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THE TRAINER FROM HELL

BY JOHN PLUMMER // PHOTOS BY MATT MARSH, PHOTOGRAPHED AT EMPORIUM GYM, BIRMINGHAM

 

JOE BINLEY

DATE OF BIRTH:
3rd July 1985
PLACE OF BIRTH:
Hull
LIVES:
Hull
HEIGHT:
185 cm
WEIGHT:
238 lbs
STATUS:
Founder and chief executive of Anabolic Designs
AMBITION:
To continue to grow my brand worldwide and help athletes
TRAINING ADVICE:
Find somebody who knows what they are doing. Get your form right and learn about nutrition.
TO CONTACT:
www.anabolicdesigns.com

SIBIL PEETERS

DATE OF BIRTH:
16th January 1957
PLACE OF BIRTH:                                                                                                                                               Tegelen, the Netherlands
LIVES:
Hellevoetsluis, the Netherlands
HEIGHT:
163 cm
WEIGHT:
60 kg
STATUS:
The Trainer from Hell
AMBITION:
To help athletes get in their best shape
TRAINING ADVICE:
Train properly, sleep well and get your food right. Then you can see what you have got.


She is, on first impressions, the sweetest and most innocuous person you could hope to meet. Those who know her refer to her affectionately as “grandma”. But this serene, smiling lady, who is indeed a grandmother, has reduced a lot of very big men to tears.

We are talking about Sibil Peeters, or as she is known inside bodybuilding “the trainer from hell”. It’s a description that seems wholly inappropriate when you meet her – she seems too nice to inflict pain on anyone. But Sibil, 55, is one of the most hardcore trainers on earth. She combines high volume, hyper-intensity and innovative methods into brutal workouts that have taken many a bodybuilder out of his comfort zone and into head-swimming agony – sometimes before the end of the first exercise.

Those who have witnessed her sessions talk dewy-eyed about guys collapsing on the gym floor or coating the car park with their pre-workout meal. But even the fallen come back for more, knowing that if they listen to grandma their physiques will improve.

In a world where many personal trainers are young, male and not shy of self-promotion, Sibil is a one-off. If you see her at a show or expo she is more likely to blend into the background than grab the limelight. She doesn’t have to shout: her record speaks for itself. She currently trains about 125 men and women, including the Dutch phenomenon Roelly Winklaar, and her clients are fiercely loyal.

We wanted to find out a little more about Sibil’s methods so we sought a brave soul willing to endure a session with our photo­grapher in tow. In British bodybuilder Joe Binley, who has been working with Sibil for almost a year, we found a guy who doesn’t baulk at a challenge. Joe is an impressive physical specimen and businessman. At just 27 years old, he has established his own sports nutrition company called Anabolic Designs, which trades in America and Europe. He also practises what he preaches: he started training at 16 and hopes to enter his first bodybuilding contest soon.

“I was a fat kid,” he admits. “Then I became obsessed with nutrition and supplementation at university.” He now has a five-year plan to develop his physique. Being over six feet tall he still has some filling out to do but under Sibil’s guidance he is making progress and hopes to get on stage at about 225 lbs. “I am tall so I’m more suited to a classic look than being a mass monster,” he says.

Joe and Sibil met in a lift at the Olympia weekend in Las Vegas last year. Sibil was with Roelly at the time and unlike most bodybuilding fans, who make a beeline for him, Joe was more excited about chatting to the lady by his side. “I had read about Sibil,” says Joe. “We exchanged emails and when I got in touch she replied within 10 hours.”

Sibil likes to see her clients in the flesh to begin with and then as often as possible, but as some live in America and Canada this isn’t always possible so they often correspond by email. She is an insomniac who only sleeps for about three hours a night so her athletes often receive training programmes and dietary advice in their inboxes in the middle of the night.

Joe says her sessions in the Netherlands are an eye-opening experience. “Sibil can train up to 16 guys a time in the gym and I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere,” he says. “The energy is incredible and the moment you think she’s not looking she will turn round and say ‘work harder’.”

