European Lifting Stones

the Húsafell Stone, a 420-pound lifting stone located in Húsafell, Iceland
the Húsafell Stone, a 420-pound lifting stone located in Húsafell, Iceland

Lifting stones are rocks of variable size and weight that have been used for contests of strength throughout certain regions of Europe for centuries. These natural stones were not carved, crafted, or modified, but rather lifted as found. Typically weighing between 50 and 500 pounds, lifting stones would be picked up by men competing with each other or testing their own strength, usually lifting them to the waist or carrying them a certain distance.

This practice seems to have been particularly popular within Scottish, Welsh, and Nordic culture. Within various local cultures, sometimes lifting stones were used as a rite of passage into specific jobs or, more broadly, manhood. With scant historical records surrounding this practice, it is unknown whether their usage was more often a rite of passage or simply a test of strength. Records seem to indicate their use was much more often a special contest or strength rather than a form of regular strength training.


Origins and History

In its simplicity, it is difficult to determine a starting point for stone-lifting in Europe. Similar practices can be traced back to Nordic Viking culture from the 8th to 11th centuries AD. Vikings are known to have competed in lifting heavy objects such as logs (for example, the 1,433-pound lift of Orm Storolfsson), though it is unclear whether they lifted stones as well.

Even with old lifting stones identified today, it is difficult to determine when they were first regularly lifted, or whether they were actually lifted before modern history at all. Part of this issue stems from the fact that the only records of such stones often lie in oral tradition, which is fairly unreliable. For example, such stories surrounding the 420-pound Húsafell Stone, located in Húsafell, Iceland, relate that the stone has been a designated lifting stone for over 200 years, though there are no extant records outside of legend support this.

Lifting stones have been the subject of particular interest within the strongman community since beginning of the 21st century and the rise of internet culture. This further complicates the issue of studying the history of lifting stones, as during this time a small flood of misinformation spread among internet chat rooms and low quality articles has been spread and accepted. Much of this misinformation is simply speculation and unfounded stories that have been repeated without verification.


Athletic Usage

Historically, lifting stones have been used for two primary lifts. The most basic, and seemingly the most common, was a simple deadlift to the waist. This lift would be more difficult than a modern barbell deadlift due to the awkward size and grip of most lifting stones.

The second kind of lift was a greater test of strength, in which the lifter was to pick up the stone however he liked and carry it as far as possible. This lift was likely more often used as a competition rather than a rite of passage, the man carrying it the farthest being crowned the victor.

Bibliography

Smiley, J., & Kellogg, R. (2000). The sagas of Icelanders: A selection (O. Thorsson, Ed.). New York: Viking Adult.

Jones, D., & Grotenstein, J. (2012). The sportsman: Unexpected lessons from an around-the-world sports odyssey. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.

Wakehurst, J. D. (1935). Colonsay and Oronsay in the isles of Argyll; their history, flora, fauna and topography. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

Inverness, G. S. (2013). Transactions of the gaelic society of inverness volume 14. Place of publication not identified: Theclassics Us.