Who was “MR. DEADLIFT” JOHN ROBERT PEOPLES?

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Bob Peoples was born Aug. 2nd, 1910 in Northern Tennessee. He was well known during the 1940’s and50’s for his incredible strength in the dead-lift and also contributed many of his workout programs and training articles to Perry Reders wonderful magazine “IronMan magazine.”

Bob Peoples began training at the age of 15, in 1925. He started by following aFarmer Burns coursefor three years, using a 60 and 75-pound dumbbell, before acquiring a barbell set at the age of 18, and commencing training with it. He also stated that no one in particular started him lifting, and that he always admired men who were strong and that his father was locally noted for his strength. He started lifting his fathers 50 pound dumbbell and anything else that would give him a challenge. He lived on a farm and trained outside or in one of the out buildings. Eventually he moved to his own house and had a gym in his basement that was referred to as The Dungeon.

THEDUNGEON bob peoples

When Bob started lifting he could deadlift 350 pounds and clean and jerk 160 pounds. He did not start out as a weak person. At first he followed no set system of training as he was unaware that there were actual training systems. Later he followed the advice given in the different lifting magazines of the day. When he did set up a course routine, it looked something like this:His first weights listed were a 500 deadlift, 150 press, 150 snatch, 215 jerk, 300 full squat, 125 bent press, and right arm jerk 150. He began really focusing on the deadlift, squat, and 3 lifts, starting a regular program at this point:

Warmup

Deadlift
Full squat
Press
Snatch
Clean & Jerk
Each for one set of 3-5 repetitions, using double progression (i.e. taking a working weight for 3 reps and progressing to 5 reps with it, before adding weight and starting over at 3).
Peoples did this daily for six weeks. His deadlift jumped to 540 and his C&J to 225.

Much of his equipment was homemade, although he did have a really nice Milo Duplex Barbell set. He would use 50 gallon drums that he would fill with rocks. Later he added a Jackson International Olympic set with plenty of extra plates. He was unhappy with his progress in the Olympic lifts. As a middle weight in 1937 he did a 150 pound press, a 160 pound snatch and a 205 pound clean and jerk. It was at this time he started to experiment with different training ideas and is credited with making the first power rack.

Peoples constructed a power rack with pins, straps, and holes every four inches. He wrote that “this apparatus is an absolute necessity for anyone training alone as I do.”He used this to deadlift 600 for the first time, in 1940. The program consisted of stiffleg deadlifts from a dead hang, conventional deadlifts from a dead hang, and conventional deadlifts from the floor, all for single reps increasing in poundage, and also ring weight deadlifts. Bob said that he believed he had too much variety for best results… but this was also the point in time he began thinking of making a world record in the deadlift.

Here are some more of Bob’s programs along with his notes:
Sample program from the summer of 1940.
Deadlift 450×1, 484×1, 519×1, 560×1, 584×1. Press 143×4, 153×2, 163, 173, 178, 183. This was one day’s workout. On the second day–
Half deep knee bend 300×4, 490×12, 530×6, 555×4. On another workout day–
press behind neck 123×5, 133×2, press 143×5, 153×2, bench press 153×6, 163×1, alternate press 70×5.”

It is curious that this is the only mention Peoples ever made of bench pressing in his training. He does not mention doing any regular work on this lift or even owning a bench; too, the poundage is rather low in comparison to his overhead presses. Perhaps he meant some other exercise–maybe standing incline presses, popular at the time, wherein a lifter would lean back against a board placed against the wall at an angle. Either way, this is likely where the rumor that ‘Peoples could barely bench his own bodyweight’ originated… but he could doubtless have done much more.

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Bobs most outstanding lift was the deadlift, and in 1940 after winning the Tennessee State Olympic Lifting meet he made an official deadlift of 600 pounds, which was a Southern record.

