When an arm wrestling challenge arises in bars or backyards, more often than not, one person gets accused of having an unfair advantage because they have longer or shorter arms.
The claim is that their shorter or longer reach allows them to use their strength more effectively, which puts the other person at a disadvantage. But is there any truth to these claims? Do people with longer or shorter arms have a big advantage when arm wrestling?
What Is Arm Wrestling
Arm wrestling is a relatively simple sport; 2 participants place one of their arms on a surface with their elbows bent and touching the surface. While gripping the other persons hand, they attempt to force or pin their opponents arm onto the surface. The first person to score a pin wins.
While the game itself is relatively simple, the mechanics that go into deciding how well a person will perform, are not.
Many factors come into play when looking at potential success in arm wrestling. The two largest are arm strength and technique. Minor factors, like arm length, muscle density, hand size, wrist endurance, and flexibility also can come into play. These become more consequential when 2 individuals are of similar strength. When two people are of equal strength and using similar techniques, the little things become much more significant.
Does Arm Length Give An Advantage?
Yes and no. All things being completely equal, the person with the shorter arm has a very slight advantage. This is thanks to simple physics; the further the distance from the pivot point (the elbow), the more force or ‘strength’ the arm has to distribute evenly along its length. Another way to think about it is to imagine pushing a door closed normally, then imagine pushing it closed with your hand near the door’s hinges. The latter requires more effort and is more difficult.
However, arm length is only very minor advantage alongside more important factors. Stance, muscle density, stabilizer muscles, shoulder muscles, as well as where the specific tendons and muscle fibers attach to the bone are more important, and play a much larger role in arm wrestling. These same attributes are the reason why primates are generally much stronger than humans despite their smaller stature and size.
Arm wrestling is not just a function of a single muscle, but an entire kinematic chain that is comprised of your trunk, arm and lower limbs. Being weak in one of those areas will put an arm wrestler at a huge disadvantage.
What’s The most Important Factor In Arm Wrestling?
Aside from raw arm strength, technique is, by far, the most important asset to an arm wrestler. An example of superior technique is Jason Vale, who won the 1997 Petaluma World Championships while competing in the super heavy weight class. He won the championship despite weighing in at only 175 pounds. He used a “strap technique” which allowed him to wear down his larger opponents and take advantage while his opponent were weakening.
Other popular techniques include “the top roll”, which brings the opponent’s wrist down, “the hook”, which hooks your wrist around the opponents, and deprives them of leverage. There’s also the shoulder press, shoulder roll and the tricep press. Competitive arm wrestlers will make use of every known technique, and use them erratically and sporadically to surprise or stun opponents.
Others will use simple genetics to their advantage. German arm-wrestler Matthias Schlitte (26) was born with a bone disorder that caused his right arm to be twice the size as his left arm, a whopping 18 inches in circumference. Using his “Popeye” arm to his advantage, he has gone on to become a champion arm wrestler. Check out the short video below for more information on Matthias.