Camp Gladiator Review: The Outdoor Boot Camp Experience

Turning Everyday People Into American Gladiators

Camp Gladiator
Camp Gladiator. Camp Gladiator

After watching Camp Gladiator, an outdoor boot camp, surge in popularity for years, I decided to give the program a try and signed up for a single session of the program's four-week camp. It was an eye-opening experience. This is what you need to know before you sign up for a Camp Gladiator camp in your area.

Camp Structure

Camps are held in parks, at schools, and in parking lots in six different states and over 1,000 locations. It's a big operation, and CG trainers go through multiple tryouts to qualify to run a camp. Each camp lasts four weeks, and campers are allowed to attend as many sessions as they want at any camp location.

The training cycle is split up by week:

  • Week 1: Endurance: Focuses on exercises that help determine baseline fitness and develop a foundation, both through cardiovascular and muscular endurance exercises.
  • Week 2: Strength & Agility: Focuses on exercises that develop balance, stability, and coordination while continuing to develop strength.
  • Week 3: Interval: Focuses on exercises that increase heart rate and work capacity through short-burst interval training.
  • Week 4: Peak: Focuses on exercises designed to make you go hard, fast, and long.
  • Week 5: Bold Week: During bold week, special workouts are offered exclusively to the program's ongoing Bold Members. For all other campers, it's a week off between camps

Campers are asked to bring a mat, dumbbells, towel, and water bottle to every workout. If anything else is needed, the trainer provides it.

Camp Communication

Management has done an excellent job of creating a clear structure for communication. Sign-ups are easy through their online portal, and emails to enrollees are rolled out regularly, providing an efficient set of steps and guidelines for new and returning campers.

Camp Gladiator also puts a high priority on their community, encouraging campers to join in and develop friendships with the trainers and other campers. The organization hosts a pre-camp information session for new campers, and they also provide trainers with their camper's phone numbers so that they can reach out to campers before a session starts. From the get-go, I received regular text messages from my trainer asking if I had any questions, comments, or concerns. He was a ready and available resource, which I truly appreciated.

Workouts

Workouts last one hour and incorporate a nice warm up, followed by a mix of interval, strength, and cardio exercises. The last few minutes of each workout include stretching and a group huddle to break out the day.

Overall, the workouts I attended were very well run, but I did have some concerns regarding my trainer and location. Here are the pros and cons.

Workout Pros:

  • Dynamic warm-up. The dynamic warm-ups were excellent. By using a mix of running, squats, planks, lunges, inchworms, and other full-body moves, participants reduce their likelihood of injury during exercise.
  • Fun partner work. Camp Gladiator has come up with activities to encourage interaction between campers in fun and inventive ways. For instance, you might perform a partner squat that incorporates a high-five with your neighbor, or you might toss a sandbag between members of your group. Every workout encourages this type of between-camper interaction.
  • Friendly competition. Many of the drills are team-focused with an added dose of competition. Every individual is instructed to work at his or her own pace, but teams accumulate points based on total performance. For instance, the workout might require each individual to perform 15 squats, 30 bicycle crunches, and 40 supermans before running through a series of cone drills. Upon completion of the entire circuit, the participant picks up a popsicle stick before performing the whole series again. At the end of a pre-determined time period (let's say five minutes), the teams each combine their members' popsicle sticks to see which team accumulated the most.
  • A good mix of exercises and drills. The hour-long workout passes quickly because there's such a wide variety of exercises and drills.

Workout Cons:

  • Awkward location. The camp I attended was in an awkward location. It was located outside of a high school under a covered breezeway. The problem wasn't the school or the breezeway, the problem was the awkward incline of the area where the camp was held as well as the very rough "field space" surrounding it. We performed many of the exercises on the inclined concrete, which made basics like squats and push-ups awkward to perform, and made jumping exercises potentially more dangerous, particularly for individuals who weren't familiar with proper jumping or landing form. The part that was particularly confusing was that the trainer had us congregate on the side of the breezeway with the greatest incline, rather than the spot toward the top of the hill that was flatter. Also, the field space was extremely rough—uneven terrain, mixed terrain (dirt, grass, and gravel), and lots of rocks and divots. I was surprised the trainer never told us to watch our step to avoid injury, particularly during running drills or backward walking lunges where we couldn't easily see where we were going. What I don't know is whether other camps are held in similar spaces. My advice would be to check the terrain yourself and take your own safety precautions.
  • Semi-confusing drills. Many of the drills and games weren't immediately clear upon first explanation. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, as most games require a bit of playing before they make sense, but I would say, if you're not sure what you're supposed to do, ask for clarification.
  • Dead time to explain new drills. Because drills are sometimes involved, with lots of moving parts, they can take awhile to explain. This cuts into the hour-long workout, reducing time spent exercising. I'm sure some campers like the breaks, but I'd rather be working. Granted, our trainer usually suggested that we stand and do calf raises or hold low squats while he explained things, but it felt more like "busy work" than the meat of the routine.
  • Inappropriate exercises. While trainers are 100% clear that each camper should work at his or her own pace and only do what feels comfortable, there were some exercises that weren't appropriate for beginners, and it wasn't until well into the drill that a modification was suggested. These types of modifications should be provided immediately in order to maintain a safe camp.

    The Takeaway

    Camp Gladiator management has done an excellent job of creating a fun culture focused on tough workouts, competition, and camaraderie. I applaud them for the growth they've experienced, and I think what they're doing is fantastic. That said, the workouts may not be for everyone, and they certainly should be approached with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Since every camp is run by a trainer who more or less functions as his or her own franchise, your individual experience is likely to hinge on the knowledge and capability of your trainer. Don't be afraid to ask questions about experience and training, and if you're not sure the trainer at your location is right for you, try checking out alternative locations or times.

    Who it's for: Anyone who's looking for a fun, team environment, a little bit of competition, and a tough workout.

    Key reminder: Be in charge of your own injury-prevention! Watch for uneven terrain to prevent ankle twists, and ask for modifications to exercises if something doesn't feel quite right. You should push yourself during your workout, but you shouldn't hurt yourself.