Rob Bigwood has built a reputation as a US champion arm-wrestler, while remaining devoted to his vegan principles and ethical approach to sourcing nutrition. He believes in putting the rights of animals on an equal footing with those of humans, and follows a strict vegan diet.
His incredible success in the unique form of hand-to-hand combat that is arm-wrestling saw him become one of the stars of ‘Game of Arms’, the reality TV show that followed the lives of men and women competing in this one-time underground sport. Here he reveals exclusively to RSNG how he’s reached to top of his game whilst shunning all forms of animal by-product…
RSNG You started out competitive arm wrestling in 2001 I believe, how did that come about and what's been your motivation for continuing with the sport?
ROB BIGWOOD, VEGAN ARM-WRESTLER ‘A friend in High School competed professionally and talked me into helping him train. I was hesitant because I knew the pain his body (especially his elbows) were put through from the various types of exercises he did. I ended placing at my first competition in North Carolina back in 2001. The competition is addicting, people are interesting, traveling the country is fun, and it's impossible to not do something you excel in.’
‘I do a variety of fingertip pull-ups off a steel reinforcement beam in my apartment’
RSNG Your switch to a vegan diet occurred around the same time too – what was your motivation?
RB ‘Ironically it was at an arm-wrestling tournament back in 2002 – the Pennsylvania State Fair. I noticed an adorable family of piglets playing with each other and milking their mom, it was no different than watching puppies. I got sick to my stomach thinking of what I had for breakfast that morning. I've always been an animal lover at heart but that was when I made the actual connection. I then researched some documentaries and discovered how inhumane factory farming is, my life has changed ever since. It was a trial and error experience for me, first becoming vegetarian then eventually vegan.’
RSNG Arm-wrestling is a very technical sport, can you tell us how you developed your technique – did you have a coach or learn through competition?
RB ‘I grew up in South Jersey and trained with a great group of guys there for years. I learned so much during our weekly practices, especially from constantly losing. You figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are and train around them. I'm not tall for my weight class so I developed a technique where I hook my opponent in towards me using my wrist and back.’
RSNG How to you train for arm-wrestling?
RB ‘I do a variety of fingertip pull-ups off a steel reinforcement beam in my apartment. Torque exercises and isometrics that simulate arm wrestling, heavy wrist curls, cable pull-downs with a piece thick piece of lumber and a lot of grip and hand exercises.’
‘You can see it in an opponent’s eyes, right before gripping up, that they know they are about to lose’
RSNG Close combat competition must have a major element of psychological conflict within it too – what kinds of 'mind games' go on?
RB ‘You can see it in an opponent’s eyes, right before gripping up, that they know they are about to lose. You can also physically feel it in their grip and setup. I personally don't play mind games or focus on my opponent like others might, but more on the hours I dedicated for that tournament. If I lose it only means the other guy was hungrier, trained harder, and wanted the win more.’
RSNG How would you describe your diet and its benefits?
RB ‘My diet is completely cruelty-free now and that's what is most important to me. I'm healthier, lighter, and generally have better endurance during my workouts and with recovery. It's also benefits the environment and millions of innocent animals slaughtered for their body parts each year.’
RSNG In a sport like arm-wrestling a vegan competitor must stand out – what kind of reaction do you get from your rivals?
RB ‘Surprisingly, not many people in the sport of arm-wrestling care that I'm vegan. I think they would react negatively if I wasn't as successful. I've made a name for myself over the years and have a proven track record. I get more of a reaction from the people outside of the sport when they find out I'm vegan, considering my weight. Most people are just curious about my diet, which I'm always willing to share.’
RSNG Your veganism has been used against you to an extent when filming Game of Arms and you had to compete in an abattoir – how did you react?
RB ‘It was distracting especially with the owner of the slaughterhouse in the crowd cheering for the Kansas City team. It was also freezing and arm wrestling was the absolute last thing I wanted to do that day. We were bored sitting around all day in a tent with no heat waiting for our matches to be filmed, plus I was sick with a nasty cold.’
RSNG Away from competition you’re a Design Director – how does that enable you time to train and compete?
RB ‘It's extremely challenging finding the time to train at the level it takes to be a competitive arm wrestler while working full-time at an agency. There are constantly deadlines to make, client reviews, and new business pitches that will to eat up your days, nights and weekends. It isn't ideal but I make best of what little time I get and train intensely.’
RSNG That commitment has paid off though, what's been the greatest moment in the sport for you to date?
RB ‘Season 2 on Games of Arms when I crushed Matt ‘Chop’ Bertrand 3-0 was hands down my greatest moment and win. I trained for an entire year focusing on the perfect technique to use against his awkward hand and setup. Unfortunately that season wasn’t aired due to AMC dropping their reality show division. Only a small crew of people got to witness that match on an old fishing dock in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The toughest blow was losing to Chop on television the year before while millions of viewers watched, it still bothers me to this day.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Rob Bigwood in arm-wrestling action:
Photographs by David Moir, Wendy George, Pat Baffa
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.