Arm Wrestling – From Grip to Glory

Arm wrestling

The sport of arm wrestling has had a surge in popularity in recent years. There are more fans getting into the sport and wanting to learn about its history.

Here is what you need to know about the history of arm wrestling. Going over the history of the sport, here competitors train for their sport, and the best athlete’s in the sport’s history.

The History of Arm Wrestling

Just about every culture in the world participates in the game of wrestling. A test of strength between the strongest in a group. Everyone at one point in their lives has played this game with their friends.

It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century when arm wrestling started becoming an organized sport. The very first officially recognized world championship took place in 1962.

After that event, the sport began spreading globally. Including Eastern Europe and Russia, where many great athletes were produced along with the US.

The First Boom in Popularity

Arm Wrestling’s first big boom took place during the 1980s. During this time, a film was released in 1987 called “Over The Top” starring Sylvester Stallone.

This movie is about a truck driver and championship arm wrestler making his way to the world championship. The movie featured some of the best arm wrestlers of the 1980s.

Most notable is the main villain played by multi-time arm wrestling world champion Rick Zumwalt.

Arm Wrestling

The Rules of Arm Wrestling

The rules of arm wrestling may vary slightly depending on the organization, but they generally follow the same guidelines. Here are the rules and oversights of the sport.

  • The Table: An arm wrestling table consists of four pads and grip bars for the competitors to hold. Two pads are for the competitor’s elbows, while the other two pads are to cushion the arm of a pinned competitor.
  • Starting Position: The ref overseeing the match makes the athletes lock hands in the center and set the groups. This official will then put his hand on the competitor’s hands, give them the signal to start, and let go.
  • Grips: Generally, the arm wrestler’s must have their thumbs pointed upward when they connect hands. Refs will take the time to set their grips and see if everything is right.
  • Elbow Placement: The elbows of the athletes must be placed directly on their pads and must not move. Any movement of the elbow will result in a foul.
  • Hand Placement: Hands must be aligned with the athlete’s corresponding shoulder.
  • Fouls: Fouls in arm wrestling include moving your elbow, false grips, and false starts. Generally warnings are given at first, then penalties, and finally disqualification.
  • The Strap: Generally if one of the athletes keeps slipping out of the grip, the ref will bring in the strap. Using it to wrap the athlete’s hands together, so there are no more grip slips.
  • Wins: A match is won whenever any part of a competitor’s arm touches the pad.
  • Match Length: The match will go however long it takes for a competitor to pin their opponent. Matches generally last less than a minute.
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The Techniques of Arm Wrestling

Arm wrestling may seem like it’s all just brute force, but there is some skill to it. Some of the techniques include: hooking, top rolling, and pressing.


Hooking is where an athlete rotates their opponent’s wrist. This rotational movement puts pressure on the tendons of the wrist to gain leverage.

Top Rolling

Instead of attacking an opponent straight up, top rolling is targeting their fingers and wrist. An athlete rolls their hand over top of their opponent’s to put pressure on their fingers and wrist. Forcing their wrists to give and roll back.


Pressing is the classic brute force method to win an arm wrestling match. If an athlete knows they’re stronger than their opponent, they will blitz them with all their strength.

Arm Wrestling

Training For Arm Wrestling

While arm wrestling may seem just like a sport for the big and strong, the sport has evolved. Arm wrestlers train like high level athletes to be at peak physical strength for their competition. Here is how some arm wrestlers train.

Arm Strengthening

Of course, an arm wrestler’s main focus will be on strengthening their arm. Focusing on building up every muscle and tendon in the arm from their bicep, tricep, forearm, wrists, and fingers.

They will do everything from lift weights, cables, or resistance bands. Grip strength training will also be one of the main focuses as arm wrestlers can’t afford to have weak grips.

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Core and Upper Body Strengthening

Many arm wrestlers will do compound movements targeting their upper body.  But on top of their upper body, they will also do exercises to strengthen their core. 

The reason for this is because in a match their core activates and must be tight throughout the match. Any weakness in the chain and especially the core will lead to a loss and even an injury. 

Technical Training

Arm wrestling isn’t just brute force. There is a technical aspect to the sport, which many athletes mainly focus on. 

Athletes will either construct their own device to mimic an arm wrestling match. Making a grip connected to weights to work on their movements and ensure their technique is solid.

The Best Arm Wrestlers in the Sport’s History 

John Brzenk 

John Brzenk is considered by many as the greatest arm wrestler of all time. Since the 1980s, Brzenk has been at the top of the sport.

In forty year career, Brzenk has won 24 world titles and has competed in numerous weight classes. He is a master at various techniques and being a dedicated athlete.

At nearly 60 years of age, John Brzenk is still one of the best arm wrestlers in the world. Always in the hunt to win another world championship.

Devon Larratt 

Devon Larratt is considered the best arm wrestler on the planet today. He has become the face of the sport.

Larratt’s entry into the sport started in the 1990s. Known for his incredible hand and grip strength, but also his technique. Devon is always thinking about strategy and how to become a better athlete and is one of the sport’s hardest workers.

He is a charismatic and friendly person, which is why he is one the favorites in the sport.

Cleve Dean

Cleve Dean was a mountain of a man that was the top arm wrestler in the world during the 1980s. The country boy from Georgia worked on a farm and became one of the sport’s biggest stars.

Sadly Dean passed away in 2011, but he’s considered one of the greatest of all time by both athletes and fans.

Oleg Zhokh 

We talked before about the Ukrainian mutant Oleg Zhokh. Oleg is a multi-time world champion that has had an incredible journey to becoming one of the world’s best.

At first, doctor’s told him he would never gain muscle in his arm due to a condition. Zhokh would develop his supposed bad arm into a freakish muscular arm to win numerous major titles.

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Then he would come back after a near fatal car wreck to once again become a champion.

Denis Cyplenkov

Denis Cyplenkov is a mammoth of a man that has been one of the top arm wrestler’s for decades. The 300 lbs Ukrainian is one of the most intimidating figures in the history of the sport.

He was a straight offensive arm wrestler that relied on his immense power. Often utilizing the hooking technique along with his explosive power. Then on top of being an accomplished arm wrestler, Denis is also an accomplished strong man athlete.

Travis Bagent 

Travis Bagent is one of the best American arm wrestlers in the history of the sport. Since debuting in the 1990s, Bagent has been known for his agility and power.

He is also one of the most colorful athletes in the sports and known for talking to his opponent’s throughout a match. His larger than life personality and talent has made him a fan favorite.

How to Get Into Arm Wrestling

As the sport of arm wrestling continues to grow, there’s more people than ever that want to become arm wrestlers. Here is how you can get into the sport.

Work Up the Ranks 

To become an arm wrestler, you simply have to work your way up the ranks. Start by entering small tournaments and get acquainted with local organizers.

In just about every part of the world, there are bars that hold their own tournaments. Enter as many of these small tournaments as you can and win them. 

Once you start winning at the lower levels, you’ll start to gain attention from larger organizers. Just keep winning and working your way up until you get into the big leagues.


You can just get by with just being big and strong to be an arm wrestler. To have a chance at excelling at the sports you must train like a high level athlete.

All of the best arm wrestlers have a strict training regimen. Follow the suggestions in the previous section and do your research to see how the top athletes train.

What’s the Future of Arm Wrestling?

The sport of arm wrestling is as big as it’s ever been. With more eyes on the sport, it will continue to grow and the events will get bigger. Expect to see the sport continue to grow in the future.