Fitness and nutrition culture has missed the mark when it comes to the sensationalized ideas of body image, diet and even seeing results. In an article I wrote a while ago, I brought attention to extremism that exists within this community. If you’re not a strength guy, you’re a bodybuilder. If not that, you’re a powerlifter. Or a CrossFitter. Unfortunately there’s very little common ground to be found among the personalities of members of each of these camps, when there definitely should be.
What’s worse: you’ll find do-or-die zealots of each camp who actually market this stuff as more than just a healthy pursuit of fitness or a recreation-based hobby. It’s a way of life, a culture, a lifeline. Such a fractious coexistence negatively affects the masses. Not only can it be intimidating for a newbie who’s yet to make any forward strides with his health and fitness, but it’s also dangerous to a person who actually has the right mentality towards it all (as it could taint their thinking). The truth may be miserable, but it’s still the truth – most people who claim to be hardcore, have no business trying to be. And if you think you should be, you’re probably wrong.
Once that sinks in, consider a few questions that may be worth asking where your training is concerned:
- Do you regularly compete in meets or events that rely on your fitness and training?
- Are you paid to train, or to play a sport? Does your income directly depend on your physique or fitness?
- Is your health in such a rock-bottom state that drastic, urgent and immediate measures must be taken?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the motivational posters, heavy-handed commercials, quotations made by the OCD, and influences from trainers with severe identity crises can actually serve you well. For the rest of us, it’s time to redefine what “being hardcore” should be all about.
Be a stickler for consistency
Too much of life is about the “here and now” factor, and neglects looking at the bigger picture. Training is no different. If you’re really serious about your training, it shouldn’t be about going balls-to-the-wall every time you step into the gym. Lasting the test of time means knowing when to push yourself, and knowing when to scale things back. Not meeting your strength PR by Tuesday won’t matter at all 10 years from now. But the amount of times you got into the gym each year will matter a whole lot. I’ll use the trite “bank account” analogy here, because it still fits. A smart person who’s concerned about his finances and conscious about sustaining them will save money for his retirement early. From a training perspective, investing in the longevity of your training means setting the right goals, and going after them in the right way.
If you think squatting, deadlifting and pressing are the only keys to your health and wellness, you’ve been unintentionally misled by the extremists I mentioned at the outset of this article. As a strength coach, I’ve found that there’s a very narrow lens used to coin “good training”, and it’s almost always geared towards getting stronger. At its core, that’s a great thought, but it overlooks the idea that someone may have reached the point where they no longer need to prioritize the improvement of strength in a given exercise or skill. Accompanied with this is the irrational fear of losing all strength gains upon trying something different for a phase.
Being serious about your training and health shouldn’t mean constantly looking for new ways to bust PR’s – it should mean being conscious of your need for multi-planar strength, bodyweight strength, muscular endurance, mobility, and other areas of fitness that make a body athletic. Some things do deserve more attention than others, but even great exercises like low rep barbell squatting and deadlifting become less beneficial to your health on a relative scale, if they’re done ad nauseam, year round as the hub of your training. And if you claim to be “hardcore”, you probably knew that already, and it’s an even combination of fear and addiction that keeps you from doing anything about it.
Be Willing to Get Help
Anyone reading this can probably conjure up a vivid memory of someone at their gym who lifts for their ego – likely stacking on way too much weight and using a technique and range of motion that’s just plain laughable. These people may seem like misinformed troopers, but the truth is they don’t care about their fitness or strength. If they really did (let alone to a ‘hardcore’ level), they’d be focused on putting in the time to research or be taught the proper ways to lift well, safely and injury free. Pride and fear get in the way of checking your ego at the door. They also get in the way of taking your gains seriously. Invest the money into some good coaching, appropriate for your level of knowledge.
Interlude (sort of): “The Zone”
“Getting into the zone” is almost always marketed as turning into a caged animal, wired with pre-workout, ready to be unleashed and demolish any set of any exercise on their program for the day. Without saying that doesn’t come in handy once in a while, a better way to think about being in “the zone” would be to apply three rules:
- Stop comparing yourself and/or competing against other people at the gym
- Listen to your body
- Connect your mind to your muscles
Seriously. Put on your headphones, and put some blinders on. I know it’s difficult to avoid noticing what other people are lifting and ultimately compare their performance to yours. But that’s not really hardcore. It’s actually kind of insecure. And what someone else can lift won’t affect your gains.
I’ve always wondered what people get out of mimicking another person’s warm up routine or method of self-motivation. Acting big and loud, and stomping around the gym floor bellowing quotables only to fail at your actual lift attempt has only seemed like an attention-seek to me, and not much else. It probably wastes plenty of energy too.
Get Strong, and Stay Strong
If you’ve read this far, I’m concluding that you’re not a competitive lifter or athlete, and have health, fitness and recreational gains in first mind when it comes to your training journey. With that, it’s worth asking a serious question: How strong do you need to be?
There’s no real answer for this, and I’ve made lengthy arguments on the topic in many other published articles. To keep things short on this blog, I’ll say this: I can guarantee that your 700 pound deadlift doesn’t make you any “healthier” than a guy who deadlifts 365 or 400. It behooves us all to realize that past a certain point, we’re trying to push our PR’s to satisfy the hobbyists in us, in the name of recreation. There’s nothing wrong with this, until we lose sight of the longer term and bigger picture application. For someone who’s been in the gym game, training well and correctly for years, and has a great foundation, staying strong is much more useful than constantly trying to get stronger. That means combining all of the points in the subheadings above, while honoring the basic staples of training, and not gimmicky fitness fads. It means easing up on the PR throttle, and chasing different rep ranges. It means doing what you have to so that you can move something close to the same weight when you’re old. What’s the “shelf life” of a 700 pound deadlift?
Take Care of Yourself Outside the Gym
EAT. SLEEP. TRAIN.
I’ve seen some variation of that quote on posters, t-shirts, and motivational images online. What I don’t like about it is simply the fact that it assumes everyone has an infinite amount of time in the day to only think about training. Bob from accounting might be very interested in training, and even get to the gym for his 5 or 6 weight training workouts weekly like clockwork. But that 90 minutes per day doesn’t fully counter his 10 hours seated at a desk, his family at home, his bills, and his old injuries from college.
If you’re really “hardcore” about your fitness and health, it means your recovery will take a seat of equal or greater importance on your list of priorities. If you’re over 25, chances are you’ve begun to realize you can’t train or recover the way you did at 19 or 20. Along with developing good nutrition and sleep habits, becoming BFF’s with a good practitioner can be a solid step in the right direction and a very responsible move for someone who wants to continue moving weights around for the long haul. Let’s face it: No matter how “smart” you weight train, there will be collateral damage to your joints and connective tissue. You’ll also likely develop some form of imbalance thanks to day-to-day life, the unexpected, or a missed rep under the bar. It’s not hardcore to push through the pain. It’s just ignorant. Call your RMT or Chiro and get a tune-up.
Just the Tip
To me, being “hardcore” about your training transcends the pernicious way that popular culture has mastered its portrayal. It truly means you’ve demonstrated and continue to exercise maturity where all of this is concerned. The six points I touched on here are really just scraping the surface of a deep and much layered subject – one that has deluded many lifters into replicating the actions or methods of others, rather than looking at themselves.
The results you get depend on the hard work that you put into it. But before you label yourself a hardcore gym rat, do an identity check, then an ego check.
And finally, don’t forget to enjoy this stuff.