The Arnold Sports Festival always produces some of the best lifting in the world, and 2018 somehow raised the bar. We saw some insane lifts and overall performances that push the boundaries of what strength levels we thought were possible in our sport. This article looks at the highlights of the Arnold Sports Festival.

Ray Williams squats 485kg

Since squatting 477.5kg at the 2016 Arnold for a new classic world record, Ray Williams has struggled to beat his world record in competition. At 2017’s IPF Classic World’s, he hit 470kg on his second attempt, clearly hoping for something big on his third, but ended up skipping it based on the speed of 470kg. Then at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals in October last year, he had a crack at a massive 490kg, but missed, something we thought wasn’t possible from this seemingly unstoppable squat machine. Now, back on the platform at the SBD Pro American, he was back with a vengeance.

After a 442.5kg opener and 467.5kg second (only 10kg shy of his current world record), Ray loaded up 485kg/ 1069lbs on his third attempt and hit it for the heaviest raw squat in IPF history. This unofficially beat his world record by 7.5kg, and is very promising for Ray to edge closer to the elusive 500kg/ 1102lbs milestone, which only Blaine Sumner has hit with equipment in the IPF. To finish off his day, Ray benched 235kg and deadlifted 372.5kg (before missing 380kg on his third) to total 1090kg/ 2403lbs, 12.5kg less than his current total world record. We’re now very excited to see Ray defend his title at 2018 IPF Classic World’s and try to break his squat, total, and maybe even deadlift world records officially.

Heather Connor wins best female lifter with a 558.85 Wilks

Simply one of the most staggering performances from the Arnold Sports Festival was Heather Connor’s comeback. After her first World Classic Championship victory at the 2017 IPF Classic World’s, Heather had to forego competing at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals due to health issues, leaving junior lifter Allegra Hudson to win the American title and earn her spot on the World’s team for 2018. Since making a healthy recovery, Heather finally made her return to the platform, and did so with a bang. After a 130kg squat opener and 137.5kg second attempt, she hit a huge 142.5kg American record and 5kg PB on her third attempt – 10kg less than Wei-Ling Chen’s world record of 152.5kg. On the bench press, she finished up with 72.5kg (after missing the same weight on her second attempt for technicalities).

Finally, after a 175kg pull on her second attempt, only .5kg below her current world record, she then deadlifted a massive 182.5kg/ 402lbs on her third, becoming the first 47kg IPF lifter to deadlift over 400lbs raw. This came together for a massive 397.5kg American record total, also only 10kg less than Wei-Ling Chen’s world record, which has stood since IPF Classic World’s in 2015. Did we mention that she weighed in at only 44.1kg/ 97lbs? This meant she came away with an insane 558.85 Wilks, not only the highest in the SBD Pro American, nor the highest in the entire Arnold Sports Festival, but the highest female raw Wilks in IPF history!

Isabella von Weissenberg squats 200kg for a new 72kg world record

At the 2017 IPF Classic World’s, Isabella von Weissenberg went head to head with Brazilian lifter Ana Rosa Castellain for the 72kg world record squat. After chipping her own previous world record on her second attempt with 193kg, Isabella ended up missing 197.5kg on her third, leaving Ana Rosa with the record in the end, who hit 196kg on her final attempt. At the 2017 European Classic Cup later in the year, Isabella took it back with a 196.5kg squat.

Since then, she’s made the decision to drop down to the 63kg class for 2018’s IPF Classic World’s, and has been dieting down. Despite this, her lifts have continued to go up, and she competed in the 72’s at the Arnold Grand Prix for the final time before World’s in June. Weighing in at 70.9kg after a night of eating everything in sight, Isabella opened her squats with 187.5kg, and then immediately smashed her previous classic world record with 200kg on her second attempt! Though she then missed another attempt at extending her world record on her third attempt with 202.5kg, she went on to bench 97.5kg and deadlift 215kg (pulling sumo for the first time in competition) for a 512.5kg PB total and 505.43 Wilks.

