in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: September 28, 2021

Podcast #187: Improving Strength & Durability With the Kabuki Movement System

If you lift weights, you’re going to love this episode, and even if you don’t lift weights you’re going to get something out of it.

About a year ago I had powerlifter Chris Duffin on the podcast to discuss his inspiring story of overcoming childhood poverty to become one of the strongest men on earth, and a successful family and business man as well. We also got into the philosophy of strength and into specific strength training tips. If you haven’t listened to the episode yet, go check it out.

I brought Chris back on to the podcast to talk about his recently released Kabuki Movement System. For the past few years Chris has been working with some of the best of the field when it comes to body mechanics and how it applies to weight training. And through a series of easy to remember cues, Chris has developed a way for you to be sure your body is properly positioned so you can deadlift, squat, and bench press more weight without injuring yourself. Even if you don’t weight train, you’re going to find information in this podcast about breathing and mobility work that can be really useful.

Show Highlights

  • The inspiration behind the Kabuki Movement System
  • How focusing on how your movement can prevent injuries and increase your PR by 10%
  • Why focusing on movement efficiency when you lift is particularly important for new and older athletes
  • How you’re supposed to breathe when lifting
  • How to “brace” yourself for a stronger lift
  • How a weakness in one area in your body can have a ripple effect to other parts of your body and cause injuries
  • Why more and more clinicians are prescribing deadlifts for elderly folks with back problems
  • What weightlifting belts actually do (and the kind of belt you should use)
  • Why wearing a back brace at work might actually be making you more injury prone
  • What “rooting” is and how it contributes to a stronger lift
  • Duffin’s cues for a strong and efficient squat
  • How shoulder mobility contributes to a stronger squat
  • How to incorporate mobility exercises into your strength training program
  • And much more!

Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast

Chris duffin doing powerlifting at gym.

If you strength train and are looking to improve your PRs while simultaneously decreasing injuries, definitely check out the Kabuki Movement System. If you’re looking to give it a shot, Chris has been kind enough to offer an exclusive discount for AoM Podcast listeners. If you go to Kabuki Movement System and use the code “art-manliness” when you sign up, you’ll get 50% off the initiation price.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. If you lift weights, you’re going to love this episode, and even if you don’t lift weights, you’re going to get something out of it. A few months ago, I had powerlifter Chris Duffin on the podcast discuss his inspiring story of overcoming childhood poverty and becoming one of the strongest men on earth as well as a successful family and businessman. We also get into the philosophy of strength, why men should be strong, and we get into a few strength training pointers as well. If you haven’t checked that episode out, it’s episode number 114.

I’ve brought Chris back onto the podcast to talk about his recently released Kabuki Movement Systems. For the past few years, Chris has been working with some of the best in the field when it comes to body mechanics and how it applies to weight training. Through a series of easy to remember cues, Chris has developed a way so you can be sure that your body’s properly positioned so you can deadlift, squat, bench, press more while simultaneously reducing your chance of injury. Even if you don’t weight-train, you’re going to find some information Chris has in his podcast about breathing and mobility work to be really useful. This podcast is jampacked with actionable items you can start using in the gym today, so be sure to check out the show notes for links to resources and studies Chris and I mention in the podcast. You can find them at, D-U-F-F-I-N.

Chris Duffin, welcome back to the show.

Chris Duffin: Glad to be back. Thanks for having me.

Brett McKay: All Right. Yeah. Last time we were here, we talked a bit about your life and lifting in general and strength training. Today, I wanted to have you back on the show to discuss a new project and a new phase in your strength training, I don’t want to say career, but just … Yeah, we’ll say career. For the past year or so, you’ve been putting on a lot of content, a lot of focus about body movement and body mechanics and how it applies to lifting. I mean, you get like really specific with this stuff, right? Like, where the hip is, how you should place your knees, how you breathe, et cetera. I’m curious, why did you start looking at lifting in this very meticulous way because I think most people, they just approach lifting, “Okay, there’s how you do a squat. I get under the bar and I squat.” That’s it.

Chris Duffin: It’s just kind of my nature in general. You look at anything I’ve done like I started building my own set of axles and I designed them from scratch and I built central tire inflation and all sorts of the steering design, everything I just really get in to all the technical aspects but also understanding the whole functionality and how it fits together. A number of years ago, I’d always been very technical with how my lifts looked but I started to get some injuries. They weren’t related injuries but it was just over this couple year period, I had this string of injuries and I’m like, “There has to be something to this.” Everybody that I talked to is like, “Oh no, you just got to treat this one thing and let’s move on to the next.”

