Jon Pall Sigmarsson: World’s Greatest Strongman

Here’s a very rare interview/biography written by his friend Sigurbjornsson around 1980. You will learn how Jon Paul Sigmarsson trained, ate and lived. – Mr. Berg

Jon all Sigmarsson, named according to Icelandic custom with ‘Sigmarsson’ meaning his father name is Sigmar, grew up inone of the small fishing villages around our coastline. As every young child in Iceland, he read the old viking Sagas, stories about Grettir and Egil, Odin and the mighty Thor and he began to dream. He wanted to be strong and powerful like the old Vikings, and to go to foreign countries and conquer the world. The seed had taken root early, but his dreams were not yet clear, merely a childish imagination. For the time being he wanted to play, and maybe go down to the harbor to look at the fishermen, those heroes of the sea!

His first introduction to the world of strength look place when he was all of five years old. 

“My fosterfather Svein Gudmundsson, was the Icelandic champion in Glima and held ‘The belt of Grettir’. He taught glima in the small fishing village I lived in, and I took my first lesson when I was five years old, and they say I showed good promise.” (Glima is our national sport, old Viking style wrestling, where two men face each other and hold onto a belt around their middle, trying to get each other down, using mainly legs) Jon Pall didn’t go on to become an Icelandic champion, but he wrestled until he was 12-13 years old.

“I stayed with my grandmother during the summers, and she lived in a bigger town. There I learned about team sports, soccer and team handball. I even took up long distance running, but my feet weren’t long enough.” and he smiles when he thinks about the past.

“I didn’t like team sports very much. I felt that the team as a whole didn’t put their heats into each task, and I hated that. I had this urge to become strong, so I started to train on my own at home. I trained on several courses, the “Atlas Iso Tension” for instance.

Bodybuilding wasn’t very popular at the time, so most people tried to keep it secret, I had nothing to hide. I soon learned that it was good for my body!”

As is customary in Iceland, people start working at an early age and Sigmarsson or ‘Palli’ as he is nicknamed was no exception. His foster father is in the construction business, and ‘Palli’ went to work with him shortly after turning ten. It is not unusual that 12-13 year old here in Iceland work up to 8-10 hours a day, and I mean work! This lays a solid foundation and it is not unusual to see guys over here pull 500lb in the deadlift the first time they try it!

Enter the Barbell
“I started training with barbells in 1976. At first it was mainly Olympic weightlifting, but I always trained the bench press, because I always wanted a big and strong chest”, says ‘Palli’ with a grin, moving his chest muscles.

He also trained karate during those years. “I didn’t do it because I was a muscle head or just to bully people around. I don’t like to fight, but after I started training karate I felt quicker and more agile. It is quite possible this has much to do with my speed of action today!”

“I decided to start lifting for keeps on the 1st of January 1978, at 1800 hours. I decided to become enormous” he says emphatically.

‘Palli’ was seventeen when he started training and he made rapid progress right from the start. Olympic weightlifting was in vogue, so he trained mainly the snatch and the clean and jerk in the beginning. He didn’t make much improvement in the Olympic lifts, and his body didn’t seem to like them, as he started getting elbow problems, eventually injuring an elbow against an upright while jerking 251lb. 

“I also trained bodybuilding while I trained on the Olympic lifts. The weightlifters also didn’t have the bulges I thought strong men should have. They had big arses and belly, absolutely no chest and slim arms.” (Iceland had several good Olympic lifters in that era, around 72-76, with Mr. Sigurdsson getting a 6th place in the ’72 Olympic, a junior world record by Mr. Agnarsson and an Olympic press record by Mr. Sigurpalsson.)

Then Palli decided to quit Olympic weightlifting and turned to powerlifting. He didn’t fare too well in his first Icelandic championship, bombing out in the bench press with 341lb.

“I still don’t why I didn’t get the lift. I went so mad that I hurried to the warm up room and made a perfect 363lb lift.” 

Later that year (1979), he came into limelight when he got 2nd place in the Nordic Powerlifting Championship on his last deadlift attempt, a lift that was on national television several times.

With his one lift Palli entered a new state in his life, he had become a National Hero. He also learned that he was a crowd pleaser. With his showmanship and bodybuilding poses he could get an advantage over his competitors, and getting the crowd behind him on a maximum lift could be the winning factor in a hard race.

Next year he became an Icelandic champion in powerlifting and won the Nordic Powerlifting Championship in Drammen, Norway a, title he also won the next year in Stockholm, Sweden, lifting as a light Superheavyweight (around 277lb), but in 1982 he was injured. He also competed in the 1980 European Powerlifting Championship, finishing second in the 275lb class. He got the same place in the ’81 European in Parma, Italy and repeated that finish in ’83 Europeans in Aaland (Finland).

In that same time soon he competed in the World Powerlifting Championships ‘Calcutta farce’, getting either bronze or silver in the 275lb class due to some drug disqualifications.

