Ways to Increase Your Arm Triangle Submission Rate

The arm triangle is a great submission that can both work both in gi and no-gi. It is a commonly seen finish for MMA as well. Brock Lesnar finished Shane Carwin using this submission during their UFC heavyweight bout in UFC 116. But one thing that a lot of people think is that arm triangles were designed for people who possess great strength.

In Judo, head and arm position is also used to pin the other person on the mat. Under judo rules, pinning your opponent long enough can give you an ippon. However, in BJJ, this isn’t the case. Arm triangle is a move that can finish the match or open up other submissions that can lead to other finishes.

One problem that practitioners encounter is when they are facing someone who is bigger or someone stronger than them. Next, you also have people concerned about their arms’ length. Practitioners with shorter arms are usually not that confident with their arm triangles. This is the same as the dilemma people have finishing regular triangles when they have short legs. So how exactly do you adjust and make your arm triangles more dangerous?

Understanding Arm Triangles 

Before we discuss the details on how to finish an arm triangle, let’s answer the simple question what makes arm triangles work? Arm triangle in concept is the same as a regular triangle. The only difference is that you use the legs with a regular triangle while you have the arms when performing arm triangles.

Arm triangle is harder to finish than your regular triangle simply because you only have your arms. And between arms and legs, legs are your stronger limbs.

Both arm triangles and regular triangles work because the person gets choked out by his or her shoulder. But for an arm triangle setup, the other side of the neck is blocked by the arm rather than the leg. This causes two things. One, it blocks the air going to your brain. Secondly, it also stimulates the vagal nerve to slow down the heart. It contributes to the lack of oxygenated blood going to the person’s brain. The next thing you know, it’s either a tap or the person goes to sleep.

Now, let’s get down to the mechanics of the arm triangle. I think that Ryan Hall has the best explanation for the arm triangle’s mechanics. He mentioned that if you are forcing the movement, you aren’t doing it in the most efficient way possible. According to him, you need the bicep wrapped around the heck while the collar bone is blocking somewhere in your opponent’s trapped arm.

Common Arm Triangle Counters

The common arm triangle counter is the “answer the phone” defense. The goal of this defense is to create that space between your neck and your shoulder. Your opponent performs this counter by pushing your weight off and get his or her arm to the ear creating that small space needed to stop the choke. A common reaction is for your opponent to frame with the other arm just enough to create that small window of opportunity to defend the choke.

Another common counter to arm triangles is for the opponent to gable grip the near side leg. This is done by looking away from the opponent instead of fighting for the “answer the phone” defense. This counter is high percentage once the opponent was able to connect his grips. It allows the leg to do the work to create space and to make the choke less threatening.

Ways to Make Arm Triangles Effective  

So how do you make it better? While you have head and arm position, the goal is to keep check the shoulder and the person’s hip. By checking the shoulder, you will be able to ensure that the shoulder is in contact with the neck. Next, you also want to check the hip since this can be used to defend the choke by looking at the opponent and eventually creating a frame that could lead to the “answer the phone” counter that we’ve discussed earlier.

Ffion Davies described her preferred finish for the arm triangle by creating wedge by the hip using her knee and cupping the shoulder while setting up the arm triangle. Another detail that sets Ffion Davies’ arm triangle is that she creates a stirring wheel motion using her hands while maintaining a gable grip on head and arm position. What it does is close the space on the other side of the neck while keeping the shoulder tight.

Stephan Kesting, on the other hand, has another interesting variation when it comes to finishing the arm triangle. It’s also simpler. Instead of getting your hip flat on the mat, Stephan Kesting activates his foot and floats his hip. Next, the other foot is also posting making sure to help push the opponent’s hip and shoulder.

Different people have different preferences on how they grip while doing the arm triangle. Some prefer to do the gable grip relying mostly on leverage to finish the choke while others prefer to grab their bicep. Lanky individuals have the luxury of grabbing their bicep finishing it with a grip similar to finishing a rear-naked choke.

Mixing Things Up

One thing that makes arm triangles a common submission is the fact that you can set it up from different positions. It can be coming from a scramble while the person is looking for an underhook or it can be coming from a kimura trap. In most instances, it has to do with your ability to impose pressure and deflect the frame.

Apart from the ability to get into the arm triangle position, you must know how to mix your attacks. For instance, if the opponent decides to gable grip his arm and hugs his leg, then you might as well hit an Ezekiel as a plan B from your arm triangle. Or perhaps, only implement arm triangles as a second or even a third attack once you’ve failed to get the back but you still have the seatbelt.


You can finish arm triangles with better precision. In addition to this, it is also important to find openings where you can setup this submission. And unlike in judo, it is more than just a pining position. It can be used as a real threat to your opponent. If done right, it’s an opportunity to finish the match early.

About the author


Richard Presley

A purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Richard is the owner and primary writer of Attack The back. Check out my About Me Page to learn more!