I started reaching out to a lot of different people until I finally found a methodology that connected with me and started having an impact. This was with some developmental kinesiology out of what’s called the Prague School of Medicine. It’s really big in the rehab and sports world. Just over time, maybe from my business background and stuff, I’m not sure how, but I ended up basically connecting with some of the best people in the world teaching in the US, the instructors from Prague, being able to call people like Dr. Stuart McGill from the spine mechanics side. I’ve been able to develop this relationship where I’ve got all these resources that are basically the people writing the books, doing the research on how this stuff works. The problem is, nobody is applying it to pure strength sports. How are we doing this in the world we live? We go into the gym and we lift heavy weights or you’re out in the field picking up a wheelbarrow or big manly stuff. We pick up heavy things, that’s what we do, right?

A lot of it was all these remedial patterns that they’re dealing with for somebody coming back from an injury or an elderly population, that sort of stuff. With the relationships I was able to develop, I was able to have basically open conversation back and forth and being able to figure this out, and just how my brain work and stuff, I could grasp the core principles of what’s going on, and then I actually take that to what we’re doing and basic loaded movement patterns and figure out the cuing strategy, what should be happening to make the body function the way it should. Like I said earlier, my lifts looked technically perfect, but my body wasn’t doing what it needed to be doing.

Brett McKay: Right.

Chris Duffin: It became a focus on … Because you can make things fall … Like, people are squatting, you always hear, “Knees out, knees out.” Well, knees out happen if the right thing is happening. If you’re doing the right thing with the core and the right thing with your feet, your legs and knees, everything is going to be in the right position. Everything is going to be firing correctly. You’re going to be optimizing your power transfer. You’re going to be reducing risk for injury. If you just put your knees out, you don’t get all those benefits. You don’t have the muscle engaged. You haven’t reduced the risk for injury. You haven’t done those things. It’s just kind of a shift in focus from making the body function the way it’s supposed to and then developing an eye and being able to see minute little things in the body so that you can actually do the assessment.

This is one of my … Like I said, I work with a lot of these high-end rehab folks that develop a lot of these material, but my frustration sometimes is, it’s like, “Oh, well we need to analyze squat mechanics and shoulder mobility so we got to do an overhead press and we got to check the glute firing, so we got to do an overhead squad. We got to check glute firing so we got to do a single leg glute bridge. Seven different tests we’ll run through to figure it out.” I’m like, “They were just squatting and I saw it all, and I can fix it right now because I know how to cue it.” We never have to actually move backwards, which is really, really, really powerful. I mean, it is incredibly simple. It sounds simple, but you think about, if you go into the gym, you’re going there for a reason, right? To get stronger or lose weight, and you don’t want to spend a month or two doing body weight movements to getting things moving right before you can actually start working your plan.

Brett McKay: Right.

Chris Duffin: I guess that’s the fundamentals behind the Kabuki Movement Systems. We do some of the remedial work with the KMS. You’ve been on the website Brett, so you’ve seen a lot of that, but it’s more of like homework or reinforcing postural cues or like I said the homework piece for sending somebody, “Let’s fix it in this squat, but here’s some things that you can do on the side to continue to re-ingrain those patterns.” That’s the fundamentals of the KMS. It’s, always move forward, man. Always move forward.

Brett McKay: I love that. It’s not only focusing about or getting really specific about body movement or body mechanics, this isn’t just going to prevent injuries, it’s also going to help you, I mean, is this going to help you have a stronger lift as well?

Chris Duffin: Absolutely. It’s not uncommon for me to see somebody that hasn’t implemented these principles before to implement it and in their first workout hit like a 10% PR. We’re talking going from like a 400-pound squat to a 440-pound squat. That’s huge.

Brett McKay: That’s a big jump. Yeah.

Chris Duffin: Because what we’re doing, and I don’t know if I covered this in the last interview sequence, but the body has some protective measures. If you’re at basically risk for injury, so if you’ve got either two things, either a dystabilized joint or the core isn’t engaged properly, what we call core, but a proper intra-abdominal pressure isn’t created. If you don’t have either of those things, the body de-tunes. It de-tunes itself so that you reduce your risk for injury. If you turn off those systems all of a sudden, basically it means you’re not training to the maximum effect.

If you could have been squatting 440 and you’re working with 400, you aren’t taking advantage of the full effects. Compile that over 5 years and think what that’s going to do to your training if you’re actually using heavier training loads. It’s the same principles. This is why, like the training in the BOSU ball stuff is non-effective. As soon as you get on the BOSU ball, the body deregulates so it doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks they’re working their core and balance, stability, all that stuff, but if they’re using 10-pound dumbbells and getting no training effect from it. You actually need stability first, primary if you want to maximize your output.

