GOING OVER THE TOP - Chaos and Pain


If I’m honest, I was completely unaware that arm-wrestling was still a thing in the 21st Century. I thought it was a flash in the pan thing that died in the 1980s. My only exposure to arm-wrestling in my lifetime has been limited to the hilariously awesome but utterly nonsensical movie Over the Top, and although the movie was centered around arm-wrestling, I recall very little of it aside from the fact that Sylvester Stallone had a weight stack set up in his big rig for the sole purpose of lifting while driving. When faced with the revelation that such a thing is possible, it’s easy to understand how a sport so consigned to the periphery of strength sports could have been overshadowed by the addition of a cable lifting apparatus to be used while driving.

Later, my apparent misapprehension about the sport of arm-wrestling was upheld with the advent of X-Arm, which is exactly the type of event one would expect out of the type of troglodytic, knuckle-dragging, monosyllabic, skunk beer swilling, white trash retards who seemed to fill Over the Top to overflowing. For those of you who are unaware, X-Arm was the brainchild of Art Davies, the man behind the original incarnation of the UFC, and was a hybrid of MMA and arm-wrestling, with the combatant’s hands tied together in a farcical attempt to make it seem as though an arm-wrestling match might break out while the fighters reenacted the amazing hockey-style dustup between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama.

Don’t get me wrong- the idea has some merit simply for the fact it resembled that epic fight, but beyond that the idea was dumber than Britney Spears’ decision to procreate, and likely required a similar amount of moonshine and methamphetamine to come to fruition.

Thankfully, I was lifted out of the fog of ignorance of arm-wrestling a couple of years ago after watching the documentary

Pulling John,
a biopic about legendary giant killer John Brzenk. Though most people only know of Brzenk as the little guy in the polo shirt who arm-wrestled Stallone in the Sly film, Brzenk is a legend in the sport. Although in the film Brzenk was a rather uncompelling protagonist, my interest in arm-wrestling was piqued by the training methods and overall awesome of Alexey Voevoda. Don’t get me wrong- as the “giant killer” of arm-wrestling who’s dominated the sport for about 30 years, Brzenk is nothing short of a stone cold badass the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since Aleksandr Karelin dominated Greco-Roman wrestling.

What made arm wrestlers truly interesting to me, however, was the wild variance in their training methods. In most sports, there is a general overall structure to training that everyone seems to follow. In arm-wrestling, however, the training methodologies are more varied than how Justin Bieber continually invents to publicly embarrass himself, and for that reason I decided to conduct further
investigation. What I found boggled my mind further, as there appears to be no information readily available for strength training for arm-wrestling, and scanty information on how the arm wrestlers practice for their sport of choice. As such, I decided to pick a few of the more colorful and successful characters in the sport to determine exactly how they developed the strength most of us would like to be capable of putting on display at our local happy hour without tearing our shoulders to bits and exploding out biceps tendons all over the little old ladies avidly surveying the luscious landscape of meaty goodness before them.

Sarah Bäckman

5’8″ 154 lbs.

Swedish Senior and Junior Champion (left and right-handed divisions) (2006),
Junior World Champion (2007), Senior World Champion (2009)

If there is a single word to describe Bäckman, it’s hot. A cursory
glance indicates she’s a Swede with arms most men would like to either lick or possess themselves, and further investigation reveals she’s too hot for anyone to approach without pissing themselves in fear, and that our collective fear is just as completely justified as is our fear of deep sea creatures. She’s been a dominant force in arm-wrestling since she was 15 and has now moved on to the WWE where she will undoubtedly moonlight wrestling pasty-faced, sweaty schmoes for $1000 an hour. To develop her insane pulling power and guns, though, Bäckman revealed the following:



Though it will come as a shock to some, I was wholly unsurprised to find Bäckman has no set routine and just trains by feel. Her workouts, however, generally consist of the following:

  • one or two body parts a day, with two to three exercises of up to 30 sets for each. 
  • heavy, basic, compound movements, with a lot of emphasis on Olympic and powerlifting movements.
  • low reps- she never does over 6 reps.
  • Fat Gripz work for everything from chins and dips to rows to build bone-crushing grip strength.
  • hammer curls and dumbbell rows to build a strong brachilais, which in turn helps her top roll 
  • walks 5km four times a week and rocks 10 sets of 100 m sprints afterward. 

