On Jan. 6, 2021, 2018 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) champion and holder of the heaviest deadlift ever recorded Hafthor “The Mountain” Björnsson took to his YouTube channel to share his best “tips and tricks” for how to deadlift. If there ever was someone to listen to on how to perform this exercise properly, it’s Björnsson. He deadlifted 501 kilograms (1,104 pounds) live on ESPN — one of only two people ever to deadlift at least 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) (the other being 2017 WSM champion Eddie Hall). Björnsson literally has “There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift” — a quote from four-time WSM Jón Páll Sigmarsson — tattooed on his shin.
Björnsson discussed and demonstrated six tips that he believes will improve any strength athlete’s deadlift.
Deadlift Like Hafthor Björnsson
- Find Your Finger Position
- Use Consistent Foot Placement
- Wear a Lifting Belt
- Use Weight Collars
- Correct Your Shoulder Placement
- Breathe Properly
Check out the entire video below from Björnsson’s YouTube channel. For those familiar with The Mountain, you may be surprised at the noticeably leaner physique he is sporting in preparation for his boxing exhibition against Steven “The Quiet Man” Ward on Jan. 16, 2021, in Reykjavik, Iceland. This bout is in preparation for his boxing match with Eddie Hall, set to take in September 2021.
[Related: Sebastian Oreb Became Hafthor Björnsson’s Coach After Just One Tip]
Placing the fingers from both hands symmetrically on the barbell might seem obvious, but it is a step that Björnsson still reminds himself to do before each deadlift. His preference is to use the smooth ring on the knurling as an indicator for where to place his ring fingers. Note that this is not necessarily the best finger placement for every lifter. It is just what works for Björnsson. Whatever your finger-placement preference is, use the rings on the knurling as a guide, and ensure that the fingers are evenly spread and symmetrical on the barbell.
[Related: Nest Of Giants: The History Of Icelandic Strongmen]
Next, Björnsson suggests setting the feet shoulder-width apart (for conventional deadlifts). Björnsson personally likes a slightly wider stance (note, he is 6’9″.) He also says to range your feet outwards slightly.
Make sure you have your toes slightly outward rather than inward.
This time around, the 2018 WSM champ performed some example lifts using lifting straps. He positioned each strap so that the initial twirl around the bar was parallel to where he places his ring finger. He then wraps the strap inward around the barbell to cover his grip.
The Mountain recommends using a lifting belt unless you have a goal of specifically strengthening the core. In that case, you should mostly train using less weight and no belt to focus on bracing the core. For heavier lifts, he recommends a belt — which allows you to press your stomach into it to protect your lower back from injury better. Björnsson himself is fortunate never to sustain any back injuries during his strongman career, and he attributes that to perfecting technique and investing in a good lifting belt.
[Related: Check Out BarBend’s Lifting Belt Reviews]
Barbell collars are a safety precaution. You slide them onto the sleeve of a barbell after the weights are loaded to ensure plates don’t slip off while lifting. If weights begin to slide off — due to an uneven setup position or grip — it can lead to injuries like a torn biceps or a torn lat — something Björnsson has experience with. As you get stronger and lift heavier, it’s important to ensure your plates stay put.
Again, this tip seems pretty rudimentary, but Björnsson points out that it is something lifters can often forget. Not forgetting the basics seems to be a recurring theme.
Björnsson then calls out a mistake that he sees when lifters pull from the floor: their shoulders positioned over the bar.
Whenever you’re about to pull the bar with your shoulders over the bar — stop…correct yourself.
If your shoulders are over the bar during the initial pull, it will compromise your overall technique by misaligning the bar path or allowing the weight to shift forward during the lift. Although not for everyone, Björnsson prefers to roll the barbell towards himself because it helps him achieve proper position — hips down, straight back, and shoulders behind the bar.
Since this is such an important aspect of the deadlift, you can reference the 10:14 mark of Björnsson’s video, demonstrating ideal shoulder positioning.
[Related: The Strongman Deadlift Cheat Sheet (And How To Fix Your Pull)]
Instead of pushing upwards, I almost pull a little bit backwards. Try that.
The rolling of the barbell is not necessary. It is just a preference for some lifters to help achieve the proper position. The biggest factor to remember when properly positioning the shoulders in relation to the bar is that they should be behind the bar, and your hips should be set low.
Björnsson doesn’t delve too far into the specifics of proper breathing but mentions that he is mindful of it throughout the day, particularly between his sets during training. Before a big lift, he takes a deep breath, braces, and pulls — “breathing is the key,” he says.
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[Related: Relearning How To Brace For Heavy Lifting]
Next time you head to the gym for a deadlift session, remember to heed the words of the 2018 WSM. Keep your shoulders behind the bar, your toes turned slightly outward, and your fingers evenly spread across the barbell. Focusing on the deadlift fundamentals — proper wrapping of lifting straps and use of barbell collars — pays dividends in the long run. Safety first through the use of a supportive lifting belt can better stave off injury.
While you shouldn’t expect to hit 501 kilograms like Björnsson, these tips can help you reach your fullest deadlift potential.
Feature image from Hafthor Björnsson’s Instagram page: @thorbjornsson