At 71, He’s Deadlifting Over 500 Pounds (w/Rudy Kadlub)

Today I’m talking to powerlifter, record holder, and Kabuki Strength CEO Rudy Kadlub. Rudy has, admittedly, been stronger than average his whole life, but it wasn’t until his 50s that he really began training in strength sports. Now in his early 70s, Rudy is a massive figure in strength sports for his accomplishments both on and off the powerlifting platform. We discuss his background, strength training for more mature athletes, co-founding Kabuki Strength, and much, much more.

Rudy Kadlub BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Rudy Kadlub about:

  • Rudy’s athletic background and “getting stronger than other people faster” (03:00)
  • Discovering powerlifting in his mid-50s (07:00)
  • Deciding to tae up competitive powerlifting and accidentally chasing big records (11:00)
  • Meeting Chris Duffin, his eventual training and business partner (13:30)
  • Co-founding Kabuki Strength Labs — from great equipment to hilarious t-shirts (18:00)
  • “Whiskey & Deadlifts” (22:00)
  • Why Rudy thinks strength training can change lives at all ages (26:00)
  • Rudy’s next goals and encouraging mature athletes to take up strength training (30:50)

Relevant links and further reading:


Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

..people say, “Well, you can’t just do strength training. You need aerobic.” I challenge anybody that use the heavy weight on the squat and bend three sets of six and tell me that your heart isn’t beating fast, that you’re not breathing hard. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the BarBend podcast where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao. This podcast is presented by


Today, I’m talking to powerlifter, record holder, and Kabuki strength CEO, Rudy Kadlub. Rudy has, admittedly, been stronger than average his whole life, but it wasn’t until his 50s that he began training in strength sports. Now, in his early 70s, Rudy is a massive figure in strength sports for accomplishments both on and off the power the powerlifting platform.


We discuss his background, strength training for a more mature athletes, co-founding Kabuki Strength, and much, much, more.


I do want to take a second to say we’re incredibly thankful that you’re listening to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now, let’s get to the show.


Rudy, thanks so much for joining me. I’m very excited to chat with you. You’re someone who has been on our radar for a long time. We absolutely love following what you’re doing in the strength, both as an athlete and on the business side, because you’re wearing a different bunch of hats.


For folks who might not know, give us a little bit of about your background, a little info about your background in strength, how you first got into strength training and strength competition.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

Sure, Dave. Thanks for having me on. Happy to be able to share anything you’d like to hear about. I guess, it goes back…I was an active kid like so many of us. Back then, the sports that we did out the driveways were maybe different. We didn’t have all the text stuff going on.


We use hula-hoops for hip mobility and roller skates to get some movement around the neighborhood. We played catch and baseball. That was a big deal. As the beginning of the high school, we got into team sports. I’ve always loved baseball, but I broke my foot on a little motorcycle accident a couple of months before spring baseball started. Of course, I couldn’t play that year.


The next year, I went out for the baseball team. The coach said, “Well, you didn’t play last year, so you can go out for track.” [laughs] I go, “OK.” I didn’t get to do that, but I played football in high school.


Then went on, got strong enough, and played well enough that I was able to play in college at a pretty good level. I was at UC Davis. As a senior, I was the captain of the football team. That’s probably in college is when I got interested in strength training to get better for the sport itself.


My introduction goes back and it was fun because back in those days, even strength training wasn’t on the top of mind for football coaches who were doing it. Our weight room was probably twice the size of my office here. We didn’t really have a strength coach. Some of the position coaches would come in and try to help out and encourage you to lift.


In the summer times though, I’d have an opportunity. I lived in Southern California. Of course, Davis is in Northern California but I’d go home for the summers. I signed up for a commercial gym as a private gym. It was owned by a guy by the name of Bill Pearl. Now, I don’t know if you’ve been around long enough to know that Bill was the bodybuilder before Arnold.


I think he’s a seven-time Mr. Olympia and just a wonderful guy. He took me under his wing and taught me a little bit about strength training. It was between my sophomore and junior years in college. I took off on that and got pretty strong.


I found that I got strong faster than the other kids did for some reason. Maybe there was some sort of a genetic opportunity there for me that I had. We didn’t even have powerlifting back then.


It wasn’t a sport at the time. I just did it to get stronger for football. In my career after college, I was a college football coach for the first eight years and was around the weight room then, but mostly helping out my student-athletes and coaching them as opposed to trying to make myself stronger.


Became more familiar with sets and reps in that type of thing, and progressive resistance training, and showing people how to get stronger as they needed for the sport.


