-leg takedown. These are both very effective wrestling takedowns that are not allowed in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Folkstyle and freestyle wrestling are similar in that they both allow the use of legs. However, one of the main differences between the two is what you’re allowed to do once you’ve been taken down to the mat. If you find yourself in the bottom position, there are still moves you are allowed to perform in folkstyle wrestling.
The scoring rubric for the two styles is slightly different as well.
The Use Of Legs In Freestyle Wrestling
While freestyle wrestling is similar to the folkstyle we just explored, there is one major difference: freestyle is found outside of the academic environment. It is an Olympic category of wrestling, and is a more internationally practiced version of wrestling, while folkstyle is found only in the United States.
For more on this subject, I wrote a whole article on the differences between folkstyle and freestyle wrestling. That said, these two wrestling styles do have a lot in common.
As mentioned before, freestyle wrestling allows the use of legs. There are also no moves if you find yourself in the bottom position. You are also allowed to lock your hands in this style of wrestling, a move known as “clasping,” which is strictly forbidden in folkstyle wrestling.
As the name suggests, freestyle wrestling can be an exciting mix of moves aimed to take down the opponent and is linked to “catch wrestling,” the original type of grappling with very open rules with how you could take down your opponent. It comes from an expression, “catch as catch can,” which expresses the freedom to do what is needed to get a hold of your opponent.
Olympic Level Wrestling
If you want to see these styles of wrestling in action and with athletes at the top of their game, your best bet is to tune into the Olympic matches. You can find men competing in both Greco-Roman and freestyle matches while women compete in freestyle matches only. You can tune into these matches and catch the excitement of seeing nations from all around the world send in their best wrestlers for the gold.
In fact, wrestlers of all different sizes, shapes, and nationalities competing at the Olympic games. Even though wrestling still may be thought of as a male-dominated sport, this is really no longer the case, because more and more women are getting into wrestling.
Matches for each gender are divided by weight class, allowing all sizes of wrestlers to compete fairly. Whether this will change or not depends on the political and social climate.
Greco-Roman wrestling does not allow the use of legs like freestyle and folkstyle do. That said, Greco-roman wrestling is a very exciting sport to watch. In many ways, it is more exciting because most of the takedowns are high amplitude.
If you want to watch an exciting wrestling match with legs being used to take down opponents, tune into freestyle wrestling matches. If you have access to folkstyle matches, they are another great option to see young wrestlers competing in a similar way to the professional freestylers.
On the other hand, if you’re curious about what it looks like to wrestle without the ability to hold below the waist, you will want to check out a Greco-Roman match.