Going Over the Top: How To Dominate In Arm Wrestling

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 20, 2009 · 25 comments

in Gamesmanship, Manly Skills


The arm wrestling match. It’s one of the manly feats of strength that every man will face at least once in his life. You never know when you’ll be challenged to display your manly strength, so you need to be ready to place your elbow on the table at any time. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have cannon balls for biceps or forearms like Popeye to win at arm wrestling, though they do help immensely. But with a bit of technique, a dash of speed, and little strategery, you can beat an opponent at arm wrestling who’s stronger than you are. In this article, we’re going to show you techniques and training tips passed down by arm wrestling champs of yore, so the next time some dude challenges you to a match, you can smash his hand to the table.

Arm Wrestling Techniques

There are two techniques that when coupled with a strong finish will make you virtually unstoppable in the arm wrestling ring: the top-roll and the hook. Now ideally, your implementation of these techniques should be fast and seamless, you know, like an arm wrestling ninja.

The Top-roll

The top-roll is the most effective arm wrestling technique. Top-rolling turns arm wrestling from a showdown of bicep and forearm strength to a contest of hand, finger, and wrist prowess. The key to top-rolling is to work your hand up your opponent’s palm. Your goal is to have your hand wrapped around the top part of his hand with him holding the bottom part of yours. In order to get in this position, you need to start as soon as you hear the word go. Pull your hand towards you in order to force your opponent’s hand away from his body. This will mess up his leverage and increase yours. Hopefully, you’ll notice your opponent’s grip beginning to slip. As soon as you notice this, start moving your grip higher up on his hand. Keep doing this until you’re as high up on his hand as you can get. As soon as you reach this point, you’re ready for the finish.

The Hook

The hook is simple and can be used by itself or with the top-roll. The goal of the hook is to force your opponent’s hand back, thus increasing your power and leverage. As soon as you hear “Go!” force your opponent’s hand back, and expose his wrist by twisting your wrist towards you. When you get him into this position, you’re ready for the finish.


In the future, wars will be determined by arm wrestling.

Finish Him!

Sometimes the hardest part of arm wrestling is finishing off your opponent. A man will try to ring every last bit of juice from his meathooks before letting you slam his hand to the table. Oftentimes, arm wrestling matches devolve into an interminable stalemate with one man’s hand hovering above the table while the other man is mustering all the forearm strength he can to finish the deal. Here’s how to avoid this situation-

When you’re ready to finish your opponent, rotate your body so that your shoulder is in line with the direction you want your arm to go. This will allow you to call on your much stronger shoulder muscles and utilize some of your body weight. Unless your opponent has super human strength, he’s going to have a hard time staving off defeat.

Again, I want to reiterate how important it is to do implement these techniques quickly and seamlessly. The less time your opponent has to respond, the better. This will take a lot of practice and perhaps a whole lot of losing. If your ego can’t take the beatings, arm wrestle your 11 year old nephew to get the technique down. Of course, we’ll make fun of you for having to arm wrestle a prepubescent boy with sticks for arms just because you’re not man enough to lose gracefully. Which brings us to….

Losing With Grace

You get challenged, you accept the challenge, and you lose. Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us. Realize that your arm wrestling prowess isn’t an indicator of your manliness. When your hand touches the table, give an “aw shucks,” shake your opponent’s steely hand, slap him on the back, and with a charming smile, tell him good job and that you’ll want a rematch after you’ve done the Charles Atlas program. Don’t be that guy who pins his entire masculinity on an arm wrestling match, and after losing seeks to redeem himself by demonstrating cartoonish masculinity. You know, swearing, guzzling beer, demanding rematches, name calling, etc. That guy is a real jagweed.

Also, if you’re in a position where you’re about to lose, don’t be the guy who cocks his hand so it’s almost impossible for the other guy to end the match, leaving you both just sitting there for the next five minutes in that same position. The jig is up, and you’re just delaying the inevitable. If your goose is cooked, look at your opponent, give a nod, and give in gracefully to defeat. You’ll get him next time.

Strength Training for Arm Wrestling

The best way to train your muscles to kick ass at arm wrestling is to, well, do lots of arm wrestling. However, your friends will probably get tired of you asking them to arm wrestle all the time. Here are some novel ways to train your arm when you’re by your lonesome.

Arm Wrestling Arcade Machines


Remember these things? They had one at the Chuck E. Cheese I went to as a kid. You’re basically arm wrestling a robot. Becuase these things have hydraulics on their side, you’ll get quite a workout trying to pin the robot arm to the table. I haven’t seen too many of these sorts of machines lately. It might be because a Japanese version of the machine broke the arms of three people. Ouch!