When I left coaching — that’s a whole another story for another podcast, probably — I went into the business world for 30 years. I was also then raising a family of five kids. I have 14 grandkids now.


Raising a family, building a career, or building a business in the real-estate development world was all-consuming. Even though I loved training, there never seem to be enough time for me. There wasn’t enough me time.


I would go in every January to the gym and have the New Year’s resolution. That would work for maybe a month, maybe six weeks. Then after six weeks, you start slacking. You get other social obligations, business, driving kids around to baseball and little league games and football, etc.


There’s so little time. It’s hard to be consistent. I probably did that routine for 30 years, of six weeks of training in January and February, and then nothing the rest of the year.


It wasn’t until I was in my early-mid 50s. I was skiing and that was one sport that we did do with the family, all of our kids skied, and my wife. We spent a lot of weekends up skiing. That was good stamina and leg exercise.


I fell and hurt my shoulder in a mobile field, and I got back and it was painful. I kept thinking it would go away. After a couple of weeks, it didn’t. I went into my doctor, and he examined it, took an X-ray and he said, “You know, you got a little bursitis. You’re getting old.”


That did it. When he said you’re getting old. It put me over the top. [laughs] I said, “FU, doc.” He sent me to a physical therapist who happened to be housed in a small little gym, commercial gym in my hometown there in Oregon.


I got the habit of going there twice a week for therapy. Then I go downstairs to the gym and start lifting weights a couple days a week. Got in the habit of doing that. By this time, most of the kids had left the nest.


We had one at home, she was maybe a senior in high school. I started to find that it became more important for me. After three or four months, my shoulders was improving. My gosh, I was getting strong again.


As I said earlier, I always seem to get stronger faster than other people. It started adding strength, using progressive resistance. I didn’t have a trainer. I was doing what I would normally do.


The injury happened in the late spring. The rehab carried on through spring and summer. By the end of that year, I remember sitting around on New Year’s Day. I made progress. My numbers were going up, and I got on the Internet and I said I wonder if there’s a record for the bench press in Oregon.


I started doing some searching. Back then we didn’t have the great search engine. This is like 15 years ago or so, 16 years ago. Sure enough, I saw that there were records and it went by age and weight, and I immediately looked up my age and weight. I saw what the bench press record was. I thought, “I can do that. If I train a little bit harder, I could do that.” Little did I know I was just training raw.


Little did I notice those records that I was aiming for were all based on gear lifting. Guys were wearing bench shirts, which I had never experienced or seen in this little commercial gym that I’ve been training yet.


Anyway, the next day, I went in and I talked to one of the trainers at this gym, and told him that my goal for the year was to set the Oregon bench press record. He said, “If you’re going to do that, you got to squat and deadlift.” I go, “I do.” He acknowledge, “Yeah. You can’t set the record that you aspire, you got to do all three.” I go, “OK, well, let’s get started.”


That was January, I started training. I remember trying to squat the first time, I couldn’t get down to parallel without my heels coming four inches off the ground, and it was…I had such poor mobility, and he continued to work with me.


Again, I was running my real-estate development company, we had a project going on in California, Sacramento. I knew I was going to be down there for a three- or four-day meeting. I looked and I saw there was a powerlifting competition in town on that Saturday in November. This is 11 months after I started training, and I entered this contest.


I walked in, Dave, to this competition on Saturday morning. I had signed up a couple of days before. I had never been to a powerlifting meet, and here I was going to compete in one. When it came time, they announced, “The bar’s loaded. Rudy Kadlub, bar’s loaded.” I started walking up and this other competitor pulls me back and goes, “What are you doing?” I go, “They called me anyway. I got to go.”


He goes, “Rudy, you can’t go up there with what you’re wearing.” I go, “What’s wrong with this?” He goes, “You can’t wear gym shorts and a t-shirt. You got to have a singlet.” He turns around and digs into his bag, and gets to the bottom of the bag, and pulls up this crusty green singlet. I don’t know if it was green from mold, or it was the actually yellow.

David TaoDavid Tao

You almost don’t want to know, at that point.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

Yeah. He goes, “Just throw this on and go” as I run up there. [laughs] Anyway, I ended up setting all four at California State records for my age and weight, that day. That got me excited, and came home and continued to train harder.


I went back in April at the same gym, different meet, and broke all those records. Then I really had the bug, and shortly thereafter set all the Oregon records, and then a couple of years later set my first national record and met my now partner, Chris Duffin.


Because there were so few meets, I naively decided I was going to be a meet director. I went to this little gym that I had been training, and asked the owner if I could host a meet there, and he agreed. I was surprised at how many people showed up from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.


