The heel hook is one of the most devastating submissions in grappling. The vicious joint lock specifically attacks the ligaments in the knee.

What can you do to protect your knees?

  • Learn the proper defense and escape the submission. Always your first priority.
  • Make sure you have the proper knee mobility. The heel hook works by rotating the tibia on the femur. If you have restricted tibial rotation then ligaments will be challenged earlier. With a restriction you will have less of an opportunity to tap to avoid injury.
    NOTE: This does not mean attempting to stretch your ligaments! Ligaments are designed for stability!
  • Strengthen your knee ligaments. 

How do you strengthen your ligaments?

A ligament is connective tissue composed of collagen and elastin. Like muscles this tissue adapts to stress, however at a much slower rate.

“The primary stimulus for growth of tendons, ligaments, and fascia is the mechanical forces created during exercise. The degree of tissue adaptation appears to be proportional to the intensity of exercise. Consistent anaerobic exercise that exceeds the threshold of strain stimulates connective tissue changes. (Baechle & Earle 2008).”

This means heavy resistance training: Squats, lunges, rear-foot elevated split squats. Ligament strengthening responds slower than muscle, therefore you will need to incorporate long term strength training to prevent further injuries.

Stay tuned to my next post where I’ll discuss how to assess tibial rotation and a PROPER way to mobilize the joint without stretching your knee ligaments making them useless.

Reference: Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Leeds: Human Kinetics.

Dr. Mike Piekarski, DPT
BJJ Brown Belt
Former MMA Fighter