Giants Live’s Strongman Open and World Deadlift Championships will be back at Cardiff’s International Arena on the 2nd of September 2023. And that can mean just one thing; it’s time, once again, for the planet’s strongest to break out their smelling salts, don their power suits, slap each other across the shoulders with sufficient force to grievously injure most of us, and see who can pick up the heaviest weight.
Quite how what is arguably strongman’s dullest lift has captured the imagination of both its athletes and fans is hard to pinpoint. The fifty five thousand dollar prize money for anyone who can do a 500kg deadlift is almost incidental to what motivates the competitors to devote their whole lives to raising that 7-foot bar. The pursuit of strength immortality, such as Eddie Hall’s deadlift record that he achieved in 2016 when be lifted half a tonne, is what they chase.
It’s a dream that has driven many athletes to keep the deadlift record ticking upwards since it first came to the fore as a competitive lift in the 1960’s. Its progression during the rise in popularity of powerlifting has been mirrored in strongman many years later. A few of the discipline’s greatest exponents have stood astride both sports, but it is strongman that has sent the deadlift record into the stratosphere.
A Pivotal Lift
Prior to 1996 the deadlift was seen as too mundane an event to make it onto the World’s Strongest Man events roster. Instead, all kinds of similar permutations were concocted to make it more palatable to fickle TV audiences. Silver Dollar lifts, Cart Lifts and even Cheese lifts all followed the basic principles, but it wasn’t until 1996, in Mauritius, that South Africa’s Gerrit Badenhorst, the former powerlifting world champion, stood upright holding 410kg (904lb) on a conventional bar set 9-inches from the floor. Well, not quite conventional, this is strongman after all; the bar was loaded with stone lifting plates!
In completing the lift Badenhorst established the first strongman deadlift record – an important milestone for the event, though it was less than had been performed by the world’s best powerlifters at that time, who were lifting without the aid of straps and were prohibited from hitching the bar up their thighs.
It would be twelve years before the young American, Kevin Nee matched the South African’s achievement at the Viking Power Championships in 2008. Despite his jubilation at such an astonishing lift at just 21-years of age, he would have been unaware of the longer-term implications. For within strongman a seed had now been planted. Organisers, always keen to showcase world records for their audiences to enjoy, realised that here was an opportunity not to be missed. By promoting and contesting the deadlift they set loose some of the most wildly powerful humans on the planet, completely unfettered by strict powerlifting rules, on one of the three classic powerlifts. The effect would be truly remarkable.
The German professional strongman Hermann Goerner posted some impressive numbers back in the 1920’s, though his lifts weren’t verified in a way that would be considered satisfactory by today’s standards. He was reported to have pulled 360kg (790lb) with an overhand hook grip and 380kg (840lb) with a mixed grip. Famed for his hand strength, he also completed a 330kg (734lb) one handed deadlift on 8th October 1920, in Leipzig, Germany. Not bad for a man who was hit by shrapnel in the 1st World War and lost an eye.
Fast forward a World War and the Tennessee Hercules, Bob Peoples, at just 82kg, performed a somewhat more valid 331kg/729.5lb in 1949. Training out of his farm, with unsophisticated equipment, he kept a rounded back when lifting and would expel all his air prior to the lift.
It wouldn’t be until the 1960’s that competitive powerlifting started taking off in earnest and lifts could be properly adjudicated, verified, and acknowledged. The Americans Terence Todd and Wilbur Miller traded the deadlift records for a spell, with Todd taking the record up to 336kg (740lb) in 1965. The Canadian Benoit Cote was the first to do the heaviest deadlift of 350kg with a 354kg (780lb) effort.
On August 29th, 1969, Don Cundy became the first man to lift 800lb (363kg) at the AAU Senior nationals. With the sport expanding exponentially throughout the 70’s, with the introduction of the IPF, improvements to the deadlift world record came thick and fast.
John Kuc made frequent additions, moving the deadlift record up to 372kg (820lb) and 385kg (849lb) at the 1974 IPF worlds. 1979 World’s Strongest Man Don Reinhoudt reached 390kg (860lb) in 1976 before Kuc reclaimed the deadlift record in 1980 with 395kg (871lb) on March 19th.
The first man to break the 400kg and 900lb barrier was the American Dan Wohleber in 1982 at just 21. In 1988, Gary Heisey lifted 412.5kg (910lb), 415kg (915lb) in August 1988, 417.5kg (920.5lb) in 1990, and then 419.5kg (925lb) in 1992.
