Why Superheavy Lifters Must Train Differently (with Alejandro Medina)

I’ve seen the estimate a few times. You can get it to hang on a little bit with snatch. You could see it’s not the same, though. The ease isn’t the same. They’re diving under there and they’re barely…But dead right, they’re hitting the same kind of…You see it often.

Today I’m talking to 2022 Pan Am Medalist, 2022 National Champion, and 2020 American Open Champion in weightlifting Alejandro Medina. Alejandro is a former college football player who found weightlifting and has a wide experience across weight classes, and he currently competes as a superheavyweight. We talk about Alejandro’s unconventional first few years of training, along with what it’s really like to train in weightlifting’s heaviest bodyweight category. Spoiler alert: supers have to train much, much differently from most other weightlifters, and that’s a misunderstood topic even in some weightlifting circles. As one of America’s strongest weightlifters, Alejandro certainly has firsthand experience.

Alejandro Medina BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Tao talks to Alejandro Medina about:

  • Alejandro’s sports background (1:40)
  • How Alejandro found weightlifting through his college roommate (3:30)
  • Setting a new bodyweight PR (7:30)
  • Why Alejandro decided to move up several weight classes (and how Olympic weight categories impacted that) (11:00)
  • How superheavyweight athletes have to dial back volume while increasing intensity (13:30)
  • The downsides of higher bodyweight categories (16:30)
  • The issues with maintaining bodyweight (19:00)
  • Upcoming competitions for Alejandro and Olympic qualification (22:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


 Even now, I don’t feel like I weigh 295 or 293, whatever, 133 is 290 range. I feel like I’m long. I have a long wingspan, long torso. Even at 109, I didn’t feel filled out.


David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today, I’m talking to 2022 Pan Am Medalist, 2022 National Champion, and 2020 American Open Champion in weightlifting, Alejandro Medina.


Alejandro was a former college football player who found weightlifting and has had a wide experience across several weight categories. He currently competes as a super heavyweight.


We talk about Alejandro’s unconventional first few years of training, along with what it’s really like to train in weightlifting’s heaviest body weight category.


Spoiler alert, supers have to train much, much differently from most other weightlifters. That’s a misunderstood topic even in some weightlifting circles. As one of America’s strongest weightlifters, Alejandro certainly has firsthand experience, so let’s hear it from him. Hope you enjoy the show.


Alejandro, thank you for joining us. For those who aren’t familiar with you as a monstrously strong weightlifter, give us a little bit of your background in lifting, sports, and how you got to where you are today.


 I started off doing a lot of sports growing up, played basketball, football, did track, wrestling.

David TaoDavid Tao

You were a quadruple threat, basically?

I did track and football in high school, and then other ones I stopped around eighth grade. I did everything in middle school and then tried to take a couple more serious steps towards less sports into high school.


We played a lot. I did MMA lessons for all of high school. I never actually fought, but I would spar a lot and was pretty active in all different sports and lot of the strength sports as well, doing powerlifting on the side, football as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Did you play any sports actively after high school, before you got into weightlifting full time?

I did college football for a semester, and then I dropped out. That’s how I got into weightlifting full time, wanted to stay competitive with something. I obviously can’t play football or basketball or any of those NCAA sports outside of the NCAA.


Weightlifting, my roommate was the co-captain of the weightlifting team they had there. I got lucky going to a college to play football, but they had 13 weightlifting platforms and a weightlifting team, so one of the bigger weightlifting clubs in a sport that’s pretty niche.


I got lucky. My roommate just happened to be on the team, and he got me into it at that point. I had already been lifting for football, so it made sense.

David TaoDavid Tao

Tell us about those early days of weightlifting. Obviously, lifting for football, powerlifting on the side, you might be familiar with power cleans, hang cleans, things like this. You add in the actual weightlifting movements, the snatch and the clean and jerk, it can throw some people for a loop.


What was that initial learning curve like for you?

It was definitely hard because we did a bunch of power cleans and back squats to a horrible depth, above parallel. I’d never done a snatch or a jerk or anything like that.