Brett McKay: I imagine this, it’s got to be a big mind shift for a lot of strength training athletes to be mindful of their body in this way. Being aware of what your pelvis is doing or what your back is … I’ve done that and it’s really hard to wrap your mind around, to get that kinetic mind connection going on.

Chris Duffin: It is but that’s part of too, that came as principles because if you go online you’ll find “Here’s the 100 things you’re supposed to focus on on the squat.” How the heck am I supposed to do that?

Brett McKay: I got 400 pounds on my back right now.

Chris Duffin: I try to never have more than 5 cues so 5 things you can repeat in your head over and over and go … It’s trying to refine it down to the … It’s really hard to develop a squat with 5 cues. It took me a long time and they’re very simple and why they take you so long to figure that out. It’s what set and how do you cue it and how do you get that in such a way that that one cue covers 20 things. We try to refine that down to as little things as possible and as you practice in the gym when it comes to performance time you don’t have to think through all that stuff but what we found, your high level athletes, they all do a lot of these things.

I mean they’re high level athletes for a reason. They all do these things naturally because they’re athletic. If we bring focused conscious awareness to them, they always get better. It doesn’t matter at what level, which is pretty crazy.

Brett McKay: Also even non-high competitive athletes, they’ll get better too with these cues right.

Chris Duffin: Absolutely, this is for someone who’s not really a high athletic nature. This is actually the biggest payoff because people all the time “I’m just getting into lifting, is it really for me?” I’m like hell yeah, you don’t want to do it wrong for 10 years and then compile injuries. But if you’re not a natural athlete, one of those gifted people, a lot of these things don’t come naturally so you end up with this “My knee hurts and my ankle and my elbow, my shoulders” and you end up with this. You train for 6 months and you take a few … You constantly have these aches and pains and all these stuff so if you teach these core operating principles, all of a sudden all these things come into place and you’ve got … You’re focused on training and moving better and a lot of people think heavy training or strength training is going to be negative for life, it’s going to decrease your mobility, increase your injuries.

It takes from life but if you learn it in the KMS principles approach, these things actually make you function better in life. You’re not going to bend over to pick up the kid and go “There went my back, crap.” This actually helps you function better in life.

Brett McKay: It’s all about being more efficient with your body, it sounds like.

Chris Duffin: Yeah, what we’re doing if we get back [inaudible 00:13:42] is developmental kinesiology is there’s natural patterns and a progression that we all learn. It’s how the body functions so if you watch any baby through their developmental strategy at every age you’ll see the same things happen as they move from being able to being on their back to rolling to their side to now being able to reach, now getting over into the crawl position, then getting into the stand position and walking. That’s all ingrained and that’s … We’re born with that and unfortunately and this is why KNS is for everyone, everyone. Our society today fucks that up. That’s just the straight of it. I’m sitting in this chair right now. We break down the squat and we learn how to sit.

We sit with our high technology devices, we’re working on our computers, doing our texting. Our shoulders are pulled forward, we got heightened stress levels that change our breathing patterns and this is a big one. It doesn’t matter. Sitting in traffic, the boss is yelling at you. Even all this technology raises and changes. There’s tons of studies that do that. Changes your breathing patterns. As soon as the breathing patterns get broken this is where a lot of the stuff starts going wrong because it sounds … It’s just breathing. Trying to explain that to a layman and the importance of it is really hard. A lot of your athletes really get it. The breathing is so fundamental because you look at a skeleton and look at the mass of the structure in there and you’ll see all this compontentry around the shoulders, the hips, all this massive stuff.

Then you’ll see right in the middle there’s a big gap, there’s nothing. Just a few little spinal segments running between and that is where all the breathing comes from. Think about it, all your force transfer goes through that area. Anytime you’re throwing, running, picking … Your feet are grounded to the floor and you’re transferring power through and extremities such as the arm or through the shoulder. All of that is connected through this area. The breathing doesn’t do that but if the breathing patterns break, the methodology for how that structure creates rigidity and transfer power starts working in properly.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about it because whenever people start lifting, they read somewhere online or in a book, there’s a certain way you’re supposed to breathe. The most common one I’ve heard is you inhale on the way down and you exhale on the way out. That’s the most common thing. Is that true or how should we breathe for optimal lifting so we can have that efficient force transfer.

Chris Duffin: It depends. There is no fixed answer because during force transfer, the breathing isn’t important. The breathing is important because if you have dysfunctional breathing patterns, the bracing won’t work and the bracing is how we create that rigidity for force transfer. They both operate with the same mechanism so there’s a reason they break down. They both use the diaphragm. If you’ve got dysfunctional diaphragm for breathing it’s not going to be working properly and integrated properly for the bracing function. Let’s talk about breathing during lifting because a lot of people will think when I say bracing they’re like “Oh yeah you got to pressurize and you think about filling up this belly with just full of air.”

