Can Benni Magnusson reclaim the deadlift world record?

By Scott Rider

Highland games champion

On 6th July, Wembley Arena will host Giants Live’s World Deadlift Championships and many of the world’s strongest men will be vying for the $50,000 on offer to anyone who can supersede Eddie Hall’s world record, half tonne pull. If the cash isn’t sufficient incentive then surely adequate motivation will come from the prospect of hoisting more weight from the floor than anyone in history, in a lift regarded by most as the purest test of physical strength.

For decades the deadlift has held sway as the most revered and total assessment of man’s strength. This is partly due to its simplicity; what could be more basic than standing up with a dead weight? It’s a lift that anyone who’s moved some heavy suitcases or a washing machine around their house can relate to. And it’s a movement that can be completed in the most primitive of gyms. But there’s something more to this movement; it has a certain magnetism that calls out to strength fans and athletes alike. The great Jon Pall Sigmarsson once bellowed, mid-lift, that if you can’t deadlift, there’s no point being alive. But for many it is also a statement of their dominance: In a sport where titles can be lost through lack of mobility or conditioning, the deadlift is all about ignorant brute power and the athlete with the biggest pull is regarded as the alpha.

Despite the relatively straightforward nature of the lift there’s nothing simple about the numerous variations of deadlift that can be completed in competition and the different rules that can be applied to greatly alter the lift itself. Multiple world records exist for lifts completed with or without equipment, such as straps or super suits. Bar lengths, thickness and their degree of flexibility massively alter the points at which the lifter takes the full load in his or her hands, as does the width of the plates and their position relative to the ends of the bar. Hitching the bar up the thighs allows weights to be locked out that otherwise would have stalled just above the knee. Purists would even argue that sumo style lifts are in some way inferior to the more classic narrow stance. The only real constant factor is that the weight be lifted with a bar height of 8.75’’ from the floor. With that parameter in mind, Eddie Hall’s 500kg lift in Leeds, at the 2016 Giants Live World Deadlift Championships, stands supreme. It exceeded the world record at the time, which had inched up kilo by kilo for decades, by a staggering 37kg on the night and is still 27kg in excess of what anybody else on the planet has lifted. Therefore it is surprising that some in the world of strength do not regard it as the “greatest” deadlift in history.

Iceland’s Hafthor Bjornsson recently broke the Elephant Bar Deadlift world record with a lift of 473kg at the 2019 Arnold Classic. The Elephant bar, at 9 feet, is 2 feet longer than a standard Olympic barbell and 1.5 feet longer than a typical deadlift bar and can accommodate more plates and tends to bend and oscillate more than other bars. This brings its own challenges and advantages, as the greater bar deflection gives the athlete a pronounced mechanical advantage, taking the full weight much closer to lock-out. The oscillating or bouncing of the bar can also negatively effect the lifter, as the massive loads rebound towards the floor effectively increasing the load momentarily. If this occurs at a particular lifter’s sticking point, it could easily be game over for that lift. Furthermore, the outer plates can actually be rotated and dragged slightly inwards, creating friction off the ground and depending on the surface of the floor and the plates, cause the weight to stick. With that in mind, Thor’s 473kg, while not having the ring of half a tonne to it, is a lift of incredible merit and surely one of the greatest lifts from the floor in history.

To a large extent strongman has revamped the deadlift discipline. Allowing the use of straps, and hitching, the lifters can use almost any means possible to stand-up with the weight. Having for years watched seemingly perfect lifts get red lighted in powerlifting meets, for barely discernible rule infringements, strongman’s flouting of the rules seemed almost heretical. But the sport latched on to the lift’s possibilities, and none more so than Giants Live, who promoted their World Deadlift Championships that saw Iceland’s Benedikt Magnusson and Eddie Hall trading titles as the record was pushed beyond anything previously seen in powerlifting.

And yet many still regard Benedikt Magnusson as the ultimate exponent of the deadlift, due mainly to the 460kg “raw” lift he completed in 2011 at the MHP Titans meet. Raw being a category within powerlifting that prohibits the use of lifting suits, allowing just a belt to support the athlete’s back. Using just the strength in his own hands and body, Magnusson, without hitching, locked out 460kg with relative ease. This was the culmination of years of battling with Britain’s Andy Bolton, who had become the first man to lift 1000lbs back in 2006. The pair traded records for years, before Magnusson’s 460kg effort proved decisive and has not been neared since. In fact, given all the advantages afforded by the more lax strongman rules, Magnusson has only exceeded his raw lift by 5kg. Despite this, the enigmatic Icelander is claiming that not only can he beat Hall’s record, but he is predicting a lift of 528kg! Whether this is a serious claim, or a psychological ploy to boost his motivation and distract others, will have to be seen. Magnusson’s 500kg attempt back in 2016 became stranded mid-shin and strength fans have seen little of him since – until now. Few would doubt his capability to exceed 500kg; he is one of only 4 men to have moved such a weight from the floor.