I was late with my registration for the dorm and all that, so I didn’t get stuck with the football team. That’s why they put me with a different person. When I put my interests in, I put football, sports. I put power cleans, deadlifts, bench, I put all this stuff in my interests, so that’s how I got paired with someone like that.


Then he’s like, “Oh, you do cleans? That’s cool.” I’m like, “Yeah, I do powerlifting,” or whatever it is. He’s like, “Do you do snatches?” and I’m like, “I don’t know what that is.”


He was my roommate at the time. We’re still good friends. He was a 67 kilo, 61 or something, whatever the weight class was in 2014, and snatching 100 kilos. He showed me a snatch, and he dives under it. I was like, “I don’t know what that is, bro.”


I was like, “That’s different.” CrossFit wasn’t super popular yet and the movements weren’t as known as they are now. They’re not crazy known, but they’re a little bit more than what they were in 2014, 2013. I had no idea.


In the beginning, my goal was to get better than him. I’m weighing 100 kilos, and he was 60 something. I tried to catch up to his snatch and then at least be the best weightlifter in our dorm room and then be the best weightlifter in the school and then in the state and then try to do nationally, internationally. I kept striving to be the best with whoever I was around.


I got lucky with a roommate who was pretty involved with weightlifting.

David TaoDavid Tao

Was he coaching you at first? Was he giving you pointers? After you decide, “Hey, this is something I actually want to try.” Where was your first coaching structure?

It’s weird because, actually, he didn’t coach me. I didn’t have any coach. I dropped out of school shortly, in December, so I was only there for about four months.


I was trying to play football and I would dabble with snatch and clean and jerk, just to be better than him, with the desire to be better than him, be competitive with my roommate. I didn’t really get into it until after.


That was in Wisconsin. I didn’t finish. I got dismissed from school December, and then I came back down to Miami and found a coach, and I was in CrossFit gym for a little while. If you go back to my videos in 2015, techniques really, really bad. I didn’t really have the proper guidance at that time.


There’s definitely a really big learning curve there.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who was your first coach?

 I guess technically, would be Dom, which was the owner of that CrossFit gym, and he would give me old Baltic condo, and like Greg [inaudible 6:04] stuff. It was all catalysts like templates. That’s what I started doing for the first four or five months.


Then I found another coach, because I wanted someone who was more weightlifting oriented, and not a Cross Fitter, who is also doing pretty much the same stuff. It was like recycled catalyst things, and a lot of 10s and backsplash and eights and complexes and things that I don’t do now, and then his name was Joe Biden.


Then I went through a couple of different coaches, local coaches here, like no coaches that you would probably know the names of, and that up until about 2018, 2019, I joined another team.


At that point, I was like, “Hey, dude, I coach myself. I program for myself, I actually have a team name and someone to count for me, and I’ve been doing that pretty much for the past four years now, three or four years.”

David TaoDavid Tao

When was your first meet and where was it? How did it go?

2015 in April, and I took first in a division with two people in it.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] You just had to beat the other guy.

I was guaranteed a silver medal because it was a smaller local meet, but big enough to where they divided the juniors between the seniors. In junior weight classes and 90, 94. At the time, it was just me and one other person. I snatch 95 kilos, and I clean and jerk 141.

David TaoDavid Tao

Just to give a sense of evolution. What’s your bodyweight category now and what are your best competition numbers now? Seven years later.

I woke up this morning being the heaviest I’ve ever been in my entire life.

David TaoDavid Tao


Oh, wow. I guess congratulations on the bodyweight PR.

Yeah, I’m trying to get into that 140 range for Pan Am next year but I weighed 133 this morning which is 292, 293-ish, somewhere right around there. I’ve gained about 100 pounds since that first meet. It hasn’t been linear though. It was very up and down. I got pretty skinny and then heavy again, skinny, heavy again. It’s been a whole thing.


Then my best snatch is 172. My best clean and jerk is 208. Snatching quite a bit more than I was clean and jerking when I first started.