Jennifer Thompson destroys her world record total

After skipping the 2017 IPF Classic World’s due to hip surgery, Jennifer Thompson made her comeback at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals where she totalled an unofficial 63kg world record of 490kg, beating her own by 4kg. Now, her training has been going better than ever, and she put on the best performance of her life at the Arnold Grand Prix. After a 132.5kg opener and 147.5kg second attempt, Jen hit a big 5kg PB squat of 155kg on her third.

On the bench press, after a 125kg opener, she chipped her three-lift raw world record with 142kg/ 313lbs, also matching her single-lift world record. She then even had a crack at 143.5kg/ 316lbs on her third, but didn’t have it in her on the day. Finally, Jennifer pulled 202.5kg on her third attempt to match her best raw competition pull from back in 2014. This gave her a massive 499.5kg world record total, only a hair away from the elusive 500kg mark, and a 548.45 Wilks. To put it in perspective just how insane this is, this total would have earned her a silver medal in the 72kg division at 2016’s IPF Classic World’s next to Kimberly Walford. After seeing this performance, we can’t wait to see this Powerlifting legend take back her world championship title this June, and try to extend some of her world records even further.

Krzyzstof Wierzbicki deadlifts 410kg Equipped

2017 was definitely the year of “Mr. Deadlift.” After his World Classic Championship title in the 105kg division, he then lifted at the 2017 World Games, and pulled 420kg equipped for the heaviest ever deadlift in IPF history, weighing in barely above 105kg. Now at the Bodybuilding.com Pro, lifting equipped, Krzysztof of course came away with the heaviest pull and highest Wilks. After a 385kg opener, Krzysztof deadlifted a massive 410kg/ 903lbs on his second attempt for a 105kg equipped world record. He then had a crack at extending his all-time world record deadlift up to 425kg/ 936lbs, eight red plates a side, but unfortunately missed at his knees. This is still mightily impressive though, and earned him first place with a 250.06 Wilks from the deadlift alone, having weighed in at only 99.47kg.

Samantha Calhoun deadlifts 217.5kg

Samantha Calhoun is a fantastic 63kg lifter in the USAPL, placing second only next to Powerlifting legend Jennifer Thompson at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals, where she put together 475kg, including an impressive 212.5kg deadlift on her third attempt, moving her ahead of Kirsten Dunsmore at the last moment. At the SBD Pro American this year, Sam had an awesome 9 for 9 competition. After a 165kg squat and 105kg bench, it was the deadlifts where she shined especially. After a 197.5kg opener and 210kg second attempt, she pulled a huge 217.5kg/ 479lbs on her third attempt. This is only 3.5kg below Kimberly Walford’s seemingly untouchable 63kg world record from back at the 2013 IPF Classic World’s when she was the weight class below. This is extremely exciting for Samantha’s future lifting, where she’ll potentially be the first 63kg IPF lifter to pull 500lbs+ raw in her career. Not only that, but these lifts also came together for a 487.5kg total, which would have beaten Jennifer Thompson’s previous 63kg world record unofficially had she not beat it herself at the Grand Prix. Make sure to keen an eye out on Samantha Calhoun’s future lifting.

Taylor Atwood’s performance

Adding to the list of mind-boggling performances from the Arnold was Taylor Atwood’s. After going 9 for 9 and totaling 750kg at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals, we thought he couldn’t get much stronger. He then lifted in the SBD Pro American, competing light in the 83kg class, weighing in at only 75.7kg. After a massive 257.5kg opening squat, Taylor then hit 272.5kg/ 600lbs on his second attempt, which already would have broken Yoshihiro Higa’s current world record of 270kg unofficially if he weighed in under 74kg. To close off squats, Taylor hit an insane 280kg/ 617lbs. On the bench press, Taylor then matched his best from the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals with 192.5kg on his third attempt. Finally on the deadlifts, after a 285kg opener and 300kg second attempt, Taylor closed off a perfect 9 for 9 day with a shockingly comfortable 310kg/ 683.4lbs on his third. If Taylor’s training continues to go well and he can hold on to this kind of strength at a slightly lower body weight at 2018 IPF Classic World’s, he could well be in with a chance at coming away with the 74kg world record squat and total officially. All together, this gave him a huge 782.5kg total and 554.01 Wilks – the second highest male Wilks in the SBD Pro American and entire Arnold Sports Festival, second only to Ray Williams.

