Power comes in many forms and has many sources. But what does it mean to be strong? We have some ideas. Check back throughout the week for more information.
mountain bluff. The biceps that were once a caricature, another man’s waistline, are now bare. . . big. The abdomen, resembling a mini-bar inlaid into the torso, has turned from convex to flat. What were once muscle clumps are now tortuous cotyledons, covered in clubs of veins. This must have been what it was like when Samson lost his brute strength. Only this transformation by choice. This is a story of loss – but in the end it is a story of gain.
In 2018, havor (pronounced half bullJúlíus Björnsson was playing the fearsome Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, in Game of thrones. Björnsson is from Iceland but also from Norse mythology, a Leviathan whose character once crushed a man’s skull with his bare hands. That same year, Björnsson was, literally, the strongest man in the world, winning the made-for-television competition. Over a weekend in the Philippines, Thor, as expected, everyone calls Bjornson, dumped drums, towed buses and lifted cars farther, faster and higher than any other racer in the international Goliath field.
He was 29 years old and weighed somewhere north of 425 lbs. Who knows exactly. As he puts it with characteristic candidness: “When you are this big, you can only lose a few pounds [going to the bathroom]. And today? As Thor often does, he launches his calculator app to convert kilograms into pounds. He concludes that since his peak he has lost 130 pounds. Easily. Or, as he says in his sonorous baritone, with a growling laugh, “One wife.”
He is 33 years old now. The last time it was this big? He was 10 years old.
In order to best explain how Thor poses with another human’s equivalent as if it were the skin of a snake, it might be helpful to explain how he got so big and powerful in the first place.
Growing up outside of Reykjavik, brace yourself for being tall, if not strong. Thor’s father, Bjorn – hence Bjornsson’s nickname, according to Icelandic naming tradition – stands today about 6′ 8″. Thor played basketball, and as he got better he got better. By the time he was a teenager he was 6’9″, like Floating ice drifting in the port.He made the national under-18 team and had designs to play in a professional league, which he might have, had it not been for those pesky ankle injuries.During one of his rehabs, he started lifting weights, and fed something in him.Soon He quit basketball and committed to becoming a competitive strongman.
What exactly does strength represent for a young bull? He was touching his beard before landing here: “I really enjoyed being strong because I felt so good about myself. You look around and say, I can lift more weights than anyone else in the entire gym. You basically become hooked. You see your body changing, and that’s an addiction, too.”
To keep adding mass, his relationship with food has become another contest. He didn’t just eat. Ruin the dishes. The number of his daily meal: eight. His daily calorie consumption: 10,000. He ate to the point of feeling nauseous, sometimes even more than that.
Thor’s Secret Weapon: “Rice with Dextrose and Butter.” Another trick: “Take rib eye steaks and turn them into patties. But you eat six steaks a day and your jaw hurts. Instead I [make what I call] “Monster puree”: rice, dextrose, butter, ground beef – rib eye – in chicken broth and mix together. It tastes like sausage.”
Especially in Iceland – the country where most foods need to be imported fish and licorice though – his grocery bill follows the same arc of its circumference. But a weightlifter who works in security carts at banks doesn’t have $5,000 a month to spend on his diet. “I was borrowing from everyone just to eat,” he says. Clothes made for another account. Eventually, he found a tailor across the Atlantic, in the Twin Cities, who specialized in caring for men who weighed as much as a piano. (Another cost: pharmaceuticals. In previous interviews, albeit not this one, Björnsson, who has never failed a test in competition, has admitted to using steroids. He also refused to speak with Sports Illustrated Allegation by an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence; A police investigation found no basis for action, and Björnson denied any wrongdoing.)
Aside from adding mass and brute force, Thor worked on the technique. Yes, there are best practices, not only for deadlift but also for towing school buses, marinas and the like. In 2010 he won Iceland’s Strongest Man award, not to be confused with Iceland’s Strongest Man, which he won the following year.
Like most competitive winches, Björnsson eventually focused his efforts on winning the World’s Strongest Man, a competition in which Iceland often crossed his weight. This island of 350,000 people won eight times in 12 years across the ’80s and ’90s, riding lattes by Jon Pal Sigmarson (’84, ’86, ’88, ’90) and Magnús Ver Magnússon (’91, ’94 during 96). Cultural anthropologists can debate whether these gains are simply the legacy of Viking settlers 1,200 years ago or whether power contests become the main competitive outlet when you’re stuck on an island. But, Bjornson says, “Being strong, it means a lot here. Lots of alpha males.”
He looks back and laughs at his central tension: “Basically, I’ve lived the life of a perfect athlete. My whole life has been about how to get better. How to recover better. How to have a better diet. I’ve never parted. Don’t drink alcohol or use anything.” [recreational] drugs. The only things I relied on were the things that could make me better.”
