(Photo: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
It took eight attempts, three third place finishes, and three second place finishes, but Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson — best known as The Mountain from Game of Thrones — is finally the strongest man in the world. It might sound like an impossibly long journey. But for Björnsson, it was always an inevitability.
“I always knew, in my heart of hearts, I would win World’s Strongest Man,” the 29-year-old Iceland native told MensHealth.com through e-mail, translated by manager Sölvi Fannar. “You don’t get to be the best unless you dedicate yourself to what you are doing.”
Björnsson knows a little bit about dedication. Three weeks removed from the absurd training he put himself through in the lead-up to World’s Strongest Man, the strongman is still working a 8,000-10,000-calorie-a-day diet. (“I rarely ‘pig-out,'” he says).
All of his meals are created by professional powerlifter and trainer Stan “The Rhino” Efferding, and they’re specifically designed — as Björnsson puts it — to “recuperate after the grueling workouts that you must do to become the strongest.”
Most importantly, Björnsson continues to deadlift, often and always. “The deadlift is the single best exercise,” he said, leaving no room for debate.
Back in March, he pulled off a world record-breaking 1,041-pound (472kg) deadlift en route to winning the 2018 Arnold Strongman Classic. He also has a tattoo on his right shin that reads: “There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift.” It’s a quote from four-time World’s Strongest Man Jón Páll Sigmarsson, the Icelandic record-breaker who died while deadlifting.
But Björnsson understands you don’t get to be the strongest without changing it up. Variety in your workout is key, he said, as are the lesser-known disciplines that take place outside the gym.
“In Strongman you don’t compete only in the deadlift — you also have to have several other qualities,” he said. “Like your stamina, and [you have to] be very quick on your feet. That’s where having trained and competed in basketball has helped me a lot.
“People often forget,” he continued, “that even though training is very important, your diet also has to be very good. You have to get plenty of rest. That’s when your body reacts to the training.”
With all the work he still puts in, it’d be fair to think Björnsson is already gearing up for the next big competition — but not quite. Mostly, Björnsson has filled his post-World’s Strongest Man time with TV projects, including the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones.
“I really can’t tell you exactly what,” he hinted. “But the end result will be epic, that I can promise you!”
But Björnsson said the world titles and TV hits pale in comparison to the opportunity to finally spend time with his daughter, Theresa Lif, who has the single most effective “my dad can beat up your dad” argument on the planet. Throughout his grueling journey to become the world’s strongest man, he often documented the struggles of being away from his family while training in his homeland.
“First and foremost I am working on getting to see my daughter,” Björnsson said. “That’s my number one goal right now.”
The champion strongman reflected on the journey leading up to his big victory.
“Winning the World’s Strongest Man has taken me eight attempts; of those, I placed third three times and second three times, meeting different kinds of adversity in the process,” he said.
“What does [finally winning] mean to me?” Björnsson continued. “To me, I am not only proving to everyone that I am the strongest man in the world… now I am the strongest dad in the world.”
By Vinnie Mancuso