For as long as feats of strength have been recorded, we have always been obsessed with just who was the greatest of them all. Since the myths of Hercules and the ancient Olympic wrestling matches, there had to be one above the others. Wrestling gave way to weightlifting, which gave way to powerlifting, and then, since 1977, the strongest of the strong flocked to the annual World’s Strongest Man competition, the Arnold Strongman Classic and similar International Federation of Strength Athletes (IFSA) events.
I’ve watched the World’s Strongest Man competition and it is really a match of athleticism and endurance, whereas the Arnold Strongman competition is, I believe, the truer measure of absolute strength. Still, with multiple venues to showcase their power, there are many claimants to the throne of who is the strongest of them all. Each competition has their favorites and each one can make a legitimate claim for the title.
Powerlifters would put forward “Tiny” Meeker with his world-record bench presses, or say that Brian Shaw is by far the overall strongest! WSM purists might argue for the only five-time winner, Mariusz Pudzianowski. After exhaustive research, I’ve compiled a list where I rank the strongest men of all time. Some of these men are separated by generations and pitting them against each other took some conjecture. We have to take into account their lack of advanced training methods or chemical enhancements when we rank the older claimants against the younger generations. We must also speculate just how strong they could’ve been using modern methods.
10. Victor Delamarre (1888-1955)
This classic strongman was born in 1888, in Québec, Canada. Though diminutive in stature, standing only 5’5 ½”, his feats of strength were legendary. While working as a police officer he amazed the public by climbing a ladder carrying a horse in a sling or bending a quarter between his thumb and forefinger.
Officially, he broke Louis Cyr’s bent-press record by lifting 309.5 lbs, and performed a clean-and-jerk of 201.5 lbs with only one finger. After his death in 1955, his autopsy revealed that he possessed double tendons and a four-inch thick spine, double that of most men. Some experts even believed he had more stamina and overall strength than his hero, Louis Cyr.
9. Louis Cyr (1863-1912)
This Canadian strongman stood a modest 5’10” yet boasted a massive 54-inch chest. A former Montreal police officer, Cyr entered competitions as a wrestler and weightlifter. He traveled internationally exhibiting feats of strength and astonishing audiences by holding back the pull of four horses and pushing a freight car up an incline.
He most famously lifted a platform on his back which held 18 men; at a reported weight of 4,337 lbs. Cyr once lifted a rock from the ground up to his shoulder that weighed an incredible 467 lbs. He set the record for lifting the heaviest weight with one hand, 273 lbs.
8. Brian Shaw (1982-Present)
Shaw is already something of a legend in strongman circles. He has placed in the top three at the World’s Strongest Man competition a total of five times, winning the title three times (2011, 2013, 2015). He has competition bests of 1,122 lbs. in the Hummer tire deadlift, and 972 lbs. in the deadlift (with wrist straps).
Outside of competition, his personal bests include an 825 lbs. squat, a 985 lbs. deadlift (with wrist straps), and he bench pressed 535 lbs. To top it off he’s won the Arnold Strongman Classic twice (2011, 2015). Impressive, to say the least.
7. Andy Bolton (1970-Present)
This immense powerlifter is the first man to have ever deadlifted over 1,000 lbs., and he remains the only man to have done it twice! He held the British record for the bench press with a lift of 755 lbs. and his squat of 1,214 lbs. is among the highest of all time.
His three-lift total of 2,806 lbs. ranks third in history with Bolton having stated that his goal is to break the unheard of 3,000-pound total barrier. A prideful boast if made by anyone else, totally believable coming from him!
6. Mark Henry (1971-Present)
This man has achieved the incredible. He is the only man to ever hold both the U.S. weightlifting and powerlifting Super Heavyweight Championship titles at the same time. He still holds world records in Men’s Super Heavyweight Raw Powerlifting (Drug-Tested) in the squat (953 lbs.), deadlift (903 lbs.), and totals (2,336 lbs.).
Mark Henry won the first Arnold Strongman Classic in 2002, and even more impressively, was the first man to ever one-handedly clean and press the infamous Thomas Inch Dumbbell (a feat that most strongman throughout history were unable to do)! Imagine what Henry could’ve have accomplished had he not left powerlifting and pursued a career in the WWE. He might have been the strongest man ever!
5. Magnus ver Magnusson (1963-Present)
He is one of only four men to have ever won the World’s Strongest Man competition four times (1991, 1994, 1995, 1996), coming in second place twice. Today he might be better known as a commentator or as the coach of the giant Hafthor Bjornsson, known as “The Mountain” on the HBO series Game of Thrones, but Magnusson dominated strength competition in the early 1990s.
He did so with sheer raw power. His modest 287 lb. frame on his 6’3” body didn’t match the other competitors’ super-sized physiques, but he soon outshined them all. Among his other accomplishments, he was the 8-time Iceland’s Strongest Man winner as well as winning the World Muscle Power Championships.
4. Mariusz Pudzianowski (1977-Present)
Mariusz Pudzianowski has won 42 of the 59 strength events that he has entered. That should say a lot about this Polish strongman. He is the only five-time World’s Strongest Man (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008), coming in second place twice.
He was voted in the first selection for the World’s Strongest Man Hall of Fame. These facts alone warrant a place on this list near the top. He began his training when he was aged just 13, and now boasts impressive personal bests of benching 640 lbs., a squat lift of 837 lbs., and a deadlift of 915 lbs.
3. Paul Anderson (1932-1994)
Declared by many to be the strongest man who ever lived, he does have his detractors. Regardless, he is definitely one of them. He’s set and broken numerous records and there is no denying his lifting totals. A 1956 Olympic Gold medalist in weightlifting, he is known for his inhuman unofficial record of squatting 1,252 lbs., no drugs, no wraps, no suits – 1950s raw strength.
The Guinness Book of World Records (1985) listed his backlift of 6,270 lbs. as the heaviest weight ever lifted by a human. He also set the record for his incredible one-armed overhead press of 380 lbs.
2. Bill Kazmaier (1953-Present)
“Kaz” is often mentioned in the same breath as Paul Anderson, and is his common rival for who’s the strongest ever. Kazmaier won the World’s Strongest Man competition three years in a row (1980, 1981, 1982) and was the first to do so. He was unbeatable and WSM organizers barred him from competing in 1983 as they assumed that no one else stood a chance as long as he was participating!
His 1981 bench press record of 661 lb. remained untouched for years. That same day in 1981, his 2,425 lb. total (Squat + Deadlift + Bench Press) set the record for raw powerlifting.
1. Zydrunas Savickas (1975-Present)
To be ranked above Anderson or Kazmaier, you have to be strong indeed. “Big Z” does not disappoint. This Lithuanian-born strongman has won the World’s Strongest Man competition four times (2009, 2010, 2012, 2014), and more impressively the Arnold Strongman Classic an incredible eight times (2003-2008, 2014, 2016)! He’s the only strongman to have won every major strength competition.
He’s still in his prime and could possibly increase his number of titles in the near future. He has set numerous competition records and boasts personal bests of an 880 lb. raw squat, 629 lb. raw bench press, and a deadlift of 898 lbs., with no wrist strap! I’m no expert, but I believe “Big Z” is the strongest man of all time!