He might look friendly enough… but if Marcus Zerr invites you to try out some arm wrestling, you’ll probably want to change the subject.
Zerr finished second in his age and weight class at the Canadian National Arm Wrestling Championships in Charlottetown PEI, on the Victoria Day weekend.
With his weight training and ability, there aren’t many locals who would have a chance — though some of his eight kids like to try.
“All of my sons take me on,” said Zerr, with a confident grin. “Kellen has beaten me once. He’s a little lighter than me — and I arm-wrestled after a workout… but we won’t tell him that!”
At age 54, Zerr competed in the Grand Masters 80+ Kg class — which should have topped out at 90 Kg — but also included two heavyweights.
“The biggest guy was 375 pounds,” said Zerr. “The organizers decided to mix the 240+ pound weight class with mine. There were only two guys in that class and nine in mine.
“I finished second in my weight class (and fourth in the combined). They’re going to give me credit for second, so if I place first or second next year, that will entitle me to go to the Worlds.”
Wrestling the heavyweights was a daunting challenge, he said.
“You still have to have the technique side of it — but the weight helps a lot,” explained Zerr.
Arm wrestlers compete standing up and can shift their feet and lean their bodies to gain an advantage. The bench has a handle for each wrestler to hold onto with the free hand and a pad to keep the wrestling-elbow on. Tight strings on each side help the referees determine when a win has been made. If a wrestler’s arm is forced onto the string, the match is over.
Zerr said he missed a first-place win in his class because of a technical error against Darrell Steffenson of Manitoba.
“I had him within an inch and a half of the rope and I lifted my elbow off the pad. You’re allowed two fouls and that was my second.”
To get a better feel for the sport, I asked Zerr to walk me through a safe-and-slow version of a match. We knelt and used a bench at the rec centre’s Reflexions gym, where Zerr does his weight training.
“One ref will line up your hands and one more ref watches for square shoulders. And you can’t cross the centre line with your hand or shoulders,” explained Zerr.
Before the referee lets the match begin, he’s holding onto the clasped hands of the competitors.
“You’re fighting for the best grip and finger position,” said Zerr. “Who’s going to control the hand from the start?
“There can be a lot of complaining and bickering (before the start),” he added. “I’m told that I’m pretty generous… I guess that comes from inexperience.
“Two typical moves are a sharp hook or a roll over the top — or a combination of both,” said Zerr, as he showed me with a deft twist of our wrists. I immediately saw how I would be in trouble, even against a less-muscular opponent.
But there is hope for losers.
“Defensively, if you are losing, you move close to the centre line and turn your hand around,” said Zerr. “If you’re getting really bent, you go down with your upper body. Your core is as tight and tense as you can get it.”
In his younger days, Zerr was a weight lifter and competitive cyclist in Saskatchewan — and he won a provincial arm wrestling title.
“Then I got married and raised a family.”
As his kids have gotten older, there has been a little more time to get back into fitness and sport, so he hits the gym for three or four one-hour sessions per week.
“It’s mostly upper-body,” he said. I get a cardio work out, too, because my sets are very intense. One is the bicep curls. On the cables, I get up to 225 pounds and eight reps.
“That’s a maximum right there. I try to keep most of the reps between five and seven. I’m going for strength and not body mass.
“I try to be explosive on my way up and slow on the way down,” he explained, saying this makes it like an arm wrestling match. “If you’re getting beaten, it’s a slow pull-down… unless the guy’s a real monster.”
For the technical side, Zerr takes a long drive each month to train with the Vancouver Arm Wrestling Club, where he wrestles and gets lots of coaching tips.
Next up is the Summerland Open, on June 7. Zerr won a silver medal there two years ago.