The Neil Lewis Arm Wrestling Machine


I found this nifty contraption on Old Time Strongman (a site everyone should definitely check out). It’s a really simple apparatus. Just add weight to one end of the lever and start hammering out reps that mimic the arm wrestling motion. Pretty dang cool. It’s a shame they don’t make the Neil Lewis Arm Wrestling Machine anymore. Fortunately, there is a modern incaranton of this old strongman device, aptly named The Terminator.

I found this video of an enginuitive man who created his own Neil Lewis Arm Wrestling Machine at home. Looks easy to put together on your own.

The Lincoln Hawk Big Rig Weight Machine


If you’re looking for some inspiration to get pumped up for your next arm wrestling match, look no further than the 1987 Sylvester Stallone classic Over the Top. Yeah, it’s an entire movie dedicated to arm wrestling. How cool is that? Stallone plays a struggling trucker named Lincoln Hawk who arm wrestles on the side to make extra money. After the death of his wife, he tries to make amends with his son who he left behind years earlier. Upon their first meeting, his son doesn’t think too highly of Hawk. But over the course of the film, he warms up to his dad, and they form a great father-son relationship. Arm wrestling and a touching father-son story. What more can you ask for in a movie?

One of the coolest things I remember from this film is the weight lifting machine Hawk has set up in his big rig so he can train his arm wrestling arm while driving. That’s a man who is dedicated to his sport. If someone else has replicated this in real life, my kuddos to him. I’d love to see a pic.

Exercises for Arm Wrestling

If you can’t get a hold of one of these cool contraptions, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home and in the gym to get stronger for arm wrestling. An arm wrestler needs to build strength in his forearms, biceps, and triceps. Hand grippers can help build strength in your fingers and hands. Wrist curls work your forearms. Dumbbell curls work your biceps. Tricep press downs will give you strength in your triceps. For a more complete list of exercise for arm wrestling, check out Ultimate Arm Wrestling.

Some Arm Wrestling Inspiration

So you’ve got the technique down, you know how to lose gracefully, and you’ve learned how to train for your next arm wrestling match. To pump you up for your next match, we’ll leave you with the final scene from the best and only film about arm wrestling, Over the Top. Notice how Hawk uses the top roll to finally defeat his opponent. See, it works in the movie, so it will work for you. Enjoy and get out there and show somebody’s foreman who’s boss.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Speedmaster March 20, 2009 at 4:53 am

I remember that movie. Horrible. ;-)

2 A.T. Nelson March 20, 2009 at 5:02 am

Thanks for the article Brett and Kate. I especially enjoyed the pic of the soldier and the continuous loop of Stallone. The section on losing gracefully, though, got me thinking — would you do a whole article on losing gracefully? Not just in sports and games, but in all the implicit and explicit competitions of one’s life. Sure, we all want to win, and we should all try to, but how about an article about how to handle defeat in a manly way? I see a lot of men who whine and complain when they lose, or worse, get angry. Getting angry after losing, especially in a fair fight, is one of the most unmanly things I’ve had the displeasure to witness (and, I’m ashamed to say, to have done myself). But it’s so hard not to recover from disappointment gracefully, and I, at least, could use some help from my fellow men.

3 Stuart March 20, 2009 at 5:05 am

I agree. You don’t need to be strong to win matches. Sometimes the High School students I work with challenge me to matches. There is nothing like using the top-roll and my waifish arms to humiliate a macho Football player!

4 Dirtybacon March 20, 2009 at 6:32 am

Mentioning the movie, you forgot the most important move to winning an arm-wrestling match: turn your hat backwards.

5 RickO March 20, 2009 at 7:25 am

It would be interesting to include a section here about what *not* to do when you’re arm wrestling.

I arm wrestled a guy back in college during an inter-dorm competition. We were the ‘heavy weights’, so forty or fifty guys were crowded around us yelling. I took an early lead in the match, and my opponent tried to get leverage by extending his shoulder forward and in — essentially, pushing his should away from where his hand was directed. The sound when his humerus (the upper arm bone) snapped was enough to silence the whole room pretty quickly.

I saw an x-ray of his arm a week or so later; it was a complete and clean break across the bone. I also recall reading somewhere that the move he tried was exactly what experienced arm wrestlers would urge you never to do.

Whatever. I haven’t arm wrestled since that day.

6 Chris March 20, 2009 at 7:49 am

If you ever see me trying to prove my manliness by arm wrestling, feel free to shoot me.

7 Algernon March 20, 2009 at 11:00 am

I feel this article could also be titled “Ways to cheat at armwrestling.” These moves are definitely indicators of desperation amoung my friends and wouldn’t be tolerated. I think the only good advice is “get stronger.” These matches are usually good natured displays of strengh between almost equally matched opponents. If you’re worried about losing, just say “no thanks.” There’s nothing manly about cheating. And “Stallone did it!” is not an excuse.

8 Jack March 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Hahaha, woah, flashback city.

My father abandoned me as a kid and the 80′s tough guys were kind of a substitute. Over the Top was one of those movies where I wished the protagonist was my dad. (pathetic, I know)

Anyway, it probably wouldn’t hold up now, but that movie was a good father son motion picture I think.

