A.K.A: Roscoe and His Backwoods Alabama Arm Power Program
I told myself, when I first began writing this piece, that I would no longer do any multi-part series on this blog. The main reason being that I never seem to get around to writing the 2nd or 3rd (or even 4th) parts. However, this piece was going to be SO long that I had to go back on my original intention.
I hope you enjoy.
I hope you enjoy.
A few years ago, I took up the last sport I will compete in. Unless my health improves, I seriously doubt competitive events are in my future, especially the kind that I have competed in over the years. (Towards the end of this post, I will even tell you about my only—and final—competition in the particular sport concerned with here.) Barring help from the Triune Absolute, I just don't see full-contact martial arts, bodybuilding, powerlifting, or arm wrestling in my future.
But enough whining from me. Here's a little snippet of what I learned about building arm strength and growing the biggest forearms I've ever had from training in arm wrestling with a guy named Roscoe and his motley crew of arm wrestling rednecks.
When my son Matthew was about to turn 15, he decided, for some reason unbeknownst to me at the time, that he wanted to take up arm wrestling. He read about a competition that was coming to Alabama in our local newspaper. He thought it sounded cool, he told me, plus, it would give him something to compete in since he broke his right arm. (Several months before this, Matthew broke his arm while swinging on a rope swing. It saddened him like hell since it meant giving up powerlifting and football for a while. And the strength in his right arm would never be the same afterwards.) Ever since he broke the arm, he had focused on a lot of one-arm overhead work and curling work with his left arm.
"I want to test my left arm strength," he informed me.
What the hell, I thought. Sounded as if it might be interesting. In fact, I decided—almost on the spot—that it would also be something I could compete in. After all, I'd had back and neck surgery which had kept me from getting fully back into powerlifting. So training the arms really hard, and competing in something that only involves the arms might be good for me. (I quickly discovered that arm wrestling involves a lot more than the arms.) One problem, however: I didn't know anything about arm wrestling and training for arm wrestling. I guess I should have known something. After all, my Uncle Kirk—who I trained with for many years—was one of the best arm wrestlers in the state of Texas in the early and mid '80s. But he did all of that before I was 15—the age when I took up lifting—and so he and I had never really discussed it since, when he put down arm wrestling, he took up powerlifting, and it was the sport of powerlifting that united me and my Uncle so closely.
We needed a plan.
"Here's what we'll do," I told my son. "We'll go to this arm wrestling meet, and see if we can find some local guys. Maybe one or two of them will even need someone to train with."
He loved the idea, so when the Saturday of the competition rolled around, we headed to Bessemer—the city where it was being held—to see if we could find a local arm wrestler or two.
And that's where we met Roscoe.
Roscoe's real name was Rocky. Which is weird. Roscoe is a bull of a man, stands about 5'11" with massive, veiny arms, and a beer gut almost as impressive as his forearms from—you guessed it—drinking too many beers. So you'd think Rocky would've suited him better, but, no, he went by Roscoe and only Roscoe.
Roscoe wasn't young when we met. He was 55. But he was still strong enough that he made it through half a dozen arm wrestlers in his weight class, before finally losing in the semi-finals to a man even brawnier than he that ended up winning the whole damn thing.
After the competition, he was holding court with—what I would come to discover were—several arm wrestlers from the same county I lived in when I introduced myself and my son.
After a few niceties and chit-chat, we were invited to train with him in five days time. "Once this blasted arm of mine heals up," he said, nodding toward his right arm that was wrapped heavily in ice.
Looking at just how much ice was on his arm, I assumed that he must have pulled a muscle or injured something during the competition. I would soon discover that arm wrestling would make you more sore than any other physical, anaerobic exercise ever. But that day I didn't have a clue, so I didn't realize that he really needed that many days for his arm to heal enough that he could train or "spar".
Matthew left the competition feeling pretty good about the new training we were about to start. I simply thought it might be interesting after all. Soon, however, I would discover a whole new world of arm strength, muscle growth, and pain.
Roscoe was slinging big-ass tires into the bed of an old Chevy truck when Matthew and I pulled onto his gravel driveway after going half-a-mile down a dirt road.
"You found it easy, boys?" he asked, as we stepped out of my Silverado.
"Yes, sir," I said, spitting out the wad of Skoal accumulated between my cheek and gums, and then swigging on a Gatorade for hydration.
"Don't call me sir. I ain't that much older than you. Only little punks call me sir, and you and your son don't seem like ones."
"No problem, Roscoe," I said. "I apologize for the insult," I added with a grin.
Matthew didn't say anything. He was a little intimidated, I think, by what he thought was a crazy old man. (When you're 15, 55 seems ancient.) In his mind, a man 55 just shouldn't be this jacked or strong.
"What're you doing with the tires?" I asked.
"Part of my training. Not all the time, mind you. I mainly just do my two other exercises, but ever so often I get a hankerin' to sling these tires in the back of this old truck. It's the only use I get out of the truck these days."
Two exercises? I thought that sounded like very few for building such arm strength as this guy had. I should have known better, of course, since I used about that few myself over the years, even when competing in powerlifting. To top it off, I've even written about using only two exercises many times in many articles. But for some reason, I thought Roscoe would probably do more.
"No need for y'all to sling these tires today," he added. "Just do the rest of my regular workout with me."
