At the age of 33, Pamela Murray was out of shape and the heaviest she'd ever been at in her life. She felt tired all the time, and a simple flight of stairs was a serious cardio workout. After turning her life around and dedicating it to bodybuilding and fitness, Pamela hit the stage in 2008.
Muscle and Strength: Pam...I see you've made quite a change to your physique in the last several years. What inspired you to get in shape? Can you tell us a little bit about your story...
Pamela Murray: I've been overweight most of my life and reached my heaviest (160 lbs) at the age of 33 years old. