You’ve been putting some time in under the bar, but your surroundings aren’t exactly a supportive environment. The skinny frat kid behind the counter has to ask you for a third time this week to put the bar down quieter, and God help you if he knew that you had chalk in your gym bag. You put the bar down softly each time, careful not to make any sounds of effort for fear that a giant f’n siren will go off and 30 skinny-fat losers will all give you that “non-judgment” look… again.
So, tired of dealing with this every week the question becomes: Should you consider joining a “HARDCORE” gym?
Short answer: Hell yes.
Long answer: If you’re interested in powerlifting, strongman, arm wrestling or just want to be a complete and total HOSS, training in a hardcore gym is a great way to get you there. Whether you’re currently training by yourself with a patchwork of mismatched second hand equipment in your garage, or cranking out reps at the rec center with d-bag #1 and d-bag #2 on either side of you, a better environment may be just what your training needs.
Finding and Joining a Hardcore Gym
Hardcore gyms can be difficult to find. Often they’re small, operate on a tiny budget and don’t do a hell of a lot of advertising.
As a gym, they generally can’t compete with the big box's for the everyday, treadmill walking Joe and Jane Schmo's of the world, (and they wouldn't want to anyway). Because of this they might cost a little more than the “gym” that serves bagels and pizza. F*** it though, if you’re going to let THAT get in your way, maybe you’re better off at the purple “gym” anyway.
Hardcore gyms might be located in a garage, small building, or a hole in the wall in the worst part of town. Hell, they might even be at some dudes house! The point I’m making is that there might not be a lot of space. That said, people take up that space, so don’t be discouraged if your local hardcore gym isn’t taking new members at the moment. Just know that if there is plenty of space and they won't give you a membership. It's probably because you happen to suck.
So should you wait until you don’t “suck” to try to join a hardcore gym?
Most often, passion and potential trump all. So show that you have a pair and march your a** right up to the bearded and tatted-up bastard who runs the joint and tell him/her that you want in. (Yes, some women have beards.) What’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no, and laugh at you? Is that going to rustle your girl parts Nancy? Odds are that if THIS was too painful for your sensibilities, you wouldn’t have lasted a month in the gym anyway.
If they say yes, then you’re in! Now what? Well, here’s a list of do’s and don'ts to help guide your awkward a** to becoming a grizzled meathead like the rest of ‘em.
Help put bars and plates away but don’t wipe down other people's sweat. That’s their problem and you'll look weird doing it.
11 Hardcore Gym Rules
Rule #1 - Don’t be late
At least not while you’re new. And after that, still don’t be late. Nobody likes THAT guy. When they say, “Hey, the group is squatting tonight at 7”, then get your a** there by 6:45 and not a second later and sit in the parking lot. No exceptions. Cause traffic accidents to get there early if need be.
Rule #2 - Do make a good first impression
Timeliness is only the first part. You also need to show the group that you’re a team player and not a selfish d-bag. You can accomplish this by showing up with a s*** load of fresh donuts. These guys aren’t anorexics trying to pop their 8 pack abs, they’re hardcore athletes and they need fuel...sugar fuel.
A good rule of thumb is to buy 3 times as many as you think you’ll need. If you don’t buy enough, then someone there isn’t going to get any donuts and they’ll hate you forever. Creating life long hatred is not a good way to begin your first day of training.
Rule #3 - Don’t be an ASKhole
That means mouth shut, ears open. You might have a lot of questions, especially if there are pieces of equipment there that you’ve never used before. Questions are great (FOR YOU), but they can get annoying after a short while.
Try to think of your top 3 major questions and ask them over the course of the training session. More than likely the things you’ll see during training will answer most of your questions before they have a chance to awkwardly fly out of your mouth.
Of course, if you’re about to cripple yourself under a Spider bar loaded with a quarter ton of band tension, you might want to pipe up and mention that you have no idea what you’re doing.
Rule #4 - Do help spot and load
Obviously this will show the guys and gals right off the bat that you value your time there and are willing to help out. You might even be surprised. You may even learn how to do something new during your first week, like operate a monolift or load plates facing the right way.
Pay attention to the task at hand. If you misload a bar, somebody could get hurt (including you). Check and double check that you’ve loaded the bars right so you don’t get thrown out on your a**.
At Raleigh Barbell we have nicknames like Libby, Smolov, sweet prince, lat-daddy, Burt and Ernie, Cousin Eddie, Dwight YOKEm, Yeazy-E, lord of the plies and red bearded bastard.
Rule #5 - Don't take things personally
If you get a nickname on the first night, embrace it. Even if it’s derogatory! If someone thinks enough of you to give you a nickname, then they probably aren’t annoyed by everything you do while you’re there.
At the gym I train at, Raleigh Barbell, we have nicknames like: Libby, Smolov, sweet prince, lat-daddy, Burt and Ernie, Cousin Eddie, Dwight YOKEm, Yeazy-E, lord of the plies and red bearded bastard. That last one’s mine.
There are a lot of terrible words and conversations being voiced at any given moment in a hardcore gym, so wear your new moniker with pride. Unless it’s “s*** brains.” If they’re calling you that, then you might have misloaded a bar earlier in the night. Best to pack your BCAA sippy cup and GTFO.
Rule #6 - Do be inclusive
Hardcore gyms attract people from all walks of life. Well, not really. Generally you’ll all be very similar.
But some subjects may be very polarizing, like religion or politics. Just remember what you have in common with your brothers and sisters of iron: your love for training! Also remember, whoever has the bigger lift is automatically right in any debate you have. So suck it up buttercup, not everybody hugs trees.
Rule #7 - Don't be the guy/gal who thinks the music is too loud
If someone is mouthing words to you in the midst of an ear drum bursting guitar solo, and you have absolutely no idea what they just said, don't stand there and say "what?" 37 times. Do the same thing you would when a really old person, or a guy with a thick accent tries to talk to you: just smile and nod.
It's lifting weights people, not a SEAL mission. Just get the gist. Weight goes down, weight goes up. Repeat. Got it.
Rule #8 - Do help clean up
Self explanatory. Help put bars and plates away but don’t wipe down other people's sweat. That’s their problem and you'll look weird doing it. You don’t want everyone thinking that the newbie is collecting sweaty wads of paper towels. That’ll earn you a nickname on the first night for sure.
Rule #9 - Don't hold back
You may be new and all, but you've taken geometry back in high school just like everybody else. No need to bust out your old protractor when someone asks you how their squat looked. If it was high, say it was high.
It doesn't matter if the squat was 500 pounds over your max. If you're honest, then you're an asset. If you lie and say it was past parallel when it wasn't even close, then you're just coddling other lifters and are of absolutely no use to the group.
Rule #10 - Do play it cool
If you suck, don’t kiss anyone’s a** just because they lift more than you. If you’re pretty strong, don’t brag about it and come across as a know it all a-hole. There’s always someone stronger and smarter than you. Learn from both, whether they out-lift you or not.
Rule #11 - Don't worry about "how it went"
Get over the fact that the group is going to talk about you after you leave. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; generally the owner is trying to figure out if you’re going to be a good fit for the group.
If you’re invited back, then you’re probably in the clear. Yay, you made it. If not, just accept the fact and try to implement everything you’ve learned from your experience. It’s not the end of the world and you’ll probably be a better lifter than you were before you walked in there anyway.
Training at a hardcore gym had a huge impact on my lifting. The camaraderie and friendship are second to none and the energy in the room beats any other form of motivation that you’d find by yourself.
If you’re serious about your training and you want to get better, don’t wait until you think you’re ready. Go and take control of your future, join that crew and get ready for it to change your life.