ARM-WRESTLING DEMANDS PROFOUND WRIST STRENGTH
It is, perhaps, not overly surprising that Andrew Lea got into the sport of arm wrestling via a bachelor’s party. Each Wednesday night, he and two mates – both of them bouncers by trade – would meet in a garage and do MMA sparring. The weekly ritual was broken when one of the bouncers got engaged and decided he wanted arm-wrestling at his stag party. “So we bought an arm wrestling table and started smashing one another,” Lea says. “Two of us caught the bug – and it is a bug; it’s like a disease. The other one couldn’t handle the pain. He dropped off and we haven’t seen him since.”
These days, Lea is both the vice-captain of the Australian arm wrestling team and treasurer and vice-president of the Australian WRIST MANAGEMENT Arm Wrestling Federation. Probe him on why he loves the sport and his words come in a torrent: “There’s technique and there’s strength, and it’s how those two interact that determines whether you’re a good arm wrestler . . . ”
There are, he explains, two basic moves in arm wrestling – the inside and the outside move. If you think you’ve got a stronger arm than your opponent, you hook your hand in and pull him towards you. If you think your opponent has a stronger arm, you bend his wrist back with a move known as the “top roll” and push him away from you. “Throw the element of speed in there – who can get to their move fastest – and that’s basically arm wrestling,” he says.
Although urban myth dictates that arm wrestling’s all about soaring testosterone and bulging biceps, it is, in fact, a technical pursuit that demands profound wrist strength. “When I started arm wrestling,” Lea says, “I’d been lifting weights for 20 years, so I was gym strong. But my hands and my wrists weren’t strong. So my technique was to try and put it on the biceps. But guys would take a look at me and flop my hand backwards. I was getting smashed the whole time.”
It was only through a dedicated programme of wrist strengthening that Lea was able to build the strength where it counted. His gym work now centres around three seminal arm wrestling movements – cupping, rotating and rising (see “Wrist Management”, below). These three movements form the basis for the inside and outside moves, so he trains each independently, hunched over weighted ropes while around him blokes punch out squats, biceps curls and bench presses.
He laughs: “I look pretty weird and wonderful at the gym. I mean, on Saturdays I train my thumbs. People laugh when I tell ’em: what do you mean you train your thumbs? But the bigger your thumb is, the harder it is to get around your hand in arm-wrestling.” And how exactly does he train his thumbs? “I hold a 7.8kg shot put for time. You’ll find your thumb does a lot of work because it’s counteracting the four other fingers. It’s a hell of a workout. You hold that for a minute and a half and when you let go you won’t be able to close your fingers because they’ll be locked out with this weird kind of cramping pain.”