It’s not about a big belly full of air. We’ll get to that in a minute. The breathing depends on the threshold of the lift so if I’m doing a maximal effort lift or a single or a double I’m probably not breathing at all. I brace and I hold the entire time but if I’m doing 20 reps I got to keep my air going or I’m going to pass out. I may be and the lift isn’t that heavy so I may be able to breathe in on the way down instead of being fully braced in than being braced in the height of the peak activity in the hole then come up and breathe out or I can breathe in and out between sets or between reps so there’s a lot of different ways there. It really isn’t that important, just understanding it has to match the threshold of the movement you’re doing.

Brett McKay: It sounds like breathing is what allows you to brace. It’s part of the components that allows you to brace correctly for the lift and can you explain what you mean by bracing, what we’re trying to accomplish when we brace ourselves for lift?

Chris Duffin: Let’s be clear, breathing and bracing are two different things. Two different things. You can do them independently and you can do them together but they’re both using the diaphragm function. First I usually teach people to brace without breathing but that’s only using one function of the diaphragm at a time, is as you get more advanced you can brace and breathe so this is more advanced. What bracing is, this is how you create rigidity, this is how you create power, this is how you turn off that down-regulation of the body. The diaphragm is a cone shaped muscle that attaches basically at the base of the rib cage so as you breathe in it drives down so it’s this large cone and it drives down so you can imagine a piston, that’s really what it is.

There is a piston right there and at the top of that piston that’s driving down it’s basically attached to right where the sternum is. As you drive down just like a piston it creates pressure and that pressure needs to be working in opposition so you have to have the pelvis rotated exactly so the pelvic floor is directly below it in opposition because if you’ve got a piston and you bend it, all the pressure is going to shoot out the side. The same thing, if you arch up, the pressure isn’t going to be going down, it’s going to be going towards the front of our belly and you don’t want that. You have to have the pelvis clocked directly up or down and not have the chest flared and be able to drive that down.

We teach them strategies for doing that so that’s how you create the pressure with the diaphragm. The second is … It’s not a belly full of air. There’s air in there that you’re compressing when you do that but it’s creating that against the outer sheath of the abdominal wall so now you’ve got to make that abdominal wall rigid. Imagine getting punched, getting punched in the belly. We call it inaudible because if you’re in my gym and you’re not doing it properly and you’re squatting or dead lifting you may randomly get punched by me. That’s a known fact. We think about … Somebody’s having some trouble there but also reach down and put your thumbs right in the obliques right in the love handles right there and inflate them. Blow them up like they’re balloons. You feel that and a lot of people will do that with their breathing. Start practicing so you can do it independently of your breathing so push them out and hold them what you can breathe in and out so now you’re using the two different functions there.

When we brace we think about two cues. We think about drawing down at the diaphragm, we’re imagining that piston drawing down connected to that point and then pushing out with the obliques into the lower abdomen. You’re pushing the lower abdomen into the legs and that’ll create that rigidity of that outer sheath wall and engage the obliques as well. That is a brace core.

Brett McKay: Basically what you’re doing is you’re turning your core into a steel rod.

Chris Duffin: Exactly. Except you want to think about it is … your whole upper torso is being a covert toward a telephone poll stacked on top of your hips. Once you do this it can’t really bend anymore. Everybody with … I got to build up my erectors, I got to build up my erectors. Your erectors … but this is what creates the stability under load. When this breaks that’s when you hurt yourself. Once you got that blocked in you can bend forward, you can bend back. But just like a telephone poll it’s not going to bend if it’s stacked on top of your hips. If you try to move it it’ll snap. The other is … We take it a step further, a lot of people don’t realize the lats are also a spinal stabilizer and this is how we get the shoulder so if we’re doing anything, let’s say pressing, squatting, anything where the power transfers through the core, we’re going to engage the lats as well and basically imagine, we call it scapular depression where you’re pulling the shoulders down, pulling them away from the ears.

Basically if you’re under a squat bar and the snap will get the shoulders plugged directly into that mechanism as well and now you’ve got this extreme rigidity. It sounds like a lot of work and it is. If you’re doing a set of 20 squats you’re not going to do it that aggressively because you’re going to wear out.

Brett McKay: If you do one really heavy squat …

Chris Duffin: As you advance you’re going to do it more and more and more. By the time, if you’re working on a max effort this set up should actually almost be harder than the lift. If you do it correctly it is. You’ll just go down and pop up and go wow, I just squatted, that’s cool. That’s how we engage those mechanisms.


