How important is training intensity?

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You might not have heard of Duffy Gaver, but you’ve seen his handiwork. A former Navy SEAL, Gaver has become one of Hollywood’s go-to personal trainers and has worked with leading men including Brad Pitt, Chris Hemsworth and most recently Chris Pratt on Guardians Of The Galaxy. 

I hear plenty of people referring to traditional bodybuilding techniques as ‘old school’, but nothing’s changed – certainly not the human body. You’ll see all kinds of fancy new equipment at the gym but none of this was around when Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning 

Mr Olympia, so is it really necessary? If you want to get big, you have to do proven exercises such as heavy squats, rows and curls. 

People also get too hung up worrying about the small details of their workouts. The crucial thing isn’t whether you follow a pushing exercise with a pulling exercise, it’s how hard you’re prepared to work. If you do a back workout one day, and then end up doing it again the next day, it doesn’t really matter. You might be sore afterwards, but provided you’re not lifting with truly horrible form, or letting your ego influence you into making stupid decisions – like trying to go for a max deadlift straight out of the gates without warming up – you’re unlikely to do yourself any real damage. Fundamentally, training the same body part two days in a row is better than not training at all, but whatever you’re doing the important thing is to train with intensity in every session. 

Eat fresh

It’s the same with nutrition. You know there’s a massive difference between eating a chicken breast and eating a doughnut. The human body has not evolved to  cope with processed food – it needs whole foods to help it perform properly. 

People also tend to miss the point when it comes to supplements. I’m not against supplements – if you’re doing everything you possibly can to try and put on size, they can certainly help – but the key is in the name. They supplement the real food you eat, they don’t replace it. If you want to put on muscle, you need to eat steak. Drinking a shake might provide calories and protein, but you can feel the difference when your body has to chew, process and digest meat. 

Weight game

I always tell my clients not to obsess over how much they weigh. It’s what you look like that’s important. Use your improving athletic performance as a barometer for success, instead of your weight or body fat percentage. It’s positive to be proud of how many pull-ups you can do but demoralising and damaging to worry about how much fat you have or haven’t dropped this week. Stressing about those kind of stats overcomplicates training. If you put all your energy into working hard, staying focused and making the right choices, you’ll get the results you want.

Back to basics 

Gaver got Chris Hemsworth in shape with enhancements to a triumvirate of gym staples


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1. Pull-up

Set a timer and do five reps a minute until you fail. It may sound easy – but when did 
you last do 25 strict pull-ups in five minutes?

2. Lat pull-down

Make these tougher with rest-pause sets: go to failure, rest for 15 seconds, and then squeeze out a few more reps. 

3. Single-arm row

Blast your back with the Kroc row: grab a weight you can do ten strict reps with and shoot for 50 in a set – cheating very much allowed.  

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