Eddie ‘The Beast’ Hall, you might be aware, is quite a big man. Staring back at me from across the Zoom call, his shoulders are too wide to fit in the screen – his traps almost big enough for their first day at school. It’s quite something, then, that this is the ‘smallest’ he’s been for over a decade.
Since qualifying for his first World’s Strongest Man (WSM) – the pinnacle of professional strongman – in 2012, Hall’s life became a tunnel-visioned quest to be crowned champion. His diet became the stuff of internet legend, his training videos – including benching 100kg dumbbells for seven reps, and shoulder pressing a couple of 70kgs like they were tins of beans – racking up hundreds of thousands of views.
“I first got into lifting weights when I was expelled from school at 14,” he tells me, before a typically frank point: “Rather than sit at home wanking all day, I decided to go to the gym.”
This new hobby kept Hall away from trouble and out of some dark spots:
“I found that going to the gym kept me safe, kept me sane, kept my mentality up. I suffered from quite a big bout of depression in my young teenage years, and I found that going to the gym and lifting weights was my outlet – it was my void-filler. Every time I went to the gym I felt better about myself, and got this sense of euphoria.”
Eddie Hall: “I first got into lifting weights when I was expelled from school at 14.”
Hall, who grew up in Staffordshire, was also an accomplished competitive swimmer, and though time in the pool was gradually phased out in favour of the weights room, he credits swimming with being hugely beneficial to his later strongman career.
“It gave me big lung capacity,” he says, “which you need in any sport. I feel as though the swimming gave me a great cardiovascular base, but it also gave me an even better base for strength. As a swimmer, when you’re pulling through the water you’re not grounded: you’re not using your feet to push you off the floor. That means that your whole body is working from head to toe to keep you moving. Being an elite-level swimmer was something that translated to strongman very well.”
Fast-forward to 19 years old, and Hall had been training for five years as a bodybuilder. This was around the dawn of YouTube, and by watching videos from fellow British strongmen, Hall quickly realised he was one of the strongest men in the country. He entered his first strongman competition that year, placing fifth “out of about 40 guys”. That same day, he vowed to become the strongest man in the world.
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Qualifying for World’s Strongest Man
When he eventually qualified for his first WSM, Hall was still training in a commercial gym, like an old-school bodybuilder. “All I had access to was a squat rack, a bench, a deadlift bar and some dumbbells,” he says. “I didn’t have the Atlas stones, I didn’t have trucks to pull – I didn’t have any of that, I was winging it.”
‘Winging it’, it must be said, fairly well: in that time, Hall was fresh off the back of victory in 2011’s UK’s Strongest Man – an event he would go on to win a total of six times, alongside five wins at Britain’s Strongest Man. Non-specific training in a regular gym had its advantages, too.
“I became a kind of movement monster,” he says. “No one could out-bench me, out-squat me or out-deadlift me. That was a fact. Stood in one spot, moving weight, there was no one in the world stronger than me. Where I fell down was pulling the trucks, lifting the Atlas stones, throwing the kegs.
Eddie Hall: “All I had access to was a squat rack, a bench, a deadlift bar and some dumbbells. I was winging it.”
“But I built the basics first, then moved to the technical side of things. Although it wasn’t ideal and I probably could have done better had I started strongman events earlier on, building those basics gave me that unstoppable power to get world records in deadlifts, forward holds and so on.”
The first of those world records came in 2014, when Hall deadlifted a monstrous 462kg at the Arnold Classic in Australia – with Arnie himself there to cheer him on.
Two years later, Hall surpassed that feat with perhaps his most famous lift: a 500kg deadlift (half a ton in old measures) at the World Deadlift Championships. He’s since spoken of taking his mind to a “very dark place” as motivation to lift the weight, the sheer exertion of which forced him to momentarily pass out.
Is being a strongman healthy?
Which brings us to the darker side of strongman. Because while eating big and lifting heavy might seem the dream, such a life is as much about sacrifice as it is excess. After seven long years, Hall’s hard work paid off, as he became the first British man ever to lift the WSM trophy. He was officially the strongest man in the world. But, by his own admission, he was also the unhealthiest he’s ever been – pushing 32 stone, he was one of the heaviest men in the country.
Regular tests revealed liver and kidney markers that were “through the roof”, and his blood was “like sludge”. Hall’s single-minded WSM pursuit took, by his reckoning, “20 years off [his] lifespan.” But to be the best at anything, he adds, you need to be obsessed.