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But he adds, “The best just means the strongest.” It was all in the service of strength for strength’s sake. Fearing losing the weight he gained, he limited his cardio exercise to walking for 10 minutes or so each day. It was mostly to stimulate his appetite.
Between his lifting and diet, he gained up to 80 pounds in one year – and that was never enough. “Big Rexia is a real thing,” he says of the distorted body image he once had. “If you weigh 400 pounds, you look at yourself in the mirror and think, You are not big. “
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In 2011 Björnsson competed in the first World’s Strongest Man competition, in Wingate, North Carolina Two years later, while filming in Iceland, scouts emailed and called him. As a test, they had him raise a man over his head and wield a sword wielding—and, as Thor says, he was pretty much signed there to play the hired muscle in Game of thrones.
He has now been a celebrity in two subcultures. “I was getting all these calls, ‘Can you come to our renaissance fair? “It was wild,” he says. At this point, he had no problem paying off his grocery loans.
Overtime as HBO’s most hated structure posed challenges to Bjornson’s gym routine — but it may have been a blessing in disguise. When he didn’t know I got Cast and creators how to deadlift, he had to do his best to take part in the exercises. He also had to listen to his body. Shooting in Belfast, Croatia and in the bowels of Spain, he could not always make it to the gyms. After long days of filming, he thought spending his time resting was better than lifting. “I just had to make it work and stay competitive.”
he did. He did more than that. Finishing second and third, Björnsson won the 2018 World’s Strongest Man competition for his dominant performance in the car dead lift, top press and loading race (in which he pulled the anchor, anvil, barrel, safe and 330-pound bag).
That was at that time I got He concluded his eight season arc. Björnsson was twenty-nine years old. It’s time to change his profession. It’s time to stop walking at 450 pounds.
Back in Iceland, Björnsson Thor’s Power Gym opened, a junk joint in a strip mall just a few miles from downtown Reykjavik. Icelanders come year-round to lump and hold together. Bjorn—whose face adorns the Employee of the Month banner—works there. Thor’s mother and sister come to work shifts as well.
As for changing his form, Björnsson switched to boxing. In some ways, she was close to the tough guy. “You’ve set a goal. You’re working on the technology,” he says. “In other ways, it presents a completely different set of challenges and dynamics.”
Not only does Björnson, he says, have to “fight the mountain”—meaning himself and his physical and mental limits. Now he has a certain opponent. “The other guy is there, and you fight him, and you look him in the eye, for 18 straight minutes.”
But he took it, communicated with a coach, watched videos of himself arguing, learned the nuances of sports and hacking. Now, the lug who’s been walking for 10 minutes just to stimulate his appetite goes for 50-minute runs on the treadmill or sessions on the bike. He even has abs. “It’s like I’m back in basketball shape,” he says.
As the weight melted, Thor’s grocery bills declined. He also had to call that tailor in Minnesota to wear his suits. He says the new body “has some used to it, but I like it. I’m going to get a six-pack, man!” When asked if he still feels like the strongest man in the world, Björnson paused. “I know I’m not. But I feel powerful. More here,” he says, pointing to his head. “It’s strength, but in a different way.”
His first professional fight, an exhibition in Dubai in January 2021 against Stephen Ward, ended in a draw. He also did the next, against Simon Valelle of England. Last September, though, Bjornson faced Devon “No Limit” Larratt, one of the greatest arm wrestlers of all time (after another opponent withdrew), and Thor won his first real fight with a TKO. In March, he fought his biggest fight against Eddie Hall, a competitor from the World’s Strongest Men Realm. And here he had extra fuel. Thor says, “I tell you: I do. No. He loves. His.”
Two well-known athletes, now in a new arena, filled the actual arena, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium. But when the bell rang, it looked like they were two men competing in different sports. One of them was only strong. The other was strong and precise. Hall, who weighed 313 pounds, still looked like a tough guy. Björnsson changed his physique – and eventually got a unanimous decision. (His next opponent, as of this writing, is likely Martin Ford, the former bodybuilder known as the world’s scariest man.)
Björnsson is a realist when it comes to boxing. He doesn’t exactly call out Tyson Fury, fast because he admits that, as a late starter, he’s still a work in progress. Which is fine. “As is the case in [weightlifting],” he says, “you just try to be disciplined and committed and get a little better every day.”
After a hall brawl, Björnsson returns home, to relieve his wife of childcare. Their son, Stormore Magni Havorson, is 20 months old. If nature and/or nurture did its job, Iceland would have another mountain, another pillar of strength. Or maybe not.
“Do you know what I like to do?” Thor asks. “Physics. Our traditional sports in Iceland, is about strengthening you. But gymnastics? This is the sport to start with. Strength is one thing, but we are talking about agility. That is the foundation.”
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