David TaoDavid Tao

Which is always a fun thing to look back on, your life. You’re like, “Oh, I can do my…I could snatch my old clean and jerk for a triple.” Not that we would ever ask a super heavy to do a tray on the snatch. [laughs]

I’ll do chip off the box every now and again.

David TaoDavid Tao

Just to spice it up, cardio.

Yeah. A trip off the foreign snatch, I haven’t done for years. [laughs] Like actual years.

David TaoDavid Tao

When was your first national level meet? When did you first qualify?

2017 unis, University Nationals.

David TaoDavid Tao


Then I qualified at University Nationals for my first nationals after. At that national, I took 15th. It was a good year.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re on the national scene, but you’re not necessarily someone who’s competing for medals just yet. Was there a point after that?


Do you remember it was at a particular competition, training session, training block, where you were like, “Wait a minute, I can be elite here.” I could actually maybe make a run for it for a US team, which is very much where you are right now.

From the beginning like 2014, to be honest, the second that I found out about weightlifting. There was a moment like 2017 unis, but from the day that my friend showed me weightlifting, I was already looking at everybody’s American records.


What is this person here looking at? I’m already thinking, “Oh, I could do these numbers” when I’m like, “I have no idea what it actually took at the time,” but I’m ready. My mentality has always been like, I can do it.


I was snatching 90 kilos, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m sure I could do like 170.” Whenever the time comes, I already had my mind set to like 2020 Olympics, at that point in time, which obviously didn’t happen.


I can’t get that good that quick, but I’ve always had the mentality from the jump of “I can do this at a high level.” Then 2017 unis, that was my first national competition ever, and I medaled. That’s when I realized I can really do this.


I’m lifting with a bunch of guys, that have been lifting for longer than me their whole life and they can’t. Some of them don’t qualify, some of them can’t. None of them could meddle.


I’m not trying to talk down to them, they’re all good friends of mine. That’s when I realized I just jumped in here late and I’m meddling at. I thought university was a little bit of a bigger deal than it was at the time, but I was so hyped. That’s still one of my favorite meets to this day and we were talking about earlier hitting your old numbers now.


I hit a silver medal clean and jerk at 172 at that meet. My first national medal, my first national meet, and then I posted about it. My first international meet, I snatched 172 for a first silver international medal and my first international meet, so it was cool. Little timeline there about five years apart.


David TaoDavid Tao

When did you decide to move up to Super heavies? Because you started you said as a 96, right?

Yeah, I was bouncing around between 85 and 105 at the time. Even now, I don’t feel like I weigh 295 or 293, whatever, 133 is 290 range. I feel like I’m long. I have a long wingspan, long torso. Even at 109, I didn’t feel filled out.


I figured the only way to continue to move more mass is to put more mass in my body. I want to get into that. I would love to snatch 190 and finish at 230 at some point in my life, at the very least 180, 220. I think those numbers in a way class would never fall.


Now, with my body type, I feel like I can still fill out more. I’m heavy, I’m overweight, obviously. I’m packing on a lot of fat, but I still feel like there’s a little bit more to be able to gain through Super, through being a Super, then I would be able to do it at 109.


Even then, and to make it even easier for me, 109 to take it out of the Olympics. My goal is to go to Olympics 2024. It’s 220, which I feel very thin at 220 or 290 competing at 350, 360, whatever. Early 2020. End of 2017, I went to Super for a few months, competed as Super, and then cut back down to 89 and played football again in 2018.


I went back to school, played football for a little bit, and then quit again, and then went back to weightlifting in 2019 and then became a Super again in 2020.


David TaoDavid Tao

You don’t often see that transition from Super down to 89 kilo lifter.

 No, you don’t.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a pretty significant weight loss. [laughs]

I wasn’t a true Super obviously, but I got up to a peak that’s 260. 260 is 118. I wanted to compete against somebody that was super heavy. We weren’t talking shit, but the club he was from was. It was a little bit of hostility there and I’m like, “I’m going to beat this guy.” He was like an actual Super, I didn’t beat him.


