When a pair of gym partners had enough of their regular workout, they started their own hardcore training program, and today, they’re ready to pump you up.
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Brian Beckstoffer and Nate Bell of Gladiator Training Inc.
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Beckstoffer performing a plank with battling ropes.
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Bell wall-walking up a set of stairs.
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Stephanie Bell prepares for a set of chain squats.
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Lucas Gambill doing sandbag front squats.
Photography by Adam Ewing
As a gentle wave of after-work traffic whooshes through Richmond, a little red camping lantern glows on the cold grass in front of the Carillon tower in Byrd Park. Barely visible in the lantern’s light are four members—and the two owners—of Gladiator Training Inc. Together they deliver a chorus of huff-grunt, huff-grunt. It’s 40 degrees outside, just before Christmas, and all six men have submitted themselves to a nonstop, 45-minute workout that is equal parts inspiring and insane.
Competing in two teams of three, they rotate through three exercises, each done for about two minutes straight. In ascending order of discomfort, tonight’s exercises are sit-ups, burpees (a masochistic mash-up of squats, jumps and push-ups) and a 150-yard run undertaken while shouldering a 90-pound canvas bag of sand or stones. There are no water breaks, no pauses to rest.
“That’s how you build your endurance,” says Gladiator co-founder Brian Beckstoffer, a 33-year-old home remodeling contractor. Beckstoffer created Gladiator more than four years ago with fellow Richmond native Nate Bell, 38, who works in chemical sales. They first met five years ago when Beckstoffer sold his Toyota Land Cruiser to Bell. They ran into each other again at Gold’s Gym and agreed to work out together at Byrd Park.
“We were both kind of sick of the gym,” Beckstoffer recalls. “We met every Sunday for a year, and the workout was more fulfilling. Other people came to work out with us, and they started seeing results. They would say, ‘Why don’t you guys start your own training program?’”
So they created Gladiator Training Inc., an outdoor, all-weather fitness program geared toward seasoned athletes, many of whom played sports in college. (Braving the elements is both a nod to mental toughness and a necessity—Bell and Beckstoffer have yet to lease an indoor training space.)
For $125 a month, Gladiator members can get personal attention during several intense workouts each week. Think of the Gladiator program as the more extreme younger sibling of the better-known SEAL Team Physical Training. Both programs emphasize low-tech, low-impact, military-style outdoor workouts. Gladiator raises the bar by utilizing everything from thick ropes and heavy chains to weighted vests and kettlebells.
“It’s a shock to your body the first few weeks,” says 25-year-old Gladiator member James Callahan. “But your body reacts naturally to it and recovers. Probably by the third week, you’re in full swing.”
Callahan, who works at Richmond-based IT consulting firm CapTech Ventures, says Gladiator enabled him to run the 2014 Chicago Marathon in three hours and 50 minutes. Prior to the race, Callahan never ran more than 13 miles at a stretch, although he sometimes ran trails with Gladiator while wearing a 50-pound weighted vest.
Callahan heard about Gladiator two years ago from his roommate, 25-year-old Brandon Gary, who attended Virginia Military Institute on a four-year soccer scholarship. Gary had grown accustomed to an intense mix of military drills and athletic competition. After graduation, he quickly grew bored with his regular gym workouts. “I was always standing around, waiting for someone to be done with a machine,” he says. He heard about Gladiator from his sister, who shared mutual friends with Beckstoffer and Bell.
Gary, an equipment coordinator for industrial water-treatment company Chemtreat, praises Gladiator co-founder Bell for hosting free Sunday morning workouts at the Carillon open to anyone wondering if they can handle the weekday workouts. Between seven and 10 people tend to show up each Sunday.
They benefit from the certifications Bell and Beckstoffer have earned. The pair has studied with John Brookfield, creator of the Battling Ropes Training System; Karen Smith, founder of Kettlebell Elite; Rob Shaul, founder of Military Athlete; and retired Army Sgt. Maj. Pat McNamara, founder of Alias Training & Security Services. Bell in particular admits that he’s obsessed with continuing education in the fitness realm.
But even Bell and Beckstoffer have indulgences and acknowledge the need to be a little bad sometimes.
“I overeat,” Bell admits. “Not junk, but we love Indian food. And I can go to Farouk’s House of India [in Carytown] and literally eat five or six plates.”
Grinning, Beckstoffer acknowledges, “Beer is my weakness. I’m not
talking about getting wasted. But I love going to craft breweries and tasting good beer.”
Then it’s right back to working out, which begs the question: Could you handle a Gladiator workout? Bell and Beckstoffer offer helpful parameters for prospective members. Men should already be able to do 10 pull-ups and 26 push-ups and run a mile in less than seven minutes. Women should be able to do six pull-ups and 15 push-ups and run a mile in less than
Strict parameters aside, Gladiator’s founders say they’re motivational coaches, not barking drill instructors, despite the intensity of their program.
“We’re really nice,” Beckstoffer says. “We don’t yell at anybody. We want you to succeed and meet your goals. If you have to stop, stop. Just get back in there as soon as you can.” GladiatorTrainingVa.com