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The price of beast mode

by | Oct 19, 2019 | fitness, Uncategorized | 3 comments

I was going to save this clip for the usual set of Monday awesomeness, but it is simply too good not to show here. This is a really fascinating interview with Eddie Hall that explains how he was able to do the absolutely impossible and deadlift FIVE HUNDRED KILOGRAMS off the ground:

Many of you have undoubtedly seen the actual video of Eddie “The Beast” Hall pulling that monumental weight off the ground. For those of you who haven’t, here it is – along with the nearly disastrous aftermath:

It’s only when you hear Eddie explain how he did that lift, and the dark and terrible place that he had to go to in his mind in order to do it, that you can begin to understand what it takes to lift these kinds of weights.

To put things into perspective, my best deadlift, ever, was close to 5 years ago. I managed to deadlift 470lbs with chalk and a belt. But I know for a fact that I rounded my back when I did that lift, so I don’t really consider it to be a particularly good or clean lift.

Remember, that’s in pounds, not kilograms. Once you switch to kilograms – i.e. proper units – that best lift comes to only about 213Kg. That’s less than half of what Eddie Hall managed.

Granted, it was an equipped lift. But you cannot lift those kinds of weights without significant assistance. It’s simply not humanly possible.

Those who deadlift on a regular basis know full well just how nasty the consequences of a bad lift can be. While I love deadlifting and consider it to be the absolute king of all gym exercises, I also know and understand all too well just how steep and terrible the price of a mistake is. You can tear muscles in your shoulders. You can pop tendons off the bones of your arms. Worst of all, you can very easily herniate discs in your lower back – and if you do that, then your training is DONE for weeks, months, or even years on end.

I’ve had some of these injuries happen to me. Back in April 2015, right after coming back to the USA from an extended stint in London, I hit the gym to do a 455lbs deadlift – and heard this horrible velcro-tearing sound coming from my upper back, right around my lower left lats. It wasn’t serious and didn’t even hurt much, but I forced myself to stop deadlifting for a week, and it was over a year before I went anywhere close to that kind of weight again.

And I have injured my lower back repeatedly when deadlifting. The first time I did it, I experienced the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, including that time when I took most of the skin off my knee in a nasty spill off my bike when I was 18. It took me over a month to recover and another six months after that before I was lifting serious weight again.

When you lift heavy weights, no matter how good your form is, no matter how strong you are, your body WILL pay a price.

If you lift heavy weights regularly, you will feel it. I was in the gym yesterday and hit 425lbs for my 1RM. I know full well that I can lift more. But I am also very wary of my lower back, because I injured it (again) a few months ago and do not want to repeat that mistake. Oddly enough, my back injuries these days come from squats, not deadlifts, which tells me that my form when deadlifting is actually quite good. But there is nothing worse than putting an already weakened lower back into a position where it can pop under heavy weights. It is a really stupid and dangerous risk and you have to be incredibly careful when doing it.

(By the way – for those of you who have suffered lower back injuries when deadlifting or squatting, and are worried about injuring yourselves again, try doing trap-bar deadlifts instead. They are much safer for your lower back because of the way that the bar handles are positioned.)

But, as Eddie points out in his interview, the absolute hardest part of lifting is not the physical pain and weariness and muscle breakdown and all of the injuries.

It is the fact that, in order to do this to ourselves, real lifters have to go into very dark, very terrible places in our minds.

Gym beasts are to be admired and revered, to be sure. You will NEVER see one single word of disrespect coming from me directed toward anyone who knows how to lift. I don’t care if he’s on steroids or not, I don’t care what kinds of drugs he takes to be able to lift that shit – the fact that he can do it in the first place, makes him worthy of my respect.

But that respect goes hand-in-hand with an acknowledgement that lifters are not particularly happy people.

The guys who push ourselves to lift these kinds of weight in the gym have a deep and powerful darkness within us. We have to go into that place, way down into it, in order to motivate ourselves to squat and bench and deadlift through the kind of pain that we suffer. To paraphrase the epic rant that George “Babyslayer” Leeman went on about what it means to be a true lifter, people who are happy with their lives and satisfied with what they do, aren’t going to risk that happiness trying to deadlift twice their bodyweight and thereby risk blowing out their backs.

People who are genuinely happy, don’t stand in a corner embalming themselves with chalk, taking deep breaths to get maximum oxygenation, looking like they are about to straight-up MURDER anyone who gets in their way, and then march up to a bar that looks like it’s welded to the floor and proceed to raise it off the ground with an ear-splitting roar before slamming hundreds of pounds back onto the ground.

