by Pete Vuono (1984)
In May of 1981 the heavyweight squat record was broken with a lift of 863. This was a monumental lift because it broke George Frenn’s immortal 853 American record of 12 years standing. Another longstanding record which has yet to be broken is the 675 American bench press record set by Jim Williams as a superheavyweight in 1972. Powerlifting fans are anxiously waiting to see who will break this record that has already stood for 10 years.
Although these two milestone lifts are great and the eclipsing of them exciting, they are anti-climactic compared to the 181-lb. deadlift record broken in 1972 with 730. This record of Vince Anello’s had erased a record which stood for almost 25 years. This was the amazing 725¾ deadlift of Bob Peoples, who is truly one of powerlifting’s greatest pioneers.
Bob Peoples was born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1919. His father was interested in gaining strength, and it was he who started Bob training at the age of nine years. During his teenage years, Bob followed a weight training routine written by pro wrestler Farmer Burns. He later followed routines published in Physical Culture magazine. When Bob was 18, he became interested in the deadlift. He made 350 shortly after starting deadlift training and 450 after one more year of work on the lift. Bob weighed only 165 and the year was 1937.
He entered his first contest later that year and totaled 515 in the three Olympic lifts. Bob trained for two more years and entered the Tennessee State Powerlifting Championships. There, he deadlifted 600 pounds.
Peoples continued to train and in planning for his routines he fashioned different training devices and equipment which became the prototypes and forerunners of today’s power rack.
Bob was among the first to employ heavy negative training in his routine. He would take a bar loaded with more weight than he could deadlift normally and slowly lower it to the floor, resisting all the way.
He was also the first man on record to train “extended deadlifts”. Bob constructed a very heavy duty table which he stood on. He then built a huge iron hoop which was large enough to engulf and fit around the table. Weight was attached to the iron circle which
Bob held each side of. He would then lower the ring over the table below foot level to develop power in the low pull.
Another first for Bob was the use of a type of gripping device made from iron hooks. This idea, of course, would later be replaced by straps.
The “cheating” or “bouncing” method was also refined and developed by Peoples. He would take a heavier than normal weight from his self-built power rack and then, by lowering and bouncing the bar off the floor or planks, he would achieve reps with this larger weight.
By 1946 Bob’s deadlift was up to 651¼ performed at the Tennessee State Powerlifting Championships. As part of his training regimen, he had taken sponge rubber pads, soaked them in liniment and wrapped them around sore knee, elbow and back joints to enhance his training. Thus, Bob created another first. He had become the first to utilize training wraps of any kind.
Peoples’ technique was never overlooked as he experimented with alternating, pronated, and supinated grips. He also experimented with inflated and deflated lungs and the position of the back. Bob decided on using deflated lungs and was a practitioner of the now-famous “humpback” method of deadlifting.
He was well aware of flat feet promoting better leverage long before the ballet shoes and gymnastics slippers came into vogue. He always deadlifted in stocking feet. This newly discovered knowledge in technique, coupled with painstaking hard work enabled Bob to deadlift 699 lbs. in the 1947 Mr. South Power meet.
He was also the first to create some now popular innovations in the squat. Bob was one of the first to do serious work with and utilize the “power” squat which is now used by virtually every powerlifter. Upon ascending out of a deep squat, Peoples would intentionally bend forward to utilize the combination of legs, hips and back. To further enhance this movement, he created a harness with a bar inserted through it. The harness encircled the shoulder and allowed the attached bar to “ride” almost halfway down his back. This provided a better center of gravity and thus allowed for a very helpful overload method.
In 1947 in Nashville, Bob deadlifted 710 lbs. and in 1948 had a near-miss with 719 in Detroit. His finest hour of occurred in 1949 in his home town of Johnson City. Peoples, while weighing 181, deadlifted 725¾. This was four times his bodyweight and certainly one of the greatest deadlifts of all time, especially considering Bob was a completely drug-free champion.
Even now this lift would rank third among light-heavyweights according to the Feb. 1982 issue of PLUSA. In fact, at the 1981 World Powerlifting Championships only five deadlifts made in the 181-220 pound classes surpassed the record Bob made 32 years prior.
Through his records, his determination, his great strength and his ingenious inventions, Bob Peoples will live forever in the power gyms of the world.