Workout Routines

Mark Chavarria: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor, Veteran Stuntman, and Fitness Warrior

He’s been blown up and shot, and battled cancer four times, but his passion for fitness has made him an unbreakable force of nature.

Mark Chavarria Barbell Workout
Austin Nguyen
Austin Nguyen
Exercises 5
Equipment Yes

Veteran stuntman Mark Chavarria has been shot, stabbed, blown up, and hit by cars by Hollywood elites like Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr., and Danny Trejo. Yet despite the 48-year-old stuntman’s reputation for dying onscreen, in real life he’s proved pretty resourceful at staying alive.

In 2013 Chavarria was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer, the last stage of what is considered the second-deadliest cancer on earth behind lung cancer—only 11% of those who are diagnosed in the distant stages survive more than five years, according to the American Cancer Society. But Chavarria didn’t want to feel sorry for himself, counting down the days.

Instead, he adopted a different approach.

Armed with decades of training experience—which stems from his obsession with martial arts as a kid—Chavarria formulated his own regimen to combat non-movement, which he aptly named “cancer workouts.” He exercises six to seven days per week, and his routines consist of long bike rides, weightlifting, tire flipping, and ax swinging.

But training alone doesn’t cure cancer. Chavarria has endured $300,000 worth of chemotherapy (covered by his insurance), which he started shortly after his diagnosis.

“The chemo kills me. I was puking and pooping at the same time. There was blood. The medicine they had me on was insane—I was so fucking miserable. I literally had a gun to my head at one point,” recounts the stuntman, who, after watching Dallas Buyers Club, was inspired to find a drug, a la Matthew McConaughey’s character, that would help treat him.

Lucky for Chavarria, his wife, Alyssa, found him his own miracle drug: marijuana. After reading up on the medical benefits of pot, the two
drove from their home in Houston to Colorado to pick up medical-grade cannabis oil. “I got Stage 4 cancer—there ain’t no Stage 5,” he says. “I was willing to try anything and everything.”

At first, there was a learning curve—and Chavarria overindulged.

“The medicine doesn’t come with instructions,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m a tough guy! I’m a stuntman!’ But if you take too much, you’ll hallucinate. And I went loopy. I told my wife to call 911 because I saw God, the devil, Jimi Hendrix—I saw the white light!” But after adjusting the dosage, Chavarria felt the positive effects and immediately stopped taking all of his prescription medications, which he spent a total of $25,000 on out-of-pocket. To this day, he attributes the cannabis oil and his cancer workouts as to why he’s still baffling doctors with his vigor.

Mark Chavarria Workout
Austin Nguyen
Austin Nguyen 

“I can’t stop working out, and I can’t stop eating. And it’s all because of this medicine,” says Chavarria. “I want to prove to the world that this medicine works. How else can you explain that I’m still here?”

Although things are going well, Chavarria still has a tough road ahead. Despite having been cured of cancer on three occasions in four years, three times hasn’t been a charm in Chavarria’s case. Last October, doctors at MD Anderson in Houston—who remain dumbfounded as to why his cancer continues to return—informed him that it is back for the fourth time. Regardless, his spirit never relents, and Chavarria keeps showing up to work to get beat—and blown—up.

“One month after I was cut from sternum to belly button to have cancer removed, I was in the desert shooting with Hugh Jackman for Logan,” says Chavarria, who plays one of the Reavers early in the film.

“Doctors tell me, ‘Mark, keep doing whatever you’re doing because it’s working.’ I want to prove that cancer shouldn’t be a death sentence,” he says.

Mark’s most memorable performance: 

1. Walker, Texas Ranger: “They only put certain people in front of Chuck Norris, guys they know won’t accidentally hurt him. That’s when I thought I made it.”

2. Machete: “When I showed up on set in Texas, they said, ‘You’re going to fight Robert De Niro.’ He bashed my head on a car door and shot me. Right after that scene, I texted my buddies.”

3. Inception: “I was shot accidentally by the special effects guy, when the blast from the gun ricocheted, and I almost lost my left eye. I got 40 stitches and was back working in a week.”

Chavarria's Cancer Workout

Exercise 1

Barbell Bench Press You'll need: Barbell, Bench How to
Barbell Bench Press thumbnail
8 sets
20, 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Barbell Curl How to
Barbell Curl thumbnail
10 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Seated Single-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extension You'll need: Dumbbells, Bench How to
Seated Single-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extension thumbnail
10 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Sledgehammer Hit How to
Sledgehammer Hit thumbnail
5 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Tire Flips How to
Tire Flips thumbnail
5 sets
10 reps
-- rest