In August 2009, during a routine patrol in Afghanistan, the Toyota Landcruiser Martin Tye was travelling in was struck by a car carrying an IED, (Improvised Explosive Device) killing several military personnel and severely wounding him. Eleven years and 11 Invictus Games medals later, the 36-year old managed to lift 550kg off the ground, shattering his own seated-deadlift world record. Now the Guiness World Record holder plans to get stronger and continue pushing for the disabled side of the strongman sport so it can finally receive the recognition it deserves. Read on for our exclusive Interview with Martin Tye: From Soldier to Strongman!
Great to have you with us. What do you think about Keep Fit Kingdom, and the mission to help a billion people reach 100 years of age happily and healthily?
The name is excellent, straight to the point so people know exactly what you’re about. I think this is a brilliant concept, encouraging people to be healthier will no doubt increase their happiness and they will be around for longer to see their children and grandchildren grow up. This will also reduce the burden on our already struggling NHS medical system.
So true. Thanks. So, let’s discuss how did you first get into weight training and lifting?
It’s a bit of a long story really, I am an ex-serviceman who got hit by a suicide bomber. I didn’t really interact with my rehabilitation like I should have, and a certain charity came along that provides training with injured servicemen, so I went and did that and caught a bug for sport and that’s how I got into strongman.
How old were you when you joined the army?
I joined the army at 22, I call it my university. Obviously there was a serious side, I was in the Royal Logistics Corps, but the rest was drinking and parties. I’ve been on tour all over the world and there is a time for seriousness and a time for play. It was a fantastic experience and if I turned back time I’d do it again.
Terror in Afghanistan
Can you share what happened in the attack that left you in your current condition?
Well, our job was to take high-ranking officers and PMs around to the embassies, so we were already going to be a hot target. We flew into Kandahar, but we couldn’t fly out for 5 days because we were taking in mortars. We got cleared to fly to Kabul out of HQ Isaf.
On 18 August 2009, I was in command of a Toyota Landcruiser as part of a convoy undertaking a routine patrol in Kabul. During this patrol a vehicle drove into the rear of the Landcruiser before detonating. Unfortunately, there were some fatalities.
I had blast injuries to my lungs, which left scarring meaning they only fill to about 60 – 70% capacity. I have brain injuries – I cannot remember the incident at all or big chunks of my childhood. I was covered in shrapnel wounds, had fractured the tibial plateaus in both legs and was forced to have both the ACL and MCL reattached. The armour plate designed to protect my spine from gunfire was forced down, cutting into my back and leaving an enormous open wound.
My clavicle was shattered, and my face was severely burned leaving it black around the eyes and nose for months after.
It sounds like you are incredibly lucky to be alive – I understand you were evacuated and flown back to the UK for treatment?
I was in a coma for a long time. After I woke up my lungs still did not work properly so I spent months in the hospital on oxygen before being transferred to Headley Court, the Army’s old rehabilitation centre.
Road to Rehabilitation: The Long, Hard Struggle…
You mentioned struggling to interact with the rehabilitation process?
I always felt I was pushed to one side at Headley Court because I wasn’t an amputee. They seem to focus on them a lot more than anyone else. I just shut off. I didn’t want to do it.
I had high-ranking people come and say; you’re still a soldier. I’m not. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have wheelchair-bound soldiers. So I took out of rehab what I wanted, but not maybe what I should have.
You have to be wanting and willing when it comes to support for it to make any sort of impact. Mentally I wasn’t in that place. I don’t know if I did everything to avert the incident, and no one can tell me. It is a very hard thing to speak about because I can’t remember. I’m just going to have to try and live with it.
Depth of Despair & How Sport Saved Martin’s Life
How did you get out of that negative place?
Earlier on in my injuries I was in a very low place. I did try to take my own life. I had two young boys at the time, they were a good inspiration. It was my family that gave me a push in a positive direction. They are a very positive part of my life.
I started training in 2014. Once I got into sport it changed my mindset, I became a much more positive person. You can live your life as a negative person and you can be angry all your life or you can just get on with it and laugh at situations. Sport saved my life.
I see. So what was your first step into competitive sport?
Bex (my wife) has a lot to do with my career. I would never have gotten into Strongman or Invictus without her. We were watching TV and the Invictus Games came on, and I said, ‘I could do that.’ She said: ‘Why don’t you then?’. She filled the application in for me and told me afterwards. I did a series of training camps then competed in 2017 and returned to compete again in 2018.
