When not lifting stones, Basques have been known to kick a motherfucker or two dead in the mouth, just because.
So I've covered the stone lifters about whom you've likely never heard. Now, it's time to cover the ones of whom you have. The big boys. The guys who've kept stone lifting on the lips of anyone who knows a motherfucking thing about strength training. That honor basically belongs to three groups of people: the Basques, the Icelanders, and the Scots. Of the three, perhaps the least is known about the Basques, who are an enigmatic people known mostly for speaking an incomprehensible language and blowing up trains in Spain. If any of you have seen Grosse Point Blank, Benny "The Jet" Urquidez is actually half Basque, though from what I've seen he was missing about six inches and one hundred pounds to truly be representative of that pack of pissed off goofballs. Next on the list are the people of Iceland, less well known than their Scotch counterparts in terms of stone lifting, but no less prolific. The Icelanders have more or less dominated stone events in strongman competitions in the modern era, and for good reason- they're huge, they're descended from Vikings, and they love picking up heavy shit. Finally, the bearded, ginger, crossdressing descendants of William Wallace are pretty much what the world thinks of when stone lifting comes to mind, as the Highland Games are the progenitor of the most prolific of stone events- the Atlas Stones. Those skirt-wearing, plaid-loving, haggis-eating maniacs probably lift more stones, per capita, than any other group of people on Earth. Unfortunately, they seem to be too busy drinking beer, buggering sheep, and watching men's field hockey to be bothered to win a major strongman competition. Nevertheless, they're worth checking out.
The Basques: I've covered the Basques and their stone lifting fetish before, but as a refresher, the Basques are stone-lifting virtuosos. The shit these guys pull off as a matter of course is beyond amazing- it's practically inhuman. The two top lifts for men in the stones are 322 and 329 KILOS, or 708.4 and 708.4 lbs for the metrically and mathematically handicapped. They didn't just lift them off the ground, either- they shouldered the motherfucking things, while weighing around 130kg (286 lbs). Women also get in on the action, as the Basques have always been far more progressive than their machismo-laden neighbors and have been rocking a remarkably egalitarian society for the entirety of their history. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t find records information for the broads, as all discussion of Harrijasotzaileak revolves around two guys- Miel Saralegi for lifting the heaviest stone to date, weighing 329 kg, and Iñaki Perurena, who’s lifted the 322 kg stone. The latter also holds the records for heaviest weight for reps, having lifted a 660 lb stone to the shoulder three times in three minutes.
Time to reconsider that Under Armour bullshit you've been wearing to the gym.
As I've no interest in reinventing he wheel, I'm just going to repost an interesting bit I found on Basque stone lifting. The TL:DR is that every Basque on Earth, newborns included, are harder than you.
"Stone-lifting, perhaps the most spectacular of Basque sports, has its origins in the quarries and in the use of large standing stones to mark off boundaries. Over the years it has managed to avoid the dangers threatening the survival of other traditional games, which are so often forgotten by the press, overlooked in the distribution of official grants and squeezed out of education programmes by more fashionable disciplines imported from other continents. However, the sports events of the Basque Country continue thanks to the support of local councils which include exhibitions in their festival programmes, and thanks also to their extensive coverage in the press by expert journalists who have managed to carve a niche for themselves among the pages reserved for football, the king of sports in Spain.
The first step for a “harrijasotzaile” (the Basque word for “lifter”) is to go to a stonemason’s workshop, find a stone he likes, and have it properly prepared for the challenge: to lift one kilo more than at his last attempt. This is done by injecting lead into holes that are worked into the original granite slab, until the stone weighs exactly what the lifter wants. The current world record for stone-lifting is held by Migeltxo Saralegi, a 27-year-old from Navarre, who succeeded in lifting 320 kilos. But because of his youth Saralegi has not yet replaced the greatest lifter of all time, his neighbour, friend and teacher, Iñaki Perurena, in the memories of stone-lifting aficionados. Perurena, who is also known as “the colossus of Leiza” (his native town), has achieved popularity ratings in Spain that are unheard-of for a rural sportsman, though they are understandable in light of his competition history. He became national champion at the age of 17 with a lift of 175 kilos, and defended his title year after year with progressively heavier stones until 1987 when, at the age of 31, he achieved what was thought to be impossible: lifting a 300- kilo stone onto his shoulder. Once this psychological barrier had been broken he continued to break his own records, up to 318 kg. There was competition among the Basque local councils to host his record attempts, which were supported by private sponsors, while booking agents helped maintain a rising interest in the events.
