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How Hafthor Bjornsson Got Ripped To Play The Mountain On Game Of Thrones

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson is more than just "The Mountain," Ser Gregor Clegane of HBO's Game of Thrones. He's an absolute beast in real life, with multiple Strongest Man in Europe titles to accompany his numerous Strongest Man in Iceland and Strongest Viking in Iceland titles. However, Björnsson wasn't always such a mountain—in fact, he used to be half the size he is today. So how did the lean and mean Icelander become the most fearsome knight in all of Westeros? Let's find out.

He started out playing basketball

Before he was the freakishly huge 'mad dog of the Lannisters,' Hafþór Björnsson was still a mountain of a man—albeit more Elbert than Everest. "I was always taller than everybody else," he told GQ, though he wasn't always more massive. "My body weight was probably [231–242 pounds]," he claimed, which is nothing compared to the roughly 400 pounds he weighs now.

Though known later for being the enforcer in the Lannisters' court, young Björnsson's naturally large frame and then-leaner build gave him a significant advantage on the basketball court. After playing for Iceland's under-17 and under-18 teams, he spent some time playing in his country's first division. "I was a bit crazy and trained a lot, probably three times a day," he told Men's Health. "Before school, then afterwards, plus I was lifting at night." His intense work ethic paid off, with the big man shooting 64 percent and averaging 6.7 points for professional basketball club Körfuknattleiksfélag FSu in Selfoss, Iceland.

Unfortunately, Björnsson's brief professional basketball career was plagued by a recurring ankle injury, ultimately dashing his hoop dreams. "I was always getting injured," he told GQ. "I injured my ankles quite badly. I had to have surgery. So the second time I had an operation I decided to take a break from basketball to heal my foot."

He fell in love with weightlifting

After his professional basketball career was all but ended by his recurring ankle injuries and surgery, Björnsson wasn't sure what to do with himself. "I was very sad," he told Men's Health. "I wasn't sure what the next step was." As someone accustomed to 'training like crazy,' Björnsson did the only thing he could do — keep on "training like crazy." But this time, instead of going hard in the paint, Björnsson went hard in the weight room.

With basketball no longer on his schedule, he decided it was time to focus all that energy into simply improving his body. "I just fell in love with the weights," he told GQ. "Fell in love with training hard, started to put weight on quite fast, started to get strong really fast. I saw results." Everyone else saw them too, with the Icelander nearly doubling his weight in only a matter of years. Weightlifting turned into a healthy addiction for Björnsson. "I just got hooked," he said, "seeing how strong I got and how much my body changed." (Even with that changed body, he can still dunk a basketball.)

Of course, weightlifting alone can't turn a 240-pound basketball player into the Mountain that Rides...

He is what he eats

They say "you are what you eat," which certainly rings true in Hafþór Björnsson's case. True to his character's moniker, the Mountain eats a mountain of food every day. "I eat a lot of sweet potatoes," he told GQ. "A lot of meat, fish, chicken, good fats like cocoa butter, almonds. I love greens, like spinach, avocado, broccoli. I eat very healthy overall." That's good—but how much is "a lot," exactly?

In this case, it means way more than you can probably even think about eating. According to Men's Fitness, a typical Björnsson breakfast consists of a handful of almonds, 8 eggs, 200g of oats, blueberries and strawberries, one avocado, 400g of beef, 400g of sweet potatoes, and a handful of spinach and greens—all before noon. For lunch, he puts down 400g of chicken, 400g of potatoes, some greens and fruits, 150g of oats, 2 bananas, 150g of Kellogg's Rice Krispies, some frozen berries, another handful of almonds, and 50g of peanut butter. In the evening, Björnsson consumes two bananas, 500g of beef, 500g of potatoes, some greens, 500g of salmon, 500g of sweet potatoes, six eggs, one avocado, and 50g of peanut butter. (Of course, he also supplements with BCAAs.)

Now, just picture a table with all that food on it—and imagine actually having to eat all of it. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like bragging about that time you ate four dozen chicken wings at the county fair.

...And he never stops eating

With a total intake of some 10,000 calories a day, there's really only one way for Hafþór Björnsson to fit all of that food into his stomach—and that's to simply never stop eating.

