World record-setting powerlifter Chris Duffin embodies what Teddy Roosevelt called “the strenuous life.” Not only has he trained hard to lift superhuman amounts of weight, but he’s strived to be the best man he can be in his family and professional life. Chris came from a life of poverty, but through grit and drive he’s been able to create a great life for himself and his family. You’ve got to read his backstory; if there’s such a thing as a self-made man, Duffin is it. Chris and I talk about strength training and why men should be physically strong, but we also discuss how he has managed to balance family, work, and competitive powerlifting. Lots of great takeaways from this show.
- How Chris went from living in a condemned trailer as a child to becoming a corporate executive, owning his own gym, and setting powerlifting world records
- A crash-course on the world of powerlifting
- Why a man should strive to become a “Kabuki Warrior”
- How physical strength helps a man become a pillar of strength in his family and community
- How a workout tool used by ancient Hindus can help you become a better lifter
- In five minutes, Chris gives you pretty much all the info you’ll ever need on nutrition and strength training
- And much more!
Be sure to check out Chris Duffin’s website, Kabuki Warrior, for some great free content as well as more information about his online coaching. He also has a great YouTube channel and writes over at EliteFTS.
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Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!
Brett: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. I’m really excited about today’s guest today. It’s a guy I’ve been following online for quite some time on his website, Kabuki Warrior. His name is Chris Duffin and he is a record‑setting powerlifter. For example, he squatted 881 pounds, set a record, a world record, at a 220‑pound body weight. He’s set some other world records as well that we’ll talk about.
Anyways, on the podcast today we’re going to discuss lifting heavy stuff, why men should be strong, fitness in general, nutrition, but we also talk about some big‑picture things, because Chris has an amazing backstory. If there’s such a thing as a self‑made man, this guy’s it. Started his life out homeless, adopted his younger siblings while he was in college, worked his way through college, master’s degree, started his own family, worked his way up the corporate ladder, started his own gym, and at the same time he was training for elite‑level powerlifting competitions.
We talk about the mindset that Chris had to develop and how he managed his time, and what was driving him to accomplish all that he did. Just listening to his story and hearing him talk is going to kick you in the rear to get you into action. It did for me, anyways. A fantastic podcast. I think you’re really going to like it, so without further ado, Mr. Chris Duffin.
Chris Duffin, welcome to the show.
Chris: Thank you. A pleasure to be on.
Brett: All right, so you are a competitive powerlifter. You’re a massive, massive man. I mean, it’s awesome, super‑strong. The other day I was looking through your Instagram feed and I came across a picture you posted when you were 19, and you didn’t have the beard. What kind of shirt were you wearing? Some kind of heavy metal …
Chris: I think it was Pink Floyd, something like that.
Brett: Yeah, Pink Floyd shirt, you’ve got your elbow on this classic car. Now if people will go to your site, they’ll see what you look like. You’ve got the beard, you’re just huge, a complete transformation. At what point did you get serious about lifting, and when did you start powerlifting?
Chris: That picture was actually taken during just a couple‑year break. If you go back, there’s pictures of me at like 15 that I’m just … I don’t look what a high schooler looks like. I’ve really been active or lifting almost my entire life with the exception of that couple‑year block, and it relates back to … there’s a lot of stories about my backstory, my life story, you know, growing up homeless in the mountains and stuff like that, and so even at a very early age, I was … if we were working mines, I was packing rocks up the side of the hills. I was splitting wood when we were doing that, just as an early child, and then I started lifting in high school and got involved in sports basically my freshman year.
I’ve always been … from then on, I’ve lifted. I just … I pushed myself really hard in wrestling and had a lot of injuries, and when I went to college I was working full‑time, doing … trying to put myself through school, and I took a couple‑year break on the lifting, but then I got back into it. I mean, I just … that couple years, like things just fell apart for me. I started drinking, I started … my body … I just … I felt horrible, and so I got back into lifting. That was the late ’90s and I’ve continued to lift since then, so it’s … I’ve been lifting a good 20 years straight, almost, at this point. Again, a couple‑year break in there, and I got into powerlifting in 2000.
A lot of people, you know, they come to me or they see me and they say, “Man, how long did it take to get that big, or that strong?” I know they’re always expecting, “Oh, it’s a year or two years, you can get there,” and it’s like, “No, it’s been 20 years of outworking everybody around me.” I think that’s a big mistake a lot of people make is, you know, not focusing on the long term and thinking about just the steps in front of them or where they’re going to be, and then pushing it either too hard, running too fast, and then not thinking, realizing, that it’s going to be a long haul. You know, at some point, you’re going to level out. The gains are going to quit coming, and you’ve got to keep … you’ve got to keep at it.
Brett: Yeah. Let’s come back to that later, but let’s talk more about your backstory. I think I read this on … Jack, Jack Donovan, actually I think did an interview with you. You actually ended up adopting your siblings? Is that correct?
Chris: Yeah, I did. Like I said, when I graduated high school, probably half my life I’d been homeless, and this is a different kind of poor than you see a lot of kids these days, because they’re poor but they’ve still got nice clothes and they’ve got their … you know, their iPhone or whatever it is. It’s like, “I don’t understand that.” We grew up in the mountains, like killing rabbits, killing deer, poaching, and spent some time being taken away from the family as well. We all spent some time in foster care, but it was … you know, it was tough living.
It was no electricity, filling up water in the creek in gallon jugs and setting it out in the sun so you could dump it over your head once a week to get a bath. Kids making fun of you because your clothes are dirty, you stink. It was a different world, and so it got a little bit more stable as I got into high school, so we got a mobile home. Of course, once we moved out, it was condemned and the fire department burnt it down because it was not liveable, but it was pretty awesome for us anyway, but I went off. I got a full‑ride scholarship, academic scholarship. I was a pretty good athlete as well, but I was also pretty good at academics, so I got a full‑ride scholarship to go to school.
