What Does ‘Hardcore’ Really Mean? By Dorian Yates
By Dorian Yates
What Does ‘Hardcore’ Really Mean?
The term ‘hardcore’ has been tossed about so much in bodybuilding that it’s basically become a cliché. If it ever really had a definitive meaning, it’s either been forgotten or nobody seems to be able to agree on what it really means. Although I never gave myself any label or made any such claims, a lot of bodybuilding fans seem to consider me one of the most ‘hardcore’ champions of the modern era. So this month I will do my best to answer the question, what does hardcore really mean?
Is Hardcore All About Where You Train?
My Temple Gym in Birmingham and Metroflex Gym in Texas have gained reputations as being the ultimate in hardcore gyms. And I do think a good workout environment is important, as well as good equipment. Some gyms claim to be hardcore, but it’s really their excuse for why they don’t maintain their equipment and it’s falling apart. Sorry, but that just means you’re doing a piss-poor job as a gym owner.
But it’s not really even about how heavy the dumbbells are or whether they have this or that specific item like a power rack or a heavy-duty leg press. The most important factor in where you train is whether the majority of members are there to train seriously. There is a certain vibe you feel in a place like that. Bev and Steve’s Powerhouse Gym in Long Island [Syosset, NY] is a perfect example. You have professional athletes as well as plenty of average folks, but everyone is in the gym to work hard and get results.
Another great gym I have been training at lately is Apollon Gym in Edison, New Jersey. Rich Gaspari built his physique there in his early years, and it’s still got an excellent array of all the best equipment a bodybuilder could ever want plus more importantly, that atmosphere of a blue-collar work ethic that permeates any real hardcore gym. In many other gyms and health clubs, people are there to get a light sweat going while they socialize or read the newspaper. The management likes it that way, and does not welcome things that go along with hard training, like grunting or dropping weights.
I could really care less about cosmetics. A gym doesn’t have to have a concrete floor with spit and sawdust all about, with water dripping from the ceiling and a bathroom that doesn’t smell too nice for it to be hardcore. By the same token, a gym can be perfectly clean and brightly lit and still be a great place to train. Any facility can be considered hardcore as long as it has a large group of serious trainers and hard training is encouraged rather than frowned on.
Do You Have to be 300 Pounds Ripped to be Hardcore?
Some of the laziest bodybuilders I have known were very large guys. They moved in slow motion and spent half their workout yapping away on a cell phone while they did pumping sets with weights not even remotely challenging. One of the most hardcore members of Temple Gym isn’t a huge pro. He’s a guy nearly 70 years old who comes to the gym every day to train seriously. This guy has more energy than most of the young men in their 20s who work out there, and everyone tends to train a bit harder when he’s around.
Hardcore is about challenging yourself. Some of the most serious trainers I have known have been women. You show them how to do an exercise just one time, and they will do it correctly from then on. When left to their own devices, men usually end up throwing too much weight around in horrendous form. I am sure this is all tied into the male ego. If you push yourself to the limit every time you train and are determined to get the best of your workouts, it doesn’t matter how big or small you are— you’re hardcore.
Is Being Hardcore About Using Only Free Weights?
I use a mix of free weights and machines, and have for many years. The core of my routine has always been free weights. I started incorporating machines more later in my career. Sometimes it was out of necessity, as I was working around injuries. In other cases, I found certain machines were better-suited to isolating a given body part. The Nautilus pullover machine, for example, was something that allowed me to work my lats intensely without being limited by the smaller biceps muscles failing first.
A question I get all the time at seminars is, “Which one is better, free weights or machines?” There is no reason you have to choose. Use them both. Free weights are more physically challenging, so some people consider them to be the mark of a true hardcore trainer. But you can certainly challenge yourself with machines as well.
Very early on in my Mr. Olympia reign, a black-and-white training photo on the Hammer Strength seated rowing machine ran of me that became one of the most well-known shots ever taken of me. One day I was training in Gold’s Gym Venice, and Chris Lund wanted to take some training shots of me. Back then, everyone would wear dark sunglasses, cut-off denim shorts, and boots and they would do these very ‘staged’ workout photos. Often the guys would be all oiled up and used fake weights. I told Chris I didn’t want any of that nonsense. He was welcome to follow me through my ‘real’ workout and take pictures.
