Watch a Trainer Try a Workout Inspired by Ancient Gladiators

·2-min read
Photo credit: History - YouTube
Photo credit: History - YouTube

If you're looking for some fitspo in 2022, you could do worse than looking to the past—or more specifically, to History's YouTube channel. In addition to the 'Ancient Recipes' series, which sees chef and former Bon Appetit darling Sohla El-Waylly recreate dishes from some of the world's oldest extant cookbooks, History has also just launched 'Ancient Workouts', in which trainer Omar Isuf explores what we can learn from the fitness regimes of some of antiquity's greatest warriors.

In the inaugural episode, he focuses on Roman gladiators. While many of these fighters started out as impoverished or enslaved people, the arena became such a popular spectator sport that gladiators became the superstar athletes of their time. "Gladiators truly were built different," says Isuf. "We have archaeological evidence that gladiators were, indeed, jacked."

He explains that one popular mode of training was the tetrad system, or what would be known today as a four-day split. The first day would revolve around toning and preparing the body for the following day's training, usually through short and intense bursts of activity. Think of it as an ancient HIIT workout. Day 2 would then consist of longer, more physically strenuous exercise where gladiators would go all out on their equivalent of heavy compound movements like the squat and deadlift. (continued below)


The third day would be for rest and recovery comprising lighter, less demanding workouts, followed by medium intensity exercise on the fourth day. This is where gladiators would focus on accessory work and skill-specific activity to improve performance and endurance.

Given that upper body strength was a huge requirement for all of that weapon-based combat, Isuf puts together an upper body workout that he believes will closely mirror the movements that somebody might have focused on while preparing to go into the arena. This includes three sets of burpees, three sets of explosive plyometric pushups, and finally, the overhead press, where he must lift his own bodyweight for as many reps as possible.

"This routine mimics what gladiators would need in terms of their training," he says. "Anaerobic capacity, so we're doing burpees. Plyo pushups, which has a power component. And then lastly, strength and endurance."

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