If only one man in the world was allowed to use the nickname ‘The Beast’, you’d have to give it to Eddie Hall. He holds the world record for deadlifting at half a metric tonne or 500kg, and last year he entered the World’s Strongest Man competition with a broken hand – and came third. But it’s how he’s achieved these feats that really sets him apart. Take the intensity of his training: he regularly gets nosebleeds while he lifts, and once tried so hard during a set that his eyeball popped out of his face. ‘I pushed it back in… that's the intensity you need to train at all the time.’
Eddie Hall looks the part too, rocking a mohawk/ beard combo that screams ‘Barbarian Chieftain’, with a scar slicing through one eyebrow and the kanji symbol for ‘strength’ inked over each pec.
He’s also a good man to have on hand for the big shop, or if you’re having trouble getting a suitcase into an overhead locker. In last year’s World’s Strongest Man competition, contestants hoisted 360kg frames along a track and pressed giant, 160kg ‘circus barbells’ overhead. For the metric-unfamiliar, that’s eight times your baggage allowance on an international flight, and Hall hefted it eight times in 90 seconds. At 6’3, he’s not even the tallest athlete to compete in the sport of strongman – Hafthor Bjornsson, for instance, is almost 7ft tall.
Perhaps even more impressively, he’s already the strongest man in the world in a certain sense. For decades, lifters have speculated about the possibility of a 500kg deadlift, but it’s always been discussed as something that might take years to achieve. Progress started fast (around the 1900s) but then tapered. Then, last year, Hall beat his own previous record of a 465kg pull by hoisting 500kg off the floor. The attempt burst blood vessels in his brain, and in Hall’s own words ‘nearly killed him’ – but now he’s back, with his sights set on this year’s WSM: and he’s got some choice advice for anyone not trying hard enough…
RISING You’re the only man in history to deadlift 500kg. How did it feel when it finally happened?
Eddie Hall ‘The 500? That was a very surreal moment in my life. It was a lot of training, about a year’s worth of my life leading up to that moment. A lot of people said it could never be done, a couple of big names in the strength industry said it could never be done, so then I came along and did the impossible, so… it was a great feeling.’
RISING You said that you’d pulled 480kg in training. How confident were you going in?
EH ‘Yeah, I mean…unless you’ve actually done the weight before there’s always going to be doubt there, but I’d done good things in training. The most I’d done in training in the immediate lead up was 450kg for speed reps. That’s when I knew I had it in me, I was pulling 450 mega, mega-fast so I knew that 500 wasn’t going to be a problem. But yeah… there’s always disbelief or a little bit of doubt going into any sort of lift. Everything has to be perfect to pull off a magical lift like that, and everything was perfect – the food, the sleep, the physio, the training. Everything was on point and it all pulled together perfectly.’
RISING You also broke the axle press world record at Europe’s Strongest Man this year. Was that something you’ve had your sights on?
EH ‘Nah, I wasn’t bothered about it. Even when I achieved it I wasn’t bothered. It was just a sidetrack from my main goal, which is winning World’s Strongest Man – I really didn’t care that much.’
‘It’s very important to have goals – I’ve set mine to the highest you can get’
RISING Fair enough. So, you’re the king of the big lifts, but World’s Strongest Man tends to have a lot more ‘do reps’ style of events. Which is mentally harder?
EH ‘It’s probably harder to do one max lift. Doing reps is one of those things where you’ve got to just get in and grind it out for 60 seconds. A max lift… you’ve got to be set up perfectly. It’s a lot more mental strength as well as physical strength, just a lot more effort.’
RISING You competed at swimming for the junior national team, in your youth. How does lifting compare to that on a psychological level?
EH ‘To be honest, swimming’s up and down the pool for four hours a day, but strength training is one of the hardest sports to get right. You can’t just go into the gym every day and lift maximum weights: you have to put a lot of thought into your programming, and be prepared to experiment to see what works for you. You have to get everything right. You make one little mistake and you’ve ripped a bicep or torn a hamstring, and then you’re back to square one in a lot of respects. You’ve got to be very sensible and careful as well as being prepared to push yourself very, very hard.’
RISING Do you think that’s good mental training for other aspects of life?
EH ‘Yeah, of course. Weightlifting in itself is an escape for certain people: yes, it’ll change their lives, because they’ve got a way of venting their anger rather than going out fighting in pubs, or whatever. For other people it’s like being in the Army. Soldiers are drilled to be dedicated to their purpose: they’re drilled to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, eat, go for a jog, do their press-ups, eat, do drills, eat, sleep, train. I always find that people who’ve been in the army come out and they’re very good at what they do, because they’ve been taught to be disciplined and do what they have to in order to get the job done. The gym is the same in a lot of respects because you’re disciplining yourself to eat clean, get up early, drink water; you’re building life skills. In my eyes, I think it’s a positive however you do it, as long as you’re in the gym working hard.’
RISING It’s interesting that you mention the Army, because there seems to be a lot more camaraderie between strongman competitors than in other sports. Is that something you care about?
EH ‘Sure, it’s a nice sport, there’s a certain amount of comradeship. When that whistle blows, though, every man’s your enemy. We’ll joke together, but you still want to beat everyone around you.’
‘You can’t just go into the gym every day and lift maximum weights’
RISING We want to have a crack at strongman training – what would you suggest?
EH ‘You’ve got to build a decent level of strength first. Build a platform with lifts like the deadlift, overhead press and squat first, and then get into strongman. Then, if you haven’t got the kit in your gym, you might need to get a bit creative. For a log press you might go on an incline bench and press heavy dumbbells. You might do farmer’s walk with heavy dumbbells or try to mimic an Atlas stone with one end of a barbell loaded up with plates. I train one or two bodyparts a day, then I’ll do a strongman move that complements them. So on Monday I’ll do legs, and then I’ll train a strongman movement that works in sync with that – I might do yoke or farmer’s. After chest on Tuesday I’ll do log press or axle press. Deadlift day I’ll do atlas stones or tyre flips.’
RISING It’s clearly working. Do you think this is a golden age for strongman training?
EH ‘Yeah, but I think it’s going to be the death of the smaller man. It’s getting to the point where if you’re not 6’7, you haven’t got a chance in hell. I’m pushing the boundaries – I might not be as tall as them, but I’m as heavy as them – I have to be that heavy to beat them. I can see the point where it’s going to be the land of the giants, and you have to be 6’10 to stand a chance.’
RISING And you’re going to win it before then?
EH ‘Yeah. My goal from day one has been World’s Strongest Man. It’s very important to have goals, set them high – obviously I’ve set mine to the highest standard you can get. Set them high, and follow it. I’ve used that method for the last ten years, with everything I’ve done. I came third last year with a broken hand, and now I’m planning on winning this year’s – I’m strong, I’m fully fit, there’s no reason why I can’t. You’ve got to want to be the best, whatever you do.’
WHAT NEXT? For more Hall, watch Eddie: Strongman on Netflix. Once you’re suitably inspired, finish this week’s training effort with some farmer’s walk: just grab the heaviest dumbbells you can manage, and walk the length of your gym with them – chest up, shoulders back. Do four sets of 20-30 metres: half your own bodyweight in each hand will earn kudos. You’ll get a hit of growth hormone and build everything from your forearms to your abs – just don’t plan on carrying any shopping home afterwards...
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.