If not for a series of injuries that derailed his career, it’s possible Hafthor Bjornsson would be a professional basketball player right now. Instead, a few knocks led to Bjornsson hanging up his basketball sneakers and picking up a set of weights. Now, he boasts the title of the World’s Strongest Man and is the scariest man in all of Westeros, playing Ser Gregor Clegane on Game of Thrones, so while the basketball thing didn’t go as planned, it’s safe to say his new career path has worked out rather well.
In between his demanding schedule during the lead-up to the final season of Game of Thrones and his efforts to maintain his body for strongman competitions, Bjornsson wants to show that he’s stronger than a drop of glue. Bjornsson is taking part in a competition of sorts on Wednesday in New York City in which he’ll lift a collection of unique objects. As for what he’s going to pick up, well, he’s still in the dark on that one and will be right up until the event starts, but he does know that each item will be suspended from a barbell with Krazy Glue.
Prior to that, Bjornsson took some time to talk to Uproxx Sports about the strongman lifestyle, his basketball career, and of course, his role on the biggest television show on Earth.
Let’s dive in, first things first, can you tell me everyone who dies on Game of Thrones this season?
Yeah, so, if I start with … no, I can’t tell you. I’m so sorry to disappoint you. Everyone asks me that question. I cannot tell you what’s going to happen, or who’s gonna die, or who I’m gonna kill, or if I’m gonna be off the show, or anything whatsoever.
Yeah, I needed to ask you, you know?
You’re mentioning people asking you questions about the show, and with your character, I think fans of the show are really excited about Cleganebowl. They wanna see Gregor and Sandor fight. I won’t ask if that happens in the final season but, is that the thing from Thrones fans that you get asked about the most lately?
You know, I would say so. People seem to be very excited about that fight and they hope that the fight will happen. If it’s gonna happen, or not, I cannot tell you. I can tell you this, I am super excited about next season. It was fun to film, challenging as well. Very hard at times. Yeah, definitely was the hardest season out of past ones.
If I may ask, why?
Like I said, I cannot go into any specific details, but I think I’m allowed to say that some of the days were very long for me. For example, I think one day went up 18 hours, and that was very tiring and it is very hard on the body when you’re that long filming.
When it comes to preparing for a show like Game of Thrones, how much time do you have to spend submersing yourself in the universe that’s been created in the books, through the show, on the internet?
So, to prepare myself for scenes, it depends on what scene itself. For example, probably my biggest scene that has been shown on television was the fight against Viper in season four, and the preparation for that fight was a couple of weeks. It came out very well, and the reason why is because we practice it very well together, me and Pedro Pascal worked well together, and because of that it came out very well.
Interesting, and kind of along those lines, what’s the trickiest part about doing a show that has created an entire world down to languages and characters having full genealogies, and that sort of thing?
It has been very challenging a bunch, for sure. It’s also sometimes intimidating because being a part of such a huge show like Game of Thrones can be stressful. You put a lot of pressure on yourself to preform well, and sometimes, it can be stressful because you know a lot of people will see it and you don’t wanna let people down or your fans down. They expect certain things from yourself and the character itself. You want to do your best to perform your absolute best and sometimes it can be very stressful.
What’s the most fun part about getting to do the show and what’s your favorite story from being on set?
So, the most fun part is that you just meet all the actors, all the different people. You get to know them all, spend some time with them. It’s definitely the most fun part, I would say.
My favorite story, so, it was season four. I went out for dinner with Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and a couple of other people. We went to dinner, when they saw me ordering all this food, they were just, like, minds blown away. They were like, “Wow, are you ordering for your whole family?” I was like, “No, this is just my dinner.” And that was definitely a moment in the show where people in the show were like, “Wow, this guy has to eat a lot.” It was a funny moment.
Some people may know you were a pretty good basketball player back in the day. Was the goal to make it in Europe or make it to the NBA perhaps, or something like that?
Yeah, as a young kid I had those dreams. I wanted to become professional basketball player, but like many, you fail in your life before you are successful. I’ve failed many many, many times in my life, and I failed in basketball. I got injured many times, I broke my right leg twice, got injured really bad. So, I decided to retire, and I had done a lot of weightlifting, I was interested in how you build your body. So after I decided to take a break from basketball, I went into training every day and I saw some magic things happening in my body. How the muscle grew the more I ate. The more I trained, the stronger I got, and that was kind of when I fell in love with the training.
