Strength Legend Odd Haugen: Why You Need to Try Armlifting

The legend talks about this growing strength sport.

Many current fans of strongman know Odd Haugen as the man who is featured in many of Martins Licis’ YouTube videos. Longtime fans of strength know him for far more than that. He’s a former Strongest Man in America titleholder and AAU Masters Nationals Powerlifting Champion. He also competed in the World’s Strongest Man three times while in his 50s. In recent years, he set the world record for lifting the Thomas Inch Dumbbell by completing 63 reps on his 66th birthday. That doesn’t even include his other feats in Mas Wrestling and other sports.

Aside from his athletic career, Haugen has been busy on the organizational side of competitions. His attention currently is on the sport of armlifting. In short, it’s a test of grip strength that involves lifting objects with different handles to a standing position. Haugen goes into more details about this sport and you can be involved in this interview.

BarBend: Odd, thank you so much for the time today. For anyone that many not be familiar, tell us about how armlifting got started.

Haugen: It pretty much started around the year 2000 during the “Beauty and the Beast Strongman Challenge” in Hawaii. We used to have promotional contests and these were by invite. We had guys like Magnus Samuelsson, Svend Karlsen, and a bunch of other guys come over. So we did a promotion in a bar the night before the competition. Randall Strossen, who owned Iron Mind, he had this handle, the Rolling Thunder for one arm deadlift. It’s basically a simulation of the Inch Dumbbell. It’s much higher up because it’s on a pin. We used that and had the first “Rolling Thunder” world championship. It was won by Jan Bartl from the Czech Republic.

Fast forward to 2010, the Russians started using the same equipment for competitions and they called it armlifting. They use the Rolling Thunder as well as the axle for double overhand deadlift, there are grippers and so forth. We were slow with it taking off here but there are competitions here now with Armlifting USA sanctioning contests. We’re in our third year and there have already been over 35 competitions.

How many different events are there in these competitions?

The core events are Rolling Thunder, One-Arm Deadlift, Two-Hand Overhand Deadlift, Axle, the 3 inch Saxon Bar, and the Silver Bullet Hold. That isn’t necessarily a lift but it’s a test of grip strength. You use a gripper and hold something called a silver bullet. You squeeze and hold it with a weight hanging from it. There are other events that could be added to it as well. There are hundreds of combinations but you can see the leaderboard on the website to see which ones we are tracking worldwide.

Can you tell us about a lift you’ve done that you’re proud of?

My personal favorite is the double overhand axle because you need to be strong to do it as well. Right now I’m having trouble getting stronger, but I’m probably still among the top of the world in that. My best lift was 220 kg (485 pounds). I think in the history of competition, there have only been two higher lifts.

Are there weight classes within the sport?

Yes, there are 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, 125 and over 125 for men. Women divisions are 60, 70, 80, and over 80 (all kg). It’s sort of like powerlifting classes. There are actually lighter guys that are stronger and can grip better than the heaviest guys. Some events like Rolling Thunder has nothing to do with weight. Others like the Axle might because you have to deadlift the weight. Some events like the Silver Bullet, where you’re holding less than 100 pounds, weight classes aren’t necessary.

Are there amateur and professional divisions?

There are not. Anyone that wants to jump in can. There’s no professional division. The official world championship event that we send teams to has been held for the last few years in St. Petersburg, Russia. That’s called Armlifting Professional League. To be invited you have to be at a certain level. You can’t just show up to that. Other than that, there’s really no professional level.

Have you noticed athletes from other sports jumping into these contests?

People from all walks of life are coming. Athletes in the US are coming from strongman. Some guys that may not be in their prime found that this is a great way to continue competing without killing themselves because it’s not hard on your body. It’s good on your body. There are also other people who may have never competed in anything before doing these contests and performing very well. So anyone can do this.

Obviously because of the current state of the world, competitions in any sport have been limited but you’ve recently been doing something online to help gain attention and invite people to compete. Can you talk about that briefly?

Yes, we’re doing challenges online to keep it alive. The online competitions have helped with promotion and growth. Right now we’re having the One Arm Deadlift using the blue Fat Gripz. It’s harder than Rolling Thunder, actually. All of the details and rules are on the website and that contest is going on through August 15th. On August 16th, we’re starting another one with the orange grips. Winners in each weight class will get prizes. The reason why we’re using those grips is because those allow anyone to do it in any gym instead of having to buy specialized handles or any specialized bars.

Where do you see this sport five years from now?

I imagine it will be a lot more popular and there will be a lot more contests in the future. The people that I know and have seen participating are enjoying themselves and the competitions have been great.

Thanks for the time, Odd. Where can people learn more about armlifting?

They can go to the Armlifting USA website for rules, leaderboards, and everything else is there too.

Featured Image: Instagram/oddhaugen and armliftingusa