Bobs progress was interrupted by some health problems and during the war years the demands on farmers limited his training. However by the time of the Tennessee State championships in 1946, Bob was doing quite well and won the light heavy weight division with a deadlift of 651.25 pounds at a bodyweight of 175 pounds, which was a world record, beating Jack Hopes record of 624.25 pounds. Later that same year at a show put on by Bob Hise, Bob lifted 700 pounds, only to find out when the bar was weighed it was 699 pounds. The newspaper photographer missed photographing the lift so Bob did it again so he could get the photograph. Later that year he did break the 700 pound barrier with a lift of 710 pounds. He did not get official credit for this lift as it was not weighed, as was the rules at that time.

Bobs 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.

Other outstanding lifts that he made included deadlifting 500 pounds 20 times, a deadlift off of high blocks of 900 pounds, a 530 pound full squat, a 300 pound bench press, alternate standing press with a pair of 130 pound dumbbells, and cleaning a pair of 110 pound dumbbells for 10 reps.

He is in the U. S. Power lifting Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and the Upper East Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was also very active in local civic and political issues.

Bob Hise recalled that Peoples would “study his body leverages and gravity centers. He would take a bar in a starting deadlift position and view himself in a mirror and notice by the raising or lowering of the bar as he changed grips, using different height shoes, inhaling slightly, inhaling heavily, exhaling slightly, exhaling heavily and observing the positions and conditions that suited him best. He decided that the best position for him was rounded back, palms forward, hook grip and to lift barefooted and with a completely exhaled thoracic cavity….”

Bob was married for 53 years to Junta Wills People. They had one daughter. Two grand daughters and one great grand daughter. Bob passed away in 1992.

 

The Training Methods of Bob Peoples

Reprinted from April/May 1952 Issue of Iron Man

by Bob Peoples

[Editors note, by Peary Rader Most readers are aware of the great feats of deadlifting performed by the subject of this article. He eventually attained a lift of 725 pounds officially and has come close to succeeding with much more than this on numerous occasions. His bodyweight for these stupendous feats was usually around 180 lbs. and never exceeding 190 which made them still more amazing.]

His dead lift style is a little different than we usually feel is correct in that he performs his lifts almost straight legged. This style however, is not incorrect for him because his type of physique with rather long legs, short trunk and very long arms makes it the best style for him. On the other hand these very advantages for the dead lift work against him on the overhead lifts but still he has won many lifting titles on the standard lifts. We feel privileged to be able to reproduce his training programs and methods and equipment in Iron Man for the first time. Readers have often asked for such training programs of famous lifters of bodybuilders but so few of them keep records that it is difficult to assemble such facts about them.

Mr. Peoples is a very successful farmer in Tennessee and has his training interrupted often by seasonal work. He has never had the ideal training quarters and fine equipment that most of us enjoy. Most of his equipment was made on the farm. Most of his training has been done out of doors in his farm yard or wherever his weights happened to be at the time. In bad weather he trains in one of the outbuildings or in a cellar. Under such training conditions and without the incentive of training partners his accomplishments are nothing short of unbelievable. But now we let him tell his own story.]

When I started training I could dead lift 350 pounds and clean and jerk about 160 on the crude apparatus I had been able to make up. My first lifting instruction was obtained from an early article in Physical Culture by David P. Willoughby and from a copy of Calverts Super Strength.

My first weightlifting apparatus was made with a 1 1/4 inch bar and some wooden drums on the end into which I put weights of various sorts through a hole in the top. I later applied pins to the ends from which I could hang iron plates. This could be loaded up to 1,000 lbs. or more. I later purchased a Milo Duplex set and then added a Jackson International Olympic set plus a lot of plates of various sizes totalling well over a ton. At one time I had two 50 gallon drums on legs with a bar through them to practice carrying heavy weights on shoulders. The drums or barrels were loaded with rocks. [Ed. note: Sounds familiar, eh, guys?]

For some time I trained rather irregular on the five lifts, the dead lift and squat, as well as some strength stunts and played a year of football in college. Eventually, I began keeping notes and records of my lifting and training. The first of these is dated Nov. 1, 1935 and shows regular dead lift of 500, press and snatch 150, jerk 215, right arm jerk 150, left arm jerk 135, deep knee bend 300, bent press 125 and my bodyweight was 170.