I was going to say, I know you had to retire due to some injuries. How frequently do you get a chance to play basketball nowadays?
I would say not often, in all honesty. Maybe couple of times a year I go with my wife or my friends and we just shoot some ball, during the summer time. That’s not often. Maybe like twice, three times a year because of my busy schedule, doing all these things now. I have other responsibilities right now. I’m always on the road with folks traveling, and my days usually stay busy. Like for example, I eat six times a day, and just preparing those meals and eating those meals can take a lot of time. That’s why I usually meal prep all my meals in advance, so I don’t have to spend all that time everyday in cooking all those meals.
I want to talk about competing in strongman and the strongman lifestyle. I know everyone knows it’s a lot of lifting weights and eating, but what might be something about doing strongman that surprises people?
Well, strongman training is not only about strength, it’s also about technique a lot. There’s a lot of stuff you have to specialize and go in deep into to know how to lift it the easiest way. You have to know how to use your legs, your hips, and you have to be flexible. You have to be fast, most of the events are for time and distance, so the first man to finish the course wins.
It’s a mind game as well. Sometimes you have to think about where you can have an edge for the next couple of events so you can not burn yourself out, because in a world competition, we usually compete in six events. It can be very tiring and if you burn yourself out or injured, then the game is over.
So, were you someone who lifted with regularity before you started committing to strongman and how did your routine change once you started taking it more seriously?
Well, I’ve always, as a young kid, been lifting weights. My grandfather was a farmer for over 30 years, and I remember myself growing up on the farm, lifting heavy stones, washing hogs every morning. So this came natural for me, and I have been working and training hard all my life, and that has translated into my strongman career.
I usually train five times a week. I make sure to give my body two days of rest a week so I don’t get injured, because injuries can be very serious. I start to exercise very seriously at age 19, 20 I would say, but before that, I used to train a lot. At a younger age, I was tall, but a skinny, skinny boy, but I always had that dream to have muscles. I have my people who I look up to like Arnold Schwarzenegger and all those people. They inspired me to build more muscle and become stronger.
Besides just the sheer amount that you lift, how does training for competitions differ for people who go to the gym and have their own routine over the course of a week?
I think it’s basically like anything, a lot of it you know … you set yourself goals. You have a mission to go somewhere, and you have a goal. I always say it’s always good to have help — like I have coaches, nutritionists, and a good team around me that can help me to reach my goals. My wife helps me out with a lot of things, I’m very close to my family. My father, my mom, I’m very close to them, then my two sisters support me.
They come to a lot of my shows and watch me compete and that’s my motivation to have my family there and that inspires me more to push even further, push even harder, and work harder to reach my goals. Because I’m always going to make them proud. So, it’s all about finding your motivation and working hard towards your goal. I believe anyone can be successful, but just remember this, “Before you become successful, you’re going to fail.” Everyone is going to fail.
It took me 10 years to become the best in my sport, and I failed so many times. I’ve failed many, many times in life. I’ve done mistakes, but I’ve always kept on going. I’m always trying to be better as a person, as an athlete, as a husband, as a son, as a father. So, you have to take every year, every day, have goals and try to be better. Always believe that you are better today than you were yesterday.
In the weight room, what is your routine? Could you take me through just kind of a basic week in your life when it comes to exercise?
Yeah. So, in a day in my life, I wake up usually around 7, 8 a.m. I have breakfast — six eggs, six pieces of bacon, I always drink a lot of water. I check out my e-mails, answer e-mails. I’ll go eat again, so basically I eat every two-and-a-half to four hours. Usually around 2 p.m., I’m training. I have a training session, about a two hour session, where it’s usually something strongman related or power lifting related when I’m lifting heavy weights.
After that exercise, I have my usually my fourth or third meal of the day. After that meal, I usually go back and I lift up something else. I do some work, and then I usually do some hot and cold therapy, which helps me to re-power faster after all my training sessions. After that, I might do some physio, I might do some work on my body myself, massage myself or do anything I can to make sure I stay injury-free because that’s also very important.
A lot of people think that training is everything, but it’s actually what you do outside, as well. How you treat your body outside the gym, how you feed your body and everything like that. So, it’s basically like 24-hour work. I never really just lay on the sofa and relax for four hours because I have to think about my meals, I have to think about how I can make my body stronger and better each time.