Like I said, I just kind of focused on myself for a couple of years and things kind of fell apart for me, but then I took a look back home and things had gotten really bad, because I was kind of, somehow, a stable force in that home environment. I have three younger sisters who were not doing very well, so I took custody of them and started raising them while I was going to college, so kind of one at a time until I had all three of them while I finished up my bachelor’s degree. Went on to, you know, get my master’s degree.
I was raising them while I was doing that, working full‑time, and it’s just … it’s one of those things you have to … you know, it’s the right thing to do. A lot of people come in and say, “Oh, that’s awesome you did that, most people wouldn’t.” I think most people would. You know, it’s what you need to do. Anyway, that’s kind of the backstory, I guess, or the short version of it.
Brett: The short version of it.
Chris: There’s a lot of detail in that.
Brett: Yeah. Well, during that entire time and even now, I mean, what was driving you, right? I think a lot of people would get into a tough situation like that or something similar and they would think, “Well, I’m just going to … ” they’re going to collapse and they couldn’t go on. Was there something that was driving you during that time, like some long‑term goal, or was it just the day‑to‑day, thinking about that, “I’ve got to get through this day”?
Chris: It’s a little of both. I always tell people, you know, to succeed in the gym, in life, it takes vision, consistency and hard work, and people think about vision the wrong way. They think about it as everybody should be a dreamer, and I say bullshit. There’s a million dreamers out there. Everybody has a dream of, you know, being a star, being a millionaire, whatever it is. A vision is a picture of every step along the way it takes to get there. A vision is the drudgery, the hard work, and all the things, the years that it’s going to take of one foot in front of the next, and knowing what that’s going to take, to get to where you want to be.
There’s a part of the day‑to‑day going, “Okay, I did take a step further. I took that next step. Maybe I didn’t actually see the big results today, or even a year from now or even three years from now, but I know I’m working that path, and that path is going to get me to what that vision is that I want to live, that I want to be.” That’s hard, I think, for some people to grasp. There’s so much in the society today that is this instant gratification. You know, I can get a credit card or my parents are going to help me or all this other stuff, and I didn’t. I’ve never in my life had any fallback plan whatsoever.
Everything falls on me. There’s no … I don’t have a couch that I can go crash on at home. I don’t have … I have nothing. You know, maybe that’s what helped with developing that, but that’s where I’m a big believer. You need to know where you want to go, and you’ve really got to understand what the steps are to get there and how long it’s going to take. You’re going to have to celebrate the little wins that happen along the way, because there’s not going to be a big, all of a sudden, “Oh, now, it’s happened.”
Brett: Yeah, “My life’s changed.”
Chris: That’s not how it works.
Brett: Yeah. Let’s talk about powerlifting, because it’s a world I’m not very familiar with. I’m sure a lot of people aren’t familiar with it. What lifts do you typically see in a powerlifting meet, and athletes who take part in that sport, do they train … do they have to do all the lifts, or do they train for a specific one?
Chris: A little of both. Powerlifting is technically three lifts, so it is a squat, a bench press and a deadlift, and they’re done in that order, and you’ve got three attempts at a meet. If you make your first attempt, you can raise it and go to the next and so on, and then once you’re done with your three squats, you move on to bench press. The same thing repeats, and then you get a powerlifting total which is your best squat, your best bench and your best deadlift all combined.
Then there are some people that specialize in either bench press or deadlift, which is part of powerlifting, but I don’t know … you know, it’s a big argument whether you’re a bench presser or whether you’re an actual powerlifter, but powerlifting is the three of those. Those are the three classical peer strength movements.
Brett: Yeah. It’s the ones you always ask your buds, “How much you deadlift? How much you bench? How much you squat?”
Chris: Exactly. Exactly.
Brett: Is there a lift that you particularly specialize in, or that you like to do or compete in?
Chris: It depends on what I’m best at at the time, so it kind of changes. I was an awesome bencher for a long time and that was my favorite, then I got really good at deadlift so of course that was my favorite. Squatting is my best right now, so you know that’s my favorite. You often see that. It kind of shifted around, because it’s really hard to bring all three of those up at once, unless you’re first starting, getting into it.
That’s something I’ll get, so people that have been training, powerlifting for a couple of years, and they’re like, “Yeah, only my deadlift’s going up right now and not my such‑and‑such,” and that’s kind of the way it works, once you’re past newbie gains. It takes a big toll on the body to actually take all three of those upwards, all the time.
Brett: Yeah. You actually set a record with a lift, right, a thousand pounds? It was a deadlift or a squat?
Chris: I’ve set a number of records through the years. I think the ones I’m most well known for, I did an 881‑pound squat weighing 220 pounds, which was the … has since been beaten by a friend of mine, but it was a world record at the time, so a combination of basically all federations, all rules. Nobody’d ever squatted more than that at that body weight before.
Deadlift, in the gym I’m also known for doing a 900‑pound deadlift for almost a double, again around that same 220 weight class. I was wearing straps, which doesn’t qualify if you’re at a meet, but that’s a pretty epic lift, there. I have the Guinness World Record for the most deadlifted in a minute, with deadlifting 405 for 42 reps in 60 seconds.
Chris: Then just Wednesday night, I did the most squatted in one minute for the Guinness World Record as well. Both those are not weight class‑dependent. That’s just all comers, and I did the 500 pounds, 505 pounds, for 19 reps in 60 seconds.
Brett: That’s insane.
Chris: I like kind of doing some of those little oddball stuff sometimes too, because I like demonstrating the developing for development, work fast, deep development, things of that nature.
Brett: That’s cool.
Chris: Those are the stuff I’m most well known for.
