In America, arm wrestling is largely thought as a tough guy, bar, activity to settle the score. You’ll likely hear, “I’ll arm wrestle you for it,” before you’d hear that someone makes a living as an arm wrestler. Of course, to the rest of the word, arm wrestling is a legitimate sport of strength, technique, and strategy.  As a matter of fact, it’s a major sport.

Interestingly enough, the two main leagues of Arm Wrestling, the WAF (World Arm Wrestling Federation) and the WAL (World Arm Wrestling Leauge) are both, interestingly enough, based in Chicago. The WAF is the largest of the two and currently has members from 80 countries. Whereas, WAL is an inclusive league with a large community that has events at every level, to encourage new arm wrestlers to the sport – and encouraging them are.

From Ireland to Iran, both men and women are getting involved in the sport. But there are rules! Each country has their own Arm Wrestling Federation to promote and arrange the championships of Arm Wrestling.  According to Rules of the Sport, “Competitions are between 2 players in the same weight classifications to make sure that matches and competitions are fair. Players are also required to dress appropriately, with them wearing short sleeve or sleeveless shirts and sports pants with little or no advertising. No jeans and any kind of arm, elbow or wrist support are allowed.”


How to Play and Prizes

In individual arm wrestling competitions, scoring is very simple. The person who pins the opponent’s hand on the touchpad is the winner. However, in team championships points are awarded on each participant’s performance. In WAL, series are categorized by the best of 3, best of 5, or best of 6 wins.  

“But what do they win,” you might ask.  Of course, winnings vary by match size and country. In WAL (World Arm Wrestling League) winners are rewarded with an Iron Ball and Hammer – trophies of the sort – plus cash prizes. Cash prizes also range, but to give you an idea of the money involved in arm wrestling in the U.S. you can take a look at one of my favorite competitors: John Brzenk (aka The Legend). Brzenk started arm wrestling when he was thirteen years old, and his professional arm wrestling career lasted for over 30 years. He’s in his 50s but still can beat the champions on the table. Aside from arm wrestling, he works as a mechanic at Delta Air Lines, yet it is estimated that he earned “upwards of USD$80,000 at times” for one competition.

Rules of Arm Wrestling

(from Rules of the Sport

  • Each match is controlled by two referees, one on each side so they can see the opponents and their grip from both sides.
  • There is no time limit to a match, but a referee may call a stop to the match if one or both opponents are in his opinion not fit in a carry on the state.
  • The contenders should approach the table, make themselves comfortable and then grip their competitor’s hand. The grip should be palm to palm with the thumb knuckle visible. The competitor’s other hands should grip their left side or right side hand peg. If the competition is between left-hand arm wrestlers, then they hold their right side hand peg and vise versa.
  • Opponents can decide to start a match in the referee’s grip or in a strip, but both competitors must conform to this.
  • Once the referees are happy with players grip, the contest will begin. Each contestant should attempt to pin their opponent’s arm onto the touchpad.
  • Pressure should be in a sideways capacity to fore their opponent’s hand to the touchpad Back pressure in an attempt to drag to opponent off toward the center of the table is not allowed
  • The match is won when one competitor pins their opponent’s hand onto the touchpad.
  • A valid pin is when any part of the competitor’s natural wrist or hand touches the touchpad.
  • There are numerous fouls that can be committed in Arm Wrestling. These include touching a part of your own body during the match, crossing their shoulder into the opposition area dropping the shoulder, foul language, abuse or poor sportsmanship to name a few.
  • Two warnings = one foul and two fouls equal disqualification meaning that their opponent immediately wins the match.

If you’d like to see a match someday while out and about, there are no shortages of them. However, attending the World Armwrestling Federation (WAF) International Competitions should be on any athlete’s bucketlist. The 40th Annual World Armwrestling and 21st Annual World Para-Armwrestling Championships just wrapped up in October 2018 and with more than 1.500 competitors from over 45 participating countries piling into Turkey for the event; you can almost bet that a testosterone filled great time was had.




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