Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wilbur Miller, Power Perfectionist - Art Smith

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15-year old Eddie Pengelly at 110 lbs.
repping with 300 in training.



Wilbur Miller, Power Perfectionist
by Art Smith (1966)


It had been raining a short time before teenager Wilbur Smith went on horseback after the mail. The horse slipped and threw Wilbur, injuring his back. This accident was to greatly influence his life by both hindering and helping him, as will be explained later.

During his high school day Wilbur lettered in football, basketball and track, and as a senior ran the mile in 4:33.6. Although he never accepted it, he was offered a track scholarship at the University of Kansas.

Wilbur was 23 and weighed a not-too-solid 205 lbs. when he first tried his hand at lifting and found that a 130 lb. press wasn’t too difficult. He then took up regular training in an effort to overcome the pain in his back. X-rays in recent years show an injured disc and occasionally his limit in lifting is determined by the pain he can endure, but here’s a most important fact: his back feels the best when he is doing deadlifts regularly and for that reason he seldom does much training without including some form of deadlifting. Now you can see why the accident has both hindered and HELPED him. He HAS to do deadlifts in order to keep his back in top shape. Other lifts won’t do the job.

Before we get down to exactly how Miller trains for the deadlift, mention must be made of his Olympic lifting for he has been ranked in the top ten of our heavyweights and is not a deadlift specialist in the sense of forsaking other types of lifting in order to spend more time on deadlifts. Wilbur puts a lot of effort on Olympic and totaled 1000 lbs. for the first time in 1964. His best lifts are press 315, snatch 315, and clean & jerk 385. He has his sights set on a 400 clean & jerk and should make it within the next year.


Now let’s discuss the training it took for Wilbur to become America’s best heavyweight deadlifter, on a pound for pound basis. In March, 1961, he set a new personal record of 584, but this was before he started training on the power rack. In less than 2½ years of power rack training he boosted his best lift from 584 to 700 lbs. His rack work consisted of doing 6 reps in a partial movement and then holding the last rep for 6 seconds.

After this, he didn’t seem to make much progress and felt he needed a change in routine. Around the first of 1964 he changed his rack work to 3 reps with a 12 second hold on the last one. This is the method that Bill March uses. Gains started almost immediately, both in bodyweight and strength, with most of his effort on Olympic lifting. On February 1, 1964, he entered a meet at Denver and totaled 950 for the first time. Then on March 25, less than two months later, he totaled 1000 at a meet in Cimarron, Kansas. This was a real gain, especially for a veteran lifter over 30 years old. His back was hurting besides, but he still managed a new deadlift record of 705 after the Olympic lifting. A few minutes later he said he wanted to try another one, so 725 was loaded on the bar. He did clear the floor with it but after already setting three regional records, and one unofficial national record, the desire was gone. It had been a great night.

Later in 1964 Wilbur pushed his record to 715 at the unofficial power championship in York, defeating the powerful Terry Todd for the deadlift honors. The following year saw Wilbur changing his training program once again and then lifting still heavier weights. At the 1965 national power championships at York Wilbur set a new personal record of 725 and came very close with 745, which would have won the deadlift event. As the reader may know the deadlift was won by Terry Todd, who did 740, but outweighed Miller by over 95 pounds!


Now let’s examine the training and the final poundages used that enabled Wilbur to do such outstanding deadlifting at the 1965 Power Championships.

His Monday deadlifting ay be summarized as follows:
245 x 5 (warmup)
425 x 2
520 x 2
580 for 3 sets of 2 reps
600 for 3 x 2
620 for 2 x 2

Wednesday was power rack day. He used 675 for 3 reps and a 12 second hold in the middle position, and then top deadlifts of 1 rep each using 800, 920, and 1000! It is worth noting that these were done WITHOUT straps.

Friday his schedule looked like this:
245 x 5 (warmup)
425 x 2
570 x 2
590 x 2
610 x 2
630 x 2
650 x 2

Bench presses and squats were also done with a similar routine. To help his starting power Wilbur did leg presses until about five weeks before the contest, and had earlier done low deadlifts on the rack and standing on a board to develop more starting power.


Here is one of the most valuable training tips I’ve ever hear. If a lifter is not progressing this one thing could mean the difference between success and failure. Wilbur suggests taking a short layoff every 4-6 weeks. He feels that a week’s layoff is too much so usually rest four or five days and then when he resumes training he is not only refreshed, but finds no decrease in strength and can start off where he left off.

Diet is of the utmost importance and so sometime ago Wilbur decided that he would have to have a better diet if he wanted to continue making gains. He drinks a gallon of milk daily when trying to gain weight and supplements with protein, vitamins, minerals and oils. He is also careful to eliminate the “foodless” foods from his diet.


A few words should be said about the importance of deadlifting positions. Some lifters go through terrible contortions in doing a deadlift. Enough to make even another lifter look the other way. But Wilbur is a real stylist in this respect and his deadlifts are a thing of beauty. In fact, at a meet in Dallas, Bob Hoffman came up to him and said, “I was always against deadlifts until I saw the way you do them.” After the 1965 Championships at York, John Grimek said, “He did all his lifts perfectly,” hence the appropriate title for this article – Power Lift Perfectionist! Wilbur starts the lift with his hips low, back flat and head up. It’s just like seeing a powerful spring uncoil.

Wilbur’s very positive mental attitude plays an important role in his continued improvement. Whenever he would hear of someone deadlifting heavier weights it just made it seem more probable to him that he could lift them too. And he has! But as he began lifting around the 700 pound mark there were no other active lifters doing this poundage in competition and this actually slowed Wilbur’s progress, as in his own words, “it was hard to make new records when no one else was lifting those poundages.” But now that there are other lifters handling record poundages this will only serve to stimulate Wilbur’s own progress.

Not only is his attitude positive toward weightlifting, but to all of life, and he combines this with a serious nature well tempered by a real sense of humor. It would be hard to find a person more dedicated to the sport than Wilbur is. His 240 pounds, well distributed over his 6’2” frame is a good example to the general public of what a weightlifter can look like.

After a weightlifting demonstration in high school, one girl said, “he didn’t look like I thought he would.” I couldn’t help but ask what she had thought he would look like. “Oh, short and fat with a bald head,” was the reply.

We have a few lifters of giant size around and while they may be wonderful people and even inspiring to other lifters, I don’t really feel they help weightlifting to grow in stature in the eyes of the general public or encourage a non-weight man to take up the game. We need more Wilbur Millers, not only in weightlifting but in all walks of life. It’s a privilege to be his friend and to be inspired by him.

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