Ancient myths and legends abound with astounding feats of superhuman strength, but the truth is that today might very well be the golden age of strongmen.
"I would argue that the strongest men in history are alive on our planet right now," says Jan Todd, and she would know. Jan Todd and her late husband Terry are powerlifting royalty, sports historians and co-founders of the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas, Austin.
"I don't think we've ever had a period in history where we have as many men who are in the kind of physical condition and able to lift the kinds of weight they're lifting right now," says Todd, who credits the surge in strongmen to the popularity of competitions like the World's Strongest Man and the Arnold Strongman Classic, which her husband helped create. (Events at these competitions may include powerlifting, pulling vehicles and lifting heavy round stones called Atlas stones.)
"The Arnold Strongman Classic is typically seen as a test of raw strength," says Conor Heffernan, who blogs about the history of strength and exercise at Physical Culture Study and teaches the sociology of sport at the University of Ulster in the U.K. "Whereas the World's Strongest Man combines strength, agility and endurance."
The current "World's Strongest Man" titleholder is Tom Stoltman, a 27-year-old gentle giant from Scotland who stands 6 feet, 8 inches (203 centimeters), weighs 397 pounds (180 kilograms) and holds the world record for lifting a 630-pound (286 kg) Atlas stone and hurling it over a chest-high bar. Another up-and-coming champion is American Martins Licis, the 2019 "World's Strongest Man" and the 2021 winner of the Rogue Invitational, who Todd thinks may be "the future of the sport."
But neither of these impressive strongmen has earned the title of the strongest man to ever live, or even the strongest man alive. According to Todd and other strength experts, that crown (size XXXL) goes to a man known as "Big Z."