Arm Wrestling

Arm wrestling is a sport which involves two competitors locking hands forcing the other’s arm down. Who ever has their arm go down first on the table loses. Although it is not a large sport like basketball, soccer, tennis, or football it has gathered a following over the years. There are divisions by weight class for competitors. It is not entirely certain when arm wrestling appeared in human history. It could have emerged whenever two humans realized it could be a simple game. Some depictions of arm wrestling can be seen in Egyptian art, but there is not complete record of the early form of this sport. One estimate is that it started as early as 2000 B.C.E.It is common to think this is an activity young children do on school yards and at home. Now it has a following in 80 countries recognized by the World Arm Wrestling Federation. Like any other sport, it has rules, competitor divisions, and other regulations.

          The divisions are male, female, and children who can compete. They are also divided by left arm and right arm including age. Children ages 12 or younger compete in a sub junior division. At age 18 one can qualify for a senior division . If a competitor is age 40 they can compete in the masters division. Veterans at age 50 can go onto the grand masters division. Competitors are weighed in to determine which weight class to go in.  The story of women in the sport reveals challenges for acceptance. Women just like other sports were at time largely excluded.Not anymore, because this small sport is seeing some women become interested. It seems to be happening in the most unlikely places. Debbie Banaian  a longtime arm wrestler began promoting and teaching the sport at the University of New Hampshire. There she teaches and challenges students in the sport.

This Woman’s Mission? To Get Other Women to Arm Wrestle

When Debbie was starting out it was sometimes difficult to find other female competitors. Many times she was the only woman competing in tournaments. She began to use the internet to form a Facebook group called Female Arm Wrestlers United. This helped generate interest from women around the USA. Debbie admits there continues to be much opposition from women’s participation in the sport and at times the exchanges become vituperative. Women who compete in the world arm wrestling league are only now getting the same pay. It has been promised in 2017, but this seems questionable. Women get limited air time on television and Steve Kaplan claims their is a lack of interest. The sport in general is not mainstream, so it is up to organizers in the federation to promote it. That is the key to advancing women competitors  and the sport .

    Arm wrestling has equipment, uniform qualifications, and a basic set up. Competitions can be done either standing or sitting. A table for a standing match is required to be at least 40 inches from the floor. Competitions that are seated have a table of 28 inches. The other dimensions of the table include one inch and six inch pegs. The table is 36 inches across and 26 inches deep with the two pegs. The pegs are placed one inch around the edge. Arm wrestlers put their elbows on a two inch pad, which will be two inches away from their opposite edges. Clothing regulations are simple. For an international competition one must have a uniform that identifies their country. Then sleeveless or short sleeve shirts are the only ones allowed in competition. Hats and blue jeans are restricted in contests. Wrap supports and bandages are permitted. People with long hair has to be pilled back and restrained. Rings cannot be worn during competition. The hand set up requires both competitors to have a palm to palm grip with the the thumb and knuckles  visible.  The gripped hams must be level and straight. Your shoulders are required to be square to the table. The hand that is free must grip the pegs on the table. There is a one minute grip up and the referee will then adjust the opponents hands and signal the start of the match.

      Arm wrestling has a set of rules that determines who wins and loses. To win an arm wrestler  must force their opponent’s hand down on the pad. Committing two fouls in a match can lead to disqualification. Failing to show up the arm wrestling table when you are called also results in a foul.



Having an injury during the mach that is so debilitating that one can no longer go on means that last arm wrestler remaining wins. There are fouls that are prevalent in matches. Bending the wrist is considered a foul and dangerous. Lifting the elbow off the table in a vertical direction also is a violation of rules. It gives a competitor an unfair advantage. Slipping out of the grip of the wrestle also gets a competitor demerits. Allowing the shoulders to extend past the center also will be punished. Behavioral misconduct will also be reprimanded. If arm wrestlers can avoid these fouls they can easily advance in competition.

         There are many muscles and parts of the body that are used in arm wrestling. The majority  of  mechanical use comes from the upper body. The muscles of the forearm, the movements of the hand, shoulders, back, chest, and stomach. Having a strong grip is critical to arm wrestling . The forearm muscles contribute to keeping the arm stable on a table.


It is not just muscle tissue that contributes, but ligaments and tendons.  Tendons act as anchors to bones and muscles. Ligaments are responsible for linking bones to other bones . Bigger tendons and ligaments provide more power. The tendons of the arm include the pollicis longus, pollivus brevis, carpi radialis brevis, carpi radialis longus, and common extensor. The major muscles used in arm wrestling are the biceps and triceps. The muscle fibers work together in recruitment to stabilize the arm and produce force. An arm wrestler can move their challenger’s arm toward them manipulating leverage.

863668923 The shoulders and back also play a role. The deltoid  and latissimus dorsi contribute to adding more power to an arm wrestler. Using some of the back requires using some rotation of the body. When an opponent is being eased to defeat this use of  the back is designed to provide more force from another area. This takes pressure off the arm. Arm wrestling although it looks simple seems to have an vast  understanding of biomechanics of the muscles. The understanding of leverage and physics also contributes to techniques developed over the years.



