11 Sep 2013

Strength training for Armwrestlers - the science of why you need it

Is gym training necessary for armwrestling success? well one very famous armwrestler says it´s not and that he have spent very little time lifting weights. “If you want to be good at armwrestling, just armwrestle” and that might be true if you are extremely talented. 

But as I will explain you can dramatically increase your arm wrestling abilities in the gym if you know how to do it. 

If you think about it i'm sure that you agree that arm wrestling training is very different from arm wrestling competitions, at least for most of us. In competitions you use explosive power and the matches are over in less than a couple of seconds for the most part. when we train however we do the matches slowly and build up lactic acid etc, i.e. not very explosive. And we are probably wise to do so or we would injure ourselves. In a competition you want to win the matches as quickly as possible to save energy for the later matches. So what you want is extreme explosive power. ( explosiveness is the ability to activate many muscle fibers fast and simultaneously) 

To give a good analogy Arm wrestlers train like a 400m runner but compete in  the 100m dash

The type of training you need to do to become explosive is hard to do on a armwrestling table. The Russians figured out long ago that explosive training is done with 85% of your 1RM ( e.g you train with 85kg if you personal best is 100kg) this is the resistance at which you muscles puts out the most amount of horsepower. At 85% of 1RM you can perform about 5 repetitions ( depending on your inherent explosiveness) the fewer you can perform the more natural explosive you are.

So my point is that it is hard or impossible to do 5 reps at 85% of 1RM at the table with a training partner. 

Realy hard arm wrestling sessions at the table is great for technique and to strengthen tendons, joints and the very specific muscles needed for armwrestling, but it will not optimize the muscle fiber composition needed for competitive arm wrestling i.e. Ready g..smack! 

It also comes down to hormones, the hormones generated when doing complex exercises at the gym involving large muscles support the recovery and growth of the small muscles used in arm wrestling. 

The comparatively tiny muscles in the arm that are so crucial for arm wrestling success ( ex pronator teres, extensor carpi etc) are easy to over stress and you are at risk of developing golfers or tennis elbow. By performing gym exercises like rows and pulldowns etc you generate hormones and blood flow to support these muscles. 

Why should arm wrestlers spend time in the gym
  • Generate anabolic hormones
  • Increase recovery of small muscles
  • Prevent injuries 
  • Build explosive power
  • overall health 
  • mprove body posture

why is it often “easy” to top-roll a hooker and to hook a top-roller?
(I was about to delete this section of the article sence arm wrestling often is to complex to make such general claims, It is a generalisation and you should read it as such) 
If you are a hook style armwrestler you probably train the hook for the most part because that is where you are comfortable and thats what you want to improve even more. This means that you are not training you radial deviation ( thumb up) or your pronation ( turning hand anti-clockwise) and if you are a more outside can opener top roll type puller you are probably not training your hook strength so much. 

The point is that the muscles that do not get trained effectively by hook training is exactly the muscles that are attacked by a top roll and vice versa.

This can be dealt with in the gym by specific exercises or at the table by performing the different techniques even if you would never use them in competition.

If you train in the gym try to focus on explosiveness, don't make it to AW-training like, Use a weight that you can perform apx 5 reps with and lift it with maximum effort and speed. (But obviously keep it controlled to avoid injury) 

Top gym exercises for arm wrestlers

(These exercises are good for people who arm wrestle on a regular basis to complement their table time)    

Dumbbell rows
Lat pulldown
weighted pull ups 
Reversed grip bicep curl with EZ-bar
Scott curls
Seated rows

For general shoulder health I would also recommend that you do dumbbell lifts to the side in all angles and that you do some lateral rotation (opposite movement of side pressure in AW) so you rotate your arm outward instead of inward to keep a balanced shoulder joint.

I whould also recomend some kind of aerobic exercise, but for god sake do it with you legs, running cyckling etc. Muscle Endurance directly prevents explosivness in the same mucle, read more about that in the article “the biomechanics of arm wrestling”

Good luck!

Author: Magnus Westberg

Read all articles written by Magnus Westberg in section Arm Science by Magnus Westberg