As it turned out, Chris Duffin came to that meet, and the two or three other people who have been involved with us ever since, and we met. Then I ran into Chris again in another meet over in Eastern Washington a few months later, and he said, “Hey, you want to train with me?” I said, “OK.”


I came back and we made a day to go. He was training out of his basement. Made a day to go over there, and I go over. It wasn’t the best neighborhood that he lived in at the time. I showed up and looked around and said, “Is it safe to park my car out here? I don’t know.”


I go around the back of the house and enter through the back door, down this dungeon basement, and Chris is there. He was pretty big at that time.


There’s another guy that was training there with us, Will, who was 6’2″ and probably a 300 pounder. I looked at those two guys, and here I am, I’m 55 years old and just starting on my strength journey. It’s a seedy neighborhood, and with two guys that are way bigger than me and I don’t know them. I’m thinking, “This could be dangerous for me.”

David TaoDavid Tao

I might not be getting out here with all my possession.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

It turned out they obviously were great guys. We started training, Chris really started helping me with my techniques, deadlifts, and squat. That’s where it started. Pretty soon we had three or four other people coming to train with us in the basement, and it got to be too many people for there. We moved out to the driveway, and then eventually into Chris’ garage.


Then, soon we had 15 to 18 people training with us. We just talked one day after our training session, “All these people paid a little bit, we could maybe find a little hole in the wall, classy, retail space, and have our own little culture and our own little gym.” Which is what we did, and that was in June of 2010, when we opened up our little gym.


At that time, we never really thought about being a company. It was just a hobby, and creating a culture, and having other people like-minded to help. Because we were all wearing gear back then. When you’re a gear lifter, you need a village.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. You’re not getting yourself into the bench shirt.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

No, you really need a village to help you get in and out of gear, and for spotters. We were moving a lot of weight back then. We went on for four or five years that way, and training. I then was setting my first world records in gear, I think when I was in the 55 to 59 age group, and then 60 to 64 age group. It was in 2016…


Let’s see. I would have been in the 65 to 69 age group at that point. During those first 10 years, I was wearing out my shoulders. I had a shoulder injury in college football that was minor, but it flared up. Using a straight bar to do squats and bench press, it really is a stressor on the glenohumeral joint. Eventually it wore my shoulder out, so I was bone on bone.


I didn’t want to get a full replacement surgery, because everyone I went to said, “Your weight lifting days will be over if you do that, or your powerlifting days.” I just waited, and finally, my orthopedic surgeon here said, “Hey, there’s a new procedure that’s a lot less invasive, and here’s this guy at the Cleveland Clinic, Anthony Miniaci, that is successfully doing this surgery with folks.


People are getting back to sports, MMA, contact sports, and powerlifting. I say, “Well, let’s hook me up. Let’s do that.”


In 2016, I took a year off and had my right-shoulder surgery in May and the left shoulder done in October, and started a rehab program. I was back on the platform setting records in the following May of the next year. It’s actually just continue to get better. Here in between all that, in 2015, because we had this little hobby gym, we were too cheap to buy equipment. We made some things and Chris was pretty handy and had a metal shop in his garage.


We always joked about a couple of things. This is a cool little thing we came up with. Maybe we should sell it someday, but he had his career and I had my career. It was like, “Yeah, we don’t want to do that.” Finally, in 2015, we introduced the ShouldeRok to the world, and put it on the Internet. It just blew up in terms of sales.


We designed the Whiskey and then the t-shirt. Those two items were how we started Kabuki Strength. Within two or three months, we had enough going on there that Chris could quit his day job. I said, “I’ll underwrite it. Let’s go for it.” We did, and then in August of 2015, we came out with the Duffalo bar, and we were rolling at that point.


I wish we had that Duffalo bar and the Transformer bar, and others five years earlier and I wouldn’t have had…I’d have my original shoulders still properly. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I was going to ask. I was going to say, I was like, “Oh, this is the point at which he brings up the Duffalo bar,” but it sounds like that was after you’d already undergone those two procedures.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

t was. I wish we’d had it before, but they were very important to me in my rehab. Like I said, when I came back, it was an interesting transition because my last competition before surgery was geared competition. When I came back a year or so later, I said it’s too much to get into that gear, maybe too big of a load. I started just training raw again.


Coincidentally, the sport started changing about the same time back from gear back to raw. It’s worked out, and I’ve been competing in what they call classic raw since I came back.


