There's no single definition of hardcore when it comes to weight training. The consensus is that hardcore workouts need to be high intensity, based around challenging exercises that leave you out of breath, dripping with sweat and feeling like you couldn't perform a single rep more. You can use any exercise in a hardcore weight-training workout, providing you lift with fervor and put in 100 percent effort.
The more muscles and exercise works, the more demanding it is. Compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups and joints burn more calories, notes Rachel Cosgrove in her book "The Female Body Breakthrough." This also means that they provide a higher metabolism boost and are much tougher and more hardcore than single-joint exercises. Choose squats or lunges over leg extensions and leg curls, dumbbell presses instead of flyes and swap out biceps curls for chin-ups or pull-downs.
Sets and Reps
Any set and repetition scheme can be hardcore if you work hard at it. Two sets of 15 reps, three sets of 10 or five sets of three can all be tough, provided you use the maximum amount of weight you can while maintaining perfect technique. The last two to three reps of every set should be challenging. To make your workout even more hardcore, Julia Ladewski, strength coach and part of Team Elite Fitness Systems suggests trying different set and rep combos. You can time sets where you perform as many reps as you can in one or two minutes, or aim to hit 50 or 100 total reps on an exercise in as quick a time as possible.
Supersets are another way to make your workouts seriously tough. A superset involves performing all your reps on one exercise then going straight into the next one with no rest. Supersets boost your production of lactic acid and growth hormone, which accelerates fat loss. And they are incredibly time-efficient and increase muscle fiber activation, writes Nick Nilsson, author of "Specialization Training." You can superset opposing muscle groups such as chest and back with a set of dumbbell presses followed by a set of cable rows, or fatigue the same muscle group by performing for instance a set of back squats followed by a set of walking lunges for your quadriceps.
Considerations and Progressions
To keep your workouts hardcore, you need to keep progressing. Over time, you'll get fitter and your body will adapt to the sessions, meaning you won't get as good results. Aim to lift a little more weight each session, do a couple of extra reps on each exercise or find other ways to make the exercises more challenging. Circuit training where you perform each exercise back to back can drastically increase the difficulty of your workout as can other techniques such as slowing down the tempo of exercises or adding 30 seconds of cardiovascular exercise such as sprinting or jumping rope instead of taking a complete rest.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.