I out snatched him but [inaudible 13:09] , so I didn’t win. That was the first time I moved to Super and then in 2020, I moved to Super again with more of the thought process that I just explained, like wanting to go to the Olympics, wanting to snatch 190 or range to 230 and get to numbers that I don’t think that I’m capable of out of weight class.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some of the things that changed about your training, if anything, as a Super compared to someone in one of the lighter bodyweight categories?


I do less.


I don’t do a lot of volume. I keep the intensity pretty high. It’s been pretty gradual, so it’s hard to see. It wasn’t like a hard drop off of volume as I slowly gained weight. Some days I feel like I recover slower, mostly getting heavier. My metabolism is a little bit slower.


The test is probably a little bit lower, all the extra bodyweight. I feel like I could still look heavy, but I do it a little bit less. The last block, I started my volume block of squatting with fives. I’m like, “You know what, we’re not even doing fives anymore,” because I’m feeling like I can’t recover from.


I’m pretty much always doing doubles, triples and singles now back squat, and then I don’t go above doubles for clean and jerk or snatch other than you talked about the occasional triple and that would be light. There’s definitely a pretty big drop off. I do programming and coach a couple of athletes.


My girlfriend is a 59 kilo, and she almost gets double the amount of volume that I get. It’s pretty drastic.

David TaoDavid Tao

That is interesting. What kind of training frequency are you working out right now?

Right now I train five days a week. When I was training with Fernando Reyes, I was training nine days a week.

David TaoDavid Tao

They’re only seven days in a week, so I’m assuming you’ve doubled up some of those times.


Twice on Monday, twice on Wednesday and twice on Friday. Once on Saturday, once on Thursday. Is that nine? It doesn’t sound right. Twice on Monday, and one on Tuesday morning. Two days Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then single sessions Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.


Now I do all one session and I rest on Thursday as well now.

David TaoDavid Tao

Sounds like something maybe a little bit more sustainable, able to recover from a little bit better.

It’s a lot more sustainable. I don’t have someone like Fernando to push me anymore. At that time I was like, “Whatever this guy does, because he’s an Olympian, he’s been there, he knows what he’s doing, I’m going to do whatever he does.”


I did my own programming, but I would walk in there, and if he’s doing something, we figured things out. Neither me or him were writing anything down on paper, both would show up and trained. He had an idea of what he was doing already in his head because he’s been doing this for 20 years.


I’ve gotten better post that part of my lifting. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes you have to do less. I’ve done far less these past six months than I’ve done the two years prior, and the progress has been substantially more. It’s important for your coach to know that as well.


That’s the thing that I feel like a lot of the American coaches don’t have a lot of knowledge of. That’s another reason why I don’t like being programmed by any of these coaches because they give me this 70, 75 percent of a ton of volume and my body breaks down, and then I get weak and I don’t get stronger.


I feel like there’s not a lot of good super heavies in America. There’s Kane and there’s Keiser. Most clubs don’t have a very high-level super, and most coaches especially like my coach, he works up in Vero Beach, and he’s halfway lifting but half high school.


He’s working with a lot of high school girls, a lot of 59 kilos, a lot of 64 kilos. I feel a lot of coaches get consumed by coaching those weight classes when the way you program for someone that’s almost 100 pounds is a complete 180.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s funny. One of my first coaches, when I was weightlifting, that was my focus. This was over a decade ago to date myself. He was a Super, and he had a pretty darn great career as a junior Super youth and junior Super. Then he got injured, transitioned out of weightlifting for a while and transitioned back in.


That’s something he said. That’s one of the first things I ever learned about weightlifting, because I’d dropped a bunch of weight before getting into weightlifting. He was like, “You can go back up to Super.” What I learned was called Super, but your training will be a lot different.


I was like, “Oh, why is that?” He’s like, “The heavier you are, the slower your recovery time, and you also carry around more weight. Your body has to adapt to being larger, so it metabolizes…” The things you’re saying. It metabolizes slower, it recovers slower. Sometimes your sleep is impacted. Sometimes you can’t digest things as well.

I’m more congested and my digestion is horrible.