Brett: That’s fantastic. Well, congratulations. That’s something to be really proud of. For guys who are listening who … because we’ve published lifting content on our site, and I’ve had a few guys ask, “Why would I want to get into powerlifting,” what’s your advice for them if they want to start doing that as their hobby or as their sport and get serious about it?
Chris: A great resource is go check out EliteFTS.com, so there’s a number of great articles, coaches, just tons of content from all over, and they are … they are powerlifting. That’s a great resource. There’s a lot of people that kind of sell out, branch out into other areas as soon as they get the opportunity to, and they’ve remained true to that crowd, so that’s where the content is directed.
My YouTube channel and my website has a ton of great content on it for helping people move better. It’s a lot of stuff. It’s really a lot of like clinical‑based items, really some developmental kinesiology and stuff like that, but I take that material and bring it down into here’s the steps, step by step. Here’s the five things that you need to do and this is how you cue the squat, the cues that you use while you’re squatting. Here’s the stuff you need to do to get yourself warmed up and prepped, but it’s all about proper movement, which I believe is the foundation to anything.
It doesn’t matter, some set‑and‑rep scheme or program that you’re following, first things first is you’ve got to move properly, and there’s really some fundamentals to that that … actually I just love the fact that I can put this content out there and it reaches people around the world. I get feedback on a daily basis about we’re moving people from pain, allowing them to set PRs, and this is from beginners, intermediates to the best of the best in powerlifting.
Anyway, getting a little side‑tracked there, but it’s a great resource, so KabukiWarrior.com or my YouTube channel, Kabuki 07, and again, EliteFTS.com is a tremendous resource for training knowledge.
Brett: Yeah, I agree. One of the things I love about your content in the videos is that you get really technical with the movements, right, and it’s not just … you know, it’s not like mental masturbation, let’s talk science, but there’s a point to it, and I love how you simplify it and give just easy cues to follow. The squat video was very helpful for me, so definitely recommend you guys go check that out.
You mentioned Kabuki Warrior as the name of your website.
Brett: Okay. What is a Kabuki Warrior? I think it’s cool, it’s a cool name. I hear that and I’m like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool, that’s like … that sounds badass,” but the significance? What’s the meaning behind that?
Chris: You know, it could be in any number of things. There’s a lot of … I’ve got to republish some old articles I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of articles where I relate, you know, how you can apply the things that you learn, practice, discipline, those things, in the gym, to your career, to your life, and one of those in the concept of the Kabuki Warrior.
It could be … that’s taken from Japanese culture, but it could be any number … any culture, basically, where you’ve got this differentiation of, you know, you’ve got the man that’s the father, the farmer, the part of the community, but when it comes time for war, that person has to transform into something else, and so you’ve got this ritualistic thing that happens, and it’s been in … I think in almost every culture, where there’s either a mask or a painting of the face or … and it’s this … how do you transform from that, being a member of a community, to this savage beast that’s going to go out there and do some pretty evil, bad things to protect your tribe, your community?
You know, you’ve got to put yourself in an entirely different frame of mind. You’ve got to become another person, and so that’s … I picked a Kabuki mask, and I didn’t really pick it. There’s a long story from college. That’s how I got that name, but the concept is still there, and that’s how you apply it.
I mean, so many people, you see them. They take their lifting in the gym a little bit too serious. They go around and that’s who they are and, you know, they’re a badass and all this, and it’s … that’s the thing that defines them. Without it, they’re nothing else, and I think that’s kind of sad too. When you’re going to perform in the gym, you do need to have that attitude, that warrior mentality, that, “I’m going to drive, I’m going to push.” Again, if you refer to my content, not push through pain or do things like that are stupid, that are going to hurt you, but you’ve got to … you’ve got to have that mentality, but you’ve got to leave it at the door. You need to turn it on when you go in there and turn it off when you’re done, and so that’s my concept kind of around that.
Brett: I love that. That’s really cool. Kind of on that same topic about the guys training, getting strong so they can be protectors of the tribe, whenever we publish fitness content or tactical content on the site, most people love it, but every once in a while you get that guy who’s like, “Well, this is stupid. Being big and strong is pointless, knowing how to defend yourself is dumb. We live in this modern, safe world where we don’t need that anymore.” What’s your response to guys like that, who say you don’t need … this whole weight training thing is just a waste of time, you don’t need to be big and strong? Why should a man be strong, even in our modern age?
Chris: If we take that concept a bit further, there’s a lot of things we don’t need to be that are manly anymore, in our modern age. We may as well just be, you know, emasculated men or not good men anymore, right? I mean, what’s really needed? There is a part of … I mean, that’s … it doesn’t change who we are. How we interact with other men, how we interact with women, how we interact with society in general, is all based on, you know, females act, interact a certain way because they’re women. We act, interact a different way because we’re men, and there’s a lot of pieces to that. If we take that away, we’re actually doing a disservice to both our community, the women that would be our partners, our children, all those things.
If we’re not being a man, we’re not … we’re doing a disservice, and part of that is, part of being a man is we are physical. You know, you need to explore that physicality. It doesn’t mean you have to get enormous like me, but you should be, consider yourself, an athlete in some sense or another. I don’t care whether it’s, you know, running, doing kettlebells, doing martial arts or whatever it is, but you need to be exploring that piece of yourself to be a man, and really understand what it is to be a man. If you give that up, where are you going to draw the line? You know, you could watch commercials and be the guy that’s on the Tide commercial. I mean, seriously.
Brett: I’ve seen that guy.
Chris: That’s not a guy. That’s my point. You know, that’s an important piece. We … men … and this is on my website … I mean, men should be a pillar of strength, physically, mentally and emotionally. That is our duty, and sometimes that’s hard, and sometimes it’s … you know, it leaves you kind of alone, but that’s … that’s who we are and, you know, that’s part of it. You know, we’re not the … you know, what everybody wants to … wants us to kind of become now, is going, “Oh, well, you should … you know, you should be this tender thing and cry every time,” you know. Is that who you are? Is that who I am? No, so anyway, that’s just … that’s my viewpoint on it, and that’s … weight training is part of that.
