Also referred to as outside arm wrestling, the top roll is one of the primary techniques used in the sport of arm wrestling.
It’s characterized by rising and heavy pronation in the forearm and its practitioners look to attack the hand and fingers of their opponents to secure victory.
This article will explain exactly what a top roll is, how to perform one, all the different variations, how to counter a top roll, and a whole lot more.
What Is A Top Roll In Arm Wrestling?
The top roll is a fundamental technique used in arm wrestling characterized by heavy forearm pronation, wrist rise, as well as back pressure with the objective of driving through your opponent’s hand and fingers.
It’s also known as outside arm wrestling, as opposed to inside arm wrestling which is synonymous with the hook.
Let’s take a quick look at how exactly this move works.
How To Top Roll In Arm Wrestling
Let’s first go through a step-by-step description of how to execute a top roll and afterward we’ll take a look at some concepts to keep in mind when thinking about the top roll.
1. The Setup
You can position yourself advantageously for a successful top roll before the match begins.
- Keep elbow positioned close to body – In most circumstances, you’ll want to start with your elbow as close to the back of the pad as possible. Of course, your opponent’s arm length and referee will largely dictate how close to the back of the pad you’ll be able to get.
- Maximally rotate/pronate your arm – You want to begin a top roll with your forearm fully pronated. Grip up with your pronator as close to the locked out position as possible as we’re strongest through the eccentric portion of the movement. To do this will mean starting with your arm considerably far inside your shoulder close to the inside of the pad.
2. The Go
Once the ref says go, it’s all about trying to pull your opponent across the table through their fingertips.
- Aim to keep your wrist nice and close to your chin – It’s important to keep your arm as upright as possible and to establish a superior post. Try to imagine a short, invisible piece of string attached to your knuckles and chin. Try not to let that string break!
- Focus on pulling backward not sideways – The top roll is less about driving sideways to the pin pad and more about driving backward. Think about trying to pull your opponent across the table. At the same time, think about driving all that force through their hand and fingertips.
3. Drop Hips & Pronate
In order to win the match, you’ll need to eventually pin your opponent. We do this by sinking our hips under the table (see how Ivakin drops his hips under the table vs Bresnan in above image) and aggressively pronating which, if successful, will allow us to roll over the top of our opponent’s hand. If we can do that, getting to the pad will come automatically.
Things To Remember About Top Rolling
You should be thinking about each of these cues throughout a match when top rolling.
- Regrip frequently– Remember the objective of our top roll is to maintain height on our opponent. We’re launching an all out assault on their fingers. If you’re unable to quickly secure the pin, you should be constantly looking to ‘climb’ your opponent’s hand by moving your fingers higher throughout the match.. The goal here is to keep working on that rise.
- Knuckles aim for the roof – When doing a posting style top roll, you should focus on keeping your knuckles as high as possible in order to maintain a strong post. This is less important for the low hand top roll where you’re looking to seek control via cupping.
There’s a lot more complexity that you can add to the basic top roll.
There’s many ways you can manipulate your grip in the setup before the match has even begun to give yourself slight advantages, but I’ve chosen to keep it really simple in this article so it’s not too confusing for beginners.
How To Train For A Strong Top Roll?
The three keys to a strong top roll are rising, pronation, and posting.
Rising as you know is the radial deviation movement of the wrist, i.e. aiming the knuckles for the roof. Rising is important in the top roll as it dictates who’s holding onto who in a match. It also allows us to establish the hand height we need to tear through our opponent’s fingers.
Pronation is the inward rotation of our forearm.
And posting is elbow flexion with back pressure.
When training for a strong top roll, we need to focus heavily on these movements.
What Muscles Are Used In The Top Roll?
The primary muscles used in the top roll are as follows.
- Brachioradialis – This is the big muscle at the top of your forearm. It’s responsible for both rising and elbow flexion.
- Long head of bicep – This is the outer/lateral bicep muscle and is responsible for elbow flexion (think hammer curl).
- Brachialis – Another elbow flexor known as the ‘workhorse of the elbow’.
- Pronators – The two muscles in the forearm that are responsible for the inward rotation of your lower arm.
- Hand & finger muscles – Having strong fingers and a tough hand are imperative to top rolling success. The top roll is all about the fingers, so we need ours to be really powerful.
- Rhomboids & lats – These are the muscles of the back used to pull our opponent across the table.
Lots of muscles in this list but it all boils down to rise, post (elbow flexion), and back pressure. Below I’ll go over my favorite exercises for each of these.
4 Best Exercises For The Top Roll
I’m going to share with you my top 4 exercises for the top roll. Note that this list doesn’t include any hand and finger strengthening exercises which are important not to neglect.
1. Rising Pulses
This one’s really simple and all you need is a weight plate or kettlebell and a judo belt.
