“Doctors and scientists said breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.” These are the words of Roger Bannister after becoming the first man in history to run a sub four minute mile. But if I were to replace the phrase four minute mile with 500kg deadlift and track with platform, it could just as easily be Eddie Hall’s speech.
It can be difficult to draw too many similarities between Roger Bannister and Eddie Hall; for one Bannister was a beanpole of a man weighing only 70kg despite standing 6’2″. Whereas there’s no mistaking Hall for a beanpole, the 2017 World’s Strongest Man is huge in a way that takes you by surprise no matter how many times you see him; at the time of his record deadlift he was weighing close to 200kg and standing at 6’3″. But aside from how different these man may appear on the surface they share a remarkably similar story. Both athletes pushed their bodies past the brink of collapse in the pursuit of achieving the impossible and in doing so advanced their respective sport decades in a single afternoon.
We might be used to seeing athletes doubled over on the floor at the moment, especially with the soccer World Cup being in full flow, but these two athletes weren’t faking it for a card or for applause. In both cases Bannister and Hall seriously put their health on the line, as the quote above shows Bannister genuinely thought he had died in the attempt and Eddie Hall had to receive a large amount of medical attention from the emergency response team standing by. Hall has also spoken publicly since about the shear strain that weighing 200kg put on his body and thankfully he has since taken serious steps to rectifying those issues.
The difference is that while Bannister’s tremendous efforts secured his landmark record for only a couple of weeks before it was inevitably broken, Eddie’s deadlift record two years on looks to be in absolutely no danger at all. These days a sub four minute mile is considered more the mark of a fast high school runner, and the world record holder with the current mile record stands at 3:43.13. So why is the deadlift record still looking so untouchable?
The first thing to realize is that whereas there are sanctioned running events on world wide pretty much every day of the week, professional strongman shows with a max deadlift in them just aren’t that common. Complicating matters even further the shows that are favoring the heavy deadlift no longer want to use a standard bar in the same way that they were pre-the 500. Spectators want to see the incredible and they will pay good money if they think they might see a world record being broken.
So the promoters give the fans what they want, which has lead to a proliferation of deadlift variation events popping up, the Arnolds has the super long elephant bar, the Ultimate Strongman shows are loving the Silver Dollar Deadlift. Giants Live has gone the other way though and moved away from the deadlift in favor of other less known and less contested events the best example of this is at Europe’s Strongest Man last year.
There was no one who looked ready to step up and pull 501, nor was there an athlete who could be relied upon to break Big Z’s long standing log record. So Giants opted for the relatively softer record that they knew would generate some competition amongst the athletes and excitement amongst the fans. It did exactly that with Belsak, Thor, and Eddie all fighting to take Zydrunas’s axle record, and once again Eddie showed his dominance on the static events and broke the record by a kilo, setting it up for someone else to continue the cycle.
Obviously it’s not just those competing at Worlds Strongest Man who can attempt the 500; the deadlift is not just or even predominantly a strongman lift. It is a movement practiced in at least some capacity by almost all strength athletes, from CrossFitters to powerlifters. The problem for those big number fans amongst us though is that while powerlifting at the moment is going through something of a revival, with more and more people taking part in the sport and records dropping all over the place.
This boom really is almost entirely in RAW powerlifting which eschews the lifting aids such as the suits and straps that make a 500 plus kilo deadlift a possibility. So while there are certainly powerlifters out there with some incredible pulls — the likes of Yury Belkin coming to mind with his phenomenal 440kg — it’s unlikely that the Russian will have the motivation to suit up and start lifting geared. If he did though I would definitely be in the front row to see what magic he could conjure.
Belkin aside, there are a few athletes who look like they have the potential to challenge Eddies record in the coming years if the right prize was put on the line. The first is the seemingly unstoppable Hafthor Bjornsson, who at 6’9″ isn’t your prototypical deadlifter, but that hasn’t stopped him taking the Elephant Bar World Record, pulling a monstrous 472kgs on the extra long bar with relative ease.
Someone who has never really been in the limelight like Thor has but who has got a lot closer to pulling 500kg than anyone else (Eddie Hall excluded) is Jerry Pritchett. Jerry almost matched Hall within minutes of him setting the record in Leeds but unfortunately he injured himself on the lift. This has not been a one-off occurrence either, with Jerry also injuring himself earlier this year defending his Elephant Bar deadlift record. If Jerry could have an unhampered training phase & competition and if the incentives were right, I have no doubt at all that the dark horse of deadlifting could take on that record.
Related: Proper Romanian Deadlift Form
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image: @massenomics on Instagram