Camp Gladiator Review: The Outdoor Boot Camp Experience

Turning Everyday People Into American Gladiators

Camp Gladiator
Camp Gladiator. Camp Gladiator

I really wasn't planning to write a review about Camp Gladiator. In fact, I signed up for the outdoor boot camp because I'd been watching the company grow for six years and really wanted to see first-hand what the experience was all about.

You see, I've known the founder of the company since she was 14 years old. She was a year younger than me in high school and we spent three years playing basketball together on the same team.

While as adults we're not close, I do enjoy her and her family and didn't want my positive view of her to possibly cloud my review. 

And yet, here I am writing a review.

The thing is, I feel very torn about Camp Gladiator. The camaraderie between participants is excellent, the workouts are solid, and I appreciate the enthusiasm of the trainers, but I can't go "all in" and become a true believer. I truly don't know if my lukewarm reception of the program is because I'm not a "joiner," if it's due to the specific trainer or location where I took part, or if it's something about the program itself.

Regardless, this is my takeaway:

Camp Structure

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

The training cycle is split up by week:

  • Week 1: Muscular endurance - Exercises that determine baseline and develop a foundation
  • Week 2: Functional movements - Exercises that develop balance, stability, and coordination
  • Week 3: Interval training - Exercises to increase heart rate
  • Week 4: Metabolic conditioning - Exercises designed to make you go hard, fast, and long
  • Week 5: Bold Week - Special workouts exclusive to 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 excellent set of steps and guidelines for new and returning campers.

Camp Gladiator also puts a high priority on the overall community, encouraging campers to join in and feel comfortable with the trainers and other campers. They host a pre-camp information session for new campers, and they also provide trainers with camper phone numbers to make communication easy. 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 warmup 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. I really appreciated the dynamic movements included in the warm-up. By using a mix of running, squats, planks, lunges, inch worms, and other full-body exercises, participants reduce their likelihood of injury during exercise.
  • Fun partner work. Camp Gladiator has come up with ways 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 group interaction.
  • Friendly competition. Many of the drills are team-focused with an added dose of friendly competition. Every individual exercises at his or her own pace, but teams accumulate points based on total performance. For instance, each individual might perform 15 squats, 30 bicycle crunches, and 40 supermans before running through a series of cone drills. Upon completion of the circuit, the participant picks up a popsicle stick before performing the whole series again. At the end of a pre-determined time frame (let's say five minutes), the teams compile their popsicle sticks and 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 pushups awkward, and made jumping exercises potentially more dangerous, particularly for individuals who aren't familiar with proper jumping and landing form. The part that confused me most was that the trainer had us congregate at the area 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 didn't necessarily have a problem working out on rough terrain, but 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. I wouldn't say this is 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. I'm someone who wants to work my entire workout. Because drills are sometimes involved, with lots of moving parts, they can take awhile to explain. 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, and I'm not a busy work kind of gal.
  • Inappropriate exercises. Before I get into this one, let me preface it by saying that the trainers are 100% clear that each camper should work at his or her own pace and only do what feels comfortable. I appreciate their candor! But there were some exercises introduced that weren't appropriate for beginners, and it wasn't until well into the drill that a modification was suggested. I understand the desire to try to get everyone to push themselves to a higher level, but modifications should always be offered at the beginning of a routine to help prevent participants from risking injury.

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 growing as they have, and I truly do think what they're doing is awesome. That said, the program's not for me. It might be because I'm a lone exerciser, it might be because I'm hyper-critical, or it might be due to the location or the trainer. At the end of the day, the workouts provided are similar to what I put together for myself at home, and I feel more comfortable driving my own workout than having someone else drive it for me.

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.

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