For over forty years the World’s Strongest Man contest has provided a simple means of establishing the answer to a common question: Who is the strongest man in the world? Tom Stoltman, having accrued the greatest points total at the 2022 World’s Strongest Man final in Sacramento, is able to claim that title and no one can reasonably question its veracity. However, an equally common question, and one with a far less straightforward answer is: what is the heaviest weight ever lifted by a human?
The limits of human strength have been thoroughly explored and well-documented over the last 150 years with names like Cyr, Anderson, Kazmaier and Savickas coming to the fore as men who might lay claim to being the strongest who have ever lived. Looking back further into ancient and pre-history, legendary figures such as Milo of Croton and the Icelandic strongman Orm Stórolfsson hint at the idea that there once lived men who were even mightier than modern strongmen.
Tales of “hysterical strength,” where people in life-or-death situations perform acts of superhuman physical strength suggest that humans have a far greater potential to exert force than science tells us, and that unlimited power lies dormant in our muscles, revealing itself only in moments of extreme duress. Only anecdotal evidence exists of this phenomenon, and it most commonly includes occurrences of people lifting vehicles to free trapped loved ones.
Quantifying the legendary feats of Milo or establishing the true poundage of incidences of hysterical strength is not really feasible. The lift needs to be measurable for it to count and certain criteria need to be met. For example, the weight needs to be raised from the ground, not dragged, or pushed. If that were permitted then the weight in question would be over 150,000lbs or about 68-tons – that’s the load of the heaviest vehicle ever pulled. The weight cannot be hinged, or raised on an angle, but must be lifted from the ground using human muscle power alone.
This article aims to present the heaviest ever lifts in ascending order of maximum weight achieved. Most fall into the domain of powerlifting and strongman, but the greatest weights fall under the category of the “heavy lifts,” and are rarely performed these days.
As one of the three powerlifts, (squat and bench press being the other two) the deadlift is the only one where the weight is lifted directly from the floor. It is undeniably the simplest of the three and is affected least by the use of lifting aids, such as straps and suits. There are numerous variations of the lift, with the sumo style yielding the greatest weight ever achieved, though outlawed in strongman.
Using a narrow stance, with wider placed hands, the heaviest raw lift in powerlifting competition is held by Benedikt Magnússon of Iceland with his 460.4kg (1,015lb) effort at the Hardcore Clash of the Titans meet in 2011. As a raw lift, no lifting suit or straps were employed. The lift was also completed without hitching.
The heaviest documented conventional pull using straps, suits and hitching belongs to another Icelander, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who lifted 501kg (1,105lb) at the WUS Feats of Strength series at his own gym in 2020.
The heaviest conventional deadlift in competition and therefore arguably the official deadlift world record belongs to Britain’s Eddie Hall who achieved 500kg (1,103lb) at the 2016 Europe’s Strongest Man & World Deadlift Championships in Leeds, England.
Danny Grigsby’s 487.5kg (1,075lb) lift at the 2022 WRPF American Pro meet exceeds the heaviest conventional raw pull. However, the heaviest deadlift of all-time belongs to Poland’s Krzysztof Wierzbicki who achieved a 502.5kg (1,107.8lb) in April 2022 using lifting straps and the sumo style. But is this really the heaviest weight lifted from the floor? Afraid not!
The standard height of a bar in deadlift and Olympic weightlifting is 9-inches. Of course, much greater loads can he raised when the bar is set higher. The maximum 18-inch deadlift, belongs to Oleksii Novikov of the Ukraine, who set a new world record by lifting 537.5 kg (1,185 lb) at the 2020 World’s Strongest Man.
Novikov has lifted more though, and in 2022 set a record in the Hummer Tyre Deadlift with 549kg (1,210lb) at the Shaw Classic strongman contest. This still isn’t the heaviest though, as the Silver Dollar Deadlift record held by Rauno Heinla of Estonia sits at 580kg (1,279lb), established at the 2022 Silver Dollar Deadlift Championships.
Taking the bar from stands upon the shoulders, the weight must be lowered until the lifter’s hips drop below the height of their knees. Grip strength is therefore negated, and the weights achieved are slightly greater than in the deadlift.
America’s Ray Williams is the proud owner of the heaviest ever raw squat of 490kg (1,080.3lb) at the 2019 USAPL Arnold SBD Pro American contest. This was performed in a drug-tested meet, using no suit or knee wraps.
A slightly heavier lift of 505kg (1,113.3lb) was achieved by Dan Bell (USA) at the 2021 Kern US Open in San Diego CA. This squat was also performed raw, though knee wraps were permitted.
Another American lifter, Blaine Sumner, holds the single ply with knee wraps record at 515kg (1,135.4lb), set at the 2020 USA Powerlifting Arnold Grand Prix.
However, the heaviest official squat performed in competition using multi-ply suits, knee wraps and a mono-lift was performed by American powerlifter Nathan Baptist. He received three white lights for his 595kg (1,311.8lb) lift at the 2021 UPA Utah Kick-Off Meet.
Of the three powerlifting disciplines most people would think that the bench press is the one in which the lightest loads are lifted. That would only be true of the raw variation. Julius Maddox (USA) holds the much-respected raw bench press world record. In just a t-shirt he pressed 354.7kg (782lb) at the 2020 Arnold Sports Festival.
The equipped division of bench press has provided the heaviest lift in any powerlifting discipline and the only performance in excess of 600kg. On February 4th, 2023, America’s Jimmy Kolb pressed 612.5kg (1,350lb), at the 2023 IPA Hillbilly Havoc meet in Hurricane WV, adding 13.5kg to his own world record. The lift was performed using the aid of a bench shirt.
