Interview With Pat Mendes: US Weightlifter

August 16, 2021

We had the honor of interviewing Pat Mendes in 2016, a young US Olympic Weightlifter with astonishing numbers.

Pat Mendes: I started to do Olympic weightlifting in 2008 after my coach John Broz recruited me from a local high school power clean meet. He said he had a gym but it was really a 500 square foot office he used for his granite business with plastic chair mats as platforms.

I committed 100% from day one, buying shoes and training 12 times a week, and under two years of training, I snatched 200kg/440lbs. Then, eventually, I hit an unofficial junior world record of 207kg/456lbs.

Another one of my favorite lifts done in the first gym was my 800lbs squat. After an unfortunate shoulder injury, I made my way back on the competition platform and won two national championships, and competed in the Pan American Games in Mexico, along with the world championships in Paris, France.

Unfortunately, I spent all of 2011 dealing with extreme hip pain. This was eventually diagnosed with a torn labrum. I quit lifting to get a full-time job in order to acquire health insurance. After surgery last year, I am finally starting my comeback and looking to regain my title as America’s strongest weightlifter, even at a lower body weight.

Best training lifts as +105kg/231lbs: Snatch 207kg/456lbs Clean and Jerk 230kg/507lbs Squat 363kg/800lbs

Can you tell us about your injury and the recovery process so far?

Pretty much all of 2011 I was training with a torn labrum in my right hip, which dealing with the ice pick in my hip was easy enough but the back pain that came with it shut my progress way down and made it very difficult to train.

In March 2013 I finally had surgery started my therapy the day after surgery was visiting the PT three times a week and was doing another 6 sessions alone at the gym. For the first 4 weeks, I was doing about 20 hrs of rehab/training a week.

My physical therapist was so baffled by my progress I took what he said and did a more hardcore version. By week 5 I was walking. 6 miles a day doing door-to-door sales in El Paso and just working on my hip in the morning at a local commercial gym.

My first squat was 405lbs after surgery. Fast forward 11 months and I’m at 639lbs now, so recovery progress has been good now that I’m back into being a weightlifter.

Lack of health insurance and income makes it hard to get all the therapy I want but I make do. Overall my hip being fixed has made all the difference in the world in training.

What weight class are you now and do you plan on staying there?

Right now I weigh about 227 and will be competing in the 231lbs weight class through the games in 2016. I joke with John and tell him I still need to snatch 500lbs one day so maybe after Rio I’ll get up to 260 and go for it in training, but I have no plans on competing as a super heavyweight again.

Can you tell us about how you program your squats? You seem to be outright Bulgarian in nature.

The programming for my squats has just one major guideline: everyday lift as much as you can handle. I’ve never done a fixed program where I squat certain weights on certain days for this many reps.

In a typical daily squat workout I go up to a heavy single. This is normally between 90% of my best and maximum.

If it feels good I keep going, if not, I do reps or stop.

That’s when John will make the call. Most of the time I always want to push it. John’s job now is to slow me down and make sure I stay healthy because I just always want to lift as much as a can.

What is the training environment like in Vegas? Is it easy to get distracted?

It’s good, for the first couple of years it was pretty much just John and me, but since the gym has gained popularity it’s nice to have other people to train with. I’ve never been a person that gets distracted. I don’t even know how to, so in that respect, being in Las Vegas doesn’t impact me.

What’s a quick day in the life of Pat Mendes look like? How often do you eat, train, work, study?

I’m training again full time still getting back in shape so currently, I’m doing 10 sessions a week trying to work back to 15 sessions. On a typical two a day I will wake up at 7.

Breakfast is bacon, eggs, and an avocado, train at 9:30, get back home around 11:30, nap until 1:30.

Lunch is usually steak or ground beef with vegetables, and another avocado. Train again at 4, get home around 8 and finish the day with any meat of choice with sweet potato. In bed by 10:30. My diet is gluten and soy-free.

Did you play any sports when you were younger? If so, how do you think they prepared you for Olympic lifting?

When I was really young I played football basketball and baseball, but when I started high school I wanted to specialize in football.

Football had the biggest influence on getting me prepared for Olympic Lifting because that’s where I was introduced to the power clean and strength training. My sophomore year I competed in local power clean meets which is how ended up meeting John Broz, my coach.

What is a myth of Olympic lifting that you would like to dispel or clear up?

That’s easy! Assistance exercises such as the hang, pause, no feet, no hands, chair, banded, chained lifts, drops, etc will NOT make you better at snatching and cleaning.

The most common question I get asked is: What exercise do you do to get better at snatching, cleans or squats? My answer is snatch (or clean or squat) as much as you can and for years, you will improve.

I understand that novice lifters look up to competitive weightlifters for tips and advice but they forget these guys started lifting when they were 8 and now they can do whatever they want because the technique to them is like breathing.

The real problem is monotony and boredom. It’s hard for people to do the same thing, day in and day out without change, so they come up with goofy exercises and complexes to make it interesting.

My belief is until you lifted your lifetime goals; stick with the classic lifts from the floor. Take it from the only American to snatch 200kg/440 lbs in training ever, the only way to snatch 200kg (440lbs) is to snatch 200kg.

What is your opinion of straps for Olympic lifts, and how do you think they help accelerate your training?

You’re only as strong as your weakest link and with straps, it takes away the weak link of your skin, so you can train snatches 10 times a week.

Straps are necessary because if you let one day go by that you could have lifted more but your hands hurt, then you fall behind. That’s just unacceptable when you’re trying to be the best. They can become a crutch for some people so I recommend snatching at least once a week without straps.

How many times do you attempt maxes in your training? How many misses before you say “OK time to move on”?

With squats usually just once unless I felt like there was a technique flaw. As far as snatching and clean and jerks in the beginning the magic number was 6 attempts.

Now that my technique and feel for the barbell has gotten better, if I feel like I can make I will keep going until John says otherwise. For novice lifters, I would recommend 6 attempts in the Snatch, and 3 in the Clean and Jerk.

What advice do you have your youngsters who are interested in joining your sport?

Have clear goals know exactly what you want out of this sport and what you need to lift to get it. It’s a very easy sport to get bored, so if you can stay focused on why you lift, it makes it easier.

Stay humble, train hard, avoid distractions, eat smart, get a good coach, remain focused and progress comes easy. Follow more of Pat Mendes here on his Youtube channel as he works towards to 2016 Olympics.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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