Interestingly enough with the education, the coaching that we have here at Kabuki and the tools that we have, I was able to get back on top and set world records. In fact, my last competition, the Nationals, was in July. Last month still. I had all-time PR on the bench press, [laughs] in raw PR.


I still keep adding to my numbers, even as I add years to my chronological age.

David TaoDavid Tao

I got to ask a question, and there’s a lot to unpack there. My first question…Someone say it’s about the best product…

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

That was only one question, and that was the…You may not get three questions in this whole podcast.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s OK, because it’s all interesting. That was more polished than some TED Talks I’ve heard, especially in the strength world. I’ll put it that way. I want to ask about the best product Kabuki has ever released. It’s the Whiskey & Deadlifts t-shirt. Some would say it’s what really changed the strength world.


Where did that come about? I have to say too, I’ve also been inspired by you all often do. I think your birthday deadlift post that you put out on social, there’s always a bottle of whiskey in the foreground somewhere. What inspired that? Was it a shared love with Chris?

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

Chris and I both like brown water, and we love tasting different whiskies and such. Chris wrote, it must [inaudible 22:35] or maybe repost, but it was a tongue-in-cheek article he wrote about taking a shot of whiskey before your third deadlift attempt in a powerlifting competition. Because it gets into your system within minutes, and it’s an energy boost.


That initial piece is energy boost. Plus, it covers up your fears as well. He jokingly talks about taking a shot of whiskey before you walk across the dance floor to ask the gal to dance, it shall give yourself courage. It’s similar on the deadlift. Here’s your heaviest lift of the day, take that shot of whiskey and forget about the fear and just go out and do it. You get that little boost of energy. There was always disclaimers about don’t do this at home or we don’t have to be kidding that you get shift-based every training session.


We had a guy, a tattoo artist, that was renting a space from us. He came up with the idea of creating this logo for Whiskey & Deadlifts. It was about the same time that we released the ShouldeRok and we said, “This would be a cool T-shirt.”


We had somebody make the T-shirts. We’d put that on our new website. We were selling ShouldeRoks and that T-shirt. I remember that was the first thing Chris and I were doing. It was just the two of us. We spent probably an hour before every training session folding, stocking T-shirts in the envelopes, licking envelopes, and pasting address labels on them. [laughs] Those things.


It’s iconic now. We actually had a producer. I remember the name of the film. The producer that asked if he could wear the Whiskey & Deadlift shirt on one of his characters in the movie. It’s been a cool little thing. We’ve come out with some other fun stuff though too in the meantime.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s little tongue in cheek, I say that was the most impactful product you all have had. I’m from Kentucky, originally, so when I see some bottles, I recognize in the [inaudible 24:53] a deadlift. I absolutely had to bring it up.


I’m curious. What do you think is next for Kabuki? Because you’ve come a long way since the ShouldeRok, the Whiskey & Deadlift T-shirt, the Duffalo bar. Obviously impactful, something you see in…I’ve seen it in not even powerlifting gyms. I’ve seen it in commercial gyms across the few different states.


You all have a lot of other different products. Do a lot of continuing education for folks who want to learn about strength. What do you think is next in the evolution of Kabuki? Because in just six short years, you’ve become quite a force.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

Thank you for that. Our why, the reason we’re in business, the reason why Chris is no longer working in the engineering world, and why I wound down my real-estate development efforts and focused on Kabuki is because we see an avenue in opportunity to make the world a better place through strength. That’s our why.


We believe strength training can change people’s lives. We believe it can happen at an early age. We think it’s even more important for people to train as they get more mature. We believe strength training more than anything that one can do, can help one age gracefully.


I don’t know about longevity, but we do think that you can look better, feel better, deal with the daily grinds of life and stress if you are more robust and more resilient as a result of strength training. Our whole thing is get out there and improve the world’s strength.


That’s a broad statement. Where do we go? What’s the evolution? Part of it is creating physical tools to make it more comfortable and more biomechanically sound tools that put the joints in a more centric position and safer position so you don’t break down, you don’t wear down.


Literally, David, unless you’re a barbell athlete, there is no reason to use a straight bar for most barbell movements because it does put undue stress in the joints. That extreme external contraction to get heavy weight on a barbell behind your back, puts a lot of pressure on the bicep tendon and on the glenohumeral joint.


Bench pressing too, that’s using that straight bar you tend to wing out and internally rotate and jam that joint. You get so many young kids and it happens at an early age. Without coaching, you always see young kids benching with their elbows flared out to the side.


That’s from that internal and they’re just destroying their shoulders. Just the reach of a Duffalo bar drops those shoulders down into a better position, and like the Duffalo bar, we came up with the Kadillac bar, which is even more of a neutral grip position and the bend in the bar gives you a greater training, that gives come down deeper than you could on a straight bar.