Using that sort of a system, Bäckman’s gotten crazy strong at a very young age- at 21, she’s rocking a 300 lb deadlift, 235 lb Oly squat, and a 190 bench press, all while maintaining a physique lean enough to get her in the conversation with seriously accomplished physique competitors. She credits the Pauline Nordin’s Fighter Diet with her physique, which is a modified paleo diet that if Bäckman’s
meal photos are a good indication consist of mostly massive slabs of ribs and steaks accompanied by a pile of veggies.

In short, Bäckman’s exactly as brutal as her training routine and diet would indicate she’d be.

Denis Cyplenkov

6’1″ 308 lbs.

2009 and 2010 Nemiroff 95+ kg and Open Right (7th in Open 2009 due to Injury) and Left Hand Champion

Perhaps you’ve seen the hilarious pictures of Cyplenkov’s hands measured against those of a normal person–if not, he appears to be the descendant of Shrek and 1990’s bodybuilder Mike Matarazzo. This badass Russian has forearms that stretch the tape at just over 20 inches, and his upper arms are an equally ridiculous 23.6 inches.

Though you’d expect his resume to include dismemberment of dozens of opponents and concomitant pictures of a hungry Cyplenkov dining on the raw, bloody, severed arms of his fallen opponents, Cyplenkov’s wins are limited to the 2010 Nemiroff World Cup of Armwrestling champion in the 95kg+ category for both his right and left arm and similar placing in 2009. Perhaps of greater interest to the readership of Chaos and Pain, Cyplenkov benches 639 lbs. in competition, squats 705 lbs., and deadlifts 749 lbs., which would put him at #2 in the 308s currently, and at a very solid #1 in the bench.

Cyplenkov has two different training splits- in season and off season. In season, he does three weight training workouts a week with two table sessions, and off season he does five weight training sessions and three table sessions a week. Though details on his workouts are really only obtainable by watching his training vids, Cyplenkov:

  • employs Fat Gripz in all of his arm work and seems to prefer EZ Bar curls for biceps.
  • simulates armwrestling movements with bands.
  • incorporates strongman and powerlifting movements year-round.
  • employs Fat Gripz on his bodyweight work, which includes pullups and chins with a variety of grips, and dips.
  • trains arms with relatively high reps and short-ish ranges of motion- he neither goes to full extension on curls nor pushdowns.
  • goes full 1970s on the deal and does an odd combination of Heavy hands
  • and the elliptical, where he does short range hammer curls while using
  • the elliptical for cardio. I was frankly surprised to see this, in
  • spite of the fact that it makes sense from a logical standpoint, just because no one’s even spoken the word “Heavyhands” in 20 years.

If you’re not starting to catch on to the pattern, it might be a good idea to get some Fat Gripz, stat. They appear to be working for Cyplenkov and Bäckman.

John Brzenk

6’1″ 200-225 lbs.

Of all the wrestlers thus far discussed, none has the pedigree of John Brzenk. As a light heavy, Bzenk has dominated the sport of armwrestling since 1983. Since that time, Brzenk has only lost one supermatch. and has defeated all comers ranging from Cyplenkov to Voevoda and a 60 lb fatass who tried to heave his useless bulk into the limelight by taking on the best ever. The weird bit, however, is that Brzenk hates weight training and rarely does it.

According to Wikipedia, he was able to close grip bench 315 lbs for 5 reps at one point, and frequently trained with 50 lbs dumbbells for bicep curls and wrist curls. For the most part, however, Brzenk just trains on the table. According to the man himself, the greatest implement with which an armwrestler could train is a great team, not a barbell (XSportNews). Weird, certainly, but apparently the man is onto something- he is indisputably the greatest armwrestler the world has ever seen.

Alexey Voevoda

6’4″ 277 lbs.

Never in history has a man been more suited to wearing a matte black suit of armor and cleaving every sonofabitch with anything to say about anything in twain with his trusty kilij than Alexey Voyevoda, longhaired badass from the Ukraine. Voevoda is a multiple gold medal winner in the bobsleigh event in the Winter Olympics, multiple winners of the prestigious Zloty Tur armwrestling tournament, and one of the only men to defeat the legend John Brzenk.

