Sheila Romeo Syrek believes some people are born with what she calls the “D gene: determined, disciplined, driven.” She’s one of them. For as far back as she can remember, Syrek, a 38-year-old divorcée who lives in Tarrytown, has strived to excel—more recently, as a competitive bodybuilder.
Of the roughly 25,000 bodybuilders in the U.S., only about 8.5 percent are women, says Brian N. Washington, president of the United States Bodybuilding Federation, an organization that sponsors events and competitions.
A full-time master trainer and sports nutritionist at New York Sports Club in White Plains, Syrek trains hard year-round, building muscle off-season, then sculpting her body over 16 weeks of pre-show prep. Her off-season regimen consists of about two hours of cardio and weight training five days a week. “Resting is just as important as training,” Syrek says. Though she’s used weights of up to 605 pounds on the leg press, done squats at 325 pounds, bench-pressed 150 pounds, and done biceps curls with 40-pound dumbbells, her routine workouts involve more repetitions at lower weights. “You don’t have to max out to get gains,” she says. “Consistency and repetition are more important. The whole point is to get to where to your muscles are completely fatigued.”
Her daily cardio workout includes 30 to 45 minutes on a StairMaster StepMill, plus additional time on a stationary bike or arc trainer, with an occasional spin class thrown into the mix. Preparing to compete means boosting the workouts to twice a day and adding a sixth day of cardio. “I don’t have much of a life then,” Syrek says with a laugh.
“Diet is eighty percent of the fitness equation,” she says. Syrek trims her 135-pound body down to 120 pounds on season. She burns approximately 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily to accomplish the weight loss. Though the care and feeding of her body is practically a full-time job, Syrek hesitates to say anything that might make it sound as if she has an ego the size of her biceps. “I’m so tired from training that I don’t even think about how I look.” Still…“I’ll be pumping gas and somebody will say, ‘Oh my God, you work out!’ It’s pretty cool.”
As to whether men are attracted to her strong form: “Are you asking if I get hit on? All the time.” Though she is recently divorced, Syrek hopes to have children some day. She has asked her doctor whether her punishing training regimen could cause fertility problems. “She said it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m getting old—that seems to be my doctor’s only concern.”