Training Like a Gladiator Will Make You a Stronger Man


A gladiator was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals

By: Snow, The New Modern Man Contributor | Snow Training Systems

Why do you need to train like a gladiator? I was watching Spartacus the other day and  even though it’s a fictional show, it accurately shows the warriors were tougher than we are today and they did more with less.

They never complained, and they just worked for what they wanted. They were slaves who only had time to train, eat, sleep and have some fun with the lady slaves, or their dominas.

Dominas were the wives of the emperors who purchased the gladiators as slaves. Their sole purpose was to fight in the arena. They learned simple techniques and focused on executing them with precision.

I thought about this and I wondered why not apply this into lifting, and training in general. What I came up with was pretty effective. I wanted to improve my squat specifically, so I decided to start squatting everyday, I added 65 lbs to my squat in one year. Just by doing that I realized how important execution really is. Anyone can come up with a plan, what matters is how the plan is executed. Squatting everyday has made me a lot more resilient. Every single training day, I would visualize myself squatting thousands of pounds in front of an arena full of people. This tool really helped me improve, since all of a sudden I raised the stakes.

I have always been the type that likes pressure. Which brings me back to the gladiators – they didn’t have a choice because they were slaves, they had to fight. They trained all day long just to get ready for battle in the arena in front of a crowd of people. All of that training helped them cope with the pressure. With stakes that high, it was either fight or die.

It was either fight or die for the gladiators, men have become softer since those times

It was either fight or die for the gladiators, men have become softer since those times

Training Tips

When training pick 5-8 exercises and get strong on them. Get strong in the 6-15 rep range, and muscle will be built, as well as strength. I’ve yet to see a small man who can dead-lift 500lbs for 6-10 reps. This approach of doing a lot of different exercises can work, in most cases though it will only cause information overload.

Take this for example. Say someone comes into the gym one day, and can’t do a single pull up. If he can progress to 8 pull ups from zero he will have a lot better physique. Another mistake people make with training, is not coming from a place of necessity. A great Olympic lifting coach by the name of John Broz, had a great quote that said.

If your family was captured and you were told you need to put 100 lbs on your max squat within two months or your family would be executed would you squat once per week?  Something tells me you would start squatting everyday.  Other countries have this mindset.  America does not.

What can be learned from that quote is the simple power of necessity. If we need to do something we will. Gladiators trained like that. Instead of doing 10-12 exercises per workout, pick 3-4 and hammer them hard.

Sample Upper Body Workout at the Gym:

  • Bench Press: 5 sets 12, 10, 8, 6, 4
  • Overhead press: 5 sets of 10
  • Bicep curls: 5 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Tricep extensions: 5 sets of 12-15 reps

That is a basic upper body split, that has gotten people results for years. On the other hand here is a workout that someone could do at home if the didn’t have access to a gym.

Home Upper Body Workout:

  • Pyramid push ups: The first set is 15 reps, then after each set do one rep less.  Like this
  • 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 all the way down to 1
  • Pull ups: 5 sets as many reps as possible
  • Body-weight tricep extensions: 3 sets as many reps as possible
  • Handstand push ups: 3 sets as many reps as possible

The body-weight tricep extensions, can be done anywhere: in a bathroom sink, with hands on a chair, on a bath tub, on a table. For the handstand push ups you would only need a wall. Pull up bars can be found at playgrounds. An athlete who can’t afford a gym can do that body-weight workout and get good results.

It’s all about improvement.

Be Tough and Follow Through

If two athletes finish the season with the same ability/talent-skill level and they were waiting their turn to start during the next season, who has the best chance to win the starting job? The one who makes the most improvement in the off-season will win the job. This happens every year in college sports, two freshmen sat the bench while the senior quarterback played. The senior QB graduates and then the returning sophomores battle it out for the starting position. Without fail, the QB who improves wins the job. Now, some coaches do end up choosing the wrong guy. Training like a gladiator means to focus on what matters, and getting better at the things that matter.

Get better at the squat, dead-lift, bench press, chin up, bicep curl, over head press, and weighted dips. If people focus on improving those essential lifts, their physiques will improve and they will have real strength. The only muscle I left out is the calf, and if lifters train their calves 5-7 days per week they will improve. These lifts, such as the squat, bench, dead-lift have different variations. If the lifter is training for explosiveness, then a box squat would be great, only after regular squats are performed.