Voevoda’s training methods are nearly as unconventional as Bzenks,
though far more brutal. As he grew up in the Ukraine, a land famed for getting screwed by the Soviets harder than Sabrina Johnson got banged in her two-day gangbang with 2000 dudes, Voevoda had to get inventive with his training, which is exactly what he did. Voevoda mad waves in Pulling John by doing bench press lockouts in a leg press machine with a positively ludricrous 926 lbs. Voevoda’s armwrestling training routine basically centers around arms, though he’s capable of doing an easy flag even at his heaviest and trains his entire body year round to stay in shape for bobsleigh. His training routine is not available online anywhere, though bits an pieces of it can be picked up from a variety of videos. We know for sure that:

  • Voevoda will have two people attach straps to his pulling arm amd pull against both of them simultaneously while armwrestling a third person.
  • he does craploads of arm circles with light dumbbells as a warmup.
  • Voevoda benches 405 for a double
  • he does a tremendous amount of cable work, and rope hammer curls, to strengthen his arms for wrestling.
  • Voevoda believes training for explosiveness is the key to winning in
    armestling, so training must be ear maximally heavy and extremely explosive and fast.

Bizarrely, Voevoda’s been adhering to a vegan diet for the past three or four years, with no ill effects. Whether this is a testament to the fact the man cannot be killed, we can only speculate, but he insists he avoids protein drinks and mainly subsists on a diet of fruits and vegetables.

As you can see, there’s not a great deal of consensus on the best way to train to enable you to snap a dude’s arm like a piece of dry kindling over your knee. What there is instead is a wide array of disparate training methods, freaks of goddamned nature, and Fat Gripz. Given the paucity of information about training for armwrestling, it seemed prudent to consult with Chaos and Pain’s own Talia VanDoran, who recently added “armwrestler” to her strength sporting acumen, piling that atop her strongwoman and powerlifting competitions. The following is what transpired in an interview we conducted some time ago to shed some light on how armwrestlers train.

Talia VanDoran

5’4″ 180lbs

In re how her training has changed to suit armwrestling:

“My training has adapted in many ways now that I am incorporating arm wrestling to the list of strength sports I play with. Arm wrestling isn’t necessarily about big arms. It isn’t about big arms at all. I’ve seen some amazing pullers with arms smaller than mine. May be a little embarrassing for them, but they can take down giants! We are really talking about TENDON strength, wrist strength and grip strength. 

Coming from a background in powerlifting and strongwoman has helped me jump to the top of the pack. More specifically, the strongwoman training has been my biggest asset in the transition into arm wrestling. My supportive, crushing, and pinching grip is solid due to my work with implements such as axle, stones, farmers etc. Also, strongwoman is bicep intensive. Arm wrestling is also bicep intensive. My tendons are conditioned to that type of strain, so I have done relatively well in a short amount of time. My wrists have also really thickened up since becoming a strongwoman. Carrying events are amazing wrist builders.

I do spend time in the gym working on upper back strength, but that is not only for arm wrestling. Everyone knows a big upper back will lend well to massive lifts across the board. Most women come into arm wrestling without a training background. This is where I can

In re program structure: “My program is based in powerlifting while adding in strongwoman implement work, arm wrestling accessory and body building hypertrophy. Brandon Lilly has been working with me to create a program that can sustain all three sports while not completely wrecking me. I never really thought I would be a multi-sport athlete and it does pose some interesting programming challenges, but it is some of the most fun I have ever had. I love pushing myself to the limit, so my programming must allow for recovery while still seeing gains and prepare me for multiple competitions no matter the sport. Sounds like a lot of hard stuff. I promise you it ain’t easy! Brandon has really worked hard to help me take on this crazy idea, stay healthy and SAFE.”

In re arm wrestling practice:“Arm wrestling practice consists of table time. Getting on the table and pulling other people is what is going to make you better at arm wrestling. We run through some wrist warm-ups and then start pulling. At practice we really focus on technique. Most matches are won in the hand. If you can get your hand placement to where you are in the leverage advantage, the match is basically over.

Arm wrestling is truly a game of leverages and is complicated as hell. Therefore being “strong” isn’t enough. Focusing on different style techniques is also a major part of practice. The hook and top roll are your most common styles. There are variations of each and different combinations of the two. Practice is a great time to play with your style and find what works best for you. We also get some strap work in, which eliminates a lot of hand/wrist leverage. The strap plays to the strength of those with big backs/lats. You will use a strap in a match when you have a slip, so always being prepared for that to be an option is important.”