Another is the American Jerry Pritchett, who’s 465kg lift on the way to his 500kg attempt was frighteningly fast and indicated to most who saw it that the half tonne was a real possibility. However, events on that night in Leeds were not favourable and as Hall reaped the crowds’ acclaim Pritchett was forced to wait too long and his attempt ended in failure and a torn hamstring. The 467kg Elephant bar world record he established in 2017 served to underline his pedigree, but for the part-Sioux, Arizona based athlete the Wembley contest could be a chance to prove what might have been three years earlier.

Brian Shaw’s name in the line-up will provide fans of the four-time World’s Strongest Man a rare opportunity to see him max out in the deadlift. His 460kg conventional deadlift bar lift from the 2017 World’s Strongest Man contest ranks him as one of the greatest ever and he has twice completed 463kg Elephant bar lifts. The consummate professional that he is; Shaw has always completed these incredible feats of deadlifting in the context of full strongman contests, with the multiple conditioning requirements that are needed to win such shows. What he could accomplish given the opportunity to prepare solely for one lift is an intriguing prospect and it would be foolish to right-off his chances of finishing top of the heap in Wembley.

Other men with solid credentials include the Georgian Bull, Konstantine Janashia, and the Canadian, J F Caron, both former joint World Deadlift Champions from 2017 after pulling five repetitions with 400kg. Their single repetition capabilities are hugely impressive also with Caron lifting 463kg with the Elephant bar and Janashia recently posting a 460kg conventional bar training lift. America’s Martins Licis achieved 440kg in 2017 and is a renowned competitor, capable of rising to meet any challenge. He’ll be accompanied by strength sensation Larry Wheels who with the use of straps and a suit may be able to substantially exceed the 415kg training lift he already has to his name. New to strongman, Wheels already surpassed most people’s expectations at the World Log Lift Championships earlier this year with a 202kg press. 501kg may well be beyond his capabilities at a slender 260lbs, but quite how far towards the 1000lbs (454kg) barrier he can get will be fascinating to see.

Other wild cards include Burkina Faso’s Iron Biby who having twice proven himself to be the world’s greatest log presser, is now turning his attention to the deadlift. And if lifting in excess of 500kg is the target, look no further than the Russian Vlad Alhazov who raw squatted (with just a belt and knee wraps) a world record of 525kg in 2018. Incredibly, in 2008 Vlad suffered serious injury whilst attempting a fully equipped 590kg squat and needed synthetic ligaments to restructure his damaged joints. His comeback from virtual disability to setting all-time world records is almost miraculous and he has reportedly deadlifted 450kg in training. Whilst the requirements of the squat and the mechanical characteristics to be successful at it differ greatly from the deadlift, Alhazov is the kind of freakishly talented lifter that makes this contest a truly enthralling prospect.

Whether anyone can actually exceed Hall’s 500kg is a point of much debate. It’s worth bearing in mind that most experts did not believe “The Beast” would achieve such a feat – not until they saw 465kg fly up. Such single discipline contests allow athletes normally used to spreading their training across many events to concentrate on just one movement and we may expect to see many new personal bests and many more athletes achieve the 1000lb milestone. And if the 501kg isn’t achieved, depending on the increments, we may expect to see the second heaviest deadlift of all time, at the very least.

With the Arnold Classic in Ohio offering $50,000 for a 501kg Elephant bar deadlift earlier this year, a feat that Hafthor Bjornsson only narrowly missed, and now Giants Live putting up the same amount, organisers are demonstrating their appetite for a heavier deadlift. The world of strength was momentarily stunned by Hall’s groundbreaking world record, but now it seems that momentum is building and establishing a new world record is very much back on the agenda. With the plethora of lifting talent to be seen in both powerlifting and strongman, surely it is only a matter of time before the world record falls? However, a successful 501kg lift would only eclipse Hall’s record in weight alone, for Hall will always be the trailblazer – the man who truly pushed the limits of what everyone thought was humanly possible. But 528kg? Now that really would make Benni the undisputed king of the deadlift!

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