“I would say obsessed was an understatement for me in the run up to World’s Strongest Man. That was my life, seven days a week. There were no days off, there was no time spent with the kids. Being that size for three to four years took a huge hit on my health.”
He would do it all again, though, no question. “Would you rather live 50 years as a lion, or 100 years as a fucking sheep?” Hall says, defiantly. “I know which one I choose.”
Into the ring
Now considerably leaner, and healthier, since retiring from strongman shortly after his victory in 2017, Hall has switched to a sport that, on the face of it, couldn’t be much more different. Some time this year, he will step into the boxing ring with long-time strongman rival Hafþór Björnsson – who won WSM the year after Hall, in 2018.
Better known to Game of Thrones fans as Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane, the 6ft 9in Icelander will have a considerable reach advantage over Hall (6ft 2in), but if he’s worried about that, he’s certainly not showing it.
“I’m coming in tactical,” he says. “I’m not going in windmilling – I’m going to destroy him in points, I’m going to destroy him in power, endurance, speed, agility, everything. The only things he’s got on me are height and reach, but you ask Mike Tyson how you get around that – there’s always a way.”
While emulating Iron Mike might be a bit of a stretch, Hall’s ‘obsessed to be the best’ mindset means he’s training – if not eating – every bit as hard as he always has.
“I’m doing 6,000-7,000 calories a day at the moment,” he says, “but a lot more wholesome foods. Everything I put in my body now is organic. I eat a hell of a lot of salmon – probably 200g a day – as well as red meat three times a week, and the rest is chicken.
“There’s also a load of organic vegetables and high-quality carbs. I cook a lot of it in bone broths – anything that’s got good cartilage and minerals in it. It’s a lot of volume still, but it’s a lot healthier. I’ve upped my water intake massively, too, so at the moment I’m doing about ten litres a day.”
Eddie Hall: “Would you rather live 50 years as a lion, or 100 years as a fucking sheep?”
Although he detached his bicep in sparring late last year (meaning a delay to the fight), at time of writing Hall says he’s back in the ring and feeling good.
“I’ve never heard a boxer say, ‘I wish I was a bit weaker,’” he says. “Having that baseline strength has been a great transfer into boxing: every single punch I throw has got conviction and power behind it. But even now, my best attributes have come from the swimming, because I’ve got huge lungs and excellent heart function.
“I’m able to do those long rounds, the runs, the swimming, no problem. It’s bringing that cardiovascular history back to life, while utilising the strongman strength.”
Passion is paramount
Whatever the outcome of the fight, ‘The Beast’ will forever be remembered as the first Brit to lay claim to the title of World’s Strongest Man. And while you might not harbour quite that same ambition, for anyone with a keen interest in lifting heavy and pushing their limits, Hall’s main advice is to take what you do outside the gym every bit as seriously.
“Invest in yourself and your recovery,” he says. “Pay for physio; eat the high-quality, organic food; sleep well; hydrate more; consider hot and cold therapy.”
Crucially, you’ve also got to enjoy what you’re doing: “If going to the gym is a drag, and you’re forcing protein shakes down, it’s not for you. You’ve got to love it.”
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DAY IN THE LIFE
Here’s a ‘normal’ 24 hours for Eddie Hall in peak strongman mode…
07:00 – Full English breakfast
08:00 – Sleep
09:00 – Another breakfast (big bowl of porridge, heaps of fruit)
09:30 – Sleep
11:00 – 100g cashews / 1-hour physio / Nap
13:00 – Lunch (chicken, rice or pasta: “1-2kg of food at every meal”)
14:00 – Sleep
15:00 – Second lunch (tuna sandwiches, flapjacks – anything to carb-load)
16:00 – Gym (4 hours – “Super heavy volume”) with raw steak and extra-cream milk mid-workout
18:00 – Steak or protein shake
19:00 – Gym again (1 hour): hot and cold treatment
22:30 – Evening meal (steak and potatoes)
23:00 – Hyperbaric chamber (1.5 hours)
00:30 – Protein bar, then off to bed
Eddie Hall is a MYPRO ambassador, and he’s recently released a limited-edition MYPRO x Eddie Hall collection, featuring a pre-workout and an all-in-one protein powder.
“Many pre-workouts wear off for the last half an hour, but this one lasts longer so you get more bang for your buck,” says Hall. “It’s designed to give you a nice buzz for a longer period, so rather than hitting you in one go and causing your face to tingle like crazy, this is slower-release.”
Shop the collection at myprotein.com
Words: Isaac Williams