Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and His Trip to Motor City: Part 3

Published 1:53 am Friday, March 25, 2022

BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Bob Peoples was in Detroit, Michigan in 1948 looking to increase his world record deadlift from the already unfathomable 710 he lifted the previous year. His first lift for this event, of around 650 pounds, was easy enough, putting a smile on the face of both he and his friend, Bob Hise.
They plotted their strategy for their next attempt. We don’t have his exact numbers for this attempt from the meet, but by looking at his attempt selection from other meets, he probably chose a lift in the high 600s.
Most lifters prefer a lift 3-5% away from their final lift for their second attempt. Peoples, despite his many unconventional lifting approaches, seems to have often followed those general outlines.
That would put his lift somewhere around 685. Again, we don’t have the exact numbers, but we do know he completed that lift as well. No doubt the crowd was roaring when his svelte little 175-pound frame ripped up that nearly 700 pounds. No other lifter on the planet could hoist weights like that no matter their bulk.
As Peoples walked off the platform, he locked eyes with his friend and handler Bob Hise. It is always very important for a lifter to have someone he can trust with him at a competition. One may think that the lifter who is actually under the weight would know everything about his abilities, but that is not the case.
What sometimes feels fast to the lifter looks slow to the observer and vice versa. Sometimes the lifter does not notice small things like having one foot slightly out of place, the hips too high when the lift begins, or where their eyes are looking during the lift.
At world record weights, such simple elements can have a huge impact. A trusted handler or coach can really help the lifter understand what happened during a lift as they plot strategy.
The reason for this bizarre occurrence is simple biology. The body, as amazing as it is, runs like an electric machine. The body moves because electric impulses, originating in the brain, run down the spinal cord, into the nerves, and out into what are called motor units which control muscle contraction.
And just like an electric machine with wires, in this case nerves, certain scientific laws must be obeyed.
For a wire to carry more current, it must be bigger. Lifting heavy weights actually increases the thickness and diameter of the nerves. These nerves begin to carry so much electricity to turn on as much muscle as possible that the electricity can actually jump off the nerves to surrounding tissue.
So, the body insulates the nerves by adding a fatty substance called myelin to the outside of the nerve just like plastic over an electrical wire.
As a lifter grows ever stronger, he may be able to channel unprecedented amounts of electricity down certain nerves to activate the highest amount of motor units possible to create tremendous muscular strength. This causes the body to not use electricity for other needs such as hearing, seeing, etc.
Many lifters report blurred vision, seeing spots, losing hearing, drop in peripheral vision, etc. The very act of becoming incredibly strong actually impedes the lifter’s ability to properly survey his own lifting.
And as Peoples’ gaze met that of Hise, both men knew there was something wrong. Peoples didn’t feel great about the lift, and Hise soon informed him that the bar was a little slow off the floor. Sometimes it is very hard to tell if the lifter will be able to hit a limit lift during a meet, but Peoples was determined to try.
He didn’t drive all this way to bring his lifting prowess to entertain the people of this huge metropolis only to let them down. If there was one thing this town that was famous for its production power knew, it was metal.
They turned it into cars, I-beams for building materials, ships, trains, and so much more. SO the king of lifting heavy metal, was determined to give the crowd exactly what it wanted.
Peoples told Hise he wanted 719 on the bar. Hise was no doubt a little tepid about the call. Maybe this was not the time to attempt a new record. After all, attempting a weight never before lifted when the body was not at its peak is a recipe for injury.
Bob repeated himself, this time very forcefully. Hise knew that when Mr. Deadlift said it twice, there was no use arguing. He stepped to the table and informed them that Peoples would indeed attempt to raise his world record by another nine pounds.
Although not feeling his strongest, Peoples had confidence in a couple of things.
First, was his training. He made huge sacrifices to carve out the time for lifting, he had been using new techniques, and he had even invented new pieces of equipment to push his body beyond its limits.
He also had faith in himself. Peoples had never failed to raise his record at each meet he attended. Going back to his first competitions until the present, he was always able to manage a new personal record.
Peoples rested and prepared his mind for the battle ahead. One thing the lifter’s handler has to know is how to work best with his lifter. If the lifter wants to sit quietly and focus his mind, then that is what the handler does.
If he prefers to walk through his steps so that he doesn’t leave anything out, then the handler goes through the process step by step. And if the lifter needs a pep talk or an encouraging slap across the face, then that is what the handler does.
But two things were for sure, Peoples didn’t need any pep talks, and no one was man enough to slap Mr. Deadlift.
Destiny was set. It would again be these two old familiar foes. The lanky Tennessean with sinewy muscle and tendons like steel cables from years of scraping out a living in the mountain of East Tennessee and his arch nemesis, a pile of iron.
Peoples against the loaded bar yet again with a weight never officially attempted by any other human. One thing was obvious that night, there was no other person in that monstrous city of almost two million souls that would have any say in the matter other than Bob Peoples.
To be continued…

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