About this time I worked out a regular schedule and worked daily on it for six weeks. I dont remember the weights used or the repetitions but do know my poundages went up the dead lift to 540 and jerk to 225.

I then drifted along until 1937 when I entered a contest at Chattanooga where I made 150, 160, 205 at a bodyweight of 163. This was my first experience in such contests and I didnt do too good. I trained in the back yard, or barn or wherever I decided to move my weights. I set up two posts in the ground and bored holes through them in such a way that I could load a bar up and finish dead lift height. From this I would take the loaded bar and do dead hang dead lifts which I found to be of great value in developing the dead lift. [Ed. note: In other words, he started at the top, lowered the bar, then pulled it back up.]

I also built what I called a ring bar. This was a large ring of steel to which I fastened two short bars (one on each side) on which I could load plates. I would stand inside this ring on a box and do lifts from a very low position, going into a full squat and bent over position. [Ed. note: a home-made trap bar.]

I have also fixed two posts in my cellar where I train in winter. These posts have holes bored in them about every 4 inches. I insert pins in these holes to hold the weights at the desired height for various types of lifts. I also have holes on the sides of these posts into which I insert pins to support a pipe or bar with the other ends of pipes or bars resting on a sawhorse at the proper height.

I feel this apparatus is an absolute necessity for anyone training alone as I do. I insert the pins in the proper holes for a quarter dead lift for instance, so that when I load the bar up it will come just below the kneecaps. I take the bar in hands and step back and do my dead lifts. I also find that the pipes on the pins and horse work very well for this. If the pipes (or, preferably, steel bars) are strong enough, you can do dead lifts on them at any height and they work well for the called hopper dead lifts for you can lower the bar fast and get a good rebound from them.

I also use this set up for the deep knee bend. You can set the supporting bars at any height and do almost all the power lifts known, such as half dead lifts, half squats, half supine presses, short pull cleans or snatches and a lot of others too numerous to mention.

You will also see me in one photo using a supporting device I made for the jerks, short presses, etc. I fastened two strong leather straps to two posts at the proper height as shown. I load the bar up to a very heavy poundage and get under it with straight arms and stand erect with it, holding it for several seconds then lower it and repeat again after a rest. This gives great supporting power in the jerk position. To develop locking out power you can lower the weight slightly bending the arms a little then straighten them out and lock them tight. You should do about 6 reps of this. If you wish you can also apply longer straps (or bolt chains to the posts if you prefer) and these will allow you to get into the low split and take the weight on straight arms and stand erect. The advantage of having the supporting chains or straps fastened to these posts is that you can slide the bar up the posts as you come erect and it helps you maintain your balance and concentrate more on the power developing phase of the exercise rather than divide your attention between balancing and lifting as is the case when using loose chains suspended from the ceiling.

I have tried a lot of different training stunts over the years in an effort to develop more strength. I will try to describe some of them for you and tell you the ones that were successful and those that were not.

In an effort to improve my press, I rigged up a hand stand machine. This however, didnt work out and my press remained the same. I also tried a rowing inaehine adjusted to about 500 lbs. in an effort to localize the blood circulation in the hip area but this too failed.

From 1937 to 1940, I trained rather irregular but gradually gave more attention to the dead lift, which was becoming my favorite lift. I usually used the reverse grip and 3 to 5 reps usually with several sets. One program I remember well was composed of the stiff legged dead lift with dead hangs, the regular dead lift with dead hangs, and the regular dead lift with single reps, working up in poundage. I used heavy weights in all the exercises. I also used the ring weight dead lift. I improved my dead lift to 600 lbs. on this program but believe I had too much variety for best results. This lift was made at the 1940 Tennessee State Championships. It was then considered a Southern record. I was now beginning to think of a world record in either the light heavy or the heavyweight class.