Brett McKay: I’m trying to visual this and seeing having a rigid thing will lead to a stronger lift. I’m imagining when we don’t do these bracing principles it’s like our core if more like a loose chain.

Chris Duffin: It’s a sponge.

Brett McKay: It’s a sponge, right, and if you’re imagining lifting [heavy 00:24:20] with a sponge you’re not going to do it.

Chris Duffin: Yup, almost all of our power derives from the feet on the floor and then driving it through. Think about most sports, you’re throwing something, catching something, doing something with the arms. All that power has to be transferred from the feet through that big empty space in the spine and you don’t want to transfer power through a sponge. It’s not an efficient power transfer source and that also increases risk of injury. Now think about the hips are connected to that, the shoulders are connected to that so those are our big prime movers. If we have dysfunction that’s where things start going wrong downstream of that. Maybe a glute  isn’t firing or this aductor is tight, all these things and now it changes the leg position, now we just blew out our knee. We go to the doctor and they focus on knee surgery and doing this knee stuff and then now you take 6 months off but you never actually fixed what was wrong, what drove it.

We also see a lot of cross-functional patterns across the body. You got maybe left and right shoulder issue. We see those type of patterns as well but a lot of these, you got to chase up the chain and this is where my string of injuries that seemed unrelated now all made sense. It’s like I’ve got this cross body string of elbow shoulder hip so on and start fixing that stuff and all of a sudden all of those things just disappear and go away. It’s crazy because we’ll put those principles in place with somebody that’s like “I haven’t been able to squat for 6 months because of knee problem, back problem” whatever. Let’s work through this stuff. Boom, all of a sudden they’re like “I’m squatting, I’m moving good weight, and the pain is just gone because we’re shutting those systems down.” That’s really freaking amazing.

Think about it, we talk about that elderly population or something, we’re saying the … Clinicians that I work with, I speak on this stuff a lot of times to colleges, some of my material is in phD level courses, that’s usually when I’m speaking in colleges, it’s to DC students and physical therapy students. A lot of these people attend my seminars too. The clinicians that I work with, if they get somebody with a back problem in their clinic, it doesn’t matter who, it could be a 60 year old woman, one of the first things they usually do now, teach them to dead lift. Session 1. They come in and they can’t even bend over to tie their shoe, they’re just in extreme pain. We’ll work through these methods, bring the pain down, and teach them how to dead lift a 35 pound kettle bell off the floor.

You know what, often times you’ll have somebody in tears. Not from pain but from joy, because they couldn’t pick up their grand kid or their kid or some other life thing. That’s where … You can tell in this conversation, I’m really passionate about this stuff because it truly is fixing something that is wrong with people in the world today and so many people have lost connection with the fact that we’re physical beings and you need to be physically active to be both mentally, emotionally, and spiritually a well person. It’s not just physical health, it affects all of those. The people that figure that out, you take that away from them, it messes with them.

Brett McKay: Sounds like this stuff is really important for lifters as they get older. Even me, I’m 33 and already I realize I can’t do the same things when I was 20 or 18.

Chris Duffin: You’re right on the cusp now of that … This is right about the time I started figuring all that … Heading down this path myself. I see this all the time. I own a gym, I work with athletes all the time. Guys in their early 20s, it’s hard to teach them some of this stuff because nothing hurts them. When you’re that age nothing hurts, why is this stuff important, why do I want to listen to this old guy? As you get older all of a sudden it’s like some of these stuff will start coming into play, start picking up. We don’t recover the same so you can get away with a lot when you’re younger. Although we do have a lot of younger athletes that push it too far and we end up having to … their backs and doing stuff like that because of that … But yes, as you age the value of this gets more and more important.

I coach a lot of masters lifters, a lot of 60-70 plus lifters. It’s an incredibly powerful tool because … Most people that have been through the trauma that I’ve been through because I was that young guy that didn’t listen to anybody because I was stronger than anybody. I’m a pretty intelligent guy so usually I felt I was the smartest guy in the room type thing, all that ego. I didn’t listen, why would I listen? I was stronger, smarter, whatever. I’ve had tons of major surgeries, all sorts of trauma. Most people that are in my situation would’ve been done years ago, they wouldn’t have been able to train. I’m still able to train and at a high level.

Brett McKay: Going back to bracing a little bit, is this people wear belts when they lift weights? Is it sort of like a cue for bracing?

