'I find it quite tough emotionally' - Irish Bodybuilder Jenni Murphy on why you need more than physical strength to compete
Bodybuilder and personal trainer Jenni Murphy tells our reporter about the dedication and mental strength it takes to compete
Dubliner Jenni Murphy (33) didn't plan to compete at the National Amateur Bodybuilder's Association (NABBA) World Championships more than once.
However, at the event in Belfast last year, Jenni placed in the top three, inspiring her to continue with her bodybuilding journey; a journey that will take her to compete once more at the NABBA World Championships in Brazil this June.
"NABBA is one of the biggest and oldest bodybuilding federations out there," Jenni, from Rathfarnham, explains. "I had only planned on doing the show once, and when I did it last year the goal was simply to make myself better as a trainer as it is very hard to bring people through a workout or a style of workout that you have not experienced yourself.
"But because I did so well last year, it opened up a lot of doors for me and I decided to go for it this year again. No other Irish girl has got as far, so I thought 'okay, let's give it a go and see if I can take it all the way'."
Jenni competes in the Toned Figure category. "Toned Figure is the category between Bikini - where you can't really have a lot of muscle - and Trained, which would be the bigger, more muscle category. Toned Figure is in the middle, and the goal is to be really toned, but keep yourself very feminine and soft. The poses are very feminine too and competitors perform a routine to music."
Jenni sees the Bikini category, which has become a very popular category for newbie female bodybuilders in recent years, as less of a challenge.
"There are a lot of girls competing now in the Bikini category because it is quite attainable, most girls who go to the gym and train properly would be able to do Bikini because it's just the diet really and the poses," Jenni says. "But the category I do is actually really challenging because I have to put on about eight kilos in muscle. So my body type is quite naturally lean and it was really difficult for me to put on that weight last year."
Ahead of her debut competition last year, Jenni bulked up over six months, with over 3,000 calories a day, to put on size before she began a difficult few months of gruelling weight cutting.
"I spent the first half of the year eating as much as I could, as healthily as I could, and training to try and put on size; and then spent the second half of the year coming up to the show, stripping back the body fat to reveal the muscle - which is really hard because if you don't do it right, you can actually lose the muscle you've spent half a year building. It's a really fine, scientific balancing act," Jenni says.
The experience is something Jenni is brutally honest about and though she has enjoyed her training, her gruelling training schedule last year left her exhausted and mentally drained.
"It got to me at the end last year; it was just a really mentally tough year," Jenni admits. "It really does affect your mental health, even though training is good for you. This year I have a new coach and he is guiding me so that that doesn't happen again. I have a lot more rest worked into my training schedule this year.
"I will do three days of training and rest then for the week, and I know now how important that is because last year I didn't do it and I got pretty sick."
Three years ago, Jenni left her career in advertising to become a personal trainer and TRX instructor at Dublin's Fit Studios in Fairview.
"I worked in advertising for seven years, and I ended up hating my job and the fact that I was becoming really negative as a result of that," Jenni says.
"Fitness was my escape; I was always going to the gym on my lunch break and looking up new workouts. I was a client here for about a year and I knew they were looking for a trainer and just randomly one day - I was having a bad day in work - I said 'I know it's a long shot and it's probably crazy, but would you consider me?' and Steve (at Fit Studios) said 'Absolutely, 100pc. You go to college, become a personal trainer and I will teach you how to become a TRX instructor'.
"So I took the plunge and packed in my job in advertising.
"I was just turning 30 and I kept thinking 'well that's it, I have made my choice of career (in advertising) and now I am stuck with it.' and I became really bitter and negative; the best thing I ever did was take that plunge. I may be working longer hours now, but to me it's not a job. I love what I do," Jenni adds. "I help people all day, every day and I have a life now."
Jenni comes from an active family; her brother Barry is the goalkeeper for Shamrock Rovers and her sister Katie plays Gaelic football for Dublin.
"I did Irish dancing until I was 24 and played hockey, and that got me really into working out in the gym. So I would have been really cardio fit before taking up bodybuilding." But despite Jenni's high fitness levels, the change of training necessary for Jenni's bodybuilding category has been an extremely steep learning curve and continues to be even now, over a year-and-a-half later. And the toughest part, Jenni says, is keeping your head in the game.
"One of the hardest things that comes with bodybuilding is accepting what it looks like to be a girl with muscle," Jenni says.
"I look a lot bigger in pictures than I actually am in person. A lot of people meet me and go 'God, I thought you were huge!' I am not huge, but I do have fairly defined muscles, so if I go out in a nice top for example, I will get stared at and I do get comments.
"I find it quite tough emotionally, you have to go quite deep into your head to fight it and keep going. Even just getting through the training sessions, I am nearly crying.
"It is you versus you at the end of the day, no one else gets you out of bed in the morning or gets your food ready or [makes sure you get enough] sleep in, and that's the difficult part," Jenni says. "Even if you have the support of others, there is no one else who is going to do the hard work for you."
"My training is designed in such a way that it is really up to me to listen to my body," Jenni explains.
"I can either do it on a one-day-on, one-day-off basis or all three days back to back, once I get the those three days in. And the training is an hour solid, at a very high intensity.
"Because I burn fat really fast, I do high intensity bursts throughout my session, which helps me keep the muscle," Jenni adds.
"So that might be sprints, boxing pad work and skipping for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for the six minutes, then I will go straight back into the session."
Jenni's Training plan:
Day 1: Back and chest
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Shoulders and arms
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