Don’t judge a strongman by their 10,000-plus calorie diets. The 2017 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) champion Eddie Hall and 2018 WSM champion Hafthor Björnsson will face off in the squared circle in Las Vegas, NV, in September 2021, in what is being touted as “The Heaviest Boxing Match In History.” When the match was first announced, the idea of two real-life Goliaths clashing in a sport that tests endurance, conditioning, and agility was slung with preconceived notions that both super heavyweights would be gasping for air after round one. Both Hall and Björnsson are bucking that notion through massive changes to their diets, physiques, and training routines.
Björnsson, particularly, is overhauling his conditioning training with the help of some of the fittest people in the world. Annie Thorisdottir is the 2012 Fittest Woman on Earth® and most recently ranked 11th at the 2019 CrossFit Games. Her husband, Frederik Aegidius, has five CrossFit Games appearances — his best finish being 15th in 2013. Both of them have an immense amount of hours spent on the Assault bike and understand the cardiovascular benefits it could offer to the former strongman turned boxer.
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This is not the first time that Björnsson has connected with Thorisdottir and Aegidius for a training session. Their last workout together in June 2020 involved sprints on the Assault bike as well, and Björnsson called it the “hardest session of [his] life.”
This time around, it was slightly different, though, as Björnsson and the CrossFitters have been training consistently together for the last five weeks. Additionally, Björnsson has been training as a boxer (read: more endurance-based training) for the bulk of a year. The results thus far are a foundation of proper boxing technique and a significant amount of weight loss. Since retiring from strongman, he dropped 50 kilograms (110 pounds) — going from 205 kilograms (452 pounds) to 155 kilograms (341.7 pounds). That doesn’t mean his training session with elite CrossFit athletes was by any means easy, but it was clear that Bjorsson’s training has paid significant dividends for his cardio.
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Sprint, Rest, Sprint
Following a 10-minute warm-up, here was the test Thorisdottir and Aegidius put “The Mountain” through based on his breathing capacity and VO2 max — the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise:
Within a five-minute window, all on the Assault bike:
- 75-second sprint
- 60-second sprint
- 45-second sprint
- 30-second sprint
This cumulated to three-and-a-half minutes of work at approximately 95-percent max effort and one-and-a-half minutes of rest within that five-minute window. Although it wasn’t mentioned specifically, intense bursts of work followed by sudden short bouts of rest mimic the cadence of a boxing match — rounds are three minutes of intense action followed by a brief rest period. The sprints were difficult for Björnsson, but they seemed to be a valuable learning experience for how his body responds during the rest periods:
The longer I sit, the more pump I get. It’s ridiculous.
Aegidius explains the reasoning for this sensation is that when the muscles relax, they don’t help the movement of blood to and from the tissue. Whereas when the muscles are moving, they are “actively pushing on the return of the blood and blood into the tissue.”
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Technique to Match
Although it is imperative to have the proper cardiovascular capacity to go the distance in a boxing match against a rival aiming to knock him out in the first round, Björnsson has not slacked on the requisite effort to gain a foundation of proper boxing technique. Oddly enough, podcast host and UFC commentator Joe Rogan pointed out in his interview with five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser that Björnsson is picking up the fundamentals of boxing well. Check out the video below where Rogan praises Björnsson’s coaches for teaching him proper technique and frowns upon Hall’s training filled with “arm punches”:
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Get Ready to Rumble
Björnsson is gaining some in-ring experience by competing in exhibition boxing matches against professional fighters. In January 2021, he stepped in the ring for the first time against Steven Ward. Although the exhibition was designed not to have a winner or loser nor be tabulated on either man’s professional boxing record, Björnsson came away with areas he needed to improve upon. Safe to say, his conditioning was one of those areas, hence his programming with Thorisdottir and Aegidius.
His next exhibition is already scheduled against heavyweight Simon Vallily in Dubai on May 28, 2021, and will be live-streamed on CoreSports.world. Vallily holds a record of 17 wins, three losses, and one draw, with seven of his wins coming by way of knockout. It will be interesting to see how far Björnsson’s technique and work capacity have improved five months during his bout against Vallily. We are unlikely to see Hall step into the ring before the main event bout in September. He’s said he doesn’t intend to give Björnsson’s training camp the tape to study.
Once the fall rolls around and the two former strongmen step into the ring, don’t be surprised if their conditioning shirks all the initial takes that they will both gas out in the first round. Both men have dedicated their lives to preparing for this fight. Although it may not go the distance, it seems both men will be prepared to do so if they have to.
Feature image: @thorbjornsson on Instagram