 The surprising element of arm wrestling is that it does involve the abdominals. The tightening of the abdominal muscles allows the body to summon strength from the core during a match. This time becomes valuable to allow energy to be focused on the arm. Another contributor to power in arm wrestling is the pectoral muscles. This seems more obvious, because the arms are connected to the shoulders of the body.

         One question arises when examining arm wrestling is can a woman beat a man at arm wrestling? There are elements of sexual dimorphism that make it a challenge. However, it should be noted that arm wrestling is not purely based on strength. Technique is important. It is possible that a physically weaker person could win an arm wrestling match if they have a particular method utilizing leverage and biomechanical function. Men have more upper body strength and their hands are larger than women’s. Arm width increases in men after puberty.Larger tendons and ligaments also contribute to strength. Denser bones are also essential. Therefore if a woman is attempting to arm wrestle a man technique can sometimes make up for the gap in strength.

Solely being reliant on brute strength will not always win matches. Jill Mills arm wrestles in a video from six years ago and wins one out of three matches. It is clear that she is stronger than them, but has no technique in her arm wrestling attempts. The men here however seem to know how to use leverage and power simultaneously. It is dubious that these three men could lift cars like Jill does. This demonstrates how people train differently for particular sports. It would not be impossible for a woman to win at arm wrestling against a man. Sarah Backman has done it before.She was an arm wrestling champion and beat many men at arm wrestling through both technique and strength.

If there were to be a theoretical match between Jill Mills and Sarah Backman, the outcome would be clear. Backman would win an arm wrestling match due to her technique. The 2011 match posted above shows her arm wrestling a man and winning. Even though he has the larger  hands and bigger upper body his technique is not as good. It has only been recently that women have become involved in the sport so that could influence the performance gap. However, biology is still a factor in performance.

       It should be noted that this sport does pose some health risks to the arms. This can be avoided by intelligent training and strengthening the tendons of the arm. The elbow can be vulnerable to strain and aches. That is also common in golfers and tennis players due to repetitive motion. The stain on biceps, triceps, and the elbow can lead to tendonitis. This condition is inflammation of a tendon or severe irritation.

man-and-woman-arm-wrestle A common arm wrestling injury is known as lateral epicondylitis. This colloquially is referred to as tennis elbow. Damage occurs from over use of the extensor  muscles. starting at the lateral  epicondylar in the distal humerus region. Joints and the elbows of the arm can be sensitive to  pressure. There are ways to prevent elbow injuries. It has been recommended that doing jumping jacks and a ten minute warm up can be a method of preventing injuries. Most injuries can be solved by either rest or medication. It is rare that surgery will be required to solve a elbow problem from arm wrestling. Strengthening the muscles is key, which means traditional weight lifting can help.


25465_img-php4_123_863lo  There also is the problem of shoulder pain . Arm wrestling does require the use of the shoulders. The strain puts pressure on the genohumeral joint. It is a ball and socket like structure attaching the arm to the actual shoulder. This joint is located between the humerus and the scapula. This structure allows for the arm to do rotation like movements . Cartilage will act as a padded structural support between bones and joints. Over use then become the main cause of  shoulder pain. The cartilage is thin and without it bone would grind upon bone.

kashma-maharaj-11  Shoulder pain can be treated in numerous ways. Applying heat for 20 minutes to the effected shoulder can help. Applying a cold ice pack on injured the injured shoulder within a span of 48 hours can reduce inflammation. It should be done within the first 15 minutes of pain. Never apply heat immediately after the pain, because this will cause inflammation. Doing this will allowing for a longer arm wrestling career. This sport is not major and rarely gets coverage on television. It is possible than in the future this could change. AMC briefly had a reality show called Game of Arms, which followed arms wrestlers on their journey through training and contests.  It lasted  one season in 2014 and initially it had about 1 million viewers. Game of Arms was going to be renewed for a second season, but TV executives at AMC thought it was better they focus on their fictional drama programs instead. Although it did not see major success, it did give the sport some mainstream exposure. This is the challenge for smaller and underground sports. They do not have the sponsorship, corporate, and public relations backing that more mainstream sports have. It has the potential to grow and expand across the world. Women’s participation can help and could generate mainstream interest. The great thing about arm wrestling is that it does not require special sports equipment or uniforms. Anyone can have a match anywhere without going to an arena.

Further Reading

Harris, Rob. “What Muscles Are Worked Out in Arm Wrestling?”LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 06 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. <;.

Emerson, Heather. “Shoulder Pain From Arm Wrestling.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. <;.

inneweber, Collin. “Arm Wrestling & Elbow Pain.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. <;.

Howard, Michelle. “Arm Wrestling Rules & Regulations.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 22 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. <;.

Arm Wrestling

One thought on “Arm Wrestling

  1. Mark says:

    I enjoyed the arm wrestling comments. My wife and I compete against each other quite often. Even though I am taller and weigh some thirty pounds heavier she still is very competitive and wins much more often. She enjoys being strong and has no reservations about having a match in fronts of our friends or even her parents.
    I realize her strength is a dominant factor, but also she is very proficient at trash talking which many times gives her the edge even before we wrestle. It has been great fun and often leads to a playful evening. Let’s encourage more women to step forward and show their prowess.


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