It’s like, I’ve tried to figure out, “What’s wrong with me?” It’s got to be some solution. It’s like, “Oh, being fat’s not healthy, so you got to deal with some things that are not going to be amazing.” The inflammation in my nose is more drastic, so when I’m sleeping at night, I’ll be congested. The inflammation in my stomach, everything.


You’re overeating, under sleeping, and like you just said, not recovering in metabolism. Metabolism is generally the heavier you get, slower it gets. Then the big one is testosterone. You generally like lean body mass is good for having higher testosterone. The fatter you get, chances are your test is probably dropping as well.


All these things factor in and even though you’re bigger, you have more mass, [inaudible 18:42] mass, you’re stronger. There’s so many other variables that need to be counted in that you can’t keep the same thing you’re doing when you’re 80, 90 kilos.

David TaoDavid Tao

I like how you admit that. I mean, it’s not a sustainable lifestyle forever. You…

No. I don’t want to be this heavy. I posted a picture two days ago in 2018 when I quit to play football, I went back down to 89, I was trying to go back to playing corner. My body likes to sit around 190 to 200 or, 220 on the heavy side. My body clearly does not like being above 290 pounds, it’s super hard to maintain.


I don’t feel great eating the things that I have to eat in order to get to this weight class. I eat really lean and I eat clean food, but that’s why I have to eat so much. It’s not ideal, I don’t want to do it past…I’m going all or nothing. I’d love to go to the Olympics 2024. I’d love to qualify. There’s a lot of things have to happen, I have to be Kaiser and Pan Am’s.


There’s top 10 in the world weight class or you could be continental champion and then you have to go to five or seven meters. There’s a lot of things and it’s not an easy or given but there’s a chance. I’m sending it off of that.


Then after 2024, unless things are going well and I can make a couple more role teams or a couple more panning into Super. The plans to go back to 109 and put my health first.

David TaoDavid Tao

For sure. It’s always interesting when I hear people who drop from Super to a Lighter bodyweight category. I mean, they’re clean jerks almost always drop.


Oftentimes, you’ll see people basically hit the same snatch numbers, which is interesting because they get faster and their positioning improves a little bit and they maintained enough strengths to still do their old snatch numbers.


They just become one of those weird athletes at snatching within 10 kilos of what they’re clean and jerking, basically. [laughs]

I’ve seen the estimate a few times. You can get it to hang on a little bit with snatch. You could see it’s not the same, though. The ease isn’t the same. They’re diving under there and they’re barely…But dead right, they’re hitting the same kind of…You see it often.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are the competitions that are in your immediate sights right now? Obviously, we won’t go into that. That’s a separate podcast. You had a podcast on that.


It’s a very complex qualification system to get to the Olympics these days, especially because there are fewer Olympic bodyweight categories than there are bodyweight categories in international weightlifting.


That creates a lot of complications. That’s basically what people need to know right now. What are the competitions you’re training for in your sights right now?

American Open, and then most likely the Arnold. A quick point about the Olympics though. They did change the qualifiers this year though. They are a little more straightforward, and it is…I’m not disliking [inaudible 21:25] . Essentially, go to five of the seven meets that are mandatory and be one of the best three athletes in the country.


It’s not exactly like that, but it’s a little more of, if you’re the best, you get to go. As opposed to in the past, it was with Robi Points, and it was a little bit more of, who can go to more competitions and collect more points. It was a little weird. They changed it up, and it makes a little more sense now. That is good.


Immediately, it would be American Open and most likely Arnold. I’m assuming that the Arnold will be a last-chance qualifier for Pan Am’s. That’s going to be one that you need to go, and you need to be on that Pan Am team to go and try to win Pan Am’s to try to get into the Olympics. Those are the two most immediate ones.


The American Open should be a lot of fun. It looks like it might be more competitive than Pan Am’s was.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re talking about the American Open finals at Atlanta a little in December. I’ll be there. I’ll be doing common commentary.


David TaoDavid Tao

I’ll try to get onto your session. That way, it’s always nice. It’s always nice when I can do a session for someone I’ve talked to.

 That’ll be cool because they don’t care about supers. I’m going, and they’re packing up the warm-up platforms after I’m lifting. “Are you done warming up [inaudible 22:34] .” They start drilling in to get right into it. There’s no commentators for my session. I go back and I watch the live stream because I like to know what the commentator is saying.

