Bob Peoples by Luke Corcoran
When people talk about the greatest deadlifters of all time some familiar names will come up, from Bolton to Coan there has been some bar bending, record shattering and mind blowing deadlifts over the years. The feats of Andy Bolton or Ed Coan will be nothing new to readers of this blog. However, a less familiar is that of Bob Peoples. However no discussion of the greatest deadlifters of all time would be complete without mentioning the man known to some as “Mr. Deadlift”, Bob Peoples.
Unlike many legendary deadlifters Peoples was not a huge man, in fact he weighed around 180lbs, but the weights he lifted were huge: 728lb. What was also remarkable about Peoples was that he often deadlifted 4 or 5 days in a row, all at a time when the foam roller didn’t exist let alone some of the pharmaceutical enhancers that might make such an effort much easier. People’s was a farmer and years working long, hard hours on the farm built tremendous strength and stamina. He often trained after working for 8-10 hours a day lifting, dragging and pushing heavy equipment on his farm in Tennessee. What might now be called GPP was simply work to Peoples.
The story of Bob People’s lifting journey was born on August 2nd 1910. He began lifting at the tender age of 9. The young People’s started by lifting his father’s dumbbells and just about anything else he could lay his hands on that was heavy enough to challenge him. Much of People’s equipment was homemade such as 50 gallon drums that he filled with rocks. He also built was is considered by some to be the world’s first power rack. Peoples made the rack out of heavy timbers, and although initially used this to work his lockout for his Military Press and Jerks, he quickly adapted this to the Deadlift. Peoples used the rack to do a variety of deadlift movements from partial deadlifts to negative deadlifts. Using this setup Peoples pulled 900lb from the pins. He also built a bar similar to what is now known as a Trap bar, although his was round the effect was the same. He also did deadlifts stood on blocks and these deficit deadlifts built awesome strength off the floor.
People’s lifted in the era before powerlifting and many of his lifts were done at the end of bodybuilding shows as an exhibition lift or after competing in weightlifting meets. As a middle weight in 1937 he did a 150 pound press, a 160 pound snatch and a 205 pound clean and jerk in competition. His favourite and best lift was always the deadlift and at the age of 30 People’s won the Tennessee State Olympic Lifting meet then after a long days lifting made his official deadlift of 600lbs. Following this Peoples suffered from a number of illnesses including a severe kidney problem. These illnesses are the type of lay off which would see many other lifters drift away and forget lifting for good, but not Peoples. The demands of being a farmer during the war years also took their toll but following the end of the war at Tennessee State championships in 1946, Peoples lifting returned to the heights it had reached previously as he won the light heavy weight division with a deadlift of 651.25lbs at a bodyweight of 175lbs, which was a world record, beating Jack Hope’s record of 624.25lbs. In the same year Peoples passed the 700lb barrier, or at least he thought he had. After the lift the bar was weighed out at an agonising 699 pounds. It also turned out that he newspaper photographer who had turned up to catch the moment missed the lift so Bob did it again so he could get the photograph. Peoples did manage to did however break the 700lb barrier with a lift of 710lbs the same year. Bob’s top deadlift was 728 pounds at a body weight of 178 pounds. He did all his lifts with an overhand grip, and of course at that time there were no power suits.
Part of the key to People’s success, alongside his relentless work ethic, was his constant quest to perfect his form. Peoples would examine his form in a mirror over and over again, and would adjust and perfect his form accordingly. He kept meticulous notes and records of his training and his lifts. Eventually People’s perfected the form which he used to pull his biggest lifts that made him famous across America.
People’s form was unconventional and in his book “The Development of Physical Strength" he explained his reasoning behind it: "On October 4 I finally made a new world record Deadlift record of 700 pounds. At this time I was lifting on normally filled lungs. However, I then started lifting on empty lungs and with a round back - that is I would breathe out to normal, round my back, raise the hips, look down and begin the lift. I feel this is much safer than following the customary advice of the experts. By breathing out you lessen the internal pressure and by lifting with a round back you lessen the leverage - all of which adds many pounds to your lift.”
Peoples thought that this form, similar to that executed by Konstantinov in recent years, although difficult to execute perfectly gave him the best possible leverages to shift the immense weights he lifted over the years.
Peoples also used the hook grip favoured by modern deadlift greats Koklayev and Gillingham and also pulled with his legs almost completely locked out, wearing just socks for footwear with his head and eyes facing down. This motion according to him actually shortened the back, and the stroke, at the same time. Some of history’s greatest pullers used this style- Anello, Eisman and Gant although crucially they were all, like Peoples, built for the deadlift. All of People’s contemporary rivals were much bigger men. One of those was William Boone, another one of the best deadlifters around at that time. Despite weighing close to 100lb more than Peoples in their head to head battle Peoples came out on top with a 700lb deadlift to Boone’s 680lb. People’s biggest ever lift was 728lb at a deadlifting exhibition at a bodybuilding show.
A lasting part of People’s legacy is his inspiration to another great Strength Icon – Paul Anderson. Paul was so impressed by People’s strength that he once claimed that Bob could have, given enough time and training pulled 1,000 lbs. This might seem fanciful exaggeration but given a proper deadlift bar, a deadlift suit and using standard weights rather than the setup used at each and every one of Peoples’ massive pulls were performed using smaller 45lb and with extra weight literally tied to the bar so that it fit. 1,000lb might have been a stretch too far but who knows what Peoples’ limits could have been had he been born today? We can but speculate but what we can do for sure is to appreciate People’s legacy as one of the greatest deadlifters of all time.