He seemed to get on Jan Todd’s nerves, because I remember reading her calling him the ‘Icelandic Frog’ when she was hit by ‘Sigmarsson showman blast’ while covering the Worlds in Iron Man. In fact he was having competition with Joe Bradley, about who could jump over more chairs!

Boy, did those Indians eat out of his hand! He was the most popular lifter of the championship, with his blond air and athletic looks. He culminated his powerlifting career by winning the ‘Battle of the Giants,’ a directly televised contest here in Iceland by lifting several European powerlifting records, including an 816lb deadlift to crown a 2138lb total record in the 275lb class (a record only recently beaten by Lars Noren of Sweden). He made his best contest lifts so far there in ’84 by squatting 804lb., benching 518lb., and pulling 816lb in the deadlift.

Enter the Strongman

Palli always felt that he could show himself more than he already had in the role of an all-around strongman. He wanted to show the wide variety of his strength and had been performing several strongman stunts in public shows, just to get some extra money.

Then he found an opening. He was invited to a strongman contest in Sweden called ‘Viking 81’. The contest consisted of powerlifting and several other exercises. Palli won the powerlifting part of the contest readily by totaling 2105lb., easily beating the eventual victor, Wigholm of Sweden, who only lifted 1835lb Wigholm won the overall contest by lifting the most in the total of all exercises, while winning only the ‘Viking-lift’, a sort of Andersonian back lift. Here Palli lifted 1980lb., but Wigholm lifted around 2400lb.

“I don’t think this was fair, he had advantage in that he could train on the ‘back-lift’, and they should have given points for each event.”

Next year his fame had spread, and he was invited to the ‘Europe’s Strongest Man’ contest in Holland. He wasn’t fully fit, having hurt an ankle while fooling around playing soccer, but he gave a good fight and finished third, behind Wulfse of Holland (who recently cracked the 2204lb in total) and Capes of England.

In the same year he was invited to New Zealand for the contest that was to become synonymous with his name here in Europe, the ‘World’s Strongest Man.’ The contest was staged in Christchurch. Palli won some events, placed well in others, and was a close second to Capes.

By now Palli was getting fed up with seconds places. In January of 1985, the stage was set for the 1984 World’s Strongest Man’ contest (enough sponsors for that year’s even weren’t found until then). And Sigmarsson was ready! he set a world record in the ‘caber-toss’, won several more events and placed high in others. When it came to the second to the last event, the ‘stone-lifting’, it was a duel between Sigmarsson and Capes. The deciding factor was one large stone, nearly 300lb and stubborn to lift.

First Capes came out, but as he tried to lift it above his head, he narrowly missed. Sigmarsson strode out, ripped the unmoveable stone off the floor and easily pressed it! Then he screamed: “The Kind Has Lost His Crown!!” In the next event a sad thing happened. Sigmarsson easily pinned Capes in arm wrestling, but while doing so Capes ripped an arm muscle. JON PALL WAS NOW THE WORLD’S STRONGEST MAN!!

Nonethless, Capes (who many consider to be the ultimate strength athlete) came back to win the event later in ’85. Capes has a long history of being a Highland Games winner, ‘World’s Strongest Man’, and an internationally ranked shot putter. He was in top form in Cascais, Portugal and won the contest quite convincingly. Sigamrsson took second place. Nominaries at that contest where George Hechter of the USA, and Cees De Vreugd of Holland.

Sigmarsson has competed in many other contests of a similar nature. He has won contests such as the strongman show in the Common wealth Games in Scotland, and ‘The World Muscle Power Championship’ in ’85 and ’86, easily defeating some famous strongmen from all over the world.

He has also competed in the Highland Games from ’84-87, placing highest in third (this contest consists of old time Scottish events like hammer throw, tossing the caber and the like). 

He has also competed in the famous “Mark Ten” contest in Canada, getting third place in ’85 and, accompanied by ‘Ursus’ his 310lb friend from Iceland, they finished second as a team. In 1986 they finished second and fourth respectively, Sigmarson narrowly loosing first to Tom Magee of Canada (who won the ’82 World Powerlifting Championships as a Super), but they won the team contest.

In ’87 Sigmarson was injured badly and finished fifth, but “Ursus” won fourth place, and they won second as a team, loosing by half a point. Regardless, I think the climax of his strongman career so far is his victory over Bill Kazmaier in the 1987 “Budweiser Pure Strength” contest, which I believe was shown on television in the USA recently. He won quite convincingly by taking 8 events out of the 10, 28 points for Palli to Kaz’s 19, and Capes at 10.

(The idea of the contest was to have all former winners of the World’s Strongest Man title compete). Sigmarson has also taken part in ‘Cumberland Wrestling’, doing quite well. He has also made one of the best throws of all time, heaving a 56lb kettlebell 17’6″ over pole vault uprights, close to Kaz at 18″ or so. His gripping strength is legendary, and in the “Farmers Walk” he has gone well over 330 yards while holding two 165lb cylinders!

He has the all time record in the ‘log-lift’, lifting 363lb over his head, and exceeding Kaz with 352lb at “Budweiser Pure Strength” show and how about an 551lb deadlift with one hand, you powerlifting enthusiasts!!! He has never lost an arm wrestling match, although taking grips with the like of Dave Waddington and Geoff Capes. His finger strength is amazing.

