Practical Maintenance of the Impractical arm wrestler
Of all the strength based sports that have encountered, none are more specific in regards to routine maintenance and potential injury, than arm wrestling. Albeit an honest assessment, I have also never encountered a group of individuals who are more dedicated to a specific purpose. Not a mainstream sport by far, but the community is heavily dedicated to the promotion and proliferation of its success. So without getting into too much detail about the intricacies of the sport and strategy, I want to focus of the anatomical function of the upper and lower arm, and hand. In order to have a plan to strengthen and maintain these components, you must first understand their design and purpose. Below is a sample breakdown of muscle components, their intra and intermuscular relationships, and how to develop those to perform as a single unit.
Bicep- primary design and function is elbow flexion
Tricep-primary design and function is elbow extension
Forearm– primary design is wrist flexion and extension
Shoulder- comprising of anterior, medial, and posterior heads, all in which contribute to the internal rotation, external rotation, and lateral, medial, and posterior abduction of the humerus.
There is a significant amount of recruitment of lats and pec as well, but I will focus on the therapeutic effect of upper and lower extremities of the arm complex to make a more concise outline of health and maintenance. In the following paragraphs I will breakdown a common issue or dysfunction that is the result of the stress induced from practice or competition, and a subsequent solution to manage inflammation and pain.
Three main points of stress during arm wrestling manifest at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Depending on the angle of resistance, sustained pressure, and the consistent change in those factors from start to completion, a lot of strain can take place, also a lot of strength can be built with this stimulus. The idea I would like to present is a map to outline a preventative approach to avoid these pitfalls and have a more seamless progression with strength.
Wrist and Hand maintenance
- Grip strength and endurance
- Lateral flexion and extension (rotation)
- Flexion and extension (curl and throttle)
The first and most applicable training method to increase grip strength and prevent overuse of the forearm flexors is to concentrate on extensor work( opening the fingers wide with or without specific resistance,in order to balance the heavy emphasis on gripping for long periods of time with heavy resistance, this will have a multitude of benefits that translate all the way through the upper arm as well, relieve elbow strain, and build a stronger overall grip. Higher repetitions and varying resistance is best practice to increase circulation and encourage recovery. Set a minimum number of daily repetitions and gradually increase over time to further encourage a training stimulus, consider the forearm flexors as the lower back of the forearm, respect it, and it will be there for you in return. I also encourage a minimum amount of wrist rotations with a closed and open hand position to build endurance and condition the wrist to withstand the lateral forces applied with pulling an opponent. And without question, grip work and the million variations that comprise strength challenges in regard to strengthening the clamping power of the hand. A beginner routine for a daily stimulus would consist of
- 100 clockwise wrist rotations(50 with a closed hand, 50 with extended fingers)
- 100 counterclockwise wrist rotations(50 with a closed hand,50 with extended fingers)
- 50 light rubber band finger extensions
- 3 max timed dead hangs from a pullup bar
- Hand towel squeezes throughout the day
- Wrist roller exercises as shown below
- Bicep curl as shown below
The next fulcrum and joint intersection, is the elbow. This is where it becomes increasingly important to maintain extensibility and circulation, based on the hinge design. The elbow and supportive musculature primarily work in a flexion and extension format, with little to no lateral and medial flexion or rotation. Much like the knee, it does not fair incredibly well with shearing or lateral forces, but that resistance and durability can be conditioned much like any specific movement. Focusing on the strength potential of the bicep and tricep with create an overall level of stability and endurance at the elbow joint with standard variations of curls and extensions. In addition to those movements, certain isometric exercises and grip variations, can create a bias of weight distribution that recruits the connective tissue of the elbow more definitively on one side to mimic the force of arm wrestling. With great power comes great maintenance, the soreness and inflammation at the elbow joint can sideline even the toughest competitor, so preventative maintenance is crucial to insure the longevity of the elbow. Soft tissue work directly to bicep,tricep and forearms, can be a reasonable first step in the aid of recovery from training. Enlisting self myofascial release to bicep and tricep trigger points, and flossing the upper forearm, elbow and upper arm, should result in better circulation, and restoration of full function faster than standard rest. These simple additions are the equivalent to practice drills in any other sport, they are not glamorous, but create lasting habits. (cr
The shoulder complex is a highly recruited link in the proverbial chain of strength for arm wrestling. It also happens to be a common case of dysfunction and overuse with most trainees, based on its overall recruitment in most upper body exercises. The position of the shoulder during most upper body exercises, determines the level of demand placed directly on one or all heads of the deltoid ( anterior, medial, posterior) and the balancing act of those three heads in conjunction with a healthy rotator cuff complex, is the biggest factor in pain management and longevity of the joint. Considering the act of arm wrestling places a heavy demand on internal rotation having structural integrity with that movement is highly important, as well as the reciprocal movement of external rotation to offset the constant overuse of practice and pulling. I encourage the thought process of finding equivalent development in all of the supportive structure of the shoulder, double down on posterior deltoid development. Not only will it have a lasting effect on overall shoulder health, but has massive carryover to all upper body resistance exercises, it helps stabilize bench press, overhead press, and every conceivable rowing variation, Rear delt fly, face pulls, high pulls, wide grip rows, paused reps on lat rowing and pullovers, all can contribute to building size and strength. So it deserves a considerable amount of attention, spend an appreciable amount of time developing that area. The idea is to create specific function and strength, without the complete abandonment of purposeful function of the body. And to not impede other activities based on the pursuit of efficiency in a particular sport.
In conclusion, the general guidelines for overall health and wellness is to strike a balance between actively pursuing skills acquisition, strength gain, and aesthetic balance, along with optimal function of joints, and connective tissue. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. And reaching out to long term competitors for advice, people who have dealt with all the ups and downs of competition, training and injuries. Also, finding specific things that resonate with your own training, and compiling a personal bank of training methodology and knowledge.