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Business studies and bodybuilding

Niclas Pitkänen, Finnish Champion of bodybuilding, has succeeded in combining intensive training, a strict diet, working as a coach, and Master's studies in business. Discipline and planning ahead have taken him far, but the pursuit of success has also required sacrifices.
Kuvassa näkyy Niclas Pitkänen Kauppakorkeakoulun Learning hubin tiloissa läppärin ääressä ja vierellään itse tehdyt ja tarkkaan mietityt eväät.
Niclas Pitkänen also brings packed meals to the university: a bodybuilder’s diet is strict and carefully designed. Photo: Roope Kiviranta / Aalto University.

This autumn Niclas Pitkänen, a fifth year Master's student of Information and Service Management, won the Finnish bodybuilding championship in the up to 80kg class.  This was a spectacular achievement for an athlete who had only started competing a year earlier.

‘I've been going to the gym since I was 15 years old, but the first time I ever took part in a bodybuilding competition was in 2020. I'm self-critical and driven, so I don't think it makes sense to compete unless you're good enough. It was only last year that I got the feeling I might do well’, Pitkänen says.

‘Because I came in third the very first time I participated in the Finnish championships, I got excited about competing. I wanted to prove that if you really want it and have the right attitude, you can combine goal-oriented bodybuilding, work, and university studies as long as you let go of everything that's unnecessary. This year I won by a landslide with a unanimous perfect score from the judges.’

A disciplined lifestyle

Pitkänen worked in sales for a few years before his university studies. He had previously considered becoming a teacher, but realised that studying business would be more intriguing. His studies have progressed well in the allotted time, but Pitkänen admits that the remote study practices sprung on by the corona pandemic have helped him combine demanding sports, work and studies and even improved his grades. Planning a full daily schedule has become considerably easier.

‘Bodybuilding is all-encompassing and working out is only one part of the sport. I prepare exercise and meal plans for my clients, go through their weekly reports, eat carefully thought-out, self-prepared meals six times a day, do aerobic exercises, and pose.  I also need to make sure I'm getting enough sleep. There's a couple of spare hours here and there throughout the day for school work’, Niclas Pitkänen says.

The pursuit of success and a disciplined lifestyle have also required sacrifices.

‘Because of bodybuilding and the coronavirus, I've hardly been to any student parties for two years, and I haven’t been able to meet up with the friends I made during my first years of university.  Because my diet is extremely strict and precise, especially 16–20 weeks before the competition, I can't even go out to eat with my friends. A guy eating from a Tupperware box and drinking water wouldn’t be appreciated’, Pitkänen laughs.

Nevertheless, he is satisfied with his life and his choices.

‘I have my own business where I work as a trainer for different kinds of clients, from those who just want to lose weight to those looking for more intense workouts. This work is also mainly done remotely, for I only coach a few clients in person and the rest are managed through remote coaching.’

Aiming for professionalism

In the future, Niclas Pitkänen is aiming to become a professional bodybuilder. He is planning on changing sports into Classic physique, in which the focus is on beautiful lines and good muscle definition instead of maximal muscle mass. No Finn has yet achieved pro-status in this class of the sport, but Pitkänen says he has received a great deal of encouragement and now considers success in the sport his main goal.

‘Rising to the professional level is hard but succeeding there is a whole other story. I aim high, but I'm taking it one step at a time. My goal is to finish my Master’s degree next autumn, but I’m in no hurry to find work in my own field, as my own company is doing well and entrepreneurship is a good match for competitive bodybuilding. In the future, however, I intend to not only work as a trainer, but in my own field of expertise, as well. One interesting challenge after becoming a professional might be to network with busy business executives, who are interested in lifestyle changes or getting in better shape in general, and expanding my client base in that direction.’

Niclas Pitkänen offers encouragement to those pondering combining demanding sports, work and studies.

‘It's all about prioritising.  Sacrifices must be made and, naturally, you have to consider how much you want to sacrifice to sport. But if you have motivation and passion, everything is possible, for we all surely have spare moments that could be used for working on some specific goal.‘

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