Meet our big boys and girls

A glimpse into the gym community of UM Sport


We all know the stereotypes about ‘he-men’ and ‘she-women’: they eat chicken all day long, their IQs barely crack 100 and they drop their weights hard enough to make the floor shake. In the run-up to the Dutch Student Nationals Powerlifting Classic, Observant asked five gym buffs about these stereotypes, their motivation, diet and training regimes.

Happy to be healthy
“Weightlifters want to lift as much weight as possible over their heads”, explains German Georg Heyenrath (26), a new PhD candidate at the School of Health Education and instructor at UM Sport. “It’s a nice combination of strength and technique. The two variants of weightlifting, the snatch and the clean and jerk, are relatively long movements where you lift the bar from the floor to above your head. We split them up into little parts and practise all these parts separately, usually with more weight than you’d use for the full movement.” Weightlifters do very varied training. “Think of different pull, push, shoulder, back and squat exercises, but also sprints in order to train that explosiveness.”
Heyenrath waves away with a laugh the idea that people with muscles are morons who only eat chicken and rice. “Actually, you have to be smart. There’s a lot of science that goes into it.” He only eats meat once every two weeks and gets his protein mainly from dairy products. Since he began training ten years ago he has become more attractive, he thinks, but what he really values about the sport is the awareness that you develop of your own body. “You realise what your body can do and how happy I can be that I’m healthy.”

Lifts twice her own body weight
Susanne Sivonen
(20), third-year student of European Law, is stronger than the average male UM student. This Finnish powerlifter bench presses no less than 67.5 kg and deadlifts 110 kg, almost twice her own body weight. This Saturday she will take part in the national competition. She trains for two hours a day, up to seven days per week. But the competitive element is not her main motivation: “I really enjoy the social side of the sport. The UM gym has a great atmosphere.”
In the run-up to nationals, her diet is crucial: “I eat five times per day. Breakfast is oatmeal and a protein shake. I eat rice with vegetables and chicken twice a day, and I can have two snacks; for example, a protein shake, Greek yoghurt with fruit or some almonds.” The nice thing about powerlifting is that “you can see really good progression in the kilos that you lift. If you focus too much on looks, at some point you won’t see much progress.”
Powerlifters need to lug around a lot more things than do bodybuilders. “You need special shoes for squats (with a higher heel), a lifting belt, knee sleeves, long socks (to protect your shins), sweatbands, a singlet and a T-shirt.”

Carefully weighs his oatmeal and blueberries
Horia Schiopu
(21), third-year student of the Maastricht Science Programme, is probably the most ripped athlete in the UM gym. Bodybuilding is in his genes: “My father used to be a bodybuilder and introduced me to the gym when I was 16.” Since then not a week has passed in which he hasn’t worked out. After two months he started getting compliments: “Then you see the ‘newbie’ gains.”
Schiopu is currently training for the Junior World Championships, which will be held in early November in his native country, Romania. Although the aesthetic aspect of the sport is an important motivation, he says, it’s “the competitive element that keeps it fun”.
“Bodybuilding is 30 percent training and 70 percent diet”, Schiopu explains. He works out five or six times a week, no more than an hour and forty five minutes per day. He carefully weighs his oatmeal, blueberries, tuna and rice. “For every kilo of body weight I eat three grams of protein a day.” Most of these proteins he gets from supplements. “A quarter of my diet consists of fat. If you eat less fat your hormone balance will be out of whack. The rest of the 2600 calories I can eat each day are carbohydrates.” The discipline of bodybuilding also comes in handy with his studies: “If you want results, you have to work hard.”

"I get restless if I don't go to the gym"
“I’m always testing my physical limits”, explains Pamela Leow (32), researcher at UM. “My goal is to get and stay fit. Exercising gives me energy and much better endurance. That it also makes you look good is a bonus, as far as I’m concerned.” Her training combines strength and fitness. “I do box jumps, push ups and train with free weights, but I also enjoy the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) group workouts at UM Sport. HITT improves my recovery time much more efficiently than running for example.”
Leow plans her training sessions a week in advance. “If someone asks me to do something fun, often I can’t because I ‘have’ to go to the gym. I’ll only reschedule it if there’s really no other option.”
The Singaporean doesn’t stick to a strict diet: “I eat what I want, but mostly healthy. That said, I do love desserts, especially chocolate vla.”
She considers it important for people to work out. “The normal everyday movement you do, especially at university, is not enough to stay healthy.” She can’t imagine that people don’t exercise. “I get restless if I don’t go to the gym.”

"A bit of 'safety fat' is good"
“My mother wouldn’t mind a little less muscle”, says Sybren Reef (26), master’s student of European Studies. “I’ve done powerlifting and I also had a bodybuilding phase.” He found his calling, though, in Olympic weightlifting. Reef trains five to seven days per week. “Weightlifting involves just two exercises, the snatch and the clean and jerk, but there’s so much more to it than that. You have all these specific isolation exercises, and then there’s technique.” Weightlifting for him is a hobby, pure relaxation: “If I feel bad or stressed, I go work out.” Calling it an addiction would be going too far – but he always wants to train. “If I don’t train, I notice it immediately in my performance.”
When Reef started out, he weighed eighty kilos. “All those squats gave me much bigger thighs; buying pants became much harder.” He now weighs 98 kilos and squats more than two hundred kilos. “Those eighteen kilos are not only muscle – there’s fat in there too – but a bit of ‘safety fat’ is good in my sport. That’s how you prevent injuries. When my fat percentage is lower, I have more trouble with my knees.”
When Reef works out he is focused; some say unapproachable. But it’s not that bad, he says. “I’m happy to give tips, and if I drop the weights so hard that it makes the floor shake, you can feel free to tell me off. The gym’s not mine alone”, he laughs.

The gym world

The gym world can be divided into roughly four groups, explains Wilko Gietel, sports coordinator at UM Sport:

  1. Bodybuilders train for muscle growth; power is less of a priority. Nutrition is an important part of the sport.
  2. Powerlifters focus on three exercises: the squat, bench press and deadlift.
  • Squat: dropping into a squat and returning to an erect position while holding a bar loaded with weights on your shoulders.
  • Bench press: lying on the back and lifting a loaded bar up and down above the chest.
  • Deadlift: bending over and, with bent knees, raising a loaded bar off the floor until standing upright.
  1. Weightlifters lift as much weight as possible from the floor to above the head. There are two variants: the snatch and the clean and jerk.
  • Snatch: lifting a loaded bar above the head in one movement.
  • Clean and jerk: consists of two movements: during the clean, lifting the bar to around shoulder height; during the jerk, raising it above the head.
  1. Finally, there are people who train for general health and fitness.

All these groups are welcome at UM Sport, say Gietel and Koen Kroon, instructor at UM Sport. This year almost four thousand students and employees have a gym subscription. “The number rose by 40 percent last academic year”, Gietel adds.


National Powerlifting Classic

The Dutch Student Nationals Powerlifting Classic will be held on 14 October at the Tilburg University sports centre, organised by the Tilburg student gym club Spartacus.

Meet our big boys and girls
Our big boys and girls. From left to right: Pamela Leow, Georg Heyenrath, Horia Schiopu, Sybren Reef, and Susanne Sivonen.