Sibil’s methods are based on a long involvement in the sport. She was, in her own words, “a really fat lady” weighing 92 kg before she discovered the gym. She trained for 12 years before first competing at 57 kg in 1990. She competed for a total of five years and placed fifth at the world championships but quit after her husband was killed in a car crash. She has never slept properly since.

She learned a lot from the late Dutch IFBB pro Arnold Buurman. “He always said ‘you have to understand your own body and train in the right way for you’,” she says. This is at the heart of Sibil’s philosophy: find out what works best for each person and then train them accordingly – and hard. Don’t use the same system for everybody.

“There is no name for my kind of training,” she says. “First I assess how they look – tall or short, fat or small. Then I start to train them and talk to them. We try different exercises and I say ‘do you feel it?’ and if they say ‘no’ we try a different one.”
Clients say her intensity and ability to make normal exercises more challenging are her hallmarks. “She flicks a switch on intensity,” says Joe. “I have never known anything like it. And the rest periods are short so you need to be fit. I remember doing a leg session with a guy and he was sick.” Similar tales abound. “Many people are not used to training with such energy,” says Sibil, adding that women tend to cope better. “They can take more pain,” she says, smiling. Granny clearly enjoys her job.

Joe only grabbed a few hours sleep last night so he isn’t in the best state for a session. Mercifully, however, Sibil plans a workout focusing on back contraction rather than a brutal leg workout. “Joe is tall and his back needs to be wider,” she says with typical frankness. The exercises were performed with only short breaks. Each one is described.

The session wasn’t as brutal as some of Sibil’s but it  provided a fascinating insight into her methods and Joe is clearly spent. Afterwards they are best of friends again. “Nobody cares for their athletes like Sibil does,” says Joe. Clearly, she believes in tough love. FLEX


1. Lat pulldowns: 4x10

Joe begins with four sets of lat pulldowns. They’re done nice and slowly with a contraction at the mid-way point when the bar touches the chest. It starts off straightforwardly enough but then comes the Sibil twist. After each set Joe leans back a little more; the further he goes the more it works his lower lats. For the final set his back is almost parallel to the floor and he has a reverse grip on the bar.


 


2. Bent-over barbell rows: 3x12

Sibil puts her stamp on this traditional back thickener by getting Joe to hold the bar and squeeze for a second when it reaches his mid-section and then lowering it to his knees, rather than feet. “I do go lower sometimes,” says Joe. “I have three different ways of doing this exercise but this way is more for middle back and width.”


 

3. Deadlift: 3x12

Joe does three sets at 100 kg. Sibil is happy with his form but not his attire. “Where is your belt?” she asks. “You must wear it or else you will hurt your back.” Joe is a young, fit guy but the tempo is high and he is starting to feel it. Time for some sympathy from Sibil? No chance. “Chest up. Shoulders behind. Do it,” she barks. “This exercise is the best for muscle thickness.”


 

4. Peekaboo lat pulldowns: 3x12

This is a real eye-opener. Most people do lat pulldowns with their elbows splayed wide but Sibil gets Joe to tuck his elbows in tight to his body and position them slightly in front of his body. Sitting upright, he grips the bar with hands shoulder width apart and brings it down to chin level while keeping his body as still and upright as possible. At the mid-point his eyes peek over the top of the bar – hence the name of the exercise. Done strictly, with a pause when the bar is lowered, you can see Joe’s lats straining.

 

 

 

 

 


5. Single-arm lat pulldowns to the side: 3x12 each arm

Sitting sideways on a pulley machine, Joe grips the handle in his right hand and lowers it to the side of his head. After 12 reps he repeats with his left hand. He is tired now and is struggling to maintain good form but he battles on. “Some athletes like Joe have high lats and this brings them down and creates thickness,” says Sibil. “You have to feel the contraction of the muscle with this exercise. You have to bring the elbow to the front; if you bring it to the back you have no contact with the muscle.”

This isn’t an exercise for those who like to chuck around heavy weights. The pin is only on the third weight on the stack but that’s plenty. Joe has learned over the years to train for feel rather than ego. “When I was 20 I could deadlift five-and-a-half platesa side at 14 stone but it didn’t yield results,” he says. “When I switched to volume everything started to grow. Now with Sibil I’m still doing more volume but with less rest. It really fills the muscles with blood.”

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