Despite the inevitably rough-hewn image of a man weighing almost 130 kg who lifts stones for fun, Perurena, who also works as a butcher and farmer, has given free rein to his more sensitive side by writing poetry about his land and its people. As he grasps the stone and tries to lift it onto his shoulder, he talks to it and asks it for help. He is even capable of disqualifying his own valid lifts if they are performed with the necessary strength but “‘without grace”. The main ambition of stone-lifters is to be considered as sportsmen, not just as local curiosities. Like all other athletes they need daily training, a balanced diet and a refined technique. Because of their exceptional physical condition some have received offers to become boxers or weightlifters, but most stone-lifters reject such offers without a second thought. They don’t want hasten the demise of an entire people’s tradition"(Russell)
In Basque stone lifting, four different kinds of stones are used for four different events: a cylinder, a rectangular cube, a granite cube, and a granite ball. Of those, they utilize the two cubes, both of which weigh in at 440 lbs. Typically, Basque stone competitions are timed events, in which the lifters lap their beast of a stone, shoulder that motherfucker, then toss it backward over their heads into a padded pit like they're 1990s Steven Seagal tossing some hapless jamoke over a bar and through a window. The events usually last three minutes, and begin with the weight on a base of automobile tires or sandbags. From there, these wacky badasses lever the weight onto their padded thighs, then rotate it onto their padded chests and then drop it. If they're using the ball, the weight is instead rotated rolled around their neck and dropped, rather than dropped behind them. Occasionally, they'll see who can lift the heaviest stone in an effort to see which of those leather-clad maniacs is the baddest of the bunch, but most often it's reps for time (Jeck 44-46).
Iceland: Like everyone else, the Icelanders have their own spin on stone lifting. Frankly, it's hard to conceive of there being so many ways to compete in stone lifting, but one's imagination seems to be the only limit in this sort of testosterone-fueled shenanigans. The Icelanders have two main stone-lifting events- the lift and carry and the lift and load. The former is most famously done with the Husafell Stone, which is a 396 lb. flat monstrosity with three oval corners. The stone was carved by an Icelandic pastor with a fetish for stone lifting and stone wall building who was apparently named after one of the seven dwarves, Snorri Björnsson. To test the strength of travelers, he set the stone out with the challenge of carrying it around a goat pen he constructed just for that purpose. The event can also be conducted with the smaller Dritvik Stones, which comes in four flavors- the fullsterkur ("full strength"), a 341 lb. stone; the hálfsterkur ("half strength"), a 228.8 lb. stone; the hilariously-named hálfdrættingur ("weakling"), a 107.8 lb. stone; and one I cannot imagine anyone wanting to lift, the amlóði ("useless"), a 50.6 lb. stone. While I imagine this sort of thing began in the Viking Age as a way for a man to prove he was worthy of raiding, it's been used since the Vikings turned their swords into ploughshares to determine who was fit to work on fishing boats, "with the hálfdrættingur being the minimum weight a man would have to lift onto a ledge at hip-height to qualify" (Wikipedia, Lifting Stones).
Scottish: The Scots take stone lifting incredibly seriously, or at least as seriously as they take sheep-rape. They are constantly testing their strength with a wide array of stones, and have traditionally had what they refer to as "manhood stones" in every clan for their youth to lift as a measure of their maturity. As such, they have a dizzying array of stones in places that range from pretty much unpronounceable to "holy shit is that even a real human word"-type unpronounceable names. The most famous of these are perhaps the Inver Stone (268 lbs), the Dinnie Stones (which weigh 413 and 321 lbs, respectively), the Menzies Stone (253., the Blue Stones of Old Dailly (which Steve Jeck estimated to weigh 290 and 320 lbs., respectively), and the North Sea Stone (which Jeck estimated to be between 350 and 400 lbs). There are, however, a set of stones even more famous than the aforementioned that have become the gold standard of stone lifting strength, and perhaps the only you've ever seen lifted- The original set of Atlas stones, the McGlashan Stones. These stones have been used by those furry motherfuckers for years as a Scottish Highland games staple, and consist of five stones weighing 90, 110, 120, 130, and 140kgs. The guy who created the McGlashan Stones later produced a second set, which he called the Atlas Stones and are used in every World's Strongest Man competition, weigh 95, 105, 115, 125, and 135 kgs.(Jeck 73)
That pretty much covers stone lifting in every public permutation I can find, though I highly doubt it's a comprehensive list. In the final installment of this series, I'll tell you how the world's best stone lifters train, and how I mimick their movements in the gym without stones. I realize that will get the Diesel Crew all abuzz with fury because they believe there are no gym lifts that mimic those movements, but fuck 'em- some of us don't feel like wandering around the countryside looking for rocks to lift when there are perfectly good weights right in front of us.