Going Over The Top
If I’m honest, I was completely unaware that armwrestling 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 armwrestling in my lifetime
has been limited to the hilariously awesome but utterly nonsensical
Over The Top, and in spite of the fact that the movie was
centered around armwrestling, 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
Later, my apparent misapprehension about the sport of armwrestling 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
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
armwrestling, with the combatant’s hands tied together in a farcical
attempt to make it seem as though an armwrestling 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 armwrestling a couple of years ago after watching the documentary
a biopic about legendary giant killer John Brzenk. Though most people
only know of Brzenk as the little guy in the polo shirt who armwrestled
Stallone in the aforementioned Sly film, Brzenk is a legend in the
sport. In spite of the fact that in the film Brzenk was a rather
uncompelling protagonist, my interest in armwrestling was piqued by the
training methods and overall awesome of Alexey Voevoda. Don’t get me
wrong- as the “giant killer” of armwrestling 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, but he’s duller than an episode of the
Facts of Life as a person and likely considers beige to be the greatest single color ever to grace the human retina.
made armwrestlers 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
armwrestling, however, the training methodologies are more varied than
the means by which 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
armwrestling, and scanty information on how the armwrestlers 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.
5’8″ 154 lbs.
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 armwrestling 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
practice armwrestling 1-2 times per week and I work out at the gym
almost every day. I love the gym, it’s my 2nd home. I plan the training
myself. In the gym I train my whole body because I think it’s fun, and
of course I focus a lot on armwrestling exercises – wrist, forearm, side
pressure, back pressure, etc” (World Challenge).
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.
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
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.
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 placeings 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 Heavyhands
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 definitely appear to be working for Cyplenkov and Bäckman.
6’1″ 200-225 lbs.
Of all of 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.
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 winner 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:
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 in particular, to strengthen his arms for wrestling.
believes training for explosiveness is the key to winning in
armestling, so training must be ear maximally heavy and extremely
explosive and fast.
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.
Travis Bagent, most amusing man in armwrestling.
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 on the subject of 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 in an effort to shed some light on how
n re how her training has changed to suit armwrestling:
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. Actually, 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 am able to
At the very least, powerlifting equips you to handle ebola.
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 has to 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. This is why 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.”
Finishing a full hand top roll.
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 finger 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 have 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
In re the idea that bodyweight training is ideal for armwrestling:“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 armwrestler:“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”
In re why Talia gets so salty when people say “Nice tatts” or “nice ink” to her:
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 have
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 words “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 words “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 are unfair. Just say “nice tattoos” and you might have a better
there you have it- there are a million ways to skin armwrestling’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.
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.