Wrap the belt around your hand so that the tension is pulling downwards through your knuckles.
Perform small pulsing rising movements while keeping your forearm parallel to the ground. Focus on using the wrist to move those knuckles to the roof.
2. Belt Pronation Variations
To start this exercise, rest your arm flat on a bench with your wrist off the edge. A judo belt works best for these. Wrap it around either your wrist, thumb, or knuckles and practice the pronation motion for 8-20 reps for 3-4 sets.
A judo belt is a must have piece of equipment for anyone serious about arm wrestling. They’re super cheap and versatile and won’t rip like an old towel will! This is the one I use and recommend.
Try attaching the belt in a variety of ways so you can hit your pronators from all different angles.
Oh and be sure to check out my full guide on pronation training for arm wrestling!
3. Hammer Curls
This one’s just a simple neutral grip bicep curl. You can do these standing up resting on a bench with your opposite arm or sitting down using a preacher bench.
The key is to keep your wrist in that fully risen position throughout the range of motion.
Great way to slam your brachioradialis as well as the brachialis and long head of the bicep – the primary elbow flexors. You’ll also be hitting your rise while doing this exercise.
What Is A Defensive Top Roll?
A defensive top roll is an approach used primarily to counter aggressive hook attacks.
The idea of the defensive top roll is to get your arm as far back/away from your opponent as possible to create a difficult route to the pin pad for your opponent.
In essence, you’re sacrificing side pressure and center control to focus more on back pressure and pulling your opponent across the table.
Janis Amolins says that even though it’s a defensive move, he still feels as though he’s attacking his opponent’s hand and wrist the entire time.1
To perform a defensive top roll, start with your elbow as far back on the pad as possible and on the corner closest to your body. For a right hand match, this means the back/left corner of the pad.
This allows us to get as far away from our opponent as possible before the match has even begun.
The focus is on shooting your arm backward to avoid getting pressed or flash pinned by an aggressive hooker.
What Is A Posting Top Roll?
A posting top roll is characterized by a very vertical or upright forearm that is close to perpendicular to the table. You’re essentially trying to make a ‘post’ with your arm.
At the same time, you’re trying to keep your knuckles pointing directly up at the roof also.
Your objective here is to establish a ‘high hand’ advantage where you’re able to attack your opponent’s fingers more efficiently.
In the below example, you can clearly see how upright Travis’ forearm is. Notice his knuckles are shooting straight up at the roof whereas Dave’s knuckles are pointing forward/upward at closer to a 45 degree angle.
Travis Bagent is most well known for his extremely strong posting style top roll. His focus when performing this move is on wrist rise and the cue he uses to maintain this position is to ‘make a fist’.
I guarantee you his forearm is completely pronated in the above setup as well!
What Is An Open Arm Top Roll?
An open arm top roll lies somewhere between a typical or posting top roll and a King’s move. It’s characterized by an ‘open arm’ where the elbow joint angle is beyond 90 degrees.2
In the below clip we see Sabin Badulescu (left) pulling off a brilliant open arm top roll as he becomes one of the few human beings to pin the Georgian Hulk.
All the same top rolling principles apply to this move – the only real difference is that we’re in a more opened-up position.
Notice Levan on the right is trapped between a hook and a top roll himself, unable to access his strength in either move.
What Is The Exploding Hand Technique?
The exploding hand technique is a top roll variation where one athlete will gain control of their opponent’s hand and fingers and the other guy will look to escape/slip. The exploding hand simply refers to gripping tightly your opponent’s hand and then usually looking to come forward and press.
Your objective is to simply hold onto your opponent for dear life and not let them escape your hand. It requires an insane amount of hand and finger strength.
What Is The King’s Move?
The King’s move is an extension of the open hand top roll, except in this variation the arm is completely open, close to straight, and the puller has had to sink their hips down below the table.
This move seeks to transfer the force off of the musculature of the arm and onto the bones and tendons which allows the athlete to rest and tire their opponent out.
In the above image, we see a double King’s move where both athletes are using it against each other. At this point, the biceps and forearms are doing very little work.
All of the tension is on the tendons and connective tissue of the arm. You’re effectively using the structure of the arm/skeleton to make it close to impossible for your opponent to pin you.
This is a highly dangerous move and definitely not recommended for beginners!
Parting Thoughts On The Top Roll
The top roll is the Yin to the hook’s Yang in arm wrestling.
It’s a powerful move that seeks to attack your opponent’s hand and fingers. It requires a strong wrist, hand, fingers, and immense back pressure to be really good at it.
At the same time, it’s an excellent move for beginners to start practicing and becoming familiar with.
It’s my own personal favorite strategy and the more you practice it, the more complex and nuanced it becomes.