We began with fat-grip one-arm dumbbell deadlifts. Roscoe had one weight, and one weight only, that he used for these: an old, rusty 150 lb thick bar dumbbell. The dumbbell was really thick—thicker than when you put a pair of "Fat Grips" on a regular dumbbell.
"At one time, this was the only exercise I'd ever do," he said.
"How long did you just use this exercise?" I asked.
Roscoe scratched his head. "I dunno. Probably 20 years. Now, keep in mind, I worked on the ranch that whole time too, workin' cattle and haulin' hay, and a bunch of other crap that probably helped my arm strength."
Still, that's impressive, I thought to myself.
He continued, "Also, and this is a big also, remember that I was arm wrestling during that whole time about every two to three weeks."
That doesn't seem like much, I thought. I would discover how wrong I was shortly.
Roscoe probably did 10 to 15 sets that day of one-arm deads for no telling how many reps on each set. He just repped out each set until he began to tire slightly, never taking any of the sets close to failure. At least, that's how it looked from my perspective.
I had trouble managing one rep with his dumbbell, thinking, "damn, I've gotten weak!"
I finished the rest of my sets—only 4 or 5—with a pair of 100s that he had. Matthew worked up to the 100s as well.
"Boy, you are strong," he told Matthew. My son was proud of the compliment, I think. And he was strong, considering the fact that he still had one week until he turned 15.
Once the one-arm deads were complete, Roscoe took (what appeared to be) a leisurely stroll with the pair of 150s. Just as with the deadlifts, whenever he appeared to get a little tired, he would stop. After a few minutes, he would resume. And, as with the deadlifts, he stopped after about a dozen sets.
And that was the workout.
I was a little surprised that one of the two exercises wasn't some sort of curling movement. And I told him as much.
"I don't think there's any need for curls. There are plenty of guys in arm wrestling that do them, don't get me wrong. But you get all the curling you need while arm wrestling. Besides, the next day after arm wrestling, it's always your forearms, and everywhere around your elbows that are sore. Not your biceps."
At this point, let me tell you what I learned after several more weeks of training, and after really getting into the sport for several months: competitive arm wrestlers have the most varied, non-consistent training of any athletes you will ever find. Period.
Some arm wrestlers train like Roscoe with a lot of thick-bar work and carrying exercises. Some train just like the average bodybuilder, with 4 to 5 exercises, performing 4 to 5 sets per exercise with reps in the 8-12 range. Some just do one exercise at each workout for tons of sets and really low reps. Some only do strongman-style workouts, lifting odd objects, and dragging a lot of crap. Some actually do Crossfit-style workouts. I even met a hell-of-a-arm wrestler who won every competition I saw him compete in, and he did hand-stand push-ups as his only exercise, aside from running and jumping rope. And, as you may have guessed it, I met several who only arm wrestled in order to prepare for a competition.
"Y'all want to hit the table?" Roscoe asked. "Since y'all haven't really arm wrestled before, I can give y'all some tips before Monday, when I got some of the guys coming over."
In his garage were several arm wrestling tables, custom built the same as the tables used in competition. He and I dragged one away from the wall it was set against, and set it in the middle of the garage. "Who's first?" he asked, putting his elbow on the pad of the table, grabbing the table's outside handle with the other hand, and pulling his body tightly against the side of it.
"Me, I suppose," I said, feeling a little unsure at this point about what I had gotten myself into. Just a few days earlier I had seen this man slam multiple men in only a couple of seconds—hell, maybe less—from the moment he clasped hands with them.
But Roscoe wasn't in the least interested in slamming my arm to the table. He demonstrated body position to me, placement of elbow on the table, and the two main "styles" or "techniques" used in arm wrestling. He did the same thing with my son.
After that, we "sparred" Roscoe, and then each other. After only a few matches with both Roscoe and Matthew, I was already feeling a "burn" and a "pump" and a "tightness" in parts of my arm—particularly around the elbow—that were different from regular workouts. Matthew and I could also tell that we were going to enjoy this training. It was fun to test your strength against others.
"Don't overdo it today," Roscoe said. "Ain't no telling how damn sore you're gonna be on the 'morrow."
I thought I might be a little sore, but I was never prepared for the pain when I woke up the following morning. My arm was sore in a way it had never been before. And it didn't feel as if it was just the muscle. You could feel the soreness in the tendons and ligaments.
When Matthew woke a couple hours after me (it was summer; he was out of school) he couldn't believe how sore he was. "Daddy, I'm so sore I think it's gonna make me sick."
I gave him 4 200 mg ibuprofen, which he promptly swallowed along with a pint or so of whole milk.
About 30 to 45 minutes later, he said the pain was a little better, and that the anti-inflammatory must have helped some.
"You sure you want to continue doing this?" I asked.
He grinned what we call in the South a big "shit-eatin'" grin and said, "Oh, yeah. I love it. It'll be fun to see how we do against a bunch of other guys."
"Okay," I replied. "Sounds good to me."
I had my doubts as far as just what we were capable of at this point, given the fact that arm wrestling Roscoe was about like arm wrestling an immovable object, but I also thought, along with my son, that it would be an enjoyable pastime, if nothing else. And, as it turns out, it was pretty damn cool.