How Strong Are Strongmen Really?
Bottom Line Up Front: So there I was…watching the 2018 Arnold Strongman Classic in wonder as these men moved unbelievable weights in seemingly logic-defying ways. I was in awe also at just how large these men are. I kept thinking that even at the strongest I ever was when being strong was all I cared about, I couldn’t even budge some of these weights. Then I started thinking, were these lifts really that impressive given how large these men are? How strong are strongmen really?
I began by just relativizing (yeah, that’s a word now) the things they were doing to their size. Let’s just look at the winner, Hafthor Bjornsson (the “Mountain” from Game of Thrones). Per his Rogue Athlete bio, he’s 29 years old, 386lbs, and 6’9″. Was he twice as strong as a good 190lb-er?
Let’s take a look now at some raw numbers for our mountain of a man. He deadlifted 1041 pounds. He threw a 95-lb bag over a 15-foot high bar. He carried a 1102-pound frame up a 35-foot ramp in under 20 seconds. He lifted a 410-pound rock from ground to shoulder multiple times. He cleaned and pressed the 400-pound Appollon’s Wheels three times. Here are all the results by the way if you want to see what happened. All the videos are on YouTube to watch also.
Remember now, this guy weighs almost 400 pounds. So let’s just divide everything he did in half to compare it to what a normal guy who strength trains would have to do for it to be relatively the same. Could they perform relatively as well? Let’s take a look at some of the events.
Bag Over Bar
I am pretty sure I could throw a 47.5lb weight over a 15-foot bar. I kind of want to test it but, alas, I cannot do so safely or easily right now. I think when I was much heavier and only interested in being strong this would be very easy. But this is my weakest example event admittedly.
I can’t find a perfect comparison for this, but below is a video of what looks to be a regular guy who definitely trains for strongman. He put 56lbs over 16 feet. Think he’s anywhere near Hafthor’s weight? Thinking of it another way, Bjornsson threw the same 56lbs over 20 feet at the 2018 Arnold. That is only 25% higher. Let’s just assume this guy below is 250lbs (which he isn’t). Hafthor is 1.5x his size, so he should be able to throw it 24 feet relatively, which is significantly higher than he is able to throw.
As for his 1041lb deadlift, how about a 520-pound deadlift? I did it at less than 200lbs and while being a CrossFit (non-specialist) athlete. And vegan. But at an elite level, here are just American records (NOT world records):
- A 198lb lifter (Cailer Woolam) in 2017 deadlifted 881 pounds.
- Ed Coan (the master) at 181 pounds lifted 791 pounds. For this to be relative to Bjornnsson’s lift, Coan would have lifted 1730 pounds (Mountain is more than two times heavier than Coan).
- Even in the drug tested category, Coan did 766 at 181 pounds.
- A 123lb, drug-tested lifter deadlifted 523lbs in 1989. This is like Bjornsson doing 1683 pounds.
- Finally, a 181-pound female lifter, Chakera Holcomb, pulled 584lbs in 2017. Without adjusting FOR GENDER, this is the same as Bjornsson deadlifted 1277 pounds, a full 100+ pounds more than he is capable of.
For Appollon’s Wheels, there is some dispute as to whether the guy who built this set of railway car wheels welded to an axle in the 19th century ever lifted it over his head, but there is apparently evidence that more than 50 years ago, 3 men were able to do it. They all weighed under 240 pounds. Not even all of the Arnold strongmen could clean and jerk it even once. If they made a 200lb replica, there would be thousands of men and women who could do this and they’d all weigh less than half his weight.
How about the 410-pound stone? This stone in particular is awkwardly shaped, so it’s not really fair to compare it to atlas stones, which are perfectly round. However, for comparison, Brian Shaw has the atlas stone record of 560lbs. He conveniently did the 2018 Arnold too. He lifted the 410lb awkward stone only one complete time from ground to shoulder.
Let’s compare this to Rob Orlando, a semi-famous CrossFit-ish strongman. Here he is throwing around a 250lb stone five times at 187lbs. Shaw weighs 420lbs, almost 10% heavier than Hafthor! Orlando clearly has a max stone weight of more than 250lbs if he can do it 5 times, but let’s just say it’s 250lbs. Relatively, it’s like Shaw lifting a 561lb stone. So if Orlando’s max is, say 275, is it like Shaw doing 617lbs, which is 10% heavier than his record.
I bet most of you would agree though that if we made a replica of the 410-pound awkward stone from the Arnold in 205-pounds, plenty of sub-200-pound men would easily lift it, like multiple times, no problem.
In absolute numbers, elite strongmen are other-worldly. However, when you take their performance into account relative to their other fairly strong people, it just isn’t that impressive. There is even a large discrepancy in size between the guys at the 2018 Arnold. Shaw was 100lbs heavier than some of them! I was thinking a man Shaw or Bjornsson’s size, with their anabolic regimen, training, nutrition, and genetics should be much stronger honestly. We are pushing the limits of absolute values, yes, but there still has to be something to be said for feats of strength as they relate to your size.
Agree? Disagree? Got some counterpoints? Post to comments.