Profile of the strongest man in the world

Brian Shaw, 30, is the winner of the 2011 World's Strongest Man competition. He is 6'8", 480 pounds. He lifts cars. Drags airplanes. Burkhard Bilger profiled Shaw for The New Yorker:

“It’s a little frightening,” (former champion weight lifter Terry) Todd told me. “The strength gains dictate that we make the weights higher, but at what point does the shoulder start to separate, or the wrist, or you get a compression fracture? We really don’t know how strong people can be.” Gaining weight has become an occupational necessity for strongmen. The things they lift are so inhumanly heavy that they have no choice but to turn their bodies into massive counterweights. “Centrifugal force is the killer,” Mark Henry, a professional wrestler and one of the greatest of former Arnold champions, told me. “Once the weight starts to move, it’s not going to stop.” Fat is a strongman’s shock absorber, like the bumper on a Volkswagen—his belly’s buffer against the weights that continually slam into it. “I wouldn’t want to be too lean,” Shaw said. When I asked about steroids, he hesitated, then said that he preferred not to talk about them. “I really do wish that there was more drug testing,” he added. “I would be the first one in line.” The same is true for most of the strongmen, Todd told me, but they feel that they have little choice: “You don’t want to take a knife to a gunfight.”
"The Strongest Man In The World"


      1. As someone without either, I’mma go out on a limb here and say that licking your balls seems way more pleasurable than lifting a Ford Focus. Although it probably gets you less applause.

        1.  Probably, yes. But I think the answer I’d conceived is the answer to the old joke… and one of the larger reasons we landed people on the moon, and to the bottom of the Mariana trench, and so on…

          “Because he can.”

          I’m not saying such behaviors are entirely logical, but it is a thing we do. Sometimes, we just do things to find our limits.

          And sometimes, our limits are way, WAY far gone.

  1. His head looks like its going to pop every time he holds his breath to lift. I am not an expert weight lifter (seriously, I’m not.) but it is my understanding that when lifting anything heavy, the person should exhale with the lift to prevent a variety of health complications.

      1.  I cringe watching people weight lift.  I just keep looking at their knees wondering if they’ll blow out.

        1.  Knee injuries are a lot less common than in dynamic sports like football (all types).  It’s really pretty safe at the regular-Joe level.

          1.  Weight lifting is very controlled in comparison to running down a field with a ball and people running at you. For high end lifting, people normally wrap their knees and wrists too for support.

    1. …it is my understanding that when lifting anything heavy, the person should exhale with the lift to prevent a variety of health complications.

      Yoga teacher here. Generally, you should inhale when expanding and exhale when contracting. This is particularly true when you’re using your core, since those muscles are bound up with your breathing apparatus.

    2. For some exercises, holding your breath is not a good thing. For the deadlift, it’s essential. The idea is to solidify your midsection as much as possible: arch your back, hold your breath and clench your abs. It’s called making a block, and it’s to support your spine and prevent injury.

      1. Smoobly is right. You need to hold in your breath tight when you deadlift to create thoracic pressure. This pressure in your abdominal and thoracic cavities is applied to the anterior side of your spine  and helps hold your vertebrae in the correct anatomical position. Blah, blah, blah, more physiology crap. 

  2. OK, I’m impressed. I’m 5’11”, 150 lbs, and deadlift 8 reps at 250. Got my work cut out for me, I guess.

    1. Pfft, that’s nothing. I’m 4’11”, 115 lbs, and I can barely lift a 40 lb bag of dog food. I have a feeling this guy’s breakfast is bigger than me.

      1. After I posted, I did a little calculation. As a percentage of body weight, my 250-pound lift is only slightly behind Mr. Shaw’s 830 pounds. Were I to deadlift 260 pounds, our lifts would be equivalent.

        By that measure, danimagoo, you’d have to lift just under 200 pounds. So if your point was that you’re a weenie, Bingo.

        On the other hand, it’s much easier to get a good grip on a barbell than on a bag of dog food.

  3. A big guy for sure, but it’s interesting to see that he’s not cut and bulging like the body builders we typically associate with super human strength.  I always suspected that the Joe Weider crowd were more show than go.  

    1. You get different muscle tone depending on the way you lift. As a rough guide, fewer reps with more weight add bulk, more reps with lighter weights tone.

      Also to some extent you’re right. You can actually get quite ripped without being that strong.

        1. Questionable debunking IMO.

          In practicle terms I would describe exercise like using a rowing machine etc. as being in the ‘more reps, less weight’ category, whereas deadlifts are more in the ‘fewer reps, more weight’. The first will result in more muscle toning – and a big part of that is the aerobic exercise and the fact it’s burning fat as well as toning muscle.

          Worth noting though, that I am by no means an expert in this area.

    2. Bodybuilders are generally trying to sculpt their body. Their goal is not to lift huge weight. Lifting huge weight is a side effect of sculpting their body. I don’t associate body builders with superhuman strength. I associate gorillas  like this guy with super-human strength.

      Also, the “cut and bulging” look you’re talking about is only when the bodybuilders are in competition trim. When they’re not getting cut for a competition or a photo shoot, they look much less well-defined.

    3. Mariusz Pudzianowski is a rare example of a WSM who’s actually cut.  Magnus Samuelsson is more typical, being huge, but with a bit of padding.  And some of them are definitely rotund.  I suspect that more cut bodies are the future of the sport since that would be more likely to lead to Hollywood.

  4. I recently went to the watch our state strongman contest. The gentleman who won deadlifted 330kg (730lb) with ease. He couldn’t do more because, and I’m not joking, they couldn’t fit more weights on the bar they brought with them.

    The deadlift is actually one of the least entertaining parts. I advise watching the duck walk, the log throw, the keg toss, and of course the tug of war:

  5. I saw a video once of some kind of strongman competition where refrigerators (presumably full of weights) had to be carried on your back for some distance. The scariest thing in the video was the failure mode: it looked like one guy’s knee joint actually separated with the tibia/fibula shifting laterally before the guy dropped the refrigerator.

    The guy walked off afterwards, so it could have been a video artifact.

    I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this guy, because the video was definitely not from the 70s. The video was much clearer than the one here:

  6. That was impressive.

    Random Thought:  I’m sure his playlist are well-chosen, but has he or anyone ever tried to compose or mash together the ultimate pump-up song to end all pump-up songs? I’m sure it has a lot to do with personal taste, but perhaps there are some universal frequencies that will freak your brain out and squeeze out a few more lbs. Some sort of  White Zombie/Trick Daddy/Bjork combo might do the trick for me. 

    Bring on the era of aural doping. 

  7. Only so far. Once things get heavy, you have to do a valsalva maneuver to get things started: Hold your breath, tense your abs and push your belly out, against the belt.  This transforms the squishy lower half of your trunk into an incredibly strong cell, and thus set, you can get on with grinding out the lift.

    Deadlifts are fun to do – huge fun – but with a max of only just over 200kg, Shaw and the other big lads just make me gawp.

  8. I wonder if he has or will have heart problems from being that big.  The heart doesn’t keep up that well and becomes enlarged and the walls thicken.

  9. His Wikipedia entry says he weighed 240 pounds when he graduated from high school:

    Can you imagine doubling your bodyweight (all muscle) as an adult?  Mind blowing.

    What makes the story even more incredible is that the guy was a full scholarship basketball player in college.  At 6′ 8″ he can probably dunk with ease – probably would rip down the whole backboard now.

    A real live superhero.  Who is he most like?  Colossus? Juggernaut?  Hulk?  Thing?

    Amazing story.

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