Brett: Yeah. Do you think weight training helps those other aspects, like being physically strong transfers over to strength in your family, strength as a husband, strength in your … as that pillar in the community, you were saying?
Chris: Absolutely. That’s exactly what I was saying. You know, you just take it … if you don’t, it does change who you are. If you don’t train, and you eat like crap and you do all these things, you’re going to have low testosterone. It’s going to change your mind. It’s going to change … it changes who you are. It changes how you interact, and you’re not going to … you’re not going to be … like I said, you’re going to be doing a disservice to those that you need to be a man for.
Brett: That’s awesome. I follow a lot of powerlifters on Instagram. I don’t know how I ended up following them. I have no idea, and then like on blogs and whatnot, and what I appreciate about you is that I think you’re the only one I know that’s like actually married, has young kids. You have a business outside of this, you train and you compete at the same time. My question is how do you balance all of that? How do you balance your training? I know some guys who, they want to get into weight training, and they have a hard time. It’s like, “Man, I’ve got my job, I’ve got my family,” so how do you do it?
Chris: You know, people come to me and they go, “You know, that’d be great if I could do this or I could do that, but I’ve got this in my way or that in my way,” and I try to lead by example. There really isn’t anybody that can come up with an excuse not to come to the gym, if I can make it to the gym or do those things. It comes down to prioritization. Is it important to you?
I challenge you, if you’re not finding the time, to really monitor what you do on a daily and weekly basis, and you’ll find that, oh, well, you’ve got time to watch that sitcom or drink a beer and watch the game on Sunday or, you know, but it also relates to things that I’m not good at too, because in that prioritization, I really let a lot of things that … I guess it’s like laundry or things like that, you know, that continue to repeat over and over and are tasks, I just don’t do, which sometimes that can be difficult. It can be difficult, you know, in the home life and things like that as well, but if you think about it, I’m … so just a little bit about the things that I do.
For the last 18 years, you know, I’ve been managing manufacturing businesses. The last ten years I’ve been doing like company or division turnaround work. The last eight years I’ve been at the corporate executive level, where whether the company’s going to make it or whether, you know, everybody there is going to have a job falls on your shoulders. I mean, there’s a lot of things that are going down, from negotiations and dealing with banks and, you know, difficult stuff. Then I own my gym, I’ve got my family, I’ve got kids.
Brett: A gym on the side.
Chris: Then I’ve got my hobbies and all that other stuff too, right? Oh, and I’m training to be the best in the world. You know, that, that mixture of stuff, you really have to know what’s important, and just drop the things that aren’t. So many people … like in my work, you know, I come in and I have a tremendous impact on companies and the teams that I work with, but I’m usually replacing somebody that’s done tasks.
I strip it down and, you know, the things that are important are, you know, how I impact leadership and how I delegate and how I motivate people. You know, it’s not the fact that I’ve done this report or done that report or been kept up on timekeeping or all these other … you know, daily stuff that people like to … people like to feel that they’re doing work. They like to feel that they’re busy, and so they do stuff, but is that stuff … if we get back to that vision … is that the stuff that’s moving you forward?
Brett: Is it effective? Right.
Chris: Is it that that’s going to help you reach that vision, or is it just something that’s on your list for today, that I’ve got to run to Walgreens or I’ve got to do this? I mean, that stuff is there, but you’ve got to figure out how to drop that stuff, how to eliminate it, how to automate it, and cut out the crap.
Brett: Cut out the crap. Do you have a TV?
Chris: I didn’t until I met my wife. I didn’t have a TV. It just … stuff like that eats up too much time, and so I do watch TV. I watch a couple shows that my wife watches, because that’s some time that we spend together. Outside of that, I don’t touch it.
Brett: Do you do like some purposeful planning? Do you like plan your week out or your day out, or is it just sort of you have big‑picture goals, and if some task doesn’t line up with that goal, you’re just like, “I’m not going to do it”?
Chris: Unfortunately I’m really good at like capturing a lot of different detail and complexity mentally. I don’t know, it’s just … it’s a weird gift that I’ve got.
Brett: Good for you.
Chris: It allows me to do a lot of that without necessarily planning, but I do at times have to break down and do that. It’s variable.
Brett: That’s cool. Well, it’s inspiring, what you’ve done. I mean, whenever I read about your life, I’m like, “Man, I need to get my act together. I need a kick in the pants.”
Chris: Well, if it makes it any easier, though, I have, so as of two weeks ago, walked away from my corporate career.
Brett: Okay, so what are you doing now? Are you doing the training, or coaching?
Chris: Yeah. I’m doing … I’m basically … well, I’ve got the … I’ve got the gym as one business, and then the other business which I’ve been … which I launched at the beginning of this year is developing innovative products and coaching services, you know, to help people be better. I’ve got the ShouldeRok, I’ve got the Duffin Movement Series that I’m working on publishing right now, so anyway, I’ve just … and then the coaching, the online coaching piece, so that’s the stuff that I’m doing.
Basically, you know, I’ve been … we’re talking about prioritizing and doing all that stuff, but at the same time you’ve got to really look at that list of stuff that I talked about, and really that’s not even grasping all of it. I run, I sprint, all day long until it’s ready to crash, until I fall over, and that’s how I operate. That’s how I’ve gotten through my life and gotten where I’m at. There is prioritization too, but there’s also been … I’m burning out.
I’m just flat burning out, and I’ve never really been able to … also, on the competitive side, I’ve probably only got a few years left to really try to achieve what I feel I am capable of on the athletic side, and you know, I’m just kind of at a weird point in my life where, you know, climbing that corporate ladder, trying to make more money, trying to do all this stuff, just isn’t a priority for me anymore.
