Weightlifter Mart Seim “Had To” Squat 400 Kilograms To Compete Against Drug Users

Athletes will utilize whatever competitive advantage they can to excel in their sport. This is as true in badminton as it is in basketball and goes doubly for strength sports like weightlifting. That said, athletes don’t always do things by the book. in sports like Olympic lifting, the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) has created everything but a level playing field.

On Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, Estonian weightlifter Mart Seim shed some light on social media regarding his approach to combating PED-enhanced athletes on the lifting platform. Speaking about his 400-kilogram (881.8-pound) back squat, super-heavyweight weightlifter Seim said:

“As a clean athlete, the only way to compete against doping users was to be stronger than them. So I pushed my strength numbers up more than is common in weightlifting.”

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Seim’s 400-kilogram squat is the heaviest back squat ever documented on film by an Olympic lifter. Throughout his career, Seim was regarded as perhaps the strongest male weightlifter in the world. Other strength feats of Seim’s include a 375-kilogram squat double, a 255-kilogram jerk, a 12-rep-max squat at 270 kilograms, and overhead presses in excess of 160 kilograms.

Seim has competed in weightlifting as recently as December 2023 but began his International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) career in 2011. His best competitive result came was a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships. Seim achieved his best-ever competitive total in 2017 when he lifted the following weights at that year’s Worlds in Anaheim, CA:

Mart Seim | 2017 World Weightlifting Championships (WWC)

Snatch: 191 kilograms
Clean & Jerk: 253 kilograms
Total: 444 kilograms

While Seim did not mention any athlete by name when discussing PED use in weightlifting, he ranked fifth at the 2024 WWC behind the following athletes: Rustam Djangabaev (UZB), Behdad Salimikordasiabi (IRI), Saeid Alihosseni (IRI), and Lasha Talakhadze (GEO).

Of these four athletes, three of them had been previously sanctioned by the IWF for the use of various banned PEDs — Djangabaev in 2019, Alihosseini in 2009, and Talakhadze in 2013.

How Much Do Steroids Help?

The effects of PED use vary. While certain drugs and practices are more effective in some sports than others, PEDs don’t typically create world-class strength performances out of thin air. In a 2015 review, exercise science researcher Greg Nuckols argued that steroids provide about a 10 percent boost to maximal strength on average:

“Steroids DO help people gain muscle mass and absolute strength at a much faster rate, but the increase in muscle mass generally means you’re forced to move into a heavier weight class where you need to lift more in order to be equally competitive,” Nuckols summarized. (1)

Nuckols cited a number of different scientific papers on the subject. Some of the data compared subjects who took 300 milligrams and 600 milligrams of testosterone, only to reveal that, while the heavier-dosing group gained more muscle, both groups made comparable gains in strength. (2)
More recent data from 2014 compared the strength of recreational PED users with natural athletes and found that many of the drug-free subjects “clobbered,” Nuckols says, the participants with histories of steroid use. (3)

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Nuckols’ work hardly shuts the book on the contribution of PEDs in sports like weightlifting, which has until recently suffered consequences for its lax approach to policing PED use. What is clear, however, is that Seim’s second-to-none raw strength wasn’t enough on its own to outpace weightlifters with drug use under their belt.

This may be because absolute lower-body strength is only one success metric in sports like Olympic lifting. Even though the sport measures its athletes on their one-rep maxes, training for success in the snatch and clean & jerk takes years of practice and imposes significant fatigue, never mind the speed, power, and coordination required to perform Olympic lifts in the first place.

While it is impossible to say whether or not Seim would have been the best super-heavyweight athlete in the world if he was guaranteed a level playing field, one thing is certain — an excess of leg strength is never a weakness.

More Weightlifting News

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Why Can’t North Korea Compete at the 2024 Olympic Games?
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Nuckols, G. (2023). Steroids for Strength Sports: The Disappointing Truth. Retrieved from https://www.strongerbyscience.com/steroids-for-strength-sports/

Bhasin, S., Woodhouse, L., Casaburi, R., Singh, A. B., Bhasin, D., Berman, N., Chen, X., Yarasheski, K. E., Magliano, L., Dzekov, C., Dzekov, J., Bross, R., Phillips, J., Sinha-Hikim, I., Shen, R., & Storer, T. W. (2001). Testosterone dose-response relationships in healthy young men. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 281(6), E1172–E1181. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.2001.281.6.E1172

Yu, J.-G., Bonnerud, P., Eriksson, A., Stål, P. S., Tegner, Y., & Malm, C. (2014). PLoS ONE, 9(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105330

Featured Image: Mart Seim on YouTube 

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