That isn’t a happy thing to do. There is a kind of joy to be found in the act, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a very primal, very terrifying sort of joy that is derived from a form of rage.

This phenomenon is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t done it. But every lifter who has ever done something like this, knows exactly what I mean.

The funny thing is that most strongmen and powerlifters are really gentle and kind people in real life. If you run into them on the street, they are warm and welcoming and usually a bit embarrassed by the attention that they draw. And they understand, as few others do, that their vast strength also requires great humility and needs to be chained under equally great responsibility:

Eddie Hall did the impossible that day three years ago when he deadlifted 500Kg. He also paid a terrible price for it. He is STILL paying a price for it. The sheer stress that he put his body and especially his brain under to lift that kind of weight was life-threatening. In that interview above, he says that he would be happy to try it again, with even more weight on the bar. Yet, in order to lift that kind of weight, he would have to go to an even darker and more terrible place in his mind than he did the first time.

And if he did it again, there is a real risk that the sheer overpressure in his veins and blood vessels would cause even worse brain bleeds and more devastating complications. I am willing to make a prediction right here and right now: nobody, including Eddie Hall himself, will break that record that he established within at least the next three years.

If I am wrong, I will gladly admit it right here on this blog. But I do not think that this will happen anytime soon, because Eddie Hall smashed the world record for the heaviest deadlift by more than just a few pounds or kilograms.

He smashed it by SIXTY KILOS.

This is not supposed to happen.

The first man to deadlift 1,000lbs was Andy Bolton, a true legend in the powerlifting and strongman community. He deadlifted 1,003lbs back in the day, in 2006 or so.

It took him three years to deadlift 1,008lbs, in 2009.

Benedikt Magnusson then hit 1,015lbs in, I think, 2011. But that wasn’t a true deadlift by powerlifting standards, he rolled the bar a bit before he lifted it.

And then Hafthor Bjornsson lifted something even more crazy a few years after that at the Arnold Classic.

And then Eddie Hall himself set the all-time record, and then broke his own record shortly thereafter.

But every time the record was broken, it was by a few pounds or kilograms every time. There was not this giant leap through the numbers to get to something insane like 500Kg.

That simply doesn’t happen in the world of strength sports. It is a world of millimetres and fractions of pounds, where every little tiny factor adds up to the final lift. Hell, by powerlifting standards, that 500Kg deadlift didn’t actually count, because again, the bar moved before it broke off the floor.

All of this is to illustrate the sheer madness of lifting such crazy weights, and of the terrible cost that has to be paid in order to do it.

And, here’s the thing:

Every lifter worth the name will tell you that he would pay that price, for that kind of glory.

Because that is what it means to be a powerlifter.

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  1. Johnny

    For Indians born in India, deadlifting 470 lbs is about the same as Eddie Hall deadlifting 1100 lbs.

    The average middle class/upper middle class Indian man in India probably cannot deadlift more than 80 pounds (poor laborers can do much more, so they don't count, nor do Indians born outside of India, who are not weaker than other men).

    So for your race, you are the same thing as what Eddie Hall is for non-Indian humans.


    • Didact

      Yeah but it's worth remembering that I didn't live in my country of birth for my whole life. Yes, I only started lifting at about 26, and yes, I should have started ten years earlier, and yes, my back injuries over time have prevented me from lifting as much as I would like to. But you raise a good point. Most Indian guys are weak. In my time in India I've seen precisely one guy in the gyms that I've been to who can deadlift more than me, and he's a bodybuilder with twice my muscle mass and size.

      A lot of that has to do with diet, not just genetics. There are parts of India, particularly in Punjab and Rajasthan, where you will meet REALLY FREAKIN' STRONG dudes with great genetics. But in the east and south… not so much. And their lack of strength has as much to do with their carb-heavy, vegetable-based diet as anything else.

      I still wouldn't equate the two achievements, though – ignoring the somewhat veiled insult toward Indians, the fact is that once you go over about 800lbs, you're lifting far, far more than the human body is designed to tolerate without serious pharmaceutical and physical assistance.

    • Johnny

      Well, it is virtually impossible to say anything accurate about the physical strength of Indian men from India, the Game of such men, the looks of Indian women from India, the Indian accent, and a bunch of other things, without it seeming insulting to anyone for whom it hits within a thousand miles of home.

      Indians are the rock bottom of at least those four attributes (and I could list more).

      At least, to your credit, you are just about the only Indian blogger who is honest about all this.


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