Disabling the ‘Disabled’ Challenges in the Gym
What challenges would a disabled person face in a gym?
There can be a lot of issues – if it’s a big chain they are usually accessible, but their weights tend to not be so heavy. The strongman gym I use is not wheelchair friendly, a massive lip, lots of footplates to get around, but I don’t mind that.
I would say I’m one of the lesser disabled people – I don’t let that sort of stuff stop me; that’s what disabled strength is: its all about adapting and finding another way of doing things.
People want to put the weight on the bar for you, so I say well you might as well lift it for me as well. I would like to see more space between and around machines, and getting rid of doorsteps in some of the smaller gyms.
A Day in the Life of Martin Tye
That would be handy. So, how does a day in the life of Martin Tye shape up right now – can you talk us through it?
I have a pretty structured day which consists of waking at 7am daily, waking the kids up, eating breakfast, sending the kids off to school, walking the dogs, cleaning the house, doing the washing and having lunch. I will do around 2-3 hours of training during the day before the kids come home from school and I’ll prepare dinner (when it’s my turn to cook). The evenings and weekends where possible are kept for family time.
What would you say to other wheelchair users wanting to start training?
The issue with disabled people is getting them through the door. People in wheelchairs tend to suffer anxiety about their disability and they think everyone’s staring at them, but once you get in the door, you’re just another bloke or woman.
Good point. Talking about the Invictus Games for a moment – they’re multi-disciplinary, were there any sports that you took to?
I enjoyed the wheelchair rugby and the rowing. I am three-times indoor rowing champ. Someone my size is good for about a minute then the pain sets in. I did the one minute and four minute races but I nearly passed out. I enjoyed it but it’s a love-hate relationship with rowing.
I did basketball but wasn’t particularly good at it. I did shot put and discus, I won 11 medals out of two games, mostly gold, a few silvers and a few bronze too. I also set the bench press record for the games at 206kg.
You do sound like a natural athlete!
I was always fairly sporty before my injury, I boxed for the military, before that I ran track and field for my school, but I never really glued with any one particular sport.
Martin Tye’s Road to Strongman
Martin Tye began his journey to becoming the World’s Strongest Disabled Man in 2017, entering Germany’s Strongest Disabled Man contest. Despite not training for it he dominated the contest, his innate strength reflecting a natural talent for a sport in which he would become internationally renowned. It was also in this contest that the seated deadlift debuted as a competitive lift.
So Martin, how did you go from the Invictus Games to winning your first strongman show without training? That seems pretty impossible.
Yeah it’s pretty crazy really! I was only going to have a look and see if it was something I want to go into. So we went down there and I won the deadlift straight away; we were doing reps, not max weight.
I sort of fell into it and naturally I was very good at it so I started training more on it and the weights have continued to increase.
Martin Tye Wins the WSDM 2018 Contest with a 500kg Deadlift
In 2018 Martin Tye dominated the World’s Strongest Disabled Man contest. He shattered the seated deadlift record with an incredible 500kg lift off the ground earning him the crown but offering no indication to the limit of his strength, merely the limit of his body.
Martin, can you tell us how the mechanics of a seated deadlift differ to that of a conventional one?
A seated deadlift eliminates your legs straight away, so it’s a lot through your trunk and your back, bringing in the shoulders a lot as well. It’s still a very good lift. It’s a very new lift, it has only been around for a few years – only taking off in the last few years when people started setting records.
It’s getting a lot more popular, I know some of the able-bodied are getting into it too. One of our founders Magnús Ver Magnússon, four-times World’s Strongest Man uses it as a back exercise.
Martin Tye Deadlifting 550kg at the 2020 Arnold Classic
As it’s a new lift you are essentially setting the benchmark for it. You lifted 505kg in Somerset last year, then 520kg in Canada. In March this year you smashed that world record at the Arnold Classic, lifting 550kg. Can you talk me through it?
It was pretty crazy obviously with the coronavirus going around at the moment. Arnie took the stance that the show could go on, but that there would be no expo side and no spectators, which is always quite hard when you’re trying to push your body to its limit because you need the crowd’s momentum.
Psyching-Up from Within the Martin Tye Way…
We came in the morning straight onto the arena and backstage. I did my warm-up routine which was a few deadlifts and then it was game on. They called me out. When I’m deadlifting I don’t do what most do and psyche myself up and get angry, I withdraw into myself.