Not confined by the strict rules of powerlifting or weightlifting, strongman is free to invent new lifts and some of these far exceed anything ever achieved in traditional lifting.
Orm Stórolfsson’s 1,000-year record
The Icelandic sagas immortalised the feats of strength of the man known as Orm Stórolfsson The Strong, who was reputed to have carried the mast of the famous longship Ormrinn Langri. It took 50 men to lift the 10m long mast weighing 650kg (1,433lb) on to his shoulders, and he was able to carry the mast for three steps before breaking his back, an injury he never recovered from.
In February 2015 at the World’s Strongest Viking contest in Vinstra, Norway, Hafþór Björnsson took 5 steps to surpass the feat with a replica mast raised from wooden runners. In doing so he exceeded Stórolfsson’s 1,000-year-old record.
A regular event in strongman, the weights of these implements regularly exceed 1,000lbs. At the 2017 Arnold Strongman Classic the yoke reached a truly terrific load that has not been matched since. The Bale Tote needed to be carried for just 4m, but weighing in at a colossal 710kg (1,565lb) needed a colossus to complete the distance, and was won by the Colorado Colossus himself, Brian Shaw, in a time of 14.08sec.
This is one of the “heavy lifts” performed by early strongmen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as more recent exponents, such as Paul Anderson who was reported to have raised the Mapes Hotel safe at 1,043kg (2,300lb) out of a hole using this lifting style.
The rules of this discipline are simple and involve the weight being attached by an adjustable chain to a belt of no more than 4” thick. The lifter’s hands can brace on the thighs but must be free of them at completion of the lift. The whole implement must come off the floor before a down signal can be given.
Up until 2012 the USAWA (All-Around Weightlifting Association) Heavy Lift Championship had produced the highest poundage in a verified setting with 1,145kg (2525lb) achieved by John Carter who lifted it at the 1994 Heavy Lift Championship meet in Columbia, MO.
In 2012, at the Giants Live Melbourne contest, the lift was included and later dubbed the “weirdest strongman event ever.” However, joint winners Nick Best (USA) and the late Mike Jenkins (USA) established a new record of 1,150kg (2,535lb).
It’s worth stating that these lifts are rarely performed and that modern strongmen may not be as practised or familiar with the tricks of the trade used by legendary strongmen such as Paul Anderson, who claims a maximum hip lift of 1,860kg (4,100lb), making this by far the heaviest lift of our list so far.
As far back as the 18th century Thomas Topham, a famous strongman from London lifted three hogsheads of water weighing 606kg (1336lb), several inches from the ground. He completed this feat from a raised platform, lifting the load using a strong rope and tackle passed over his shoulders, like a harness.
A century later, the Scottish strongman William Bankier would harness lift an elephant as part of his act. No actual weight is recorded, but the average weight of a female African elephant is between 3 and 4 tons.
In 1988, just a year before he would go on to win the World’s Strongest Man, Britain’s Jamie Reeves bested Thomas Topham’s 274-year barrel lifting record with an 845kg (1,863lb) harness lift.
The USAWA competition record is held by the American Steve Schmidt with 1,594kg (3,515lb), but many decades earlier Warren Lincoln Travis, the first truly famous American Strongman, lifting in Coney Island, in front of witnesses, raised 1,807kg (3,985lb). Travis also recorded 1,880kg (4,010lb) in our next category of lifting – the back lift.
Also known as the platform lift, the back lift requires the lifter to brace themselves under a supported platform and raise it up by pushing their back against the load. In 1895 the legendary Canadian strongman Louis Cyr lifted 18 men on a platform resting on trestles using this technique. The weight of his lift was recorded at 1,967kg (4,337lb), roughly 2 tons.
Sixty-two years later the man who was dubbed by the Soviet weightlifters “The Wonder of Nature,” Paul Anderson, claimed to have broken Cyr’s record. On 12th June 1957, Anderson was reputed to have lifted a colossal 2,840kg (6,270lb) using a home-made platform.
The feat was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “The greatest weight ever raised by a human being.” The actual weight claimed varied over the years and wasn’t included in Guinness until 13 years after the lift and later struck from the book due to doubts over the authenticity of the feat.
The USAWA record, like the harness lift, is held by Steve Schmidt with an in competition lift of 1,383kg (3,050lb).
This lift has found its way into strongman competition on two notable occasions in recent times. At the 2000 Norway’s Strongest Viking contest Roy Holte achieved 1,400kg (3,080lb). In 2009 a variation of the lift was featured at the Fortissimus contest. Here, the athletes had nothing to push against with their arms apart from their own thighs. Žydrūnas Savickas & Louis Phillipe Jean shared the victory with 1209kg (2,665lb).
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, cited Texan strongman Stout Jackson as having achieved 2,935kg (6,470lb), which would have been in excess of Anderson’s former record, but Guinness did not publish this due to doubts of its authenticity.
The Current Guinness Record for most weight lifted by a human is now held by the two-time Canada’s Strongest Man winner Gregg Ernst. Having already been watched by over 1,000 people lifting two grown oxen, in July 1993, Ernst lifted 2,422.2kg (5340lb), making this officially the world’s heaviest lift. Even so, Guinness didn’t publish the record for 21 years until it finally appeared in the 2015 edition.
Whether a heavier weight than this has ever been lifted is difficult to say. Anderson’s back lift may have been true, but many people find it hard to reconcile that today’s modern strongmen, with all the advantages of modern training cannot come close to a record set 66 years ago. Today’s strongmen, unlike the performers of old, never really attempt such feats, and therefore haven’t learned the techniques involved. It’s quite possible that one of them, in the future, could exceed Ernst’s and perhaps even Anderson’s lift.