Chris Duffin: Yes it certainly can be. It definitely improves it if you use it correctly. Some people don’t use the belt correctly. I like to train with and without so we can practice that. On the KMS website we’ve got tons of different drills to teach some of this … if you’re listening to this you’re going “What is he talking about pelvis orientation and drawing down with the sternum.” None of this stuff, this is why my website is all video content because it is incredibly hard to grasp without actually seeing it demonstrated. The belt. We try to practice this with and without the belt because you can get better without … The belt is a good cue because when you’re driving that piston down, we talked about that, that piston again, it’s creating that pressure.

What does pressure do? Pressure goes all directions so it’s 360 degrees all the way around, you’re even pushing around the low back as well. Guess what the belt does? The belt surrounds that area, 360 degrees, and it’s a great cue for people to push out and against and it will improve the bracing when done that way. Some people think the belt is the brace, is the device, and they crank it on so tight that they’re actually sucked in and if you’re sucked in now, you can’t actually brace effectively.

Brett McKay: Or they think it’s like a brace for their lower back.

Chris Duffin: Exactly, most of the belts out there you go to a gym and they’ve got this little tiny band in the front and the big piece in the back because they think it’s a brace for the back. The most important piece is actually missing because most of the pressure is coming through the front where you’ve got most of the flexible tissue at. You go to Home Depot and you see these same things.

Brett McKay: The suspender things that they wear.

Chris Duffin: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Those guys at Home Depot need to learn how to brace.

Chris Duffin: I think it’s well proven at this point that wearing those devices during the workout can actually increase your risk of injury.

Brett McKay: They keep doing it.

Chris Duffin: Now they’re going to go home and do something and they haven’t been practicing with, they’ve been relying on that. I guess that doesn’t increase the risk for insurance for the company because it’s not on an on the job injury.

Brett McKay: That’s right, not my problem. Not my problem. We talked about breathing, we talked about bracing. Another concept you talk about, an element of the Kabuki movement system is this thing you call rooting. Can you explain it because it’s a term I’ve never seen … I haven’t seen that in other strength training literature.

Chris Duffin: We’ve been focused on rooting for about 5 years or so and you’ll start seeing other strength coaches talking about it now. It’s basically … if you reach out and grab something with your hand, there’s a lot of engagement and stuff that happens. The same thing with our feet. Unfortunately we lose a lot of connection with our feet because we’re around in shoes all day today. How you actually apply and grab with the foot to the ground actually turns on a lot of things that need … Our basic rooting strategy and the one I have posted publicly is our tri-point strategy. This is the stuff you’ll start hearing other strength coaches talking about. I’ll talk about the more advanced stuff we’re doing now that’s on the KMS site. Imagine 3 points of contact, one below the big toe, one below at the base of the big toe where it’s connected to the foot. Same thing from the pinky toe.

Then under the heel. If you stand and you imagine grabbing the ground with those 3 points like they’re eagle talons and twisting it up, you’ll feel your glutes fire up.

Brett McKay: I’m doing it right now and I’m feeling that.

Chris Duffin: Now our advanced technique goes way beyond that because that’s hard to focus on, how do I do that while I squat or while I deadlift and it kind of falls apart a little bit. We got a methodology stolen from a bunch of different areas, I think it was originally out of ballet.

Brett McKay: If it works it works.

Chris Duffin: We’ve had it in place probably for 9 months or a year, we’ve been using it here and using it … It is incredibly effective and it takes it to a whole another level. I can’t describe it but you can sign up at the KMS website and when you do it you’ll feel everything in your hips and legs just fire up and achieve perfect control of the leg position. I got an athlete in the UK right now, he was just over here. He’s constantly has these issues on the right side, he’s got knee problems, he’s got back problems. Immediately just watching the feet, within a few minutes, is able to diagnose, work through, and as soon as we did it he’s like “Oh my god, I have perfect control of everything that feels so different.” It’s an incredible incredible tool.

This is our connection to the ground, think about football, soccer, all these things. This is where we’re developing power from is that connection. Everything upstream through the hip turns on and off based on how the foot is operating and it’s an incredibly important piece so that’s really and I commend you Brett for capturing that on the KMS website because you haven’t been on there that long but between the bracing and the rooting and we do same things similar with the hands, with grip where we can turn the lats on and off with things that we’re doing with the fingers. Pretty similar concepts. That’s where you’re grounded and connected the power from.

Brett McKay: It sounds like the rooting is how you take that telephone poll you’ve created and bracing and planted it into the ground. It’s not wobbly.

Chris Duffin: Yup.

Brett McKay: Even just being aware of that and thinking about I want to get my feet dug into the ground. You’re right, it puts things into place naturally and you feel you have a stronger lift, it’s not wobbly when you’re going down or up. It just feels a lot stronger. Even just thinking about it, that’s the thing that blows my mind. Thinking about I’m going to root my feet into the ground and stuff just magically happens, it’s bizarre.

