The angry thermometer read one hundred and five degrees. It felt like one hundred and ten in the garage gym. A weak fan desperately worked to circulate air. A stray barbell broke its base long ago, and it hung from an old football belt on one of the elitefts power racks where it swayed slightly from the meager force of its efforts.

I was training alone, pulling off of a short stack of horse stall mats—my version of low block pulls. I was pulling conventionally with just a Texas Power Bar. The bar’s knurling was altering the scar tissue on my shins, which now appeared as though brushed in a shade of crimson.

My daughter unexpectedly invaded my fortress of solitude and toting a friend. They were looking for orange cones to use during some backyard lacrosse drills. I was resting in between sets, drinking coffee (hot), and perched on my elitefts Box Squat Box. I noticed my daughter’s friend taking a quick glance at my bloodied shins and being careful to keep a wide berth between us as Erika handed her the cones.

She’s not used to this, I thought. It’s too hardcore for her.

My hardcore days have waned significantly, ebbing away with the tide of the years. There are definite signs you may be Hardcore, No More. They sneak up on you like a thief in a crowded subway. Here are the five signs that indicate you may be losing your gym swagger:

1. Switching from Conventional to Sumo Deadlift

I have definitely attempted to switch my deadlifting form, not to take advantage of specific skeletal leverages but because I cannot tolerate the bar beating on my sore, scarred shins—so sad, I know.

I have never resolved the reason the bar always contacts my shins just at the level of the scar tissue and rips it apart. I have considered purchasing shin savers for a long time—too frugal to pull the trigger, I suspect. Duct taping them has helped in the past, but it is such a time-consuming mess.

I know there are good reasons for some to employ the sumo technique and the avoidance of shin pain is not one of them. If you have made the switch for this reason, you may be Hardcore, No More.

2. You Stop Training When You Detect an Injury or the Start of an Injury

Think about this one and let it roll around in that space between your ears. You’re doing all the right things with your programming. You have a plan in place before entering the gym, and you track your progress during the session. You have completed the main exercise (e.g., maximum effort upper body). Let’s say it was bench press, floor press, or board presses, and your training is progressing nicely. You move on to your assistance exercises, and everything starts to move sideways.

Let’s say, for example, you have the Spud Inc. Econo Tricep and Lat Pulley setup in your power rack and you begin to knock off your first set of triceps press-downs. Boom—that’s when the elbow pain starts.

LTT 10-0653

It arrived seemingly out of nowhere, but with each repetition it persists. Something doesn’t feel right. Should you stop and call it a day or continue to push through and risk real injury? I never used to quit. I was hardcore.

These days, I stop the training session immediately and allow the injury to heal, which is why I may be Hardcore, No More.

 3. Skipping Training Days When Not Feeling Up to Snuff

There is nothing to add to this item. If you are hardcore, there is never an excuse to skip a training session. For Christ’s sake, Schwarzenegger suggests he missed his father’s funeral because he was training for the Olympia—that is some hardcore devotion.

If you miss a training session for any reason, you are Hardcore, No More.

4. While Training, You Listen to Educational Podcasts Instead of Hard Rock

This item is a touch hypocritical coming from a man who recently suggested that listening to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” the theme song for Rocky III, is good for a 5%-to-10% improvement in a given lift.

I am not sure what happened. I am the guy who listened to White Zombie’s “Astro Creep” for 10 years straight—hell, I am one of three people to have seen all of Rob Zombie’s films. I’m not sure when it happened but somehow I switched from listening to hard music to listening to podcasts—definitely Hardcore, No More.

5. You Have Adopted More of a Beach Muscle Focus or a Forearm Focus

Many of you know what I am alluding to in this instance. You review your programming, and you know you are due for your second lower body training day of the week, but you can’t win the irrational argument to hoist a barbell across your shoulders for a grueling and mentally taxing round of speed squats. Instead, you find yourself dusting off the EZ Curl bar for a couple of sets to work the biceps—not too heavy, though, having to keep strict form and remembering to stimulate (don’t annihilate).

Once you have a good pump going, you decide to work on your forearms, so you knock off some wrist curls and maybe some roller work. You grab a nice forearm pump, too, and feel good about your efforts.

You may have just upped your forearm game, but with the work that was lost on your legs (i.e., the foundation upon which you would have built your muscular frame). You are absolutely Hardcore, No More.

Bonus: 6. You Drink Black Coffee While You Train 

Drinking hot black coffee when training in your garage gym in 105° Texas heat—just kidding as that’s radical hardcore.