Bolton and Benni
It would be a decade before the Yorkshireman, Andy Bolton, would exceed Heisey’s lifts. At the 2002 WPO semi-finals he lifted 420.5kg (927lb), but had the rug pulled from under his feet by Gary Frank’s 425.5kg (931lb) lift in the same contest. Bolton would return to take the record for himself, lifting 425kg (937lb) in 2005. It’s worth mentioning that Bolton was lifting with the aid of a suit, unlike his greatest adversary, Benedikt Magnusson of Iceland, who at the WPC European Semi-Final in Finland that year set a new deadlift record of 440kg (970lb) – the biggest jump in weight in 28 years!
Bolton responded in March 2006 with a half kilo addition to the record, raising 440.5kg (971lb) on March 4th at the 2006 WPO Finals at the Arnold Classic. Benni dropped out of the duo’s race to 1,000lb for a couple of seasons, leaving Bolton to press ahead and become the first man in history to exceed the 1,000lb barrier with a 455kg (1,003lb) effort at the WPO Semis in 2006.
At the 2009 South-East qualifier Bolton recorded his heaviest ever lift of 457.5kg (1,008.5lb). He was the undisputed king of the deadlift at this time, but in 2011, Magnusson would return to competition and steal the Englishman’s crown. At the 2011 Clash of the Titans 4, in Mesquite, Texas, Magnusson performed what many regard as the greatest deadlift in history. Lifting raw (without a suit) he achieved 460.5kg (1,005lb), eclipsing the equipped world record and establishing the first ever raw 1,000lb deadlift.
The Strongman Effect
Following Nee’s 2008 lift, Giants Live included deadlift in their 2011 London contest, with Brian Shaw and Laurence Shahlaei upping the record to 430kg (948lb). That same year at World’s Strongest Man Žydrūnas Savickas moved the bar up to 440kg (970lb). At this stage the strongmen were still lagging behind Benedikt Magnusson’s powerlifting record, but they were gathering momentum and in 2013 Brian Shaw would take the strongman record back with 442,5kg (976lb).
Switching codes and joining the strongmen, Magnusson attended the Arnold’s Australian in 2014 and lifted 445kg (981lb). He then travelled to Leeds, England, to contest Giants Live’s inaugural World Deadlift Championships at Headingly Stadium. Setting a new record of 446kg (983lb) he loaded the bar to 461kg (1,016lb) to deliver the heaviest deadlift ever recorded, whether in powerlifting or strongman. What he wasn’t counting on was that Britain’s Eddie Hall, a man who had been quickly ascending the strongman rankings would also lift the same weight, only to drop it to the floor and be disqualified. The lift didn’t count, but there was no doubting the ability of The Beast who later that year would raise the record to 462kg (1,019lb) at the Arnold Australia in front of an enthralled Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Pulling 463kg (1,021lb) with ease to win the 2015 World Champs, Hall had already begun talking about the possibility of lifting 500kg – an unthinkable feat. Few credited his ability to lift such a load, but on July 9th Hall silenced his naysayers by first hoisting 465kg (1,025lb) for a speed rep – a feat matched by both Benni Magnusson and the American Jerry Pritchett – and then completing the 500kg (1,103lb) half tonne lift.
Adding 37kg to the record in one night Hall’s lift was hailed as possibly the greatest feat of strength in history. It was exceeded by another Icelander, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, in 2020 when he lifted 501kg (1,105lb) at the WUS Feats of Strength series during the covid pandemic.
In 2021 the Giants Live World Deadlift Championships returned with the Georgian Ivan Makarov getting 505kg (1,113lb) to his knees, but narrowly failing to complete the lift. In 2022, 476kg (1,049lb) was Rauno Heinla’s winning attempt, though Makarov again raised 505kg from the floor but not past his knees.
The wide stance style has never been accepted in strongman but has been heavily adopted in powerlifting where many believe it offers lifters a mechanical advantage. 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 502.5kg (1,107.8lb) in April 2022 using lifting straps and the sumo style. But is this really the heaviest weight loaded onto a barbell and 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.
Women’s World record
England’s Lucy Underdown is the current world record holder with 300kg (661lb). She became the first woman to achieve this feat on March 31st, 2021, at the Stadium MK, Milton Keynes, as an exhibition lift during the UK’s Strongest Man contest.
The only woman who claims to have exceeded this lift is the American Rebecca Swanson, a former bodybuilder and professional wrestler who achieved some phenomenal, equipped lifts when she set her sights on powerlifting. Without the use of straps, she is reported to have deadlifted 310kg (683lb).
With Lucy Underdown having exceeded her world record in training, and a host of current strongwomen lifting close to the 300kg mark, it looks likely Underdown’s official record will be amended very soon.