You know, the last couple of years have been pretty tough on me, with trying to keep everything going, and also I’m just getting older and trying to sprint the way I have, I’m not able to really do anymore. Anyway, it’s pretty exciting changes for me right now, is the fact that, yeah, I’m taking … I’ve officially taken a step away from that. I’m sitting in my home office right now. I’m either here or at my gym office these days, and that’s the path forward for me, and I’m really excited about it.
Brett: That’s cool. Congratulations. Yeah, a new season in your life, that’s awesome.
Chris: Yeah, and it’s allowing me to really focus on what I’m passionate about. I mean, if you watch any of my videos, I’m sure you can see where my passion falls, and I just don’t see the need to chase a career that I don’t care that much about anymore.
Brett: That’s awesome. Good for you, man. We’ve talked some big‑picture stuff. I want to get some specifics. I’ve got a world‑class lifter here, so I’d be amiss of not asking you some training questions. What are the biggest roadblocks you’ve encountered with your training and coaching, that guys encounter that stall their progress in the gym?
Chris: There’s a couple things. One is that consistency. You know, I see people get fired up, and they’ll come in for three months, maybe six months, and just kill it, and then they just kind of taper off and taper off. I’m like, “You know, you’ve got to keep going. Or, you know, if you can’t hold that pace, find a pace that you can hold.” Or you get the other side of the coin, where you’ve got people that you’ve been training with for years, and they come in and they do the heavy lifts and they’re gone, and they’re not putting in the work. They’re always like, “How do you get as strong, or be where you’re at?” I’m like, “Well, you know, I’m here for an extra hour and a half after you are every damn day, year over year. It kind of has an impact.” Those are the two things.
There’s really, you know, understanding the long term game. This isn’t NASCAR. It doesn’t happen at 200 miles an hour. You know, you’ve got to put in work, and the fact that you busted your ass for three months and then took a month off and now you’re back at it again really has an impact. You’ve got to consistently stay with it, and you’ve got to put in the work. You know, that’s … that’s the two things that I see. I mean, it is cumalative. It takes time. It takes dedication. Anybody that you see that has, you know, any level of, you know, world‑class or size or anything of that nature, they’ve put in the time. You’re usually talking to somebody that’s been at it for ten or fifteen years.
Brett: What do you say to those guys? One thing I’ve seen happen a lot with guys who never lifted, they start lifting and they get those newbie gains, right? I mean, they just get really … every week they’re setting PRs, they’re getting bigger, and then all of a sudden it just comes to a standstill, and they just get frustrated and they stop. Is there like any, I don’t know, mindset shift or like anything you can tell those guys who have reached that plateau to just keep chugging along?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, you actually even see this on the very elite level, so I see this all the time. You know, I’ll see somebody that’s been training for a couple years and they’re like … they’re doing phenomenal. Everybody’s like, “Man, they are going to be the next greatest thing of powerlifting,” and I always just, “Okay, well, wait and see,” because two years does not tell you that. Because, you know, what’s going to happen is they are going to slow down, you know, or the gains are going to quit coming, or they’re going to injure themselves.
You know, the long‑term thing is you have to figure out how to work around that stuff. You have to figure out how to make this part of your life, a lifestyle. You’ve got to figure out, again, how to work through those issues that come up, how to stay focused and dedicated when, you know, maybe I’m … there’s going to be a year where you’re going to work and maybe your bench press moves up five pounds. I’ve gone for years with zero moves on my bench press and, you know, you’ve got to … you’ve got to learn to love what you’re doing. You’re going to reach that phase, no matter who you are, and you’ve got to understand that, you know, that’s … that’s part of it.
Focus on the pieces that are moving, and try to work on … always have some sort of goal that you can be working on. It doesn’t have to be the, “Well, if my bench press doesn’t move up ten pounds in the next three months, I’m a failure,” but, you know, am I making progress in some other area? Am I getting more functional? Am I moving this area up? Am I working … am I getting my work capacity up? There’s so many things you’ve got to look at different ways, and also being willing to stay disciplined without having that positive reinforcement, of making gains like you did when you started. You know, that’s the thing. You’ve got to figure out how to do that.
Brett: Okay. What’s your thoughts on accessory work? You mentioned the ShouldeRok, right? Can you explain what that is? It’s sort of like a mace, right? Is that what that is?
Chris: Yeah, so it’s a classical play on a … an instrument that’s been around a long time, the gada or the mace, which is … was used in classical fighting cultures for shoulder development. Mine is a … I guess you would call it a modern version of that. It’s a little bit longer, it’s loadable with standard Olympic plates. It does a few different things, without trying to spend too much time on it, and then I’ve got a coaching video that goes with it that is very clean, very refined on how to get someone up to speed on doing a proper swing, and then also integrating that swing pattern with some of the developmental kinesiology pieces to really get the shoulder plugged into the core properly, which that’s where the breakdown comes that causes a lot of shoulder issues, from both the trained people and the non‑trained people.
I could go into a dissertation on that for quite a while, but I’ll try not to. Yeah, it’s basically you’re swinging it around over your head, down around behind you, and basically actively opening up the shoulders, so it’s with an eccentric load instead of … instead of like mobility, like stretching work, you’re actually actively opening them up, and then you’re actually engaging all the supporting structures, from the lats, the subscap, everything.
Then, the way I teach it, you’ve actually got that integrated into the core, which does a developmental reset. It’s a great tool, because you’re … you know, you’re getting a workout and you’re actually getting up to speed, and you’re getting improved flexibility. You’re getting improved, like I said, mobility, stability and strength, all in one, so it’s something I’m really passionate about.