Here is at sample program of the summer of 1940. Dead Lift 450 lbs. times 1 rep, 484 x 1, 519 x 1, 560 x 1, 584 x 1. Press 143 x 4, 153 x 2, 163, 173, 178, 183. This was one days workout. On the second day, I would do Half Deep Knee Bends 300 x 4, 490 x 12, 530 x 6, 555 x 4. On another workout day, I did Press from Behind Neck, 123 x 5, 133 x 2. Press 143 x, 5, 153 x 2, Bench Press 153 x 6, 163 x 1. Alternate Press 70 x 5.

During 1941 and mostly in the summer, I worked again on the three lifts and also the leg press, deep knee bends and dead lift. I did mostly dead hang lifts in both stiff legged and regular style. After this training period I did a 630 dead lift, 400 deep knee bend, 170 press, 190 snatch, 260 clean and jerk and a 290 clean.

I trained very irregular in 1942-3 and missed 5 months straight due to a serious set back. After this I was pretty weak and my dead lift had dropped to 400. My back strength did not seem to come back very fast and I seemed to have lost the technique. My leg strength came back rapidly, however. In July of 1943 I finally did a half squat (dropping about I foot) with 635, which was a personal record for me. Also did 7 reps with 600, and still later in August I made 10 reps with 600. I also experimented with the three quarter deep knee bend but without any improvement.

My dead lift began to slowly come back up and in September I did 500 again and my press came up to 185, snatch with 195. On September 21, I did a dead hang lift with 600. Also a half knee bend with 675. October 21 I did a full squat with 410. I snatched 190 without any foot action. My Olympic total had come up to 642 1/2 and all lifts seemed to be responding. My program was still the sameusually 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps with each Lift.

On up to 1944 I continued to progress and found that my strength gained more then anything else for I finally reached a half deep knee bend with 725 lbs. I did a dead hand dead lift with 625 and 2 reps with 600 in workout.

In February 1945, and still working on the press, snatch, jerk, alternate press, squat and dead lift I made further progress using the following schedule. February 1, Squat 350 x 10 and alternate press. February 2, Squat 400 x 2, alternate press two 80 lb. dumbbells 7 reps each. February 3 squat 400 x 3. February 6 alternate press 90 x 4. February 7 half squats at 600 x 7, alternate press 90 x 5. February 8 dead lift 450 x 5. dead hang dead lift 600, press 170 x 4, 180 x 3, jerk 230 x 2.

February 10, dead lift 500 x 3, dead hang dl 600, snatch 180 x 4. press 180 x 3. Fcbmary 11, half squat 650 x. 1, alternate press 90 x 6. jerk 230 x 4. February 12, dead lift 500 x 4, dead hang dl 600, press 180 x 4, snatch 180 x 4.

You will note that I did not use any set schedule but varied the program between the lifts according to the way I felt, some days doing just one lift and on others doing several. Most of the time I worked every day but never did more than 3 to 5 reps in any lift. I followed this typo of program throughout 1945 with slight variations and finally worked up to 475 squat, 217 1/2 press, total 670.

Due to more responsibilities and work in 1946 I missed 6 months at training but started again in July to attempt a world record in the dead lift for the 181 lb. class. I trained as follows. I used the three olympic lifts and then worked on the dead lift; starting with about 350 lbs. for 3 reps and adding weight in 50 lb. jumps until my limit was reached. I trained daily in this manner. [Ed. note: go back re-read that paragraph very carefully.]

In September I lifted in the Tennessee State meet and made 185 press, 220 snatch (state record) and clean and jerk of 230. The jerk was always hard for me due to my extremely long arms though the clean was very easy due to my powerful back. At this same meet I made a record dead lift of 651 1/4 at at bodyweight of 175 so you see I had made good progress on this lift.

I trained regularly until the end of the year making the following personal records Press 221 1/2, snatch 221 1/2, jerk 265, total 700. My 651 1/4 dead lift was performed with reverse grip and rounded back and full lungs. More about this later. In July, 1947, I did a squat of 440 x 3 and just missed doing 480. I did a dead lift of 600 x 5. I was finding it difficult to hold the weight in my hands for high reps. and often had sore hands, so I fashioned a device to tie my wrists to the bar for repetitions. This was composed of a couple of hooks with wrist straps.