9 Bruno March 20, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I agree with Algernon: These are ways to cheat at arm wrestling. Get strong or go home.

10 Billiam Connor March 21, 2009 at 10:10 am

I only arm wrestle women, so I am almost sure to win every time. One time I arm wrestled my mother, I lost, and I guess I was pretty upset. I went outside to go slash her tires, but she intercepted me. I took hold of her and stabbed her in the right deltoid muscle, ensuring her future arm wrestling impotence.

11 Conor March 21, 2009 at 11:03 am

“It’s like a switch.”

12 Адриана April 7, 2009 at 2:55 am

It’s a shame they don’t make the Neil Lewis Arm Wrestling Machine anymore

13 Ольга Ивановна April 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm

If you can’t get a hold of one of these cool contraptions, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home

14 CoffeeZombie April 23, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I know this article’s kinda old, but I wanted to throw in my voice, as well.

Sadly, I agree with Bruno and Algernon. I remember in school if someone noticed one of the participants was trying something like this, a “foul” would immediately be called.

The point of arm wrestling is a match of strength. That’s why I pretty much always lose. But, you know, it feels a lot better for me to lose gracefully than to win disgracefully.

15 Wayne Anderson February 5, 2010 at 11:19 am

I was have met the guy known as Bull Hurley. He was a good guy & fun to hang out with. I enjoyed having him as a friend. May he always be remembered.

16 saeed February 28, 2010 at 11:43 am

To add to Rick-O’s comment:

Never arm wrestle close to an edge (like in the iraqi/soldier picture) or on a fence, or any surface where if you or the other guy losses, the arm can be pushed down past the elbow.

in the summer, a classmate arm wrestled a guy on a fence edge (why, i do not know)
and he had to get surgery on his humerus and elbow weeks after wearing a cast. and was definitely on a lot of painkillers

17 jameswilliams April 10, 2010 at 5:14 am

One technique that was not mentioned here was the shoulder roll, which is also called the back press.

And no the back press is not a cheap move. In fact, if u wanna use this move u HAVE TO have superior chest, shoulder, and back muscles to ur opponent, or this move will not work. Having a bulky and heavy upper body will help a lot.

To use this move, begin by forcing your opponent’s hand upwards using your wrist. You must have a strong wrist to do this. And then, rotate your body so that your shoulder is in line with the direction you want your arm to go. Then, start to apply as much back pressure and shoulder pressure as you can, and start pressing down. The power should be generated from your shoulder. Right now, you are using your shoulder and your back against your opponent’s forearm and biceps. As long as you have a upper body, you should win.

Key: The key to this move is that your arm MUST be close to your body in order to use this move.

hope it helps.

18 Kobi March 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Rocks!!! I want to beat up my enemy in arm wrestling but, I am NOT STRONG. These Techniques work great!!!

19 Masked Rider March 20, 2013 at 3:00 am

If one decides to do something this silly,
make sure you at least drink lots of milk on a regular basis.

20 Gareth September 30, 2013 at 4:14 am

Great article, I was actually only after a pic of sly in over the top but ended up reading the entire article and loved it! Now time for some arm wrestling :)

21 Anna Dawson December 4, 2013 at 1:34 am

You’ve been challenged to an arm wrestling duel, and the guy has pythons that would make Popeye squirm. But don’t sweat it—as long as you’ve got these tricks up your sleeveless shirt, you’ll still walk away victorious. This is exactly what I needed! Now I just need to motivate my husband to follow through ;) Thanks for sharing.

22 Tim December 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I was challenged by an acquaintance at a party to an armwrestle, after festivities were getting full swing and people decided to start armwrestling eachother (though we had less than 2 beers each at this point). He was roughly my build but it was obvious from the word go he was gonna win. Getting barely 45 degrees, a massive slam onto the table. Possibly an audible snap, I can’t remember? Anyway, all I remember is I couldn’t feel my arm from the elbow and it felt very uncomfortable, but not painful as the adrenaline had kicked in. Cue me and the other guy in hospital feeling like idiots but having a bit of a bonding session at the same time. X-rays showed a spiral fracture and radial nerve palsy was sustained. In a cast for 2.5 weeks then a brace and splint from then on.

6.5 months on and I’m out of the brace, typing with both hands, 95% movement in the hand, full movement in the arm but under strict instruction not to do any heavy lifting, falling down stairs or armwrestling.

So yeah, I would say avoid this but be damn careful if you can’t back out of the challenge.

23 Brent December 30, 2013 at 11:33 pm

If you like documentaries & you are interested in arm wrestling, check out “Pullin John” it’s a really good one following three arm wrestlers training to face each other. The main character of the film was actually one of the arm wrestlers in over the top. It also has some intense training scenes.

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