I know that picture of me on the Hammer Strength machine didn’t become popular because of my physique, as I was wearing a cut-off sweatshirt. It was the effort and intensity Lund captured that inspired people. From that point on, Chris started having the bodybuilders use real weights during photo shoots. It brings out a different look when the subject is actually putting out maximum effort. The veins stand out more, and the muscles strain against heavy resistance. But to get back to the original question, using machines does not disqualify one from being hardcore.
Must You Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press to be Hardcore?
Let’s start with squats. When I started training in 1984, Tom Platz was the man. Prior to Platz, legs had never been a big deal in bodybuilding. Once ‘The Golden Eagle’ came on the scene with those incredible legs of his, all that changed. Tom was known for his brutal squat workouts. In my gym, as in most gyms where serious bodybuilders trained at that time, you weren’t even considered a real man unless you squatted. So I did my best, but my body wasn’t structurally suited for squats. My hips were rather small for my frame, which was a liability when it came to heavy squats. I tore a muscle in my hip and underwent surgery. This was before I even turned pro.
I should also note that as hard as I did work on squats up to that point, my leg development was nothing really special. After my surgery, I never did a single set of squats again. I used Smith machine squats, the leg press, and the hack squat. I found that for me, those exercises did a much better job at working my quads, whereas squats had always involved a lot of lower back and glutes. I still say that the barbell squat is a wonderful exercise for some people. For anyone who plays a sport like football or soccer, they are a great all-around movement and will help develop superb core strength. But in my case, squats never delivered the best results. I managed to win six Mr. Olympia titles without them, and my legs became two of my better body parts.
I also stopped doing flat barbell bench presses very early on in my bodybuilding career. They weren’t doing much for my pecs, so I saw no point in keeping them in my workouts. Incline and decline barbell presses worked much better for me. As for deadlifts, I did them, but at the end of my back workouts. That limited the amount of weight I could use to no more than 405-495 pounds, but I was never hung up on how much I could lift in any movement. The goal was always to develop my physique, not puff up my ego. Also, I only did the first set from the floor. After that, all sets were from the shins up, as I didn’t care to involve the quads and glutes any more than was necessary.
To sum up, those three power lifts are wonderful if they work well for you and you can do them safely. If not, you’re not hardcore for doing them— you’re foolish!
Is Hardcore About the Way You Dress When You Train?
When I trained, I dressed purely for comfort. It was never about how I looked. After those aforementioned workout photos of me ran, there were a lot of ‘Dorian Imitators’ who would also train in sweatshirts with the neck hole cut larger and the ends of the sleeves cut off. The funny thing is, I never did that to make a fashion statement. I just hated the feeling of the sleeves and the cuffs binding my neck and forearms.
But I shouldn’t say that I never put any thought whatsoever into what I wore. Specific items of clothing could put me in the right frame of mind to train harder. I would have a certain pair of baggy pants I wore on leg day, a certain top that I always wore for my chest workouts, and so on. And that’s what it all should come down to— what works for you and puts you in the proper mood. If that means ripped-up sweats, fine. If you like to have expensive workout gear and $200 sneakers to feel like having a great workout, go for it. You can wear a fucking pink tutu if that inspires you to awesome workouts. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own. It’s the training that matters, not what you wear while you’re doing it.
Do You Need to Compete to be Hardcore?
Competing is an entirely different aspect to bodybuilding. It’s a whole other level of difficulty that involves restricting calories, favorite foods, doing more cardio, and functioning on lower energy levels for months to get into proper condition. But you don’t have to compete to be hardcore. There are plenty of bodybuilders who push themselves hard, day after day for years, but simply have no interest in getting up onstage in little posing briefs. And that’s their choice. It makes them no more or less hardcore than card-carrying members of the NPC and IFBB.
So What Is Hardcore?