When he started training at sixteen he could lift 140lb with his smallest finger! How about shrugs for twelve or more reps with no wraps, knuckles forward, with 507lb! He has never finished lower than third in strongman competition until he got fifth place in the last ‘Mark Ten’ contest. This record made the editor of Strength Athlete call him “The World’s Greatest Strongman”, a title which seems to serve him well.

Enter the Bodybuilder

Being of tremendous athletic build, Sigmarson decided to try bodybuilding. When he decided to enter the Iceland Bodybuilding Championships, he was weighing 275lb of rough muscle. Many people laughed at the idea, especially the bodybuilders, but being of stubborn nature Sigmarsson literally stopped eating and lost bodyweight all the way down to 225lb. I have never seen anybody that cut, although I have been an avid reader of bodybuilding magazines. 

He was close to zero bodyfat and easily won the 1984 title. He tried again in ’86, this time weighing 260lb, but he did not win. he looked much better with the added weight, but the bodybuilders decided to choose won of their own for the crown. This was an very unpopular decision. Let me give you an run down on his measurements:

Height – 6 feet 4 inches, Weight 290-310lb., Neck – 19 inches, Chest – 55 inches, Biceps – 21 inches, Forearms — 15 1/2 inches, Waist – 39 1/2 inches, Thighs – 31 inches, Calves – 18 1/2 inches, Wrist 9 inches. As you can see a great balance between the bodyparts.

The Program
He trains an all-round strength and fitness system, using the Hatfield Cycling Method, training the body on a daily cycle and giving the muscles enough rest to grow by training every fourth day on the back, every third day on arms, every two days on calves every sixth day he trains the lower back and every fifth to sixth day he trains legs. And I mean TRAIN.

If Tom Platz is the hardest working bodybuilder, then Sigmarsson is the hardest working powerlifter, training maybe 360 days out of each year!

All his training is done in impeccable form. He has used as much as 390lb., for six reps in the power clean, after a total back workout, and has deadlifted 790lb for three without straps and 770lb for six after only a six week training cycle.

His best in training for the bench is 551lb., and 485lb for six reps. He often uses up to 441lb in the barbell row, six reps for three sets, also without straps, and in dumbbell rowing he uses 230lb for sets of twelve, also without straps!!!

he has chinned himself at around 300lb bodyweight for 25 reps. His best training lifts in the squat are 770lb for three reps and 683lb for six. His best in the standing military press is 350lb an he has curled 220lb. for a strict ten reps in the barbell curl. 

He uses 310lb for 10-20 reps in the forearm curl! He trains abs around 200 reps each training session, and puts great emphasis on stretching and he also runs several sprints after each training session.

Remember these number are achieved without specialization and while being on the road most weeks out of each year!

The Diet

Like all Icelanders, Sigmarsson eats lots of fish. “I eat any kind of fish, most days of the week, throwing in a chicken or two and a beef steak.” In fact, he does as he preaches, eating wholesome food everyday and he NEVER breaks his diet. I, myself, am a dedicated junk-food eater and often am envious of his inner strength.

Sometimes I try to get back at him calling him ‘chicken legs’, because I recently broke his squat record, but then he replies by calling me ‘Buddha’ or something else, referring to my rather ample build! His diet is similar to the old Viking menu, a lot of fish and milk products, shark meat, whale meat and so on. He relies on supplements and thinks he has gotten great results out of Joe Weider’s Dynamic Carbo-Energizer and from the Anabolic Mega Pack.

The Future

He is an established superstar here in Iceland, with contracts with the local food producers, that provide a secure life. He has also some contracts abroad, advertising and selling products. In fact, he is used so much in advertisements that he can be seen twice a night on television, every day of the week! He would like to market himself more abroad, especially in the USA.

He has a special way with children and he himself has a son, now three years old, by the name of Sigma Freyr. He was nominated “Athlete of the Year in 1981” by the press, beating out Petur Gudmundsson, a basketball player in the USA now playing with the Portland Trail Blazers.

he has often placed in the top three in “The Man of the Year” here in Iceland and he has often been named “Man of the Month” by newspapers and radio stations. What the future holds for him is not easy to say. I can see him going on for years in strongman contests, being almost unbeatable for the next ten years at least! Mind you he is only 26 years old. 

As a powerlifter, I can see him go on, if he gets the urge, all the way to 330lb., making over 900lb in the squat, over 600lb in bench press, and as much as 950lb in the deadlift. The man won’t lose his grip, that’s for sure! possibly with specialization he could deadlift the magic 1000 pounds!!

As a person I see him as a friend; honest; down to earth, a man’s man. he’s a guy you can trust. If needed he will be there, any time, day or night. He is a man for this, and all seasons.”

Do you want to read more rare articles? Great! I would love to attract many visitors as possible. Share the article with your training buddies and I will do more reasearch about Jon Pall Sigmarsson !! – Mr. Berg

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