I’ve trained some of the best bench pressers in the world on it. They’ve absolutely loved it. Helped a number of people with rehab, post‑surgery rehab. Actually, in particular, Eric Spoto, the best bench presser in the world, I did his shoulder rehab training plan and we integrated the ShouldeRok, and he’s had absolutely phenomenal success. I’m, again, getting tremendous feedback from … from around the world, I’ve been spinning it around the world … from people, and it’s … people just love it, too. That’s the awesome piece, is it’s not this extra piece that you’ve got to do.
I get so frustrated that that’s where a lot of newbies, I think, go wrong. Maybe I should have gone into this conversation, and I see so many people now that there’s so much content on mobility work, and they’ll spend like 45 minutes like stretching and rolling and, you know, doing all this stuff on the floor, and then go over and train for 15 minutes and go home, and, you know what, they don’t make any progress. “Mobility is so important.” Well, yes, but you’ve got to understand actually what mobility is.
Mobility issues are typically caused by a shutdown. I mean, the body is … that’s its response to try to protect yourself. If you get knocked out, you’ve got mobility in all directions, and so I do what’s called magic tricks all the time with people that … you know, they can’t touch their toes and they’ve got pain at eight inches away, and I’ll do some stability drills and all of a sudden they can touch their toes with no pain. It’s awesome, but it’s just some of that, that integration stuff.
At the same time, I mean, if you’re going to go into the gym and lift weights, do you think laying down on the floor and relaxing, you know, is really going to be the right … the right thing to get you primed to lift? You don’t want to lay down on the floor, relax like massage‑style relax. You know, that’s stuff that … you know, if you’ve got issues, do some other time, do after you train, do on your off days. It doesn’t mentally get you prepared and honestly it’s not the best preparation for training, and I see so many people just kind of lose focus on that. I know I’m way off …
Brett: No, this is great.
Chris: … topic here, but, you know, I see it a lot with a lot of newbie stuff because there is so much content out there on the mobility side, and people like think it’s this super‑important piece, and yes, it is important, but you’ve got to understand. You know, the issues are because you’re lacking stability, one, so let’s work on that, and let’s get the muscles firing properly, so all this should be actually happened in a … in movement. You need to move before you train, not lay and relax.
That’s kind of the fundamental of the ShouldeRok as well. You know, I have people that get the gains and do it better, more efficiently. They spend a couple minutes doing that and, bam, they’re ready to go with training. That’s kind of the fundamental thought process behind my whole approach, which is … which is clinically‑based.
Brett: Yeah. Do you … with like that ShouldeRok you’re working with the ShouldeRok, do you do it the day you lift, or is it like you do it on like an off day? When should people incorporate things like that?
Chris: If you’ve got like … so what I do is, prior to training … and this is my whole fundamental approach … you’re going to do movement‑based stuff, to get things firing properly. If you’re going to come in and squat and deadlift, a big problem people have is … and this is a … bleeds into mobility issues as well, but they’ve been sitting at their desk or they’re sitting in their car in traffic or doing all these things, so the glutes usually aren’t firing. If the glutes aren’t firing, you get shortening of the … you know. You’ve got tightness in those areas.
That automatically pulls the hip forward, and if the hip isn’t centrated properly, it’s not integrated into the core properly. I’m getting off base again, but I’ll pull it back in. Anyway, as that happens … you don’t have proper centration of the joint, you don’t have stability in the core … well, the hips are going to … the hips are going to tighten up. Or you’re going to have anterior pelvic tilt as you lift, which is going to cause disk issues, because you’re not able to lift effectively.
Back to clean this up nice and simple and concise is, I’m going to do some movements that’ll get my glutes firing properly. I’m going to, real quick, do some goblet squats, a few sets of ten, see how things feel. I’m going to do rear leg elevated splits, rear leg elevated or Bulgarian squats, with kettlebells or with my body weight or dumbbells. Boom, boom, boom, hit those, and do a couple of other specialty things that I have to help with that, and then I’m going to move into training. I’m going to be warmed up already. It’s going to shorten my warmup cycle. My mobility is actually going to be improved, and my performance lifting and my ability to lift safely is going to be better.
Now, if I continue … and I’ve got major mobility issues because of this stuff … that’s still may need to be worked short‑term. The long‑term problem is to work on that stability pieces, but you may need to do that. If you need to do that, you could do your stretching and your mobility work … like let’s say with the hips, in this example … after your workout or on your off day. That’s kind of the approach, there.
Before I bench and before I squat, I’m going to do some ShouldeRoks, open up the shoulders, get things integrated in better, and then move into my training. I’m going to do my core lifts, and then I’m going to do like three support movements that … that work that. After I bench, I’m going to do some triceps, I’m going to do some shoulders, and I’m going to work on trying to develop some hyper trophy. I’m going to be doing, you know, three or four sets of ten to twelve, or maybe even higher. If it’s like glute work, I may be working up towards a hundred reps over four sets.
That’s the basis of the approach, is move, get things firing properly, get proper joint centration before you train, which is going to shorten your train … your warmup cycle, get you better prepared. If you’ve got mobility work that you need to do and it isn’t getting resolved with those alone, do it on your off days. That’s it in a nutshell.
Brett: Awesome. I think one thing a lot of guys have trouble with … because you mentioned like there’s all this content out there now about training, but there’s even a crap more about nutrition. I think there’s where a lot of guys just get … even I, I’m like, “Should I do low carbs, carbs, protein?” Do guys overly complicate the nutrition aspect of training, do you think?
Chris: I think so. The thing is, there is a lot of different ways, because there’s … so many diets have a different level of impact on lifestyle, they require a different level of discipline and they have different outputs as well, and then people respond differently as well. There’s a lot of stuff, and people don’t take that into consideration. You know, they’ll bash on one diet or bash on another because it’s not as effective. Well, guess what? That may be the diet for you because of what you have going on in life and your level of discipline, and your goals, so it really does become relative.