I started on another heavy daily schedule similar to the one outlined above using the same lifts and training daily and on July 18 did Press 120 x 3, 140 x 3, 160 x 3, 180 x 3, 200 x 3, Dead lift 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, 550, 600 all three repetitions each then did 660 once for a new personal record. I continued this way each day working hard on dead lift and either the press or snatch each day, occasionally doing some half squats until August 2 when I finally made a dead lift with 675.

On August 6 I did a dead lift of 650 then did 700 off the floor. On August 14 I did 600 x 7 in dl and just missed a 500 deep knee bend. On September 3 I finally made a 680 dead lift, and on September 4 I made a 500 deep knee bend.

On October 4 I went to Chattanooga YMCA for the Bob Hise show and warming up with 350 x 4, 450, 550, 610, 660 I finally made a new world record with 700 lbs. At this time I was lifting on normally filled lungs. However I than started lifting on empty lungs and with at round back that is I would breath out to normal then do my dead lift. I feel this is much safer than following the customary advice of the experts to take a deep breath and than dead lift.

Breathing out you lessen the internal pressure and by lifting with a round back you lessen the leverage all of which helps add many lbs. to your lift. I realize this style may not work well with everyone but in my case it seems ideal. I have used the reverse grip and also the over and will experiment with it a while to see if it helps. To date I have made a 225 press, 230 snatch and 271 clean amd jerk as well as 530 deep knee bend. At slightly over the light heavy weight class limit I have been making in the neighborhood of a 725 dead lift recently. I have ambitions of pulling up towards 800 some day.

My more recent dead lift records have been made with more limited training. I dont necessarily think the limited training is better but and just didn`t have time to devote to a larger program. I use the regular dead lift and a half dead lift (the upper half) and at one time used the dead hang lift but didn`t use it long enough to prove it. Im firmly sold on its value, however.

The practice of holding heavy weights in the hands in the finish position is very important. The use of hooks strapped to wrists will help on repetitions because your grip usually gives out before anything else. Always be sure your grip is strong enough to make your single attempts for records.

I tried a Hopper that I made especially for the lift but did not use it enough to give it at fair trial as far as results were concerned. I used two auto wheels on a bar and stacked weights around them. This gave a good hop or bounce.

Another method of training that gave me good results was to alternate between dead lifts and the squats. Id work on the dead lift alone for a time. Id start out with single attempts and work up to my limit. I would work at this every day until I began to go stale, then I quit the dead lift and went to work on the squat with the same system, and so on back and forth. This system gave me very good results. [Ed. note: Again, go back and reread this paragraph.]

I think a training schedule should he built around the individual, especially in advanced work. I have never used the set system as far as high reps are concerned, but liked a system of low reps and working up to my limit, This seemed to work much better for me. I am no authority on diet but feel much better and do a great deal better lifting when well fed. I dont generally favor irregular training although Ive done a lot of it by necessity. I do not approve of long layoffs although I feel rest periods of a week or so at intervals are helpful and even necessary. I favor a daily training program for myself as long as I can get away with it.

Another thing which most people seem informed wrong about is the age at which a man ceases to improve. It always amuses me to hear people at 30 say, Oh, Im getting to old for that sort of thing. I feel a man can continue to improve until he reaches a pretty advanced age compared to the general opinion.

I sincerely hope that what Ive been able to tell you about my training, rambling as my remarks have been, will be of some help to readers of Iron Man. I could have given more of my workout programs but they all follow the same pattern as outlined above that is, daily training with a few exercises and working up to limit poundages and 3 to 5 reps. Half movements have always been an important part of my training for power. Such movements as half squats (deep knee bends) and half dead lifts, etc., are very important in developing strength for heavy weights.

DownloadDeadLift Basics.

Until Next Time, God Bless.

I.A.A.M.

  • Nice article. I will download the dead list program here along with taking notes from Pepole’s dead lift routine from the Ironman magazine article.

  • Thats great Lewis. The program will help you in gaining strength on the dead-lift.