Bavarian finger wrestling: traditionally pulled over the table

Did you know? The idiom “Jemanden über den Tisch ziehen” (to pull someone over the table/to pull a fast one on somebody) originates from the popular sport of finger wrestling. This exceptional sport not only demands physical strength from participants but also a high degree of responsiveness and resistance to pain. Find out more about the local Bavarian sport, preserving the old traditions and the strict rules for professional finger wrestlers.

Finger wrestling (Source: BAYERN TOURISMUS Marketing GmbH)

The popular sport’s origins

What’s behind finger wresting is a traditional, alpine trial of strength that was already mentioned in the 16th century and mainly practised in Bavaria and Austria. Supposedly, they used to resolve disputes and differences in opinion with this. Two squabblers used to sit opposite each other at a table and try to pull the other one over it using just their own middle finger. Physical strength, overcoming the pain of stretching and personal technique mattered first and foremost to win at finger wrestling. The popular sport established itself in Bavaria at the latest with the foundation of the Schlierachgauer Fingerhakler Verein.

Wrestling in the 21st century

Today there are twelve finger wrestling regions throughout Bavaria and Tyrol. Wresting has also established itself as an organised sport in its present form. Once the official starting shot has been fired in the form of the cry “Both wrestlers – on your marks – pull!”, the two opponents get stuck in at the same time and try really hard to pull the other one over the table. It’s important that this is not just done with pure muscle power but with the right touch. Besides using the naked finger, with the exception of the thumb, there is also the possibility of using a leather strap as a hooking option. Many finger wrestlers swear by weight training at home to use their strength skilfully and train their pulling finger in this movement. After sufficient training, the best wrestlers can then put their skills to the test at the Bavarian, German, and international alpine championships organised every year.

Finger wrestling championships

Participants at regular competitions can enter one of the 14 weight and age classes. However old they are, every pro has to stick to the set rules. One of the main rules is that only men can enter. To preserve the tradition and custom, they should take to the stage in traditional dress, ideally “lederhose” with a sheen and a splendid “Gamsbart” tuft of hair on their hat. It is also important that the entrants belong to the regional Bavarian finger wrestling association or have been a member of a region or club for at least a year. As soon as the two opponents are sitting opposite each other, the competition is battled out after the famous starting call at a standardised table with approximately ten centimetre long and six to eight millimetre thick leather straps in an extended knock-out system. This means that the loser is only eliminated after two defeats. Only the use of powder magnesium is allowed for a better finger wrestling grip. A finger wrestling duel is also not organised without a catcher sitting behind each of the two opponents for safety reasons.


By the way, there’s also leg wrestling and neck pulling besides finger wrestling: with leg wrestling the competitors hook the backs of their knees together and try to press their opponent’s leg to the floor. Neck pulling calls for a strong cervical spine. As here the participants put their heads through a cloth rope and try to pull their opponent backwards over the dividing line using the pure strength of their neck.