David TaoDavid Tao

Of course.

I’m like, “Oh, that’s incredible.” 2022 nationals, there was no commentators on my session. They were for the earlier ones, though.

David TaoDavid Tao

It does get tough. I’m involved with that. I’ll give us, and I’ll give USA weightlifting, which has actually done a lot. USA weightlifting has opened more funding for commentators to get more people there.


It is tough because previously, people were leaving that night. They’d leave oftentimes. Traditionally, they leave Sunday night. Getting commentators for the Supers is often convincing people to stay another night, which is like, “Hey, on your dime, can you stay another night in the hotel or Airbnb?”


That’s one of the issues and we’ve been trying to work on changing that so we can get more even coverage. Yeah, it’s the earlier sessions. If it’s like a Thursday session and that’s when the competition starts, or Sunday evenings because it’s like, “Oh, person who’s going to sit down for the commentary, would you pay another $300 to stay in the hotel this night, and put your life on hold?”


It’s getting better. I agree. The Supers are fun. Everyone likes watching the Supers. That’s the big boy, the big girl way. That should get people amped up and they are fun sessions to do commentary on because you get to see some really interesting things, and they get pretty competitive at the national level these days.

This one with being the last year for the Olympics potentially. We don’t know if we’re going to have anything beyond 2024. It makes it a little bit more important.


Then people are going to try to hit even heavier weights, do what they got to do to try to make a run for this last time they get to go, their last opportunity they’ll ever have.


That’s what you’re saying is you’re probably going to bite that bullet baddest day Sunday. You’re the commentary first session.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] I haven’t booked anything yet, but I’m going to try. Also, it’s the last competition of the year. It’s always a lot of fun. The people who stick around on Sunday night, they like to party. You go out with people. It’s actually a pretty good time if you end up staying the extra night sometimes.


 I’m really boring, but sometimes I’ll hang out with the people that are partying, but I won’t partake in any of the partying. Actually, it was 2021. I went and just dinner with me and my girlfriend in Wilson when everybody was partying because even I don’t think he’d drink either or is a smoke or anything like that.


I don’t drink. I haven’t drink for years, so when everybody is going out, It’s nice because when everybody goes out on Saturday, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. You got to wait the whole week and then…

David TaoDavid Tao

When I say “partying,” I don’t necessarily even mean drinking. I just mean going to have a good time. For me, a party after a weightlifting competition is going and trying to eat 50 chicken wings sometimes.

I just want to eat, hang out and watch my PR over and over again.


I have my girlfriend record it and then I usually have one or two other friends record on their phone. I’m already harassing Nat like, “Hey babe, you got my videos? When can you send me?”


I’m just riding the high of whatever numbers I just hit, and I’m good for like two days. Yeah. No drinking whatever but yeah, it’s exciting after. I’m going to wait till four in the morning after every competition.


David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, just so…

Even the next morning, I wake up at 4:00, I wake up at 7:00, have a cup of coffee and I’m like, “Man, I’m good. Like, I’m fired.” Then the following Tuesday I fall apart, but never changes. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, where is the best place for people to follow along with you, your training, to catch these PR videos once you post them on social after you have a fantastic competition later this year in Atlanta?

Thank you. It’s medina_island for Instagram. It’s where I post most my training or all of my training. I posted a little bit to Three White Lights weightlifting on YouTube as well. Before Pan Am’s, I would like to get back into that. I just hadn’t really had the time for it. On YouTube, before Pan Am’s I posted my entire sessions.


Everything, almost from bar to the last weight being dropped. That would be the full training sessions.

David TaoDavid Tao


Primarily Instagram.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Alejandro, thank you so much for joining me. Always great to hear the weightlifter’s perspective.


I think we dived into some of the more subtle differences that a lot of folks who aren’t in weightlifting training regularly maybe wouldn’t know about the sport, especially if you have different body weight categories and I appreciate you sharing. Have a good one.


Absolutely. All right, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.