Stuff You Should Know: Arm Wrestling

When a United States Armwrestling Association champion asks you do to something, you do it. So when 2001 USAA champ Eric Wolfe wanted us to stress in this article that arm wrestling is a legitimate sport that he and his professional cohorts are trying to have added to the Olympics, we decided to oblige him. Right off the bat, in fact.

But just as the vast majority of us will top out at playing pickup basketball and will never be a member of a gold medal-winning dream team, chances are that most if not all of a person’s arm wrestling activity will occur at a bar, party or random one-upmanship session. With that in mind, we asked Eric—who’s officially been deemed a badass by Jeremiah Weed as part of the malt beverage’s current ad campaign (as if we needed them to tell us that)—to offer a few tips to help you prevent having your ass handed to you (and also avoid getting your ass kicked after the match).

Be Strong

Yes, some semblance of muscular fortitude is required to prevail in an arm wrestling match. Eric indentifies the fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, biceps and back as the important arm-wrestling attributes. “My entire garage is set up to strengthen all of these areas,” Eric says, and he ain’t lyin’. Visit his website to see how he and his students roll at his home gym. And when we say “roll,” often they do so literally, in the form of working out with tractor tires, sand-filled beer kegs and the like. “The way we train, I’d compare it to how Rocky trained to fight that Russian in Rocky IV,” Eric says. “Everything from the exercises to the apparatus are invented by us and are specifically tailored for arm wrestling. These exercises are badass.” Indeed they are, and the best part is that by nature, you can do most of them at home with a few MacGyver-esque materials and a little ingenuity.

United States Armwrestling Association champ and Jeremiah Weed badass Eric Wolfe (right) gets after it.

Size Ain’t Sh*t

As Bushwick Bill so eloquently pointed out on the Geto Boys’ 1989 release Grip It! On That Other Level, it doesn’t matter how big you are, as long as you have some strength and skills at your disposal. “The smaller you are, the easier it is for you to find someone who’s willing to take you on,” Eric says. “A good arm wrestler fears no one. Everyone thinks the bigger bicep always wins. That’s not even close to being true.”

Keep Your Enemies Closer

By “enemies” we mean “opponents,” and according to Eric, pulling your opponent toward you at the instant an arm wrestling match begins is the often-overlooked key to victory. “By bringing your opponent closer to you, you stretch his arm, tighten yours, and gain leverage. It’s simple physics,” he says. “Before either of you has gone in the direction of the table, you’ve seized control. In most barroom situations, your opponent won’t even know he’s been had.”

Get a Grip

Speaking of gripping things on another level, there are two ways to do so in an arm wrestling match. One is the Hook move, which Eric says is the better option 99% of the time. After locking thumbs, “you scoop your hand forward, rotating both your hand and your opponent’s hand into a more natural position. It looks cleaner, more professional and helps you keep a better posture. When it’s all said and done, the Hook move leaves less to argue about.”

So what’s the other option? That would be Top Rolling, or Over the Top (also the title of the 1987 Sylvester Stallone flick about arm wrestling). “Top Rolling is when you try to hinge your opponent’s wrist backward versus its natural tendency to rotate inward,” Eric explains. “By doing so, you take your opponent’s wrist from a natural position to an unnatural position. Now you have control and leverage. Once you’ve gained control, you should throw your whole body down toward the table. With your arm locked in one position, rotate your body down to the pin pad.”

Is that allowed? Eric says pretty much anything goes aside from using your other hand to pull your opponent’s down to the table. “Losers often complain, ‘you used your shoulders.’ Well yeah, you’re supposed to,” Eric says. “Your center of gravity is your stomach. When you drop your body to the table, the whole system―arms, shoulders, back, etc.―follows it down.” That said, Eric points out a very important caveat: “In a barroom environment, the Over the Top approach is the one that’s most likely to be scrutinized by your opponent’s friends.” That’s a polite way of saying it’s the move most likely to get your ass kicked, so proceed with caution.

Win Graciously

On the “don’t get your ass kicked” tip, Eric recommends decorum and restraint after your inevitable triumph. “Victory is a joyous thing. It’s hard to contain that feeling and not get excited,” he acknowledges. “But your opponent has already been humbled. The last thing you want to do is act unprofessional.” So keep the chest beating to a minimum. That way you’re less likely to be on the receiving end of another kind of beating out back by the Dumpster.

See? No animosity. Just smiles!

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