If the lifter has a hamstring weakness, then stiff-leg and Romanian dead-lifts will be their dead-lift of choice. Same with bench press, if the chest is lagging then the lifter will need to focus on improving his incline bench press.

Sticking with the basics and attacking them with a gladiator like ferocity will lead to great gains. Arnold did the basics, so did Lou, and Franco Colombo. Improvement on the basic barbell movements and body-weight movements is what will lead to great gains.

Now, remember there are exceptions. If someone only has dumbbells to train with, then they can also work. Dumbbells also build muscle, they just don’t build the thickness that training with a barbell does. Most gyms don’t even have dumbbells that go over 150 lbs. People can certainly make gains with dumbbells, though. If there is a choice though, choose the barbells.

Remember gladiators never complained, and they were slaves. They still got the results that they wanted. Gladiators were ripped and shredded sure, but that isn’t what they cared about. They were only concerned with being able to win in the arena. Because a loss in the arena equaled death.

Now present day, we aren’t in nearly as many life or death situations. This has made us soft. We complain, we whine, we mope around. The gladiators had no time for that, if they slipped up in training their training partner could kill them. Or they could die in the arena. The gladiators were tough, and they always aimed to get better.


The Colosseum was used to host gladiatorial shows as well as a variety of other events

Slow and Steady Improvement

While you won’t get better every single day, it is a worthy goal. Getting better is what will make anyone successful. Even a gradual improvement is better than no improvement. I see people getting disappointed when I tell them they might increase their bench press by 10lbs at the end of the year. This sounds like a mediocre goal, but for the casual recreational lifter this is doable. Putting 10 lbs on your bench by the end of the year can be done, provided that the lifter doesn’t eat like a bird or stringbean.

It’s tough to hear, but the truth is that most people don’t even make progress in the gym. They do the same workouts, look the same, and still do the same program. Doing the same program is fine, the only thing wrong with that story is looking the same and being the same strength level. Gladiators would have never tolerated a lack of progress.

Gladiators were all about doing whatever it took to be ready for battle in the arena. They knew that the arena was either to kill or get killed. These were intense pressure filled situations. Only the strong and the mighty would survive. The gladiators trained each day as if it would be their last day. They appreciated life, they knew what a gift life was. They knew that they could die at any second, and they also witnessed death on a regular basis. Gladiators knew that complaining didn’t do any good, so they did their best to never complain.

Even facing the hardship that they faced they lived with honor, and they trained for victory in the arena. This is how our training needs to be. It needs to push us to that next level. It needs to make us better than we were before we started. Action will cure everything. Have a great attitude and take action. More action will usually fix most problems. The gladiators knew this. They did everything in their power to become better gladiators. If gladiators had barbells back then they would have used them. For the people out there who don’t have equipment just knock out this workout.

Quick Gladiator Workout at Home:

  • Full body Gladiator workout: 4 times per week
  • Feet elevated pushups on a chair: 5 sets 10-25 reps
  • Body-weight tricep extensions: 5 sets 15 reps
  • Handstand push ups: 5 sets 12 reps
  • Body-weight squat jumps: 5 sets 20 reps
  • Jumping lunges: 5 sets 10 each leg
  • Pull ups: 3 sets failure

For the feet elevated pushups, just get a chair, raise your feet on it and do the push ups. If they are too easy then either get two more chairs for your hands. Or, progress to one arm push ups. For handstand push ups, place your feet against the wall and do them. If you don’t have a pull up bar at home then go to a park, parks are everywhere.

Stop Making Excuses

If we don’t advance and conquer like the gladiators did, we will have trouble in life. On the other hand, we must always aim to advance and conquer in our training. Advancing and conquering is the whole purpose of life. When we become stagnant, we are metaphorically dying. If we appreciate life like we say we do, we must always seek to advance and conquer. You wrote 2000 words today, why not aim for 2100. It is these little inches of progress that turn good men into great men, or even legends.

You must understand what the gladiators understood, that in life, you get what you put into it. Massive action, and seeking advancement will ultimately lead to advancement. Whining, complaining, wishing, is nothing more than an excuse not to do something.

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