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Stonelifting Etiquette

Stonelifting is unlike most other physical activities.
And although stonelifting has gotten more popular over recent years, it’s still very niche.
Therefore, many people don’t know the general stonelifting etiquette or even that there’s etiquette at all.

David 'Tamotsu' Dunlap cleans dirt from a stone.
Cleaning dirt from a stone. — Image: David “Tamotsu” Dunlap.

Most stonelifters have a background in strength sports like strongman or powerlifting.
So they understand the gym etiquette that is deeply rooted in physical culture — like replacing weights, keeping equipment clean, and not curling in the squat rack.

Mountaineers also have a deeply ingrained code that you may have heard before:

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

Stonelifting’s etiquette is akin to both gym etiquette and mountaineering etiquette.
It’s about responsibility and respect for the stones and the land they sit on.
You must be aware of it and understand it before attempting to lift any historic stones.

Do your research

Stonelifting is a great activity. But nothing compares to stonelifting when
you understand the history and culture behind the stone you’re lifting.

Going in with a surface-level understanding is the biggest disservice you’ll do to yourself.
Don’t dive into a stonelifting tour with no knowledge just because you saw someone else lift them.
Figure out why you’re lifting the stone and why the stone is there — the meaning of it all.
Find your connection to the stones.

Research extends beyond the history and culture. Plan your trip. Make sure you’re able to
lift the stones you want to lift. Some stones require permission, or a booking in
the case of the Dinnie Stones.
And some stones need to be returned in a specific way.

Get permission

If a stone is kept by someone, or if it’s on someone’s land, the first thing you should
do before attempting to lift the stone is to ask for permission.
It’s best to contact them ahead of time to save you any disappointment if the stone
isn’t available to lift.

Not only is it just polite, but many people who look after these historic stones
love to meet lifters. Some help out, offer advice, and
ask you to sign a guestbook as a historic record of your attempt.

No tacky

Most people’s introduction to stonelifting is via Strongman and Atlas Stones.

Strongmen use tacky (a glue-like product) on their hands and forearms to stick to
Atlas Stones so that they can worry less about their grip.
If you’ve ever used tacky, you’ll know it is challenging to remove, not only from
yourself but also from the Atlas Stone and anything else you touch.

Tacky is not allowed when lifting natural stones. Ever.
A significant part of natural stonelifting is reading the stone and figuring out the best way to grip it.
Not only does using the tacky affect that part of lifting, but it also contaminates the stone.

Chalk, on the other hand, is acceptable to use.
But you should avoid dyed chalks and chalks containing ingredients other than magnesium carbonate.

Don’t drop the stone

Dropping the stone is the most common faux pas from new stonelifters. They will
post a video of their first historic stone lift, showing their accomplishment.
Disappointingly, the video ends with them dropping the stone from shoulder height
directly to the ground.

There have been instances where historic stones have been dropped and destroyed,
as was the case with the Wallace Putting Stone.

Sadly, it means that people’s carelessness has significant consequences. It’s not like
accidentally bending a barbell — you can replace barbells.
That’s not the case with natural stones.
If you destroy a stone, it’s gone forever, lost to history.

You must not drop the stone.

When training to lift stones, you should practise the eccentric portion of the lift
to carefully lower the stone down to the ground.

Some stonelifters carry pads
with them for extra care and safety, not as a crutch, but as an additional
supplement to the careful lowering of the stone.

Return the stone

Much like returning weights to the weight tree in the gym, you must return stones
to their resting position. This allows lifters to find the stones easily
and stops stones from gradually moving further away from their original location.

Take the Barevan Stone, for example. It sits next to
a stone coffin. Lifters move the stone away from the coffin when they
lift it to reduce the risk of damage.
Once the lifter finshes lifting, they return the stone next to the coffin, ready
for the stone’s next visitors.

For plinth stones, the stone is generally placed next to the plinth, like
the Saddlin’ Mare or the Puterach.
Once the lifter has finished lifting, they remove the stone from the plinth and
place it next to it on the ground.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. So remember — do your research.

We try to keep up-to-date information about specific details for visiting and returning stones.
Special considerations are noted in the stone’s article or on their map pop-up notes.

Teach others the etiquette

Part of what makes the stonelifting community so incredible is the passion and the care
people take to preserve and share stonelifting culture.
We want to keep developing that culture instead of letting it disappear.

The only guaranteed way of preserving these stones is to stop people from lifting them.
And given that’s not something we want, the next best thing you can do to mitigate the
impact on the stones is education! So share your knowledge and teach others how
to lift responsibly and respectfully.

Distilled into one word

If you could reduce stonelifting etiquette into one word, it would be respect.

  • Respect for the stone
  • Respect for the keepers of the stones
  • Respect for the land the stone sits on
  • Respect for the lifters that came before you
  • Respect for the lifters that will come after you
  • Respect for the culture
  • Respect for the history

It is a privilege to be able to lift the same stones that people have lifted
for centuries. Do not take it for granted.
As a stonelifter, it is your responsibility to preserve that.


A special thanks to Jamie Gorrian and David Brodlie for reading drafts of this article.

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