To me, hardcore always meant mastery over oneself. We all have instincts, and the main human instinct is to avoid pain. When the reps start getting really tough, the muscles burn and you struggle to breathe, your instincts tell you to stop. The average person in the gym does— the hardcore bodybuilder keeps pushing. When you’re dieting and wake up in the middle of the night starving, your instincts demand that you rush to the kitchen and gorge yourself on sugars and fats. The hardcore bodybuilder wants to win, so he or she fights that instinct. When you’re exhausted, the last things you feel like doing are an hour of cardio or a heavy leg workout. The true hardcore bodybuilder has mastered his or her urges and instincts and does what must be done to improve the physique. It may be painful, it may be the very last thing you want to do at that moment, but you do it. That’s hardcore, my friends.
“I heard Dorian is down to 200 pounds!”
Ever since I retired from competition following the 1997 Mr. Olympia, I have heard all kinds of ridiculous rumors that I stopped training and my weight has plunged down to 200 pounds. First of all, I have never stopped training hard. Why would I? I enjoy it far too much to quit. And the lightest I have weighed since I retired was 245. I haven’t been down to 220 since I was 22 years old. Currently I am a fairly lean 262 pounds at 5’11”, which is down from the 295-305 I routinely carried when I was Mr. Olympia. I actually like being lighter. I can fit into nicer clothes and I’m more mobile. Why the hell would I still be walking around carrying all that weight when I’ve been retired for over a decade? Some fans seem to expect champions to look the same forever, but it’s a pretty unreasonable expectation.
4 Hardcore Trainers Who Inspired Me In My Younger Years
My Best ‘Dorian, the King of Hardcore’ Story
By Ron Harris
Dorian makes reference this month to how he was the first to buck the trend of posing for staged workout photos. I can personally attest to this. Dorian was out in the L.A. area in April 1992 to guest-pose at the NPC Orange County, a big regional event. That fall he would go on to win his first Mr. Olympia title in Helsinki, Finland. At the time I was the Associate Producer of the popular ESPN show, “American Muscle Magazine,” and we had a monthly feature called “The Valeo Workout.” We had a standard format when we shot these, which involved getting footage of each exercise from multiple angles to be edited together later. Between these, lights usually had to be moved, and so on. The bodybuilder wasn’t really going through an actual workout. Apparently nobody told Dorian this.
He arrived at the gym ready to train back, and it wasn’t long before we had a conflict on our hands. Dorian’s intense training style involved one or two heavy working sets to absolute failure, sometimes with forced reps. He was not pleased when, after giving it his all on a set of underhand lat pulldowns using the entire stack of 300 pounds plus another 45 pinned on, I asked him if he could please do it again so we could get it from another angle.
“No. That’s not how I train,” he firmly replied. Next came barbell rows, where he warmed-up and worked up to an all-out set with 405, using his famous underhand grip (two years later, he tore his biceps doing it). Again I meekly asked if he could do just a few more reps so our cameraman could try a different type of shot. “You’re not going to ruin my fucking workout,” he informed me, and that was that.
Usually our subjects were tanned, wore carefully selected, color-coordinated Hot Skins outfits, and had no objections to us spritzing them with a spray bottle to simulate sweat. Dorian was pasty white, wore baggy sweatpants, and I didn’t even dare to go near the stone-faced giant with the spray bottle. He grimaced like a gargoyle with his maximum-effort sets, and grunted like he was in childbirth. When we wrapped up, I really thought the shoot had gone terribly. But what do you know— the fan mail that rolled in after that episode, showed that people loved the segment. It was real, intense, brutal hardcore training— the type of workouts Dorian Yates would soon become legendary for.
And since MD is ‘No Bull,’ I have to confess to something pretty nerdy. Dorian didn’t take the black Valeo II belt with him at the end of that shoot, since he already had one just like it back home in England. So I snagged that bad boy and wore it with pride until the Velcro peeled off about 10 years later.
“That’s right!” I would tell anyone who would listen. “Dorian wore this training back five months before he won his first Mr. Olympia!” I’m such a dork.