Coached by Jesse Bifano, Justin Medeiros Hits Big Numbers at Powerlifting Meet
Two-time CrossFit Games champion Justin Medeiros competed in his first powerlifting meet last month just outside of Meridian, ID.
Taking a (slight) step aside from CrossFit over the last several months, Medeiros, under coaches Adam Neifer and Jesse Bifano, trained alongside good friend and heavy lifter Dallas Hamm, who also competed at the same meet.
Flashback: The first time many of us began paying attention to a young Justin Medeiros was at the 2020 CrossFit Games, where he was just one of five athletes who made it through to the final stage of the competition. There was something about him: a fire, an excitement, and a drive that left many fans with a gut feeling that this kid could be the next Games champion.
While Medeiros finished third that year, it was apparent that there were holes in his game, with one noticeable area to improve being his pressing strength.. The final five athletes were tested with the CrossFit Total, and after taking fifth place with a strict press of 175 pounds, coach Neifer was prompted to reach out to Squamish Barbell co-owner Jesse Bifano for additional training.
Medeiros and Bifano began working together in November 2020, taking it one session at a time to see if the dynamic would work. Bifano was reluctant to coach someone remotely but was open to giving it a try. He was adamant that all sessions be coached over Zoom or FaceTime so he could watch Medeiros’ movement, form, and progress. On New Year’s Day 2021, the two officially teamed up and have been working together ever since.
- “When he won the 2021 Games, I remember Adam dropping me off at the bus, and he said to me, ‘What do you think; do it again next year?’ And I thought, honestly man, he’s the Fittest Man on the planet now. There’s not a door that won’t open when he knocks on it; he can go anywhere he wants,” Bifano said.
- “But what we were up to and what we were doing as a team was really special, and so we stuck with it and continued to adapt it. But honestly, from then to now, the content has changed […] but we still do two sessions a week on FaceTime. We don’t miss a session,” Bifano said.
Coach Bifano: Bifano first opened Squamish Barbell in Squamish, British Columbia, in 2009, and it has since seen three separate locations through the years. The current space totals over 5,000 square feet and is made up of machines, jerk blocks, chains, bands, odd objects, custom equipment, and just about every type of barbell one could imagine.
- “We build a lot of equipment ourselves. If Rogue does it better than us, we buy it. If Rogue does it pretty good, we’ll buy it, cut it apart, and make it better. And then if we do it better than Rogue does, we build it ourselves,” Bifano explained.
In the spring of 2010, Bifano attended a seminar at Westside Barbell in Ohio. Upon learning of the Conjugate Method, Bifano said that something struck him right away, and he knew that this system was something special and something that he was anxious to take home to Canada.
Conjugate Method: First developed in Russia in the 1970s, the Conjugate System for weightlifting was later studied, enhanced, and translated into a powerlifting system by Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons, who coined this coaching methodology the Conjugate Method.
The Conjugate Method is a system used to train for powerlifting and involves specifically structured training sessions. The schedule involves four main sessions of training per week, two of which focus on maximum effort and two of which focus on dynamic effort. Often, many variations on lifts and accessories are programmed to prevent plateaus, avoid injury, and train weaknesses.
On the max effort days, athletes are not solely maxing out on specific lifts. They are using alternative barbells, different implements, chains, and boxes. All of these variations in training create enough subtlety and change that the nervous system is forced to adapt.
Bifano revealed that it’s the dynamic or velocity-based training workouts, not the max effort days, that are typically the most challenging for his athletes, including Medeiros.
- “On these days, we’re not looking to move the heaviest bar that we can, but we’re looking to move it at a specific velocity. The hardest day of the week, and Justin would agree, is the dynamic lower,” Bifano said.
A classic dynamic squat day, Bifano shared, would be 12 sets of two reps every 45 seconds with 25% band tension plus a bar weight that would allow you to move it .7 to .9 meters per second. He encourages athletes not to worry about how much weight is on the bar these days but, instead, how fast it is moving.
He also shares a classic “speed pull” workout with deadlifts, where athletes perform 12 sets of one rep every 30 to 45 seconds, using bands to achieve a specific velocity in the pull.
For 13 years, Bifano has exclusively used this method of coaching for his athletes. He believes strongly in its effectiveness, its ability to promote longevity in the sport, and its safety.
The meet: Medeiros impressed the crowd with a 511.5-pound/232.5-kilo squat, a 303-pound/137.5-kilo bench, and a 600-pound/272.5-kilo deadlift. He finished second in the 90kg weight class.
While Hamm had his sights set on qualifying for Nationals, he fell slightly below his goal weights, finishing with a 534-pound/242.5-kilo squat, a 308-pound/140-kilo bench, and a 578-pound/262.5-kilo deadlift, and unfortunately failed to qualify.
Regardless, Hamm looks at his training with Bifano with gratitude and recognizes that he’s been given an incredible opportunity to be coached by him.
- “Training with Jesse is a complete game changer for me…he’s taught me more than I could even begin to say. I think I’ve gained strength for sure, but I’ve learned how to properly lift [and that] has made my lifts increase so much.
- “Jesse genuinely wants people to get better. He wants us to appreciate and respect heavy weights. It’s a blessing for me to be working out with some of the fittest people on earth with Justin and [three-time Games athlete Ellie Turner]. Their discipline and motivation make it impossible for me to miss sessions. And they push me to be better every day,” Hamm said.
The bottom line: It’s something that we’re all encouraged to do by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman: “Regularly learn and play new sports.” Amid the CrossFit season, the two-time Games champion has done just that.
While training powerlifting isn’t a giant departure from CrossFit, it does pose its own unique challenges and focus. There is substantial mental and emotional training involved in preparing for a powerlifting meet, which is something many CrossFitters have never experienced, even at the professional level.
Bifano expressed that taking this temporary departure helps to keep athletes like Medeiros focused and fresh. Even though it’s not his primary sport, having “that drive and competing in something, anything, even though it’s not CrossFit, will have so much carryover,” Bifano explained.