The 501kg Deadlift | Strongman vs Powerlifting
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
501 kilograms is an insane amount of weight to deadlift and it's no wonder that Hafþór "Thor" Júlíus Björnsson's effort is only the second time in history anyone has deadlifted half a metric ton or more from the floor.
There is problem, however.
Both powerlifting and some strongman events both contain a deadlift component to their competitions and often, the name is the only similarity.
When compared to IPF raw powerlifting (What we at NSBB know) both the equipment used and the rules in a strongman deadlift differ. These changes add up, the result of which is often a bigger weight lifted in strongman competition.
To compare, the strongest lifter in the IPF, Ray Williams, has a best deadlift of 398.5kg and Hafthor himself has a best powerlifting competition deadlift of 410kg (albeit on a deadlift bar, which we'll discuss soon). These figures alone highlight the contrast between the two events.
Before we discuss the equipment used in the strongman deadlift, let's be clear. We aren't trying to discredit the 501kg deadlift. This article is here to discuss the differences and talk about why you might see a difference in weight from powerlifting to strongman.
Below, we discuss the five key differences in equipment and rules between a strongman deadlift and an IPF powerlifting deadlift.
Video detailing the behind the scenes action of Thor's 501kg deadlift - the biggest ever.
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You might've noticed that the bar was bending a lot during Thor's 501kg deadlift. That's because in Strongman competitions the bar generally used is a purpose-built deadlift bar.
Deadlift bars are generally thinner in diameter than standard barbells, have lower tensile strength, and are slightly longer. All these factors allow the barbell to flex (or whip) more.
In this case, the bar being used was likely a Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar, which has a 27mm diameter and tensile strength of 190K. In contrast, an IPF approved power bar such as the Rogue Ohio Power Bar is 29mm thick and has a tensile strength of 205K.
So, why does this matter?
A deadlift bar will allow the lifter using it to get into a more advantageous, upright position when the weight leaves the floor and also lessen the range of motion of the lift. Power bars used in the IPF are made not to flex, which can result in it being harder for the bar to break the floor.
For contrast; Ray Williams deadlifting 398.5kg on a stiff Eleiko power bar.
Lifting straps are a staple item in many people's gym bags and for good reason. Straps will stop grip becoming a limiting factor in pulling exercises such as rows or the deadlift. Straps are looped around the user's wrist and then are wrapped around the bar. Believe it or not, 500kg is pretty hard to hold onto with bare hands.
As well as this, straps often allow you to place the bar lower in your hand (in the fingers) slightly reducing the range of motion during the deadlift.
Straps are often allowed in Strongman competitions to allow lifters to lift and control maximal weight. In IPF powerlifting competitions straps are not permitted but lifters often use them in training to stop their hands from tearing.
Strongman competitors are allowed to use figure-8 lifting straps such as these
A deadlift suit is a tight, supportive suit that effectively forces the lifter into an upright position. Suits are typically made from polyester, a starchy, rigid fabric and you'll often notice lifters who use them struggling to get into position at the bottom of the movement due to this.
If a lifter has a deadlift suit that fits well and they learn to use it without losing positioning they should, in theory, be able to deadlift faster off the ground and through the lockout due to additional support in the hips.
In Strongman, deadlift suits are often reserved for more experienced lifters but can be used by anyone to etch more weight out of their deadlift, or deadlift variant. In raw IPF powerlifting, no supportive suits are allowed.
During Thor's 501kg deadlift, we think he was using an Inzer deadlift suit.
Kiwi lifter, John Strachan wearing a supportive deadlift suit.
Hitching & Ramping
Defined as supporting the bar on the thighs during the lift, hitching and/or ramping is barred from powerlifting competitions. However, in strongman competitions, the objective is generally to complete the lift at all costs, which leaves room for body english. Including but not limited to hitching and ramping.
Hitching and ramping happen when the lifter's shoulders get behind the bar during the course, which, if the lifter is practiced enough in strongman deadlift technique will allow them to work the bar up their thighs.
In the top half of the 501kg deadlift attempt, you can see the bar ramp up Thor's thighs. Again, this is OK by strongman standards.
An image from the IPF technical rule book, showing what supporting the bar on the thighs looks like.
It's not uncommon for Strongman competitors to wear a soft belt underneath their normal lifting belt for additional support with massive weights. Soft belts are more commonly used for events such as the yoke walk where the weight rests on the lifter's shoulders but some competitors such as Thor might choose to use this during the deadlift.
In contrast, IPF lifters are allowed to wear one lifting belt that must fit certain specifications.
There is one thing that could possibly advantage powerlifters over strongman competitors in this discussion - Sumo deadlifts. Powerlifters in the IPF and all major federations are permitted to sumo deadlift in competition, where the lifter's feet sit outside there hands at the commencement of the lift, rather than inside like in the conventional deadlift.
It's important to note that while some lifters find the sumo deadlift the more advantageous position, that this doesn't apply to everyone.
Once more, this isn't about discrediting strongman deadlifts, it's about teaching more people about the difference between strongman and powerlifting.
Sadly, I don't think we'll see a 500kg deadlift in the IPF any time soon (especially conventional) but it's promising to know that with two people having lifted over 500kg, a lift of that magnitude is not impossible.
North Shore Barbell head coach Jason dropping a deadlift. Perhaps he would've been able to complete it with straps?
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