Chris Duffin: You want to think, the front of your foot, think about as a hand spreading out wide so that’s why, I like a shoe that’s got a wide toe box in the front so you can spread that out and grab the ground with it and think about that same thing, similar thing. Anytime we’re under load we definitely never want to have, if we think about the bosu ball or the lack of stability, we never want to have, basically a cross-trainer or something that’s a running shoe, something that’s built to absorb chalk, you want something that’s pretty solid.

Brett McKay: Like flat shoe or a weight lifting shoe or something like that.

Chris Duffin: Yeah, a boot, a converse, there’s a lot of different shoes out there now that are just a solid solid sole.

Brett McKay: I’m curious if you could … Can you take us through a few cues, like you’re setting up for a squat. What would be some basic cues that a guy should go through before he starts lifting so he’s set up in the most optimal position?

Chris Duffin: The cues I would go through and this would be … You’ve already walked up, you got the bar on your back. You’re ready to squat. Cue number one is going to be draw down at the sternum. Then inflate the obliques. Now we’re going to take the bar and we’re going to bend it over our back. You’ve got to be very aware, I’m not losing that chest position when you do it because the lats are trying to pull your chest forward if you’re engaged, so you need to fight that, you need to hold the … That’s why we get the brace first before we engage the lats.

Then from there you can think about twisting the floor up. The more advanced cue, I can’t really go through in verbiage, you got to see it. You twist the floor up, you want to turn the glutes on, you basically want to imagine you’re in this standing finish position so you can think about standing tall where you’re driving your heels through the ground and you’ve got your quads flexed, your glutes flexed, you’re twisted that floor up. Now you’re going to sit back between your legs and that’s it.

There’s usually a whole lot of other cues that people have from there but if you take care of all those basic fundamental things this will make a beautiful looking squat so cue one, we’re going to draw down, draw down to the sternum. We’re going to inflate, inflate the obliques. We’re going to bend the bar over our back. Number 3. We’re going to twist the floor up, number 4. Number 5, we’re going to sit back between our legs.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome, that’s really cool. I’ve tried this and it helps. It’s amazing just following those cues in your mind, it can really help out a lot. Here’s what I thought was interesting too. You have some counter-intuitive things in there so for example that I saw in your squatting curriculum or your squatting schema you have is working on shoulder mobility, scapular exercises for this squat and I think a lot of people said “It’s a leg exercise, why do I need to be mobile in my shoulders to have a good squat?” How is scapular flexibility going to translate to a better squat?

Chris Duffin: Good question. It’s all about achieving the best posture and position possible. Before I squat I’m definitely not going to do mobility work on the hips or hamstring or quads or anything that’s actually moving. I’m going to allow myself to get in better position. If my shoulders are tight and I’m trying to get out of that bar, what’s going to happen is it’s going to make my chest flare up. Then I’m going to lose my bracing. It’s all about what’s allowing me to get in the best position or I may have my elbows behind me. If my elbows are … as we call it, they’re sticking out behind me and driving forward, I’m not going to be able to draw down on that bar so the mobility work is all about allowing us to get in position to maximize the cuing strategy for the performance of the lift.

Shoulder mobility work before squatting is tremendous in being able to do that unless if you’re a hyper mobile person then you probably don’t have a whole lot to worry about there. That’s the concept there is basically allowing us to be able to get into those positions so we can maximize the performance.

Brett McKay: I imagine that the shoulder mobility for squat is an issue for a lot of men who work at a computer all day and they’re hunched over. That’s a problem for me for example. Every morning before I even get under the bar, I use the Hindu clubs spear mace thing, swing that around. I know you have a device that you build, I forgot, the shoulder rock.

Chris Duffin: The shoulder rock yeah. How long is your Indian club?

Brett McKay: It’s pretty long. It’s like 4 feet or 3 feet long.

Chris Duffin: If it’s 3 feet, you get back to me, I’m going to get a shoulder rock. Almost everyone on the market is designed incorrectly. These would be close to 4 feet because the weight needs to swing right directly behind your knee. Almost everyone that I’ve ever seen is designed incorrectly based on the classical use of it and actually, clinical use now, since we’re talking about shoulder rock. Anyway, sorry to get off on –

Brett McKay: No it’s awesome, because I have a problem, if I don’t do that, getting under the bar, it hurts. Because my shoulder because I’m hunched over all day and it affects not only my shoulder mobility but my chest is super inflexible as well so I have to open all that up before I can even get under the bar.

