If you've ever watched an episode of American Gladiator, you know that the contenders get thrown into an arena with the gladiator, only to be pummeled from all sides while trying to complete a series of physical challenges. It's a tough competition that requires strength, tenacity, intelligence and speed to come out on top. In 2007, on the heels of her wedding, Ally Davidson and her husband, Jeff Davidson, entered the arena together. Jeff made it to the semi-finals in the men's division and Ally came out on top, winning a car, $100,000 and some serious bragging rights. Ally didn't let her Gladiator mentality stop there, though. She took her winnings and parlayed them into one of the fastest growing group exercise movements in the country: Camp Gladiator. This ultra-fun, boot camp-style workout started as a small, grassroots program in Dallas, TX, but is now in 10 cities across the country, helping thousands of Americans take control of their fitness with the support of the CG community. Now, not to name drop or anything, but Ally and I go way back. We were on the same basketball team for three years in high school and we ended up graduating from the same exercise science program in college. She was even a guest at my wedding! So, I was thrilled to be able to catch up with her and hear about everything she's got going on with Camp Gladiator and how she plans on extending the reach of her program even farther.
Camp Gladiator: The movement
GirlsGoneSporty (GGS): Camp Gladiator is one of the fastest growing group exercise movements in the country - why do you think it resonates with so many people?
Ally Davidson (AD): We've created an environment and a program that's perfect for all fitness levels - anyone and everyone is welcome! Camp Gladiator is not just a workout, it’s a whole community. We’re all out there together, overcoming challenges and breaking all barriers. No matter if you’re young and fit or older and overweight, people discover a common ground when they're sweating it out, bonding over the workout. The atmosphere is definitely supportive - the trainers know everyone's name, the campers (as we call our participants) cheer each other on, and in the end, everyone achieves a measure of success. That's what keeps people coming back for more.
GGS: How is Camp Gladiator different from other boot camp programs?
AD: We’re a motivating and encouraging group that always keeps things fun. We're not a military-style workout like so many other boot camps. You won't see our trainers getting in the campers' faces, yelling at them; we’re not like that at all. Another thing that sets us apart is the community we've created– we’re taking 100 people to go snow skiing in a couple weeks, we've taken a group of 50 people to climb a mountain in Colorado. We do a lot of get togethers – we’ll go do happy hours, or get a group together to go paint balling on the weekends, or take hikes around town. We preach and live the adventurous lifestyle. That’s something that really sets us apart from other fitness organizations.
Camp Gladiator: Expansion
GGS: You recently expanded to a number of cities across the country. How do you keep all of your trainers focused on your mission when you're spread so far apart?
AD: Our trainers have to really embrace the mission in order to work at Camp Gladiator. The mission is simple: to positively impact as many lives as humanly possible, using physical fitness as the means to create impact. It’s a pretty general mission statement, but it really calls the trainers out. Our trainers have to sign on to the mission, grab hold of it & take off and run with it. We try to create a good working environment for our trainers, giving them opportunities for growth, encouraging them to put in the extra effort and go the extra mile. All of our trainers really care a lot, & it’s really evident. You have to care a lot to work with Camp Gladiator.
GGS: It was only a few short years ago that you started, and you're now in 10 cities. How is the expansion going?
AD: Expansion is going great! God has really blessed Camp Gladiator, and it has expanded with the help of a lot of people. A lot of people have contributed, including our office staff. We didn’t know what to expect when we got started – we were just starting a business from scratch. The extent of the expansion has definitely been a God thing, that’s for sure.
GGS: How do you decide which cities to expand to?
AD: In order to start a boot camp, we have to have a trainer. If we know a good trainer or we hold an audition to find a good trainer (or a team of trainers), we’ll expand to a new city. We won't expand to a city until we have the right trainers, that's for sure.
Beyond boot camp
GGS: Camp Gladiator is so much more than just a boot camp program - you offer personal training, kids camps, Gladiator Games, adventure trips and more. Can you tell us a little about all of the programs you offer and what sets them apart?
AD: Sure! We have a number of programs, all of which supplement the boot camps.
Kid Gladiator is a non-profit, Christian kids camp. It runs in the summers and is basically like an outdoor adventure sports camp. We have speakers & college counselors. It’s a really fun time for the kids and we're hoping to be able to expand the number of sessions available in the coming years.
We have a CG Run team that's offered in conjunction with the boot camps. Campers who are interested in running are encouraged to join and train to compete in various nationwide running events.
We do an annual event called CG Games. In past years these have been offered only in Austin and Dallas, but we're excited to expand to Houston and San Antonio in 2012. CG Games is basically an advanced urban obstacle course where people dig deep and compete for prizes. We love it because it helps celebrate who we are and where we came from.
Right now we're in the process of opening our first indoor fitness facility in Austin, TX: The Arena. This 20,000 square foot center will be unlike any other center in Austin, and while the focus will still be on community-building and group-style exercise, it will also offer a variety of traditional and functional fitness equipment. Members can come to cycle and kick boxing classes, they can climb our cargo net, swing through our monkey bars or even hit the artificial turf field for a series of sprints. The center will open in mid-March, so if you're in the Austin area, definitely come check it out!
GGS: How do you decide what programs to start?
AD: We’ve started things that we’ve seen as a need or that we're personally excited about. The kids camp started because that's always been something Jeff and I wanted to do. The run team came from campers who had an interest in that. CG Games is a fun, once-yearly event that helps celebrate who we are. The arena is obviously our next huge adventure because it's so different from the boot camps and the other programs we've started.
GGS: How do you see your program expanding in the next few years? Is there something you're particularly excited about?
AD: The only time we expand is when it’s organic. Our main focus is boot camp, and we want to continue to expand that first. I think a year from now, realistically we could be in 20 cities. As boot camp grows, we want to continue to expand every segment of the business alongside it. We’re going to add more weeks to the kids summer camp & we’re adding a whole new business with The Arena's indoor facility. That’s a complete new adventure for us that’s kind of fun!
GGS: You're an extremely hands-on leader in all aspects of Camp Gladiator. As the company expands, how will you continue to stay hands-on without getting burned out?
AD: Both Jeff and I are very hands on - we’re very involved in everything. Ultimately, as the company has grown, we’ve seen people step up and take on greater responsibility and we’ve been able to rely on our managers more heavily. We have to have increased leadership as we grow, and Jeff and I have to continue working with leadership to help them develop. We’ve been really fortunate to have found some great, great managers.
Getting a Gladiator-style workout
GGS: For readers who don't yet have Camp Gladiator in their area, do you have any workout tips for getting a camp-like workout?
AD: We do all full-body stuff. We do a lot of high intensity interval training (HIIT), we incorporate strength with cardio. Maybe you’re doing a sprint, then you come back and you’re doing pushups, then core work. To get a camp-like workout, focus more on HIIT. You'll burn more calories and keep your heart rate up, which will help you see results faster.
GGS: Do you have a favorite Camp Gladiator exercise?
AD: We have fun names for everything - "sexy spiders" and "Johnny Apple Seeds" - we try to keep everything entertaining. We also play a lot of games at camp. We play freeze tag, tug-of-war and dodge ball. We'll even have flag football games or hold special Super Bowl Sunday workouts. That’s my favorite part – incorporating the games into the boot camp routine.
GGS: How can readers find out more about upcoming events and programs?