If you’ve ever arm wrestled before, you likely never actually arm wrestled.
When you were a kid, did you ever arm wrestle with friends just for fun to test your strength or did a parent or an older relative let you win an arm wrestling match? Did you ever play at camp as a teen?
But have you ever, really played? Professional arm wrestling is a whole other game, with serious rules, serious competitions, and even more serious arm wrestling leagues to regulate the sport.
Welcome to the world of arm wrestling — the real kind.
Getting into the Game
Organized arm wrestling actually has four different divisions: novice, amateur, open, and professional. Tournaments often feature all four and many are organized by the two largest arm wrestling organizations: the World Armwrestling Federation (WAF), which organizes the Arm Wrestling World Championship, and the World Armwrestling League (WAL).
There are two different types of common arm wrestling matches —sit-down and stand-up.
These leagues have their own requirements for their games, but many of the rules for arm wrestling are shared by the groups. There are common rules for gameplay, along with rules for everything from grips and weigh-ins (yes, like boxing) to equipment and uniforms.
Let’s start with some of the basic rules that you will commonly see for official competitions.
Rules for Starting an Arm Wrestling Match
• Yes, there are official referees, and there should be two of them during matches — one on each side. This way, refs can have a good view of each of the competitors’ grips.
• Speaking of grips, it’s up to the arm wrestlers themselves how they start a match. After walking to the arm wrestling table, competitors will grip their hands (the other hands hold tight to a hand peg next to the grip itself.
• A match can start with the competitors’ grips (held by the referee) or start with a strip that binds the hands together in the grip. Either is fine, but the competitors need to both agree on the start format.
• Additionally, competitors’ shoulders must be square for a match to begin. During the match, referees will watch how you apply pressure. Your opponent’s hand must be forced down through sideways pressure. Using back pressure is against the rules.
• You win a game when you pin your opponent’s hand down on the pad. Referees have the final say in whether this is an actual pin. If it’s valid, a referee will yell “Stop!” and raise the hand of the victor.
• What makes a pin valid? Any portion of your competitor’s wrist to fingertips must hit the touch pad. When any part of your opponent’s wrist to fingertips breaks the line of the pin, it’s called a parallel pin.
• World Armwrestling League rules even stipulate how long competitors can take getting to the table and forming the initial grip. It’s 60 seconds for each. If a grip isn’t formed before the 60 seconds, the referees will use a strap.
Grip Rules In Arm Wrestling
As you can likely already tell, a proper grip is a key to a proper arm wrestling match. Accordingly, there’s a whole set of rules related to the grip. The top grip-related rule: arm wrestlers must follow the referee’s commands at all times related to their grip. That’s just the beginning.
• When starting a grip, the elbow of your competing arm must be on the elbow pad and one foot needs to touch the floor during the entire match.
•A grip to the WAF means palm to palm, with hands gripped level at forefingers held with both the thumb and thumb knuckles clearly visible. For an official grip, fingers need to be pointed at your opponent.
• When thumbs and hands are closed for the grip, your wrists must also be straight.
So what happens when the grip, well, becomes ungripped during a match? That’s called a slip. Sometimes hands separate unexpectedly during a game. But if a slip is determined to be intentional, the referee will call it a foul. Which brings us to our next set of rules.
Foul Play Rules in Arm Wrestling
You can’t just lose an arm wrestling match by getting your hand pinned down. It’s possible to foul out, with any competitor getting three fouls also receiving a loss. Each of the following will result in a foul:
• Covering the knuckle of an opponent’s thumb and touching any part of your own body to your competitor’s hands
• A false start after the referee signals for you and your competitor to close hands and before the referee starts the match.
• If one of your feet doesn’t touch the floor, your elbow doesn’t touch the elbow pad, or your other hand doesn’t grip the peg at all times during the match.
• If you drop your shoulder below the elbow pad level or you use back pressure to move your opponent off-center.
• Delaying a match by not staying at the arm wrestling table.
• Poor sportsmanship
Time for the Weigh-Ins
Like boxing, most arm wrestling tournaments have weight requirements and weigh-in rules. Weight classes are divided by men and women and those who compete with the right arm or left arm. There are also weight classes for youth and older arm wrestlers, usually over 50 years old.
The WAF has seven different age groups that compete in its tournaments: sub junior (14-15 years old); junior 18 (16-18); junior 21 (19-21); senior (any age); masters (40+); grand master (50+); and senior grand master (60+).
To compete in WAL events, you must be 18 years old.
• There are no allowances made for clothing in order to qualify for a weight class. There’s also not a weight allowance to accommodate pregnancy.
• If you don’t make weight, you can’t compete in your match. Those who try to alter their weight and not follow weigh-in rules will be disqualified from a competition. Weigh-ins are usually done on official organization scales. For example, the WAF weighs in competitors only on scales it approves.
• Weigh-ins are usually done no sooner than 24-30 hours before the competition begins.
Clothing and Equipment Rules
You won’t see uniforms in professional arm wrestling, but there are quite a few rules regulating the use of equipment. Generally, arm wrestlers must dress appropriately, which usually means athletic short-sleeve shirts, sleeveless shirts, and athletic pants — and they usually cannot sport advertisements. You cannot have wrist, elbow, or arm supports and no jeans are allowed.
Players cannot wear anything on either arm or wrist during competition. You also cannot use any type of substance on your wrist or hand — except for chalk.
For World Arm Wrestling Tournaments, most of the equipment rules relate to the table used in matches. Tables must have the following elements:
Hand pegs: Used for leverage and gripped by the non-competing hand. These must be placed at 13 inches halfway on the table’s edge.
Elbow pads: Padded to prevent injury and discomfort, competitors use these to place their elbows during a match.
Touch pads: The tiny pads on either side of the table is where you try to push your opponent’s hand down to get a valid pin. Touch pads must be World Armwrestling League
4 inches high by 10 inches long. They should also be at an angle, 5 inches from the elbow pad’s inside corner to the touch pad’s inside corner.
The table: An arm wrestling table is 28 inches tall for sit-down arm wrestling and 40 inches tall for stand-up matches.
Arm Wrestling Scoring Rules
Arm wrestling scoring is straightforward, especially for individual matches. Those are just one round with a win or a loss.
But many championships are team championships, and those have different scoring rules. Points for team championships are given out based on a competitor’s individual performance and then points are tallied together. Points range from 10 points for 1st place to 1 point for 7th place.
Miscellaneous Arm Wrestling Rules and Terms
• If there is a bleeding injury, a competitor has to stop the bleeding, and the use of a bandage or a piece of tape is fine as long as the referee is satisfied that the bleeding.
• If you leave the arm wrestling platform or corners during the match or during a rule debate, you are disqualified immediately.
• Using your body weight is fully legal in arm wrestling, including lowering your body down to the table by pulling your arm. You can also bend your wrist in a match as much as you want.
• The most common techniques in arm wrestling include:
The hook: curling your wrist hard, keeping your arm close, and pinning your opponent by using your arm and body to push them down
The press: A strength move, the key to the press is maneuvering your competitor’s palm to face up with your hand on top. From there, you push down using your arm and upper body.
The top roll: Applying pressure on a competitor’s fingers, which typically causes their hand to open giving you leverage.