You might not know Duffy Gaver, but you know his work. The ex-Navy SEAL sniper-turned personal trainer worked his celebrity transformation magic on Brad Pitt (Troy), Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers), and more. Here, he spells out the difference between people who succeed and those who fail—with the no-nonsense candor that only a SEAL can really get away with. This is Duffy in his own words:

“I hear this one all the time: ‘What do you think of Bulletproof Coffee?’ Every trend that comes along, somebody is not only doing it, but somebody is trying to capitalize on it. So someone else has their version of Bulletproof Coffee. Everybody wants to be the go-to pro. So when people ask me what I think of whatever the new thing is, I say, ‘It wasn’t here last month, and a lot of really fit people were here last month. So it’s unnecessary.’ To me, it’s all distraction.”

Larry Scott won the first Mr. Olympia in 1965. There was no Bulletproof Coffee. There was no Nike. There was no Hammer Strength. There was no Ripped Fuel. So if all of these things didn’t exist, but he could still achieve that… wow. What did he do to come up with that? He had his will, his discipline, and his desire. The three things they cannot market to you. They play on those things to market their products. But they can’t market those things to you, because those are yours. They are either in your wheel house or they are not. And you either get your handle on them, or you’re doomed. I don’t care how much product you take, I don’t care how much equipment you own, if you can’t get a handle on those three things, go home. It goes back to this whole list of firsts: first four-minute mile, first iron man triathlon, and first world’s strongest man. All of these events took place before 99% of the companies today even existed. So what does that tell you? That none of those things are necessary.”

“Look, Larry Scott may not look like Phil Heath, but he sure as hell looks better than you. So try not to be distracted. Try not to have them make you think that this is outside you. It is inside you. And you either tap into it or you don’t.”

“A guy told me he wants to tone his muscles. I said, ‘Well, you can stop talking like a girl. You want to build your muscles.’ To tone your muscles… I don’t even know what that means. Were you bedridden? You build muscle. It’s all bodybuilding. And I don’t know why everybody gets away from that.”

One Bad Mother******


“My buddies and I opened a gym in Santa Monica, California called CrossFit BMF. The BMF is either Bad Mother****** or Bodybuilding Made Functional, however you want to look at it. So, we’re a CrossFit gym that does one-arm dumbbell rows, pec flyes, lunges, and things like that. We just got a new shirt made. It says CrossFit BMF on the front. On the back, it’s got all of the films that myself and my buddies who own this gym, have worked on. It is a humongous list of A-list films. We didn’t get those guys fit by doing CrossFit. We got them fit by bodybuilding. We worked some CrossFit in, but that’s after we achieved the physique we’re looking for; that’s when we’re just playing games, and getting a little leaned out.”

“A lot of people getting into CrossFit want to look like Rich Froning, but they’re not going to train like Rich Froning (three sessions a day, usually extremely heavy). So how do you look like Rich Froning, without training like him? It’s easy: bodybuild. Or bodybuild with some CrossFit on the side. If there were a better way to build muscle, bodybuilders would do it.”

I’ll admit I was put off by CrossFit right out of the gate. When I went to my first CrossFit seminar, Greg Glassman taught it. I think there was six of us that took the class, and at the end of it he said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘You ought to stop talking so much shit, because it makes you look bad. I am the best person in this class, and I never heard of CrossFit until right now. I got this way at Gold’s Gym and Equinox and 24 Hour Fitness—all of the gyms you like to talk shit about.’”

“And they don’t talk shit anymore. I just went to another seminar not too long ago, and they’ve stepped away from that almost entirely, because the truth is, they don’t need to. They don’t need to talk smack anymore, because they can say ‘Look: that’s Rich Froning, that’s Khalipa, there’s Spealler. There is our proof. It works.’  You can do the same thing at Gold’s Venice. Point at all of those posters on the wall—bodybuilding works. I think CrossFit talked shit in the beginning because it had more to do with the rah-rah out of the gate thing. They had a little bit of attitude. And a lot of the guys that were attracted to this were military, ex-military, cops, fire department—they all had a sort of anti-establishment attitude, but now they are the establishment. In a lot of ways, they’ve become Globo-CrossFit. There are CrossFit gyms that are now 15,000 square feet, with all kinds of different programing. Even Rogue Fitness is now making a T-bar row. It’s all come full circle. What are they going to call it? Something different? It’s a T-bar row!”

“A lot of Glassman’s original talk is true; most gyms function whether or not you come. Go to Equinox, pay for your membership, and never walk in the door. Nobody is going to call you and say ‘Hey man, why haven’t you come down here?’ They’re paying huge overhead on a gazillion dollars worth of equipment and they need to get the bills paid. So they do not mind the fact that they have a space that only holds a 1,000 people, but they have 3,000 members. They’re good with that. That’s not to say with some intentional ploy to undermine the fitness of America, which is sort of how Greg presented it.”

“We have very personal relationships with all of our people. I wanted the kind of CrossFit gym like the one I walked into when I met Greg. Small, personal. It doesn’t need to be a social hangout, but I really wanted a competitive spirit amongst our people, and people texting each other saying, ‘Dude, I just knocked it out of the park today.’ I like the competitiveness, but I like the competitiveness of bodybuilding, too. You know, when you’re with your buddies and you say ‘Dude, I benched 315 for the first time! Wooo!’ I like the fact that CrossFit feeds into that, and feeds off of it, that synergy of competition.”