In re her armwrestling style:“My AW “style” is more of a full-hand top-roll. A lot of women like to high-hand top-roll because the strength isn’t there. This looks like a lot of fingers grabbing and pinning, instead of what you traditionally think of in arm wrestling. I’ll get into a high hand with some girls, but in most cases I’m going to show them what power feels like. In a full hand, I’m able to utilize my lats/back/shoulders/triceps instead of playing the “finger dance.” Due to my lifting background I’m able to overpower my competition in most cases. Even women that weigh 50+ pounds more than I do will struggle to match my strength at the table.

I’m thankful for that advantage and I go into my matches with a good amount of confidence. That’s where the “mental” component comes into play. Arm wrestling is a personal sport. You are all up in someone’s space. Emotions are high. Intensity is palpable. There is NO other feeling like it. Intimidation is key. Setting up with confidence and showing no weakness will win matches. I don’t fear my opponents. I have pulled some amazing women. I've lost matches, but I never fear them. I welcome the challenge and don’t allow them into my mental space. I’m there to dominate. We can shake hands and exchange pleasantries when the match is over.”

In re the idea that bodyweight training is ideal for arm-wrestling:“Bodyweight training ideal??? No. I don’t think so. Maybe if you are sport specific for arm wrestling, but even then, you won’t build as solid of a muscular base as you will with weight training. I can see the advantage to some bodyweight movements when considering the development of tendon strength and wrist conditioning (pull-ups etc). However, I think it is of paramount importance to get your ass under a barbell.”

In re the ideal diet for an arm-wrestler: “I’ve never seen a diet for arm wrestlers. In fact, a lot of guys will eat just about anything with no concern for how it will impede their training. The upper-level pro pullers will eat a very “body building” style diet. Typically, they train like BBers as well, which I find to be very interesting. My diet consists of meat. Lots of it. Fat. Lots of it. Starchy carbs are minimal, and veggies are just fluff in addition to the meat and fat. It’s worked well thus far. I’m sitting at 178#s just shy of 5’5”. #flatgutfatbutt”

“Here’s the deal. When someone comes up to me (mostly men) and says, “nice tats” or “nice ink” I say thank you and move along. Generally, if this conversation is entertained, it will turn into talking about their tattoos, the tattoos they want, the tattoos they wish they hadn’t had gotten, the tattoos they want to show me (which usually involves removing articles of clothing) and potentially touching my tattoos. 

These are all things I’d like to avoid. I’m not quite sure what it is about the word’s “tatt” and “ink,” but I have found that when those words are present the conversation goes south. A lot of women that are heavily tattooed will get stopped to talk about tattoos. That’s ok in my book, but there is a slightly trashy connotation to the word’s “tatt” and “ink.” And guys…let’s be honest…” nice tatts” and “nice ink” usually tell a female you are hitting on her and could care less about the quality of her tattoos. Sorry. It may be unfair, but lots of things in life is unfair. Just say “nice tattoos” and you might have a better time.”

And there you have it- there are a million ways to skin arm-wrestling’s cat. Whatever you decide to do, however, just don’t tell Talia VanDoran she has nice tats, or you might end up staring up at her as she gnaws on your severed and bloody right arm.

For more informative blogs by Chaos and Pain click here.


Interview: Alexey Voevoda about armwrestling and bobsleigh. 18 Aug 2012. Web. 19 Jun 2014.

Interview: Denis Cyplenkov – Winner of A1 RUSSIAN OPEN – World
Armwrestling Grand Prix – 27-28 July 2012. XSportnews. 8 Aug 2012. Web. 22 Sep 2013.

Interview with Sarah Bäckman. World Challenge. 8 Jan 2012. Web. 22 Sep 2013.

John Brzenk. Wikipedia. Web. 13 Sep 2013.

John Brzenk about armwrestling training. XSportnews. 25 Oct 2013. Web. 19 Jun 2014.

Plummer, John. Changing Attitudes. Muscle and Fitness Australia. Web. 18 Jun 2014.

The Most Jacked Athlete in Every Sport. Muscle Prodigy. 18 Jul 2012. Web. 18 Jun 2014.

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