Right now, I train year-round with the Duffalo bar, the Transformer bar, which is the best squat bar in the world, and the Kadillac bar, with the Duffalo bar for benching. I only switch to a straight bar two or three weeks before a competition to re-acclimate and preserve my shoulders.


Those are incredibly important tools and they’re the basis for how we will grow the company. We have a big presence in professional sports and part of the reason for that is because professional sports teams and collegiate teams have professional strength coaches.


There’s CSCCa, CSCS guys, they get it, they understand it. It takes us five minutes to demonstrate the benefits of those tools to those guys and they’re immediately on board.


Now, going other places, so we’re starting at the top down. The World Champion LA Dodgers are one of our biggest customers, as are the Giants too.


29 of the 30 major league baseball teams — including the Mets and Yankees, by the way, for you New Yorkers — utilize our equipment, as is several hundred colleges and universities, NFL, NHL, NBA, but that’s just a segment, that’s team sports.


We’re not there with the masses yet to try to educate every gym owner who maybe doesn’t have a background in kinesiology or biomechanics and really understands it. You go in most commercial gyms, you don’t see any specialty bars, rarely do you see a specialty bar. It’s in that population that really ought to be using it.


Our equipment forces people into better technique and less stress on the shoulders. Yes, our next push is to try to get into commercial gyms. We are fairly heavily into military, police, and fire now because they also get it and need it.


I personally am trying to develop a platform to encourage mature athletes to begin their strength-training program. I had a meeting with the Cleveland Clinic and I’m trying to set up a meeting back there next month to visit with them about doing research in the benefits of strength training for a mature population.


On that tangent, on mature athletes, most people recognize that strength training will improve muscle mass and strength, that’s why 99 percent of people do it, but there’s some major other benefits. One is bone density. It just occurred to me, I knew it, but I didn’t think about it until both Chris, and I had a body scan done about a year ago.


This time measured lean-body mass, muscle, fat, and bone density. The scale of measurement for bone density for this particular company showed people 60 and over 2.5z is two standard deviations from the mean.


In other words, better than 95 percent of the population. You have a 2.5 score, you’re better than 95 percent. My score was 5.5, which is five standard…I don’t even know if you can go that far. It might only be three or four people in the world that are my age that have that kind of bone density.


I wasn’t born with that, I guarantee it. It’s occurred over the last 15 years of strength training. Why that’s so important for an aging population is it wards off osteoporosis, it reduces the risk of injury in a fall or a collision. How many times have you heard someone, an older person, fall, break their hip and they’re done?


They end up with a walker, or they end up bedridden, and they die from pneumonia or something else. There’s no reason for it. I would argue that strength training…People say, “Well, you can’t just do strength training. You need aerobic.”


I challenge anybody that’s used a heavy weight on a squat and done three sets of six to tell me that your heart isn’t beating fast, you’re not breathing hard. [laughs] It doesn’t replay. If you train to be a marathon, squatting, it will help, but that doesn’t get you there.


Overall, for the daily things that people do, picking up their grandkids or picking up a bag of fertilizer to spread around your yard, strength training will make those jobs easier and reduce the risk of injury, and reduce the injury in a fall.


I can go on forever on that. It gets me excited. It’s what I’m passionate about right now, is trying to teach people that are my age or younger than me, that you can age gracefully by adding strength training to your weekly routine.

David TaoDavid Tao

Rudy, as that and more develops and as you follow-up, and I know you’re someone who likes following through on passions, that’s for sure, where’s the best place for people to follow along with the work you’re doing and the work Kabuki’s doing?

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

IG, I guess, is the best. It’s #rudykadlub is my Instagram. I don’t have any fancy, cool moniker on Instagram. It’s just #rudykadlub.


We have our Kabuki Strength Instagram. #Kubukistrengthcoachingeducation. You can follow me on Instagram. You can see the hashtags and follow the rest of our links to that.


Yeah, the company’s growing. We have a huge, huge dream out there to make the world a better place to strengthen, and that’s where we’re going.


 I can’t tell you what the next products are, we may not have even thought what they will be yet.

David TaoDavid Tao

 [laughs] We’re not fortune tellers here, and we appreciate you sharing, Rudy. Thanks so much for joining us. Fantastic to learn about your journey and really what’s next and your goals moving forward. Appreciate you taking the time.

Rudy KadlubRudy Kadlub

All right, Dave. Thanks. Always enjoy talking to you.