“I always tell people that a half ass plan done with full conviction, will beat the hell out of the perfect plan done half assed. So as you’re trying to convince yourself that this is the plan for you, but you’re not really that into it, and you’re just thinking that you should be, go find something else. If you’re into yoga, and you’re into it, that will beat the hell out of trying to do CrossFit or bodybuilding and not really being that into it. Be into it. Find something that does it for you.”

“When I met Brad [Pitt], I knew that putting size on his legs was probably going to be one of the bigger jobs. So we started having some very hard leg days. We were in the midst of one of those and I was having a conversation with him where I said, ‘This is how hard being big is. I said it’s going to suck, because here is the bad news: Discomfort is where all of the change takes place.’ And you could just see it in his eyes. It clicked. He got up, got a grease pencil and wrote ‘Discomfort is where change takes place’ on the wall in like 2-foot letters. And I thought, ‘He’s in. He’s on board.’”

“There was a recent study that proved that muscle mass is a major consideration of longevity. It protects you. I tell people all of the time that they have to do squats, and I don’t care if it’s just air squats. If you run, eat well, and take fairly good care of yourself, you will live to the end of your years. If you do not lift weights, you will be scared of stairs. The range of motion on jogging is crap. It’s picking you foot up two inches off of the ground, and barely bending your knee. Sprinting is mildly better. If you’re getting old, and you have low muscle mass, and you have low range of motion, then you’re going to trip, you’re not going to be able to put your foot up, you’re not going to get to the next step, and you’re going to fall on your ass and need a hip replacement and go ‘I don’t know why this happened. ‘ And I could tell you exactly why it happened. You let the machine go.”

“Tobey Maguire worked hard. They all worked hard. The thing about all of these guys: I’m very fortunate that I’ve worked with accomplished people. There’s a reason they got there. They didn’t fall off the hay into their jobs. It’s process of elimination. People make a big deal out of being a SEAL. My class started out with like 170 guys, and of that 170 guys there were like 17 guys that stayed. You go, ‘Wow. What an attrition rate.’ But I mean, how many people want to be actors? A lot. But how many people get off their ass and try to be actors? How many people leave their hometowns and come to LA to take a shot at being an actor? How many people get on an airplane and fly to a different country and say ‘Yeah, I’m going to try my hand.’ And then stay, and get told ‘No. No. No. You’re ugly. You’re tall. You’re skinny. You’re fat. You’re not the right guy. You got the wrong hair….’ And they stay. The attrition rate on actors is absurd. With the clients I got, they stayed. There’s a reason you know Brad Pitt’s name, I mean, how many Brad Pitts are there? There’s one. How many Chris Hemsworths are there? There’s one. I don’t think it’s an easy job to end up with.”

“Chris Pratt is a bull, man. You have to hold Chris back in a workout. He will just go, and go, and go. He’s got that idea ‘Anything for the job. Let’s go. Let’s do it.” 

“I went to a dinner party at Christmas, and the big conversation was American Sniper, American Sniper, American Sniper, what did you think of it Duff, having been a sniper in both the Marines and the Navy?’ And… I had a very dear friend of mine that stayed in the Navy and made a career of it. And he was saying how he had to get up one morning and put on his dress blues and go down the road to one of his best friend’s houses, to be the guy that stood on the porch in the morning and tell the wife that he’s not coming home. And of course, after she falls apart on him, he’s got to go sit down with his two boys, pretTy Young kids, and explain to them that their dad is not coming home. And he said, ‘Dude, I fell apart. I went out to the car and cried like a baby, then I got my shit back together and then finished the job.’ And I told the people at this dinner party that story, and I said, ‘You know, pulling a trigger is not that big of a deal. It’s made that way in movies and it’s a dramatic thing, but we practice pulling triggers all of the time. I’ve probably pulled the trigger a million f***ing times. And I’m trained to look at a target, target recognition, and in a blink of an eye decide: Is it a threat, do I shoot, do I… it’s not even a thought process, it is a reaction process. It’s like if I swung my hand at your face, you would put your hand up. So it’s not, ‘Who shot bin Laden?’ Who cares? The first guy in the door shot bin Laden, what the f*** else was he going to do that day, go home and wash his hair? You know? I don’t give a shit. You do the job. That’s not to take away from what he did; my point is, nobody does their job alone. You happened to be the guy that walked in first. That doesn’t make you THE guy. You get up in the morning, you put on your gear, and you go do the job. But to have to go stand on a porch and do that, that’s hard, and you can’t practice that shit. And that’s the stuff they should be making movies about, you know? Because that is a f***er of the day right there.”

We asked Duffy to give us some of his favorite workouts. Like the man himself, these circuits are blunt and to the point.

  1. Rows and Press Circuit
    • ​​Bent-over Barbell Rows – 8 sets x 8 reps
    • Dumbbell Presses – 8 sets x 8 reps
  2. Heavy Circuit
    • ​​Pullups – 20 reps
    • Barbell Bench Press – 15 reps (bench pyramid workout up to a one rep max)