Posted by: Roberto | 8 December, 2008

Arm-Wrestling

ARM-WRESTLING – By Kristina Georgiou
Reprinted from METRO, 08 December 2008

Arm-wrestling: it’s a sport that requires speed, strength, faith and a positive mental attitude and at last fans can watch it on TV in Britain, in a programme on Eurosport.

The smell of Deep Heat fills my nostrils as two bulky men lean over a tournament table. They place their bulging left arms on either side of the table, lock hands, shuffle their feet into position and stare into each other’s eyes.

‘Go!’ shouts the referee. Smack bang in the middle of the very unlikely location of Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, the British Arm Wrestling Championships starts.

‘People don’t realise how hard this is. They think it’s a joke,’ says Steve Rogers, 48, one of the smallest men in the sport at 5ft 6in and 55kg (8st 91b).

But arm-wrestling has come a long way from the dark and dingy pub image many associate it with. Its origins can be traced as far back as 2,OOOBC, to a painting depicting the sport found in an Ancient Egyptian tomb. Most popular in the US, arm-wrestling was globally recognised as a legitimate sport around 1952 and its popularity is growing. Over the May bank holiday this year, 10,000 people watched the Arm Wars event at Manchester’s Trafford Centre.

At today’s event, 150 athletes are divided into weight categories from bantamweight (below 65kg) to super heavyweight – 110kg plus. They are also split into right-hand and left-hand divisions. An international competition
will also take place with 20 athletes from seven countries competing. There are only eight women arm wrestlers at the event and they follow the same rules as the men.

‘Heeeeeere we go!’ shouts ‘No limits Neil’ Pickup, 34, organiser, competitor and commentator of the event as the  strain shows on the contenders’ reddening faces. Fellow competitors sit at the front of the room, watching the action intently. Then: Slam! Game over. The bustling shopping centre roars as the loser stands back, rubbing his arm in pain.

This is the first time the event has been televised on Eurosport and it’s making a good show. A new weekly  programme, International Arm Wrestling, is about to start on the channel – a first for arm-wrestling in Britain.

Match after match, my preconceptions about the sport crumble: arm-wrestling isn’t as straightforward as it looks and each athlete has their own signature style. Like any fully fledged sport, there is a lot to learn. It has strict rules, fouls and divisions for amateur and professional levels, just like boxing.

The hand is a wonderful thing,’ explains Canadian Devon Larratt, 33, a milk farmer who is defending his super heavyweight title. That’s what makes arm-wrestling so complicated – you have this thing to fight with and it can do so many different things.’ Technique, strength, flexibility, hand positioning and the length of an opponent’s arm can influence a match. It has even been known for a competitor to break an arm during a wrestle. They often endure ligament damage plus elbow pain if the shoulder isn’t in symmetry with the arm and wrist. Recovery is a huge part of arm-wrestling – the competitor needs breaks to recover from each round. Training is obviously pivotal and a professional arm-wrestler trains three to four hours a day, six times a week to develop a strong, solid core and biceps like Popeye’s.

Their diet -which does consist of a lot of spinach -follows a high-protein, low-carb regime. ‘No sugar, no salt, eat lots of natural foods that aren’t processed, drink lots of water – everybody should be eating like that anyway,’ says Larratt. In an average session, an arm-wrestler can burn 1,000-1,500 calories.

Skill and strength are second to mental training. ‘You have to use your heart and mind,’ says Brazilian Marcio Barboza, 35, a super heavyweight contender and fashion stylist in New York; sure enough, before and during each match I see many athletes giving themselves pep talks.

There’s so much mental training: my visualisation and my rehearsals are very important.’ says Larratt, ‘I think about all the different positions and forces I’m going to feel and how I’ll react. When you’re up there it’s difficult to think because there is so much adrenalin in your body.

‘It’s very rare for a wrestler to just show up and be unbelievable. It takes years. It’s a long road because the muscles take a long time to accumulate and learn to work together.’

‘Bad Boy’ Alan Greaves, 57, who looks like a bit like Hulk Hogan, is one of the oldest men ever to compete. Pickup confirms the older arm-wrestler’s advantage: ‘Greaves knows the ins and outs of his opponent’s mind. You think
you’re going to go one way but he knows you’re going to go the other.’ Arm-wrestling, it seems, is a battle of brains as well as biceps.

TRAIN LIKE AN ARM-WRESTLER
The most important thing in arm-wrestling is to know how to get all the strength from your arm into your hand and wrist, says ‘No limits Neil’ Pickup: ‘Grip strength is the key exercise to work on, as weil as wrist and forearm exercises.’

AT HOME
Get a bag of sugar and rotate your hand and wrist around. Try to do three sets of 100. Your hand and wrist will get stronger, which will increase your forearm strength.

IN THE GYM
Try pull-ups and climbing ropes. Take a towel with you and wrap it around the grip handle of the dumb-bell so that it is much thicker, and do wrist curls. ‘You won’t be able to lift heavy weights at first but this exercise makes a tremendous difference to your grip and forearm strength, the thicker you make the handle, the more effective the power in your hand and wrist will be. You can buy specialist hand-grippers called Captains Of Crush from a company
called Iron Mind.

REHAB FROM INJURIES
Roberto is a qualified personal trainer and masseur operating in London, next to Clapham Junction Station. If you are an arm-wrestler, Roberto can help you in case of injuries (which are a quite common occurence) or he can help you to improve your strength and technique. To contact Roberto, call 07508 250 126.

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