People do get way too complicated on it. I mean, you know, it comes down to the calories in and calories out. If you’re training, you want to have a decent amount of protein. You’re going to need carbs to support training unless you’re, you know, really desperate for … or you’re really functional. Not a lot of people are going to be able to do full keto. You know, you’re going to have basically 1.3 to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body mass. Carbs are going to be around the same, 1.3 to 1.4. If you’re trying to gain weight and add some extra mass, maybe you’re going up to 1.7, 1.8, as far as carbs.
A great way, now, if you’re getting some good carbs and good protein for energy and recovery, you’re probably going to want to keep the fats a little bit low, just so that your calories don’t go through the roof. If you keep your fat between 150 or 100 grams, you’re going to make good gains, you’re going to train well and you’re going to progress well.
Like I said, there’s a lot of different approaches, a lot of different ways to do that, and so … you know, I know people that have had great success on keto diets. I know how … like I said, it’s … there’s a lot of different ways, but honestly, I just gave you a pretty basic approach to that. If you want to gain weight, target putting 500 calories per day on top of your normal diet. Maybe start with 250, bump it to 500. If you want to start losing weight, take out 250 to 500 calories a day, and you’ll slowly drop weight.
If you want to know how many calories your base metabolic rate is, track everything that you eat without making any changes for two weeks. We’re talking weigh it, input it into FitDay or wherever you need to, to calculate your macros, and if you’re gaining weight or losing weight … you know, basically it’s 3,500 pounds … or 3,500 calories per pound of fat. If you’re gaining a pound a month a week … or a pound of fat a month, you know, you’re … that … and you’ve calculated … you know, your daily calories are 3,000 calories a day. Well, there’s an extra 3,500 per month, so roughly just under a thousand calories in excess on top of that. It means you’re around 2,200, you know, calories. Does that make make sense?
Brett: Yeah, that makes sense.
Chris: Okay. Now if you want to gain or lose, you know where you’re at. You know, maybe every year or two, your metabolism does change, and it does change based on the amount of work, so maybe in six months or a year, or if you’ve made big changes to your training program, do the same process again. Maybe your base is now 3,000. Okay, do you want to gain, do you want to lose, do you want to maintain, okay? It’s all right there.
Brett: All right there. It just depends on your goals, right?
Chris: It does.
Brett: Yeah. I think one thing I see with a lot of guys who start lifting is that they don’t have any gains, right? They just feel weak all the time. I’m like, “What are you eating?” “Well, I’m doing like the paleo diet.” I’m like, “Dude, you need more carbs.”
Chris: You do. You know. Like I said, some people really succeed with that, but honestly from a performance standpoint, paleo or keto are not performance diets. You’ve got to have carbs in there. That’s what I said, so … and if you’re adding carbs in there, you know, the successful paleos and ketos have high levels of fat, so you’re going to … so your calories don’t go through the roof, you’ve going to have to drop some of those out.
It really isn’t rocket science. Basically, if you’re being responsible with … you know, get enough protein, be responsible with your carb and fat intake … but I do see a lot of people that just simply don’t eat enough. You know, they … especially people that are … you know, the ones that can’t gain weight. They always say, “Oh, I eat a ton,” and, trust me.
Brett: They’re not eating a ton.
Chris: Go input everything that you eat, and you will find out that they simply don’t. I mean, I got on Reddit the other day and somebody had posted … like Jim Wendler, so Jim Wendler is a powerlifter, did some stuff with EliteFTS. He’s got a pretty good entry‑level training program for people, e‑book style stuff, and somebody had posted his diet up and they’re like, “Oh, my God, how can he possibly eat that much a day? Is that a joke?”
I’m looking at it and I’m like, “This is you people’s problem. I mean, seriously, that’s a diet for me. That is a diet. I would be losing weight like crazy if I ate that little,” and these people are like freaking out, going, “How does he eat that much?” You know, you’ve just got to start building it up, you know? It’s like anything else.
Brett: There’s a funny video of some … did you see how The Rock posted his diet, and it was like … like ten pounds of food a day, and it was like cod, like with every meal. This guy, this guy tried to follow The Rock diet, and he ended up throwing up at 3:00, just too much food. It was pretty funny.
Chris: Yeah, and you’ve got to … I mean, you’ve just got to … I mean, you’re not going to turn that on.
Brett: Yeah. If you’re not The Rock yet, don’t eat The Rock diet.
Chris: If you’re 150 pounds, don’t eat the diet that a 270‑pound eater is going to, but you’re going to … you know, guess what, you’re going to need to eat more if you want to get up to 220 pounds.
Brett: Exactly. It costs a lot of energy to weigh that much.
Chris: It does.
Brett: It does. All right, so let’s get talking about … you’re doing some great … you’re talking about you quit the corporate gig, you’re doing the full‑time coaching and stuff, and you’re doing some real interesting things with technology, with the online coaching. Can you talk a little bit about your new program that you’ve come out with?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Obviously I’ve been … I’m pretty effective with, you know, my training programs on myself. I’m a pretty strong guy in general, but I’m not terribly gifted on that end, and it’s just been a lot of years of hard work and figuring things out. I had a ton of success with taking a lot of other people just, you know, to the same levels. I’ve got tons of number one, number two, number three, number four‑ranked men and women in the world that I’ve trained, and these are not people like a Westside Barbell that they’re recruiting people. I’m taking people from my local Portland, Oregon training area and, you know, making them … making them the best.
I’ve been playing around with basically velocity‑based training methodology for the last few years. I’ve got a couple items that are … they’re made in Australia but they’re, you know, basically measuring bar speed and power output, but they’re pretty expensive, but I’ve really refined my approach with that. From an online aspect, I am starting to get involved with that, because now I’ve got the capability.