"If you don't eat, you don't grow," Björnsson told GQ, explaining how eating non-stop is part of the job. "It's just like constantly work for me: I have to eat every two hours to maintain my body mass." We're not talking about grazing throughout the day here, either. We're talking about consuming what non-Mountainous individuals would consider a full meal, every two hours. In total, Björnsson reckons he devours "around six to eight meals a day." Even for a giant like him, such a feat "is not easy"—something two self-confessed idiots over at The Chive found out the hard way.

While Björnsson can manage his non-stop eating around his training sessions, eating on the set of Game of Thrones isn't so easy. "When I'm filming," he described, "I always have to have breaks to eat." After all, such a big machine requires fuel. Truth be told, he could probably eat some of the smaller cast members...and some of the bigger ones.

He trains in the Nest of Giants

In order to be the best, The Mountain trains with the best.

Björnsson—Europe's strongest man in 2014, 2015 and 2017—pumps iron at a gym in Reykjavik called Jakabol, operated by four-time World's Strongest Man winner Magnús Ver Magnússon. According to Men's Health, Jakabol, which literally translates into "Nest of Giants," is the epicenter of Icelandic strongman culture. As the name implies, it's pretty hardcore. The gym itself is located in a supermarket car park, and posts notifications to let everyone who enters know from the get-go that there are "no p***ies" allowed. The interior is sparse and simple; it definitely isn't a place you'd go to sign up for spin classes or yoga sessions. Rather, Björnsson describes Jakabol as "more of a raw, powerlifting gym," which saw its previous operator, the legendary Jón Páll Sigmarsson—himself a four-time World's Strongest Man winner—die of a massive heart attack while dead-lifting within its walls.

There aren't many powerlifting gyms in the world that can rival "The Nest of Giants," as proven by its past and current clientele. According to Björnsson, it's the perfect place for him to stay huge: "It helps to have guys around you who have the same goals."

He mixes up his workouts

Though Hafþór Björnsson definitely focuses mostly on heavy weightlifting and strength training, he doesn't always stick to the same workouts. In fact, the Mountain believes it's absolutely crucial to mix it up.

In order to maintain his status as Europe's Strongest Man while chasing the title of World's Strongest Man, Björnsson claims there's more to it than simply putting on more and more muscle. "You can't just be strong," he told The New York Times. "You have to be quick. You have to have flexibility." For those reasons, he takes a bit of an ad hoc approach, sprinkling swimming, biking, and other cardio activities into his training regimen. He also fits in time to jog with his adorable Pomeranian/Instagram celebrity Ástríkur.

Exercising your entire body is absolutely crucial to seeing results, especially when you're already as huge as Björnsson. Otherwise, you'll plateau. "When people ask me about my routine, it's hard to say because I change it every week," he told Men's Health. "You have to mix up your training ... If you always train the same way your body gets used to it and you stop seeing results after a few weeks."

He's not interested in getting bigger

Hafþór Björnsson is big. Like, really, really big... but he's not interested in getting bigger.

The seven-time Strongest Man in Iceland has nearly doubled in weight since his early basketball-playing days, but he's already experienced what it's like to be too big. "I'm 185kg now," he told Men's Health in 2016. "I've been up to 205kg, but I didn't feel good." Instead of looking to put on even more bulk, Björnsson is mainly looking improve the massive body he already has. "Getting bigger isn't a big deal for me," he told GQ. I don't want to get bigger. But having a nicer body and being stronger is definitely something I'm aiming for."

Of course, Björnsson still hits the gym at least six times a week—and puts up some serious weight—but he makes sure to keep the rest of his body well-exercised, too. "Sometimes I go in the mornings and I do stretching or cardio," he explains. "It depends on what I'm training for: do I need to have more endurance, or be stronger?" It's all about recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and putting a plan in place to maximize your potential.

Being Icelandic helps

When you're on a quest to become the World's Strongest Man, it doesn't hurt to be a Viking.

Hailing from Iceland, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson definitely has the genetic predisposition to be a Viking berserker. (Seriously...his nickname is Thor!) "My father is tall and strong," he told Men's Health. "So is my grandfather. Although I'm the only actual athlete, my family is very athletic."

