Arm wrestling can be serious business.
While for many, it’s a fun game to play with friends or a way to decide who gets the last chicken wing, for members of the Saskatchewan Armwrestling Association (SAMA), it’s an intense competition requiring full body strength and control.
SAMA members returned to the Prince Albert Winter Festival for the first arm wrestling tournament at the festival in about 15 years, and they didn’t disappoint. There were constant crowds taking in the competition on the second floor of the Alfred Jenkins Field House all day Saturday, as the athletes battled to see who would come out on top.
Tyrrell Wojcichowsky has been competing for about 17 years. He first got into the sport about 17 years ago after hearing an advertisement on the radio.
“I had arm wrestled all of my friends and thought I did pretty well, so I entered the tournament,” he said.
“I learned real fast that it’s a whole different level of arm wrestling. It’s not like it’s on a corner of a table.”
It’s not just on the corner of a table. Athletes face off on a specially-designed table, with small pads for their elbows and larger ones for the backs of their hands, all affixed to the heavy table by metal pins so they won’t move, even with the strength exerted over top.
The taller pads are off to the side – they act as a landing pad for each match loser. If you want to win, you won’t want to come into contact with those pads.
The tables are also watched closely by a pair of officials. They keep an eye out that all the rules are followed, including keeping elbows on the elbow pads, keeping wrists from flexing at the start, keeping the start in the middle of the table and not starting until the referee says go.
In addition to competing, Wojcichowsky also served as one of the referees during the tournament. He watched matches closely to make sure everyone followed the rules.
“It’s up to the arm wrestlers to ensure it’s fair,” he said. “I’m looking for a legal start — over the centre of the table, no one is bending their wrist prior to go, and no one has an advantage.”
As part of their duties, the referees also monitor the grips. If the competitors can’t sort it out, they’ll manually arrange the hands. If it’s a tight race and the grip slips, they’ll use a strap to secure the competitors’ hands together.
Another, perhaps surprising, element of arm wrestling is the use of the whole body. The table has a handle where athletes can put their free hand, and many hook their leg around the table’s metal frame. They use those to give them leverage against their opponent. But while they’re pulling with their entire body, it comes down to the strength of an arm.
“If you’re just going to use your arm it becomes a game of very small muscles — the rotator cuff and such — and you will be prone to injury,” Wojcichowsky said.
“Arm wrestling is more about developing a lock where your arm is going to stay in one stationary place and you’re going to learn your whole body over. A lot of people say that’s not fair, but I’m only using as much as my arm can hold. The arm is still the most important part.”
The technique worked. Wojcichowsky won the gold for both his right and left arm in the 209-pound plus weight class over the weekend.
He had some tight head-to-head matches against another 17-year competitor, also from Saskatoon: Kayne Hemsing.
When Hemsing got his start, he trained with Fred Roy and Terry Paschuk from the Prince Albert area. Now, Hemsing is hoping to train the next generation, starting with his kids.
Hemsing had two kids competing in the Winter Festival. Jaden, 3, competed in his first ever. He finished first in the youth boys 27 kg category.
“This was his first tournament,” Kayne said. “He was excited to come up here and compete. It was nice that there were lots of kids in the classes.”
Kayne’s seven-year-old, Grayson, also competed. Grayson has been competing for three years. He finished third in his category.
Wojcichowsky was pleased with all the kids who came out to arm wrestle.
“Without kids, there is no future to this sport,” he said. “You need kids involved. They seem to have a lot of fun doing it, and it’s definitely entertaining watching them.”
Kayne’s kids weren’t the only Hemsings to medal over the weekend tournament. Kayne himself earned gold for his right arm and silver for his left. While to onlookers the tournament seemed intense, Hemsing said it was only a mild competition compared to some of what he’s seen.
“It can be more intense,” he said.
“This is a good circuit tournament. Everyone here know that there’s a lot of new guys, so we just want to not rip anybody’s arm off, and just have fun, make it competitive and show everybody the sport.”
The camaraderie of the arm wrestling community was also on full display. It’s a small community, and everybody knows everybody else.
‘We’re always welcoming new people,” Hemsing said. “We love this sport, we want to see it continue to grow.”
The sport has taken Hemsing quite far, literally. He said he’s travelled across the province, the country, and around the world arm wrestling. He’s gone to about 30 countries, including Greece, Italy and England, competing for Canada.
The most important thing, Hemsing said, is lots of table time.
“We do lots of gym training. There are little training tools I work to gain finger strength, wrist strength and forearm strength,” he said.
“But the best training tool is getting on tables and arm wrestling. You grow tendons differently than you do in the gym. Just like any sport, the more you arm wrestle, the better you’re going to get.”