I talked about I’m filming the Duffin Movement Series, so I’m really developing this really in‑depth library of both clinical and training knowledge. It’s like ten hours’ worth of content that’s going into this library, but between that and the velocity‑based training, so there’s some new pieces that have come out that are much more economical. You know, they sell for $189, not $2,200, which makes it a viable option on a … for a daily person.
The value in the velocity‑based training is really not training around velocity parameters, per se, but using it as an autoregulation tool. What autoregulation is is basically managing both CNS fatigue and fatigue accumulation, and making changes to the training program prior to the fact of you going over the cliff or whatever, and basically managing the training based on how your body is responding.
If we get into like the science of training, I mean, the most researched methods in the world come out of, you know, the Russian, the Eastern European bloc. I mean, they covered people over cycle, over cycle, over cycle, and cycle, I mean Olympic cycle. You know, that’s a four‑year cycle, and they did multiple of these, so it’s research over like 20‑, 30‑year periods on athletes. In the end, you know, variable, so varying both intensity and volume parameters has a huge impact, and the most … it’s not progressive loading, but variability, over basically four‑week periods of time.
From a planning aspect, you can really dial down very intricate and effective plans based off of these methods, but … and this is where like the autoregulation comes in that I’m doing … is we talked about my life, and I know you’ve got stuff going on in your life, but, you know, these athletes that they did the research on, they were athletes, and they were athletes in the Eastern bloc that wanted to show the world that they were the best.
They worked in a compound, and they didn’t have family around and they didn’t have jobs. Their job was to wake up, to eat, to train, to eat, get a massage and train again, and the only variable was … was training. For all the rest of us, you know, guess what? You know, a bad day at work, an argument with the wife, bad traffic and all these other things feed on top of your training plan, and I don’t know how to manage that without like really getting feedback.
Anyway, my online training system, so a client, I send them basically this gyroscope that goes on their arm, and that feeds to a portal. I write a program based on … so I’m basically … I look at filming … so my assessment period takes several weeks. I’m reviewing their lifts, how they’re moving, and I am basically developing a training plan based around what their goals are, where they are in the life cycle of an athlete, how they’re moving … which deals with exercise selection, what I have them doing from a prehab, rehab standpoint … and basically a lot of feedback from that Duffin Movement Series and all that library.
Then I write this training program, and my training program I load into this … this portal, which feeds right to their iPhone or Android phone or basically their mobile device, so it’ll pull up for their day of training. They’ve got, right there on their mobile device, which is linked on the band on their wrist or on their arm, and it’ll have a training plan, but it’ll also be based on variables. That’s how I’ll autoregulate, and it’s basically around the parameters.
They’ll be lifting, and so as they’re lifting, it’ll say, “Oh, you’re going to do this exercise,” and the video will be right there, and I’ll be walking through my coaching points on their mobile device like I’m there, like I was there in person. Then they’ll be able to lift up to a certain weight based on the parameters, and if their CNS is fatigued, you know, instead of doing a 350‑pound squat, maybe they work up to 325 because of, you know, a fight or stress at work or any of those things.
Or maybe they’ll work up to 350 pounds, but because of a late‑night bachelor party with a buddy, their fatigue accumulation is beyond what I expected as far as the training program I wrote, because I can’t anticipate that. Instead of doing the five sets I had planned, they can only do three, and again that’s because of the parameters that I’m telling them to train around, and they’re getting the feedback right there on their mobile device saying, “Here’s the speed that you’re lifting at, so this is what you’re able to lift to,” and so on.
Then all that’s feeding right back into the portal, so I’m able … on a weekly basis, I’ll review videos of their lifts and see how they’re improving and how they’re moving, based on the feedback I’m giving them. I may assign some new corrective movement patterns, I may change the exercise in their training program, I may change what they’re doing from an activation pattern prior to lifting, but I’m also seeing exactly how they’re performing and getting all the data of every set and every rep that they’re lifting, and then revising their training plan from there.
It’s some pretty cool stuff. I mean, so from a … I call it Virtual Coaching because really it is. There’s a ton of people that do online coaching, and they write … you know, they give this template or that tempalate, and you may as well just buy their e‑book because that’s really all it is, but here I’m creating an individualized plan based on how someone’s moving, and using some … some very in‑depth methodology from a movement perspective on how I do that, doing autoregulation.
From the client perspective, they’ve got the private content on coaching and moving, right there on their mobile device. They’re getting feedback on their lift, and … which is telling them what to do if I was there, as far as calls for weights and number of sets, and then, you know, I’m getting that data and using that for refining their plans for the future, and how they’re responding to that plan. Anyway, it’s pretty cool stuff.
Brett: That is some cool stuff. Where can people find out about that?
Chris: It’s on my website, KabukiWarrior.com, so there’s some details on the training plan. It’s pretty awesome. It’s really for like … you know, if you’ve trained for like 18 months or better, so it’s not like off the shelf. If you’re coming in and haven’t trained before, you probably don’t need to use it, but really a lot of intermediate to advanced lifters. I do train elite lifters, the best of the best, as well, but that’s really where this is kind of targeted, is your intermediate advanced lifters, and, yeah, it’s great.
Brett: That’s awesome. Well, Chris Duffin, this has been a fascinating discussion. A lot of great takeaways from here. Thank you so much for your time.
Chris: I really appreciate it. Appreciate the opportunity.
Brett: Our guest today was Chris Duffin. He is a world record‑setting powerlifter as well as weightlifting coach, you can find out more about his work at KabukiWarrior.com, also at EliteFTS.com. He writes content there. Also make sure to try his YouTube channel. If you are interested in powerlifting, weight lifting, he’s got a lot of great free content there to help you improve your lifting.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at ArtofManliness.com, and if you enjoy this podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you could give us a review on iTunes, on Stitcher, whatever it is you use to listen to the podcast. Also, the best compliment you could give us is recommending the podcast to your friends. I’d really appreciate that. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: September 15, 2015