Not only do Icelanders traditionally perform very well at Strongman competitions and the CrossFit Games, their tendency towards fitness helps explain why the country's males are the longest living on the planet, clocking an average of 81.2 years before ascending to Valhalla. Additionally, Iceland isn't exactly the easiest place to survive, psychologically and historically speaking, and Björnsson credits the Icelandic work ethic when explaining why they're so strong. "When we want to be successful at something, we work really hard," he asserts.

Of course, there's also just something magical about the Viking lands of the north. "It's something in the water," Björnsson claims. "It's so clear and powerful. I believe we get extra energy from it." And why not? Water is, after all, the essence of life.

He's the strongest Viking in history

Hafþór Björnsson isn't just the seven-time Strongest Man in Iceland and three-time Strongest Man in Europe...he's the strongest Viking in history.

According to the Íslendingasögur, or the Sagas of Icelanders, the legendary Orm Storulfsson once carried a 10-meter-long, 1433-pound wooden log three whole steps. In fact, the log was so big, the story claims it took the strength of 50 men just to place it on Storulfsson's back—which sadly shattered underneath the insane weight of the wood. With that result in mind, who would possibly be crazy enough to ever attempt such a feat, again? Thor, of course.

At the 2015 World's Strongest Viking competition in Norway, Björnsson didn't merely carry the back-breaking log for three steps—he carried it for five. "I remember when I went under the bar and I tried to pick it up and I felt the pressure going from my neck through my body and straight to my toes," he recalled to GQ. "I felt like my body was going to collapse. I took a break, took a good breath, went under again. I took a step, I felt my back was strong. It was going to hold, so I carefully took another step. I faced straight ahead, more pain in my back. My third step, it felt like my body was going to break. I took a fourth step, and I realized I broke the record. After that, I felt my body was quite f—ed up."

He's not afraid to fight the best

Hafþór Björnsson's biggest onscreen moment game when he famously fought Prince Oberyn Martell—played by Pedro Pascal—in a trial by combat. Spoiler alert! It didn't end well for the Viper, who had his skull grotesquely imploded like an overripe melon.

Björnsson doesn't just square off with legendary warriors on Game of Thrones, however. He's not afraid to take on the real world's best fighters—like the Irish UFC champion and giant of personality Conor McGregor, who once held both the UFC Lightweight and UFC Featherweight titles at the same time. When Björnsson stopped by the gym to watch McGregor in action, the Irishman couldn't resist living out his own Seven Kingdoms' trial-by-combat fantasy, inviting the Icelander to spar with him. The Mountain obliged.

What ensued was a glimpse at what a real-life, 21st-century 'Mountain vs. Viper' duel would look like... sans weapons, of course. Björnsson shows off some surprising agility and quickness for someone two-and-a-half times McGregor's size, while absorbing punches like they're mosquito bites. "He was trying to punch me," he joked to GQ. "I didn't feel anything." The Mountain is also confident he came out the victor, saying "[McGregor] believes he won it. He does not know that I was taking it easy on him ... He's worked too much, so I didn't want to break him." If Game of Thrones is any indication, that's exactly what would've happened.

Put the Mountain's workout to the test yourself

Interested in putting a typical Hafþór Björnsson training session to the test? Look no further.

Superhero Jacked put together a three-week-long training regimen which closely mirrors the Mountain's legitimate Strongman workout plan. On Monday, start out with three to five reps each of squats, military presses, power cleans, chin-ups and bent-over rows. Rest on Tuesday, then start Wednesday's plan with three to five sets of deadlifts. Follow that up with half an hour of conditioning—such as sprints, kettlebells, and circuit training—before wrapping the day up with three to five sets on the push press. On Friday, you're looking at three to five sets of deadlifts, front squats and bench presses, followed by three sets of upper body assistance exercises and ten minutes of core exercises. The weekend is designated specifically for Strongman event practice, with Saturday blocked out for three sets each of three to four Strongman events. Sunday is the same deal, except you should only do two sets each.

Of course, that workout plan doesn't necessarily represent the exact workouts Björnsson accomplishes week in and week out, but it's definitely representative of his general Strongman regimen. Also, it's best to consult with a professional before starting a new workout plan—especially if it's something you've never tried before. Nevertheless, after three weeks of training like the Mountain, you'll probably feel ready to strap a 1,433-pound log on your back and scream "victory"...but we'd seriously advise against it.