With the well-worked hands of routine, senior Maddie Mullen records her workout on her phone. The pull-ups and strength training mark just another day in her training routine for the bodybuilding competition she will be entering in this May.
The former boxer said she had grown tired of the stagnant level of competition within women’s boxing and sought another level of competition. This past summer, her boxing coach suggested a bodybuilding competition.
“When [my coach] found out I wasn’t going to box anymore he said, ‘You should come train because a lot of boxers, the way they train their muscles, it fits well in the transition to figure,'” Mullen said.
Mullen will register with the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in the Figure category. This competition involves solely amateurs who hope to pursue their pro card, a status elevation in competitions that gains participants sponsors and the potential to earn cash prizes. The Figure category focuses on muscle mass and development. A panel of judges critiques each contestant based on her “round delts” or “developed lats” to name a few of the muscles in the back and shoulders. Although there are other categories, Mullen chose to focus on Figure because the training loosely corresponds with how boxers train their muscles.
As a senior at Miami University, Mullen said she always stays on top of her work and campus involvement. With her apartment in Heritage Commons, access to the Recreational Sports Center (REC) is easier than the walk to her strategic communication and criminology classes. Mullen teaches kickboxing, boot camp, spinning, barefoot and toning classes. In addition to instructing, she is on lead staff at the REC, a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, a victim advocate for Women Helping Women and a movement leader with Cru, a campus ministry.
Mullen said she manages these commitments well because of her ability to plan and adapt.
“She is very mature and responsible which I don’t see that much in students. She’s the ideal staff in terms of those two things,” said her boss Mindy Stephens, associate director for fitness and marketing at the REC.
Becoming a group fitness instructor was not easy, Mullen said. Currently there are about 60 instructors, all of whom went through a year of training and completed two auditions. Because fitness at Miami is a widespread priority, Stephens said having a top-notch staff contributes to Miami’s goal of a cutting-edge fitness program.
When she is not teaching classes, Mullen is training religiously. Her current routine includes five circuits she alternates in order to avoid daily repetition. Training for the Figure category involves nearly a year of preparation. The first two months, called the cutting phase, she focused on losing fat and gaining muscle mass. Each day was planned in order to avoid being too lean to gain muscle for the next phase.
“Timing is everything,” Mullen said.
She is currently in the building phase, which involves heavy lifting about six months before the competition day. The last three months involve very strict dieting and slimming down to just above her desired stage weight.
“Knowing her, she won’t sleep as much [during that time]. She’s a machine,” Mullen’s good friend Lee Ann Townsend said.
In addition to her meticulous tracking of workouts, Mullen said she also enjoys the diet aspect of her training. She keeps an Instagram account of the meals she creates and recipes she tries. Scrolling through the feed, one can easily find pictures of home-cooked concoctions like coconut flatbread salmon “Sammies” with pesto cream sauce.
“Everything she makes is a masterpiece while I’m just eating Mac-N-Cheese,” Mullen’s roommate, Lauren Delk, said.
Delk described how the Food Network is always on while Mullen creates healthy Mason jar cakes or savory salmon dinners.
All of Mullen’s meals exclude processed food, wheat and dairy except for Greek yogurt. She gets creative with ingredients by ordering a majority of her food online, including different types of nut butters. Her breakfast and pre- and post-workout meals focus on high-protein, high-carb foods.
Even with all the hard work Mullen puts into disciplining her body, she rarely publicizes her plans to compete in the Figure competition. Most of her reasons stem from the general misconceptions surrounding bodybuilding competitions.
“Women in bodybuilding are seen as super masculine,” Mullen said. “People think you’ll be bulky, veiny and not feminine at all.”
That stereotype runs counter to Mullen’s lifestyle and physique. Her room showcases an organized closet with high-heeled wedges, rows of dangly earrings and neatly hung clothes in the closet. A homemade garland and Christmas lights decorate her walls. Only a peek under her nightstand would reveal half a dozen protein powder jugs.
Mullen emphasized how bodybuilding is scientific and the competition showcases what a person has worked on for a year.
“Women’s bodybuilding doesn’t mean competitors idolize their bodies or are plagued with self-esteem issues,” Mullen said. “It’s more about how you can be the best version of yourself.”
So far, the most difficult workout she completed was sled drives this past summer. It involved pushing a 150-pound sled to work her leg muscles.
“It hurts your legs so bad I wanted to die,” Mullen said.
While Mullen’s work is self-motivated, she sends progress pictures to her coach Jeff, who instructs her from afar. Her boss and her friends stress her disciplined personality.
“Everything Maddie does has a purpose…She does a good job at balancing all aspects of her life because she manages time well,” Delk said.
Mullen is excited for the contest prep in her last three months and enjoy the culmination of her work.
“Little bits of progress are so exciting,” Mullen said.
Her favorite workout is lifting for her back and legs on endurance days. She is also completely confident in doing 10 repetitions of wide grip pull-ups while two guys stand in line behind her.
“I’m not somebody who’s naturally self-conscious about who I am or how I look compared to others,” Mullen said. “But I do struggle with the perfection complex.”
Mullen knows the key to success on the competition day in May will be her mental confidence and the year’s worth of hard work she dedicated.
“She’ll do something and do it well,” Stephens said.