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Two guys in the 80s arm wrestle. One has a mullet and is shirtless. The other has a mullet and is wearing a shirt and tie. They seem to be in a kitchen,. probably drunk, and they have a pet budgie in the background

Try to look cool, our arm-wrestling expert says // Photo: Kaz Vorpal, Flickr

VIDEO: How to win an arm wrestling match, according to a math professor

April 2, 2014 — 

In the early 1980s, math professor David Gunderson worked for a Calgary trucking firm and occasionally, at night, for fun, he arm wrestled. In 1982 he entered two tournaments and before one of them he asked to arm-wrestle the Canadian heavyweight champion – just for fun.

David Gunderson

David Gunderson

“It was like trying to move a church,” Gunderson says. “He was nice to me and let me keep my arm intact.”

In the first tournament, he went 17 rounds and beat a tournament favourite. Impressed, the Canadian Arm Wrestling Federation asked him to join its tour and “twist” professionally. He said no. He finished that tournament with a fourth place for his left arm, and two second places with his right (in different weight categories). In the next tournament he competed in only one category and again got second place. That was the last time he lost a twist, with either arm.

In 1984 he enrolled at the University of Calgary to study mathematics. He joined the University of Manitoba faculty in 2002 and was head of mathematics from 2010-2012.

Gunderson has the demeanor of a Hemingway character. He has had many jobs and now has just a few hobbies, including combinatorics, techno music and woodworking. He owns at least 12 types of saw and stockpiles dozens of species of wood in his shed; among his creations are wood models of the shapes Leonardo da Vinci drew in Pacioli’s De Divina Proportione (his work is displayed in the foyer of Machray Hall). He owns 10,000 books, over 5,000 of which are about mathematics and years ago for three weeks, maybe four, the question that bothered him most was “what do they mean by the centre of a triangle?”

He is a mathematician, rest assured, but he’s also a formidable arm wrestler and so UM Today asked him to teach us how to do it – tips and tricks.

How to win an arm wrestling match


Here’s some tips from Gunderson on how to boost your chances of winning a twist, all of these are legal.

  • Put your head above the hands, which forces your opponent back. The opponent now has to extend his or her arm, which is a weaker position
  • Shift your elbow out so that much of the opponent’s force is wasted – it would be like trying to crush one leg of a triangle by pushing on an end
  • Play a mind game: just hold the opponent’s arm still, not letting the opponent know you are trying. After letting the opponent struggle for a bit,  ask, “are you ready?”
  • If using your right arm, drop your left leg back so that when you need to lean in with your weight, you can drop further, often helping to bring your weight onto the opponent’s arm
  • Gain leverage by wrapping your leg around a table-leg
  • Wear elevated shoes so that you can bring more weight over the top (Gunderson once competed against a man who was standing on a box behind the bar — which is not legal). In general, however, wear shoes with a good grip.


Isn’t the University of Manitoba community incredible?! If you have a talent you wish to share, please let us know.


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3 comments on “VIDEO: How to win an arm wrestling match, according to a math professor

  1. Weakling

    That is the most charming math prof I have ever come across. Great video! I’m totally hustling friends tonight.

    I feel bad for the guy in the black shirt. Is he doing pushups non stop now?

  2. Rhiannon

    This story made my day. What a cool math professor with a diverse range of interests!
    And good for Sean for taking him on!

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