Once I’ve been pushed out, my partner puts my straps on for me, my eyes are closed, I am not thinking about the crowd or the judges, all I’m doing is visualising the lift. Then eyes open, and I get the job done.
It’s the heaviest I’ve ever lifted; I’ve lifted it twice in training just before the Arnold but I had no one judging it so it could well have been a no lift.
The Physical Effects of Lifting Over Half a Ton
You move over half a ton with the lift – what stresses does it put on your body?
There is risk involved. It’s quite a weird feeling, you put so much pressure through your body. My head went purple because I was straining so hard. You’re basically putting your body on the line, as you would in any other lift trying a break a world record. Last year I tore the top of my pec doing a 520kg seated deadlift.
I’ve had issues with my shoulders for years doing it. My eyes go bloodshot, my vision goes hazy for about 2 hours after the lift. Because it was literally so heavy, I had a headache for 3 weeks, probably due to a little bleed in the
Will you go heavier?
Yeah of course I will, this is what I want my legacy to be.
Incredible! What did this lift mean for the sport?
I’ve been working hard to elevate the disabled side of the sport. Back when I joined 4 years ago we had to pay for hotels, flights and food, it was very expensive. We’re in a good place now we’ve got good sponsors but I’m putting my body on the line every time I do it, and at the moment I’m doing it for nothing. So the lift was so much more than me just lifting it, this was about making a statement. We might be disabled but we can still be bloody strong.
Agree! So, what does a typical training day for Martin Tye look like right now – how many times per week do you train?
I train every day during the week (Monday-Friday), for roughly 2-3 hours per day.
Each day I work a different muscle group and base the weights on how my body is feeling and what I’m training for. On top of this training I also aim to do specific Strongman training 2-3 times a week. In the lead up to a competition I will maintain my training however, I will give my body a couple of days to rest and recharge prior.
I always tend to tell myself that I’m going to have a light session, but by the end of it I’m lifting heavy! When you come to the disabled side of the sport there are so many different injuries or disabilities that we all train very differently.
I’ve got arthritis in my knees; I’ve got chronic pain and some days that’s pretty bad. I’ll be doing a chest session but then I’ll have to say I’ll leave it to later on in the week because I know it will be heavy.
I can pretty much do anything that an able-bodied person can do as long as it isn’t a leg session, that’s out of the question of course. When I bench press, I press with my legs up on the bench, that’s where we get our stability as we can’t drive through our legs.
Diet & Lifestyle
What are your preferred Top 5 go-to foods that give you the most energy for workouts, quick recovery and life in general?
Steak, pasta, chicken, protein shakes & yogurts.
How many calories approximately do you consume per day?
What is your favourite superfood?
Makes sense! What are your thoughts on yoga and do you meditate?
Yoga is excellent if you have the patience. No I don’t meditate.
Fun & Leisure
A few quick-fire questions now if we may. What’s one geeky thing about you that people don’t really know?
I love watching animal documentaries.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
Deadpool – unconventional just like me!
What are some of your hobbies?
Being a disabled water-skiing instructor, fishing
“Lord of the Rings”
On Reflection: Motivation & Closing Thoughts…
What’s Martin Tye’s proudest accomplishment so far?
Winning bronze in shot put at the Toronto Invictus Games – this was my first medal and it really hit home how far I had come since when I was first injured.
What are some of your future goals?
A 600kg seated deadlift record, Atlas Stone record
What’s a life quote or motivational saying that inspires and motivates you to be and do your best?
There is no reason to be alive if you can’t deadlift. Push it until you can’t no more and then push it again. – Jon Pall Sigmarsson
Finally, what special message would Martin Tye like to share with Keep Fit Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
Massive thank you to everybody that follows my story and to my sponsors for the outstanding work they do to keep me in my best shape. You guys mean everything to me.
Thank you, Martin, for your kind participation in this interview. We wish you every continued success with your upcoming competitions and other endeavours in strength!
We hope you found this interview with Guiness World Record holder, Martin Tye as stimulating and as thought-provoking as we did. What do you think of his comeback story of triumph over tragedy? You can follow him on Instagram, and Facebook. Do you have a story of your own to tell about how exercise, diet and positive thinking helped you change for the better? Let us know in the comments below and join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.