Camp Gladiator gives traditional workout programs the boot

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Participants of Camps Gladiator compete in a team relay during Saturday morning’s session of Camp Gladiator at Zilker Park. The camp involves jumping jacks to weightlifting and is recognized as the No. 1 fitness trend.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

The workout for Camp Gladiator begins at 9:30 a.m., and there is no warm-up or stretching.

The class is an hour long, and for every minute of that hour, participants are expected to run, jump, reach, hold and most importantly, sweat. The camp is an example of a growing fitness trend that combines the intensity of a military workout with fun competitive activities such as relay races and tug-of-war matches.

Saturday was the final class of Camp Gladiator’s four-week training circuit and more than 50 people gathered in Zilker Park for a variety of reasons, but all with the same look of steady determination throughout the morning.

Fitness boot camps, which encompass every type of exercise from jumping jacks to weight-lifting, have been named the No. 1 fitness trend by The American College of Sports Medicine in 2010. Unlike traditional gyms, boot camps provide participants with a chance to work a routine designed by and with a professional trainer.

The hour-long sessions do not focus on one part of the body. They combine fat-burning cardio with muscle-building strength training exercises in each class. The routines are similar to those seen in P90X, an intense 90-day home exercise routine. Whereas P90X is done at home, the atmosphere of the boot camp in which students and trainers go through the exercises alongside one another adds a degree of motivation unmatched by a gym or TV screen.

After winning the title of Grand Champion on the NBC show “American Gladiator” in 2008, Ally Davidson founded Camp Gladiator, starting in Dallas and expanding to six cities and more than 100 locations. Camp Gladiator challenges the traditional ideas of fitness by taking participants out of the gym and into parks where personal trainers spout affirmations to inspire motivation.

“I wouldn’t use the term ‘boot camp’ to describe Camp Gladiator,” said Jeff Ogden, regional manager and head trainer at Camp Gladiator. “Boot camp has the connotation of militant, shouting and torture. Our program is very uplifting and motivating.”

Camp Gladiator couldn’t be further from the stereotypical, “Full Metal Jacket” drill sergeant workouts people typically associate with the term boot camp. In lieu of yelling and finger-pointing, the instructors are encouraging, funny and there is an abundance of high-fiving in the hour-long class. But don’t be fooled, this is no aerobics class.

Camp Gladiator offers participants more than just a run-of-the-mill gym membership. Their goal is to motivate people and promote healthy lifestyle changes by working with participants via email or in person to achieve their personal fitness goals.

“Only 10 percent of people that go into a gym go in and do enough to actually benefit their body,” Ogden said. “But here we do everything from strengthening to high-intensity cardio and it never gets boring because every class is different.”

Perhaps the biggest strength in the Camp Gladiator model is their variety in workouts. Since 2009, the company has grown to more than 1,000 members in Austin alone. They offer more than 70 classes per week in 35 different locations around the city, and much more in Dallas and Houston — and they have never repeated a workout. In fact, in the span of one class, participants don’t do the same exercise for more than five minutes. Ogden says the constant variety keeps people from losing interest and keeps their bodies from plateauing.

“If I’m teaching 15-17 classes a week, I have to create 15-17 different workouts,” Ogden said. “We’re very structured and organized. There’s a reason for everything that we do.”

Although the exercises in each class are different, the overall course is structured and designed for participants to see results. The first week is constructed with exercises that build endurance. The following weeks consist of functional training, such as balancing exercises; interval training, such as sprinting; and the final week is a combination of the techniques from the three weeks prior.

The trainers at Camp Gladiator possess qualifications beyond those required by most gyms and other boot camps. Besides having to create multiple unique workouts a week, trainers must also be certified, have auditioned for a position as a Camp Gladiator trainer and almost all of their trainers are former professional athletes. Ogden played in the NFL for five years, and the other trainers’ qualifications include a former marine, a former professional tennis instructor and multiple triathletes.

One camper, Linda Minshew, lost 28 pounds and 38 inches from five months of camp.

“I was looking for a change because I was turning 50, feeling down on myself, and let’s just say I was a tight size 14,” Minshew said. “When you leave Camp Gladiator you feel like a rock star, like you can do anything. I no longer believe my brain when it tells me I can’t do something.”

There are several more like Minshew who credit Camp Gladiator with changing their lives. Ogden says one woman even tattooed the Camp Gladiator logo on the back of her neck because of the positive impact it has had on her life.

“We love to change people’s lives for the better,” Ogden said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to affect that many people in just an hour.”