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How to Get a Body Like an On-Screen Gladiator

You’ve probably been working out for a while, and your fitness goals might have changed since then.

For example, you may have started out wanting to lose weight — and now that you’ve done that, you may want to start bulking up.

Or, just maybe, you’ve heard that Gladiator 2 is in the works and quickly realized how much you want to look like an Ancient Roman fighting machine.

If this sounds like you, read on. This guide discusses what exactly makes a workout gladiator-worthy, gives a few tips to help you get started, and tells you how to do it like Russell Crowe.

The gladiator workout


You may have heard of Spartan races: obstacle courses of moderate difficulty inspired by Spartan legend.

Similarly, gladiator workouts are high-intensity routines inspired by famous depictions of the Ancient Roman fighters — most notably, Russell Crowe’s legendary transformation in the 2000 film Gladiator.

In fact, the multi-awarded actor is known for transforming like a chameleon for just about all his roles – a skill he’s honed over his long career.

A Foxy Bingo celebrity feature highlights how he first gained local notoriety as a bingo caller back in the ‘80s in Auckland. There, he entertained and shocked players in equal measure with his hilariously offensive bingo calls, before transforming into a rock singer performing across Australia.

And when he became an actor, he took his hard work and dedication to Hollywood.

Just a year before he took on the role of Maximus in Gladiator, for instance, Crowe gained weight to play a tobacco executive in The Insider. More recently, he put on the pounds to portray “an athlete who’s let himself go” in the 2020 thriller Unhinged.

Consequently, it’s no wonder gladiator workouts took off soon after Crowe revealed his warrior physique more than 20 years ago.

His intensely powerful performance in Gladiator would make anyone want to push their bodies to the limit to see if they, too, have what it takes to train like Ancient Rome’s most glorious athletes.

But how did gladiators really train back then? We can make some solid guesses based on what remains for us to observe today.


Eating like a gladiator

Surprisingly, for instance, historically accurate Roman gladiators weren’t known for their 6-packs. In fact, a common nickname for them back in the day was hordearii, or “barley men.”

That’s right:

Gladiators mostly ate vegetables and followed a carbohydrate-rich diet.

The reasoning behind this is simple. With more fat, stab wounds wouldn’t be so fatal.

Today, however, people don’t usually eat with getting stabbed in mind, so we’re free to achieve the more attractive Hollywood version of the gladiator.

You can start by eating 6 to 8 small meals a day, as this prevents you from overeating. Meanwhile, food high in fiber — like fruit, vegetables, and even brown rice — can help suppress your appetite, meaning you eat less and stay full for longer.

Most importantly, keep your protein intake high with a variety of meats, vegetables, and supplements, like casein and whey, to help you build muscle faster.

And with the calorie calculator developed by the Bodybuilding Blog team, you can keep track of your progress and stick to your goals with ease, without all the numbers giving you a headache.


Training like a gladiator

cardio lacks intensity

There are some aspects of the original gladiator workout that you can adapt directly into your own routine, while still getting results worthy of the silver screen. For instance, Professor Nigel B.

Crowther, who teaches classical studies at the University of Western Ontario, reveals it’s highly likely that gladiators were exposed to the Tetrad System.

This regimen takes 4 days to complete, with the cycle restarting every 5th day.

The first day involves a short but vigorous workout, and the second an all-out workout. The third day, then, is reserved for rest, and the fourth is set aside for medium-intensity training. This variety is designed to shock your body into its best physical form.

Meanwhile, the exercises themselves were focused on building strength, speed or agility, and endurance, so you can structure your workouts around these aspects and build an intense workout that works all the muscles in your body.



Gladiator strength training was heavily functional or chore-like in nature. The “farmer’s walk,” for example, will have you carrying heavy bags over long distances.

That being said, expect to do a lot of lifting. For this, strongman exercises are highly recommended, so head on over to your local strongman gym and add sets of exercises like deadlifts, tire flips, sled drags, and other similar workouts to your routine.

If you’re stuck at home, however, simply lifting and dragging around heavy objects can suffice.

And when you’re unsure of the exact weight of the item you’re using, correct form is more necessary to prevent injuries.

Speed and agility



Anything could happen in the gladiator arena, so gladiators kept their wits sharp by training themselves to react and recalibrate at lightning speed. And by training to become more agile, you help round out your gains, as well.

As an added bonus, you don’t need to rely on equipment to make the most out of speed workouts, so you can do them pretty much anywhere — including when you’re not at the gym doing strongman exercises.

The most you’ll need is an agility ladder or some cones.

Doing sets of forward-running high knees, for instance, helps you with your footwork. Meanwhile, lateral plyometric jumps and side-to-side running drills improve your lateral coordination. Another popular choice is the L Drill, which allows you to work on changing directions at high speed.



Finally, you wouldn’t be a gladiator without solid endurance and stamina. Thankfully, endurance can be developed over time by tweaking your existing routine ever so slightly.

For example, you can start by simply reducing your rest time between sets or shifting to faster-paced weightlifting routines. Changing up your workouts regularly and prioritizing compound over isolated exercises can also help challenge your body and combat muscle memory.

Keeping cardio in your routine is also crucial to building endurance by strengthening your heart, maintaining your joint range of motion, and increasing your lung capacity. This means more oxygen is fed to your muscles, allowing them to work harder. So grab your jump rope, do more HIIT or Tabata, or clock in more time on the treadmill or rowing machine.

And, to get the most out of each workout and encourage muscle growth even further, do your strength and cardio exercises on the same days. With a lot of sweat and patience, you’re sure to see the fruits of your labor and grow into your own 21st century gladiator within a few weeks.

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