Chris Duffin: Exactly and if you don’t do that you lose all that bracing position and next thing you know you’re squatting and you don’t have that core and all of a sudden you bend over, now you’re lifting with load, boom, you blow a disc. That’s just the train of things that can happen when we don’t do that and let alone, let’s take out the injury risk, you’re not going to be able to lift as much because you’re not able to engage that stuff the way you want to. Always want to … You remember some people just go “I’m not going to hurt myself so I always have to sell on the … You’re going to lift more.”

Brett McKay: Okay, yeah, yes, I will do that. You also have these exercises, little small mobility drills that can help different lifts. I’m curious, that it’s for rehab, prehab type things. When should someone do this stuff. You have the shoulder rock and doing shoulder mobility, you have some drills on there too. You do this before your training session, do you do them on rest days? When should you incorporate these mobility work?

Chris Duffin: One of the things that I really want to clarify is the difference between stability work and mobility work. A lot of people don’t understand because they think if you strength train you got to balance it and do your mobility work. Any time you have a joint that’s getting tight understand there is something wrong with your movement. Your body is creating a protective measure and tightening up that joint to reduce your risk of injury. If you have to do mobility work you’re doing [triage 00:47:18] work. You need to figure out what is wrong with the movement and what is driving that to happen. Most of the work, I’ve got a few mobility exercises but I try not to focus on mobility work on the KMS website because there’s so much content out there eon mobility work. There’s tons of stuff on mobility work out there so a lot of our stuff is really about bringing postural awareness, firing patterns, and stability.

This is something that everybody doesn’t discuss in the mobility world. You have to have the joint stabilized before you start working mobility. That said, we try not to overdo it so we don’t want anybody doing more than 10 or 15 minutes worth of prep work and that prep work should actually speed up your workout. If we’re doing mobility work, if you’ve got to do the triage work, we may do shoulder mobility work so a … before squatting but if your hips … Are having issues and you’re working on hip mobility for your squatting, you’d do that maybe the day before or at the end of the other workout. So you’d do it on off days.

What we do is we try and have that 10 minutes work of basically primer work before the main lift. If we take squatting for example, we’ll do basically movement drills that are working on increasing stability in the firing patterns. We may do things like rear leg elevated split squats, things of that nature with really focused on the cuing and awareness before squatting. Should take less than 10 minutes and should actually speed your workout up by 10 minutes so net effect should be nothing. On an off day, if we’re working on core stability we have may 15 or 20 minutes dedicated to doing some other drills that are bringing … Either actually working on core stability so we’ve got a whole … or you may be doing some postural awareness. We’ve got some movements in there. Usually you’ve got 3 or 4 movements you may be doing on an off day that are trying to reinforce that sort of stuff.

We would do 10 minutes worth of firing work to prep you for movement on the training day and 3 or 4 movements on an off day that are focused on things that you need to develop or postural awareness and that’s pretty much it. Advanced athletes that have really clean movement may have a couple items so it’s a little bit variable but we try not to exceed 10 minutes and 15-20 minutes on off days.

Brett McKay: Awesome, so not a lot of time, that’s great. I think a lot of people, they approach this, I got to spend an hour a day on mobility.

Chris Duffin: That’s a big frustration for me because I see this all the time especially with the crowd that’s really focused on mobility where they come in and do mobility work for 45 minutes and then have 30 minutes to train. You’re totally missing the point. You’ve got to do the training part too.

Brett McKay: It’s like even if I do it in off days it’s like yours is 45 minute routine. I don’t want to do that. I don’t have time for that. This has been a great conversation, where can folks learn more about the Kabuki movement system?

Chris Duffin: There’s a link on our store which is There’ll always be … Pretty shortly we’ll also have a new website up there that will have tons of contributors, lot of clinical based evidence, material, that’s going to be going on there. We’ve got some amazing contributors lined up for our site. Right now it’s just a store but there’ll be a link to the movement site. The movement site itself is for movement systems and I have a special offer for all your listeners. I’ve got 50% off the initiation for your listeners if they use the code art-manliness.


Brett McKay: Chris Duffin, thanks so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Chris Duffin: It has, thanks for having me on again Brett and I’m really glad that you enjoyed the site and take a look at your club and get back to me. I want to hear about it. If not I’d like to introduce you to the shoulder rock.

Brett McKay: I’d love to do that, thanks so much. My guest here was Chris Duffin, you can find out more information about his kabuki movement systems at and you can follow his training at Also be sure to check out the show notes for this podcast at

That wraps up another addition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoy this podcast and got something out of it I’d appreciate it if you go to iTunes or stitcher to give us a review. That helps us out, gets the word out about the podcast. Also tell your friends about us, I’d really appreciate that. Until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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