The Mike O’Hearn Show: Chris Duffin Shares His Survivor Mentality and How To Build Resiliency

Duffin focuses on three aspects to become more resilient: methodology, tools, and environment.

The sixth episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show aired on Generation Iron‘s YouTube channel on July 8, 2022. It featured co-owner of Kabuki Strength and elite powerlifter Chris Duffin. Duffin is known for remarkable feats of strength with a barbell on his back, including 970-pound and 1,000-pound squat doubles and repping 1,001 pounds in a sumo stance.

The interview opened with both men’s experiences with trainer Gunnar Peterson, featured in the previous episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show. Once O’Hearn and Duffin settled, they spoke about the philosophy of Kabuki Strength and Duffin’s “underlying driver in life.”

Building resilience by leaning into the demands, the stress of training, and coming out the other side a more resilient person.

Duffin knows many carry that energy while in the gym but aims to help people achieve that in “all avenues of [life]; physical, mental, and spiritual.”Check out the full interview in the video below:

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Duffin’s Upbringing

Duffin’s childhood through high school was not one many would envy. He dealt with many problems, from homelessness to dangerous environments, without a good support system. By high school, his parents acquired a motor home with electricity — an upgrade to his previous circumstances. He considered it the most stable four years of his life up to that point. Duffin worked his way through engineering school while caring for his three sisters.

Training and physical activity paired with reading at the library is how Duffin found stability during those turbulent times. A front-page article in The Bulletin — an Oregon newspaper — in 1985 documenting Duffin’s academic and athletic success led to the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) offering him academic grants and a scholarship. Duffin is currently a member of OIT’s engineering board.

Duffin’s motivation to overcome those hardships and succeed was his history of seeing those around him suffer premature deaths due to drugs or go to prison without having lived much of their lives.

It was a survivor mentality. There was no option. There was no couch for me to go back to.

The pattern of resilience that Duffin displayed in his formative years is what he uses as a training philosophy in the current day. He had a distant future goal of where he wanted to end up. Still, to get there, he focused on daily goals and short-term targets that were more immediately achievable — consistency over time and the pressure of having no choice but to succeed ultimately worked for Duffin.


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A post shared by Chris Duffin (@mad_scientist_duffin)

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Training To Be Better

Duffin’s consistency in the gym was partly due to chasing a career in the space but also to flip the narrative of being an “underclass citizen.” People looked down on him for a myriad of reasons, but training offered him the capacity “to be better; to present [himself] better, to be more of a presence.” His self-esteem and confidence grew due to his consistent efforts in the gym.

Duffin recognized that his “genetic predisposition” was geared more towards powerlifting than bodybuilding. He had a better capacity for form and strength than aesthetic adaptation. It took eight years for Duffin to become the top-ranked powerlifter in the world — a distinction he held in the squat, deadlift, and/or total for eight consecutive years.

According to Open Powerlifting, Duffin currently holds the second all-time heaviest multi-ply deadlift in the 90-kilogram class — 363 kilograms (800.3 pounds) at the 2009 APF Spring Powerlifting Challenge. Since 2002, he has competed in 22 sanctioned powerlifting meets. He won 16 of them — a 73 percent win rate.

There were three aspects Duffin recognized he needed for success:

  • Methodology
  • Tools
  • Environment

To collect the proper versions of those three aspects, Duffin opened his own gym and ultimately co-founded Kabuki Strength which follows his training methodologies and designs unique equipment, such as the Duffalo barbell.

O’Hearn reiterated that Duffin’s success wasn’t handed to him. Instead, Duffin’s choices to refine the methodology, tools, and environment available to him got him closer to his long-term goal. These days that means “paring away the non-essential.” Duffin is constantly refining his choices to rid his life, both in and outside the gym, of things that aren’t adding value.

Poor conditions lead to less capacity.

Duffin believes success results from committing daily to the things one is passionate about that align deeply with their values. In Duffin’s view, that passion is derived from “understanding who you are and what you want to do.”

Featured image: @mikeohearn on Instagram