How does your routine change when you know you’re going to be on set for Game of Thrones or for something else like that?
It doesn’t really change because they are quite happy with the physique I have. They want me to be big and strong, and when I’m training for someone, I am big and strong, so they are just very happy with the physique I have and they don’t complain at all.
Yeah, I mean how do you manage your time when you’re spending an 18-hour day on set? Like how are you still able to find the time to train and to eat and to do all that stuff?
For example, when I have to shoot that day, I have to basically eat on set. Just like eat between takes and if I’m shooting for 18 hours, I’m definitely going to rest that day, I don’t want to go to the gym. So, you have to listen to your body as well. Some days you just can’t train. For example, that day, there’s just no way I was going to train that day. I went straight to the hotel, straight to bed, woke up the day after and went back to work.
I’m fascinated in the diet of the strongman. I believe Brian Shaw once said it’s the hardest part of training. How carefully is your diet planned out and what things do you eat over the course of a day?
My nutrition coach is Stan Efferding, and it’s basically a fish, rice, carrots, and red peppers, one glass of orange juice three times a day, a lot of water throughout the day, a lot of spinach, as well. I sort my meals a lot. So, that’s basically what I eat all day. I might throw in some salmon, then and there to knock off stuff that’s high in calories. I need a lot of high-nutrition foods, and the best food for me is steak. It’s because it’s best for strength. It has a lot of good nutrition in it and I feel like when I’m eating a lot of steak all day, I am the strongest I can be.
So, you mention you eat about six meals a day, but in terms of calories, how much food are you putting in to fuel yourself over the course of a day?
I am eating around 10,000 calories a day, which is a lot. I’m obviously a professional and I am the World’s Strongest Man. This is something that a normal human being would never do. You would never eat that amount of food, because you would get tired, it’s too many calories for you to intake.
I have to know, what’s your grocery bill like every week?
Well, it’s a good question. This is obviously my job, I have to eat those meals. I haven’t gone over it, but I would say it’s quite a lot, and you would be shocked, if that number was out there. I would probably be ashamed if I told you that, so I’m just going to say it’s a lot.
What do you have going on with Krazy Glue?
I’m working with Krazy Glue next Wednesday. If people want to watch the competition that’s going on the fifth of December, they can go to their Facebook page, Krazy Glue, and watch it live, or they can go to New York City and see the show. It’s going to be … Just come to Center415 on Fifth Ave between 37th and 38th street. Doors will open up 6:15 p.m., and the Facebook Live begins at 6:45 p.m.
Krazy Glue is so fun. Just this one drop can hold up to 1,000 pounds. That’s super impressive, just think with my strength, I can … my best lift is just about 1,000 pounds. So, it’s quite impressive and it’s pretty good to be working with them, it’s going to be man versus glue. It’s going to be very exciting.
I know you’re going to be asked to lift up a pretty absurd thing. Is there anything specific that you’d like to get the chance to see if you can pick it up?
I just encourage people to come and see, I believe that they are still working on what’s going to be lifted. People have been commenting on my social media, so I posted on Nov. 19, I announced the Man vs. Glue campaign, it’s awesome and I posted it on all my social channels. Then I asked the fans to comment on what items I should lift on site. The Krazy Glue team is taking the best responses and building them. So, I don’t know what I’m going to lift until the competition begins, but I’m super excited to see what it’s going to be and I hope you guys will show up. It’s going to be fun.
It’s pretty common for strong men to be asked to lift pretty absurd things. A fridge. A washing machine. That sort of stuff. What’s the craziest thing you have ever been asked or ever shown that you were able to lift up?
Well, I guess it’s probably going to be on Dec. 5 with Krazy Glue, some crazy things. I’ve done some crazy things before, I’ve thrown washing machines … yeah, probably throwing a washing machine was one of the craziest things I’ve done. I never thought in a million years that I would want to pick up a washing machine and throw it as far as possible. That was unique.
Yeah, and just to end, just so I can say I tried one last time. Could you let me know how Game of Thrones ends?
We will have to wait and see. It’s going to be … I am super excited for the show myself. I, myself, I’m always distant, a small part of the show. The show, like everyone else, it’s huge. I don’t know exactly, I don’t know how it ends, but I know it’s going to be good.