James Crossley aka Hunter from Gladiators in 2017 Atlas ball up'n'overs ()James Crossley aka Hunter from Gladiators in 2017 Atlas ball up'n'overs () © Copyright

The Ultimate Gladiator

We caught up with James Crossley aka Hunter from epic ’90sshow Gladiators to talk TV, competitiveness and ‘strongman’.

For us to bring you a fitness story that’s been touched by the warm hand of nostalgia, we would have to do it well, and get the very best from the past – and no, we’re not talking Mr Motivator.

James Crossley, who was Hunter in everyone’s favourite Saturday night gameshow, Gladiators, has kindly taken a look back at a time when reality TV meant fewer talent-less shows and more thrilling high-energy feats of competitiveness.

“Being on Gladiators was an amazing experience. I loved it all,” says Crossley, when we meet up with him for a training session at strongman specialists The Foundry gym. “I loved training to be competitive, and loved competing itself.”

Crossley, 43, has come to train with The Foundry’s Ali McKenzie, 35, a former rugby union prop for Wasps, and a fellow man mountain. The pair were facing-off in a semi-serious competition of the strongest, which quickly got fairly tasty.

McKenzie, who was in the blue corner, went on our first whistle, while Crossley, who was representing the Gladiators, went on our second whistle. Each man then took on a variety of challenges aimed at someone competing in a strongman, including weighted log presses, atlas ball up-and-overs, yoke presses, farmer’s walks and yoke carries.

James Crossley aka hunter from gladiators training in 2017 ()

 

Crossley’s interest in strongman seems natural after spending his life dedicating himself to the pursuit of athletic perfection. His obsession with fitness started as a child after watching all three Rocky movies back-to-back. “I told my mum I wanted to be a boxer after that, but she said, ‘absolutely not’,” Crossley says. “After much debate, she let me lift weights in the gym with my dad instead.

“I was always very goal-led from day one. By 19, I wanted to be Mr Universe, and I wanted to have the same-sized arm and same weight as my age. I did that. I was 14st when I was 14, all the way to being a fat 19st at 19, with a 19-inch arm.

“I never became Mr Olympia, but I did qualify for junior Mr Olympia, and I won Junior Mr England. It was from there that I was scouted for Gladiators.”

Crossley was initially named Trident for the inaugural series of the show, which pitted (very) athletic members of the general public against a crack team of freakishly big athletes as they took on a variety of challenges designed to test athletic fitness, strength, speed, reflexivity and even cognitive thinking.

It was the second series when Crossley eventually changed monikers to Hunter, after enduring a difficult 12 months adapting to the rigours of the show. As a bodybuilder, Crossley found that his muscle-bound frame, despite looking the part, was a hindrance. “I found it harder to do challenges such as the climbing wall – I was just too heavy.”

Crossley’s transformation from bulked-up bodybuilder to battle-ready gladiator came from a routine he devised himself; and it’s one that today strongly resembles the latest obsession with ‘functional training’.

Gladiators 1992 cast ()

 

“Some guys wanted to be good at just one thing, but I wanted to be quick on the wall, strong on the rings – I wanted to be great at it all,” Crossley laughs. “Some of the bigger guys just accepted their fate and stuck to the physical games they knew they’d be good at.

“I came up with a training regime that allowed me to emulate each of the games on the show. I dragged a car around a car park to help me with the ‘atlas spheres’; I went climbing twice a week with weights on my back to prepare for ‘the wall’; and I emulated ‘hang tough’ with a set of Olympic rings we had found.

“When I came back the next year, I was a stone lighter and I surprised everyone.” Surprise everyone he certainly did, lasting on the show’s original run for the full eight series, and eventually being crowned the ‘Ultimate Gladiator’ in the show’s final season.

After Gladiators he studied acting, performing on stage for several years in the US and UK, before eventually reviving his interest in fitness to become a personal trainer.

Today, he operates from a Chelsea-based gym, training a variety of clients, including pro athletes, pop stars and busy city professionals. His passion though, has been his ‘Fit at Forty’ campaign, designed to educate the more mature man or woman that fitness doesn’t end at middle age – switch your dad on to him now!

You’re now as likely to find Crossley executing feats of gladiatorial strength in the gym as you are on old reruns of Gladiators, and it’s his strong interest in strongman that has brought us together.

“Strongman embodies everything I love about training,” Crossley says enthusiastically when we ask him to sell the discipline to us. “I don’t think you get better than it – it builds everything, gets your heartrate right up when under load, works all your muscles from different angles and planes… that’s why I love it so much.”

Photos: Tom Miles, Rex Shutterstock

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