After the 2017 IPF Classic World’s, we saw Kjell Bakkelund come down from the equipped scene and total 757kg for a classic world record and win the 74kg championship title. It looked impossible that Taylor, or any other 74kg lifter, would ever be able to get close to this kind of total and be in with a shot at winning the title if he stuck around. Less than a year later, Taylor has now totaled 25.5kg/ 56lbs more than Kjell’s record, weighing less than 2kg over the weight class limit. This will make for an epic battle at the 2018 IPF Classic World’s in Calgary that will rival even the Gibbs vs Haack showdown of 2016, where Taylor will be in with his best shot at winning the 74kg World title yet after two years of finishing in second.

Maria Htee squats 185kg and totals 485kg at 63kg

Fresh out of competing at the 2018 CPU Raw Nationals where she won the 63kg division, squatting an unofficial world record of 183.5kg and totalling 485kg, Maria Htee was back on the platform once again at the Arnold in the SBD Pro American. Weighing in at 60.84kg, Maria once again unofficially broke the world record squat on her third attempt, hitting 185kg slowly but smoothly on her third attempt. As the SBD Pro American is not an international competition, this doesn’t count as an official world record yet again.

However, after her unsuccessful battle with Jennifer Millican in the 57kg division at last year’s IPF Classic World’s, Maria has now opted to lift in the 63’s at the 2018 IPF Classic World’s, and so will have the opportunity to make the record official and go head to head with Jennifer Thompson for the world title. Maria went on to bench 105kg and deadlift 195kg at the Arnold, before a 200kg deadlift attempt on her third attempt which would have given her a 490kg total (now 9.5kg behind Jennifer Thompson’s world record, but would have been an unofficial world record otherwise).

Daniella Melo squats, deadlifts and totals unofficial open 84kg world records

With Daniella Melo’s strength in the last year already challenging what we thought 84kg female lifters were capable of lifting, Daniella really took things to the next level at the SBD Pro American. After fellow USAPL lifter Amanda Lawrence chipped her American and world record (unofficially) with 207kg at the 2017 USAPL Raw Nationals, Daniella made that look like a warm up with her squatting at the Arnold. After a 200kg opener, she easily smashed a 215kg second attempt, and then took things a step further with a 222.5kg on her third attempt, also with room to spare. This beats her world record by 16kg unofficially, and bodes extremely well for her to squat the elusive 500lbs mark in the future, which only a handful of super-heavyweight lifters have hit.

Continuing with her amazing lifting, Daniella benched a small PB of 122.5kg on her third attempt. On deadlifts, after a 200kg opener and 215kg second attempt, already beating her competition best by 5kg, she then deadlifted 227.5kg/ 501lbs on her third attempt with a smile for an unofficial world record. This closed off her perfect 9 for 9 day with a huge 572.5kg total and 511.36 Wilks – beating Ielja Strik’s total world record of 537.5kg unofficially by 35kg! The 2018 IPF Classic World’s will be an extremely exciting time for Daniella, where she’ll go head to head with Ielja Strik and Sara Cowan in the open division, despite still being a young junior lifter, and will fight for both the 84kg world classic title and up to three official world records.

About the author: Ramsay Kirkhy

Ramsay holds a BSc in Psychology and is currently studying for his MSc. He is also a certified Personal Trainer with three years’ experience. Along with his studies, he has a huge passion for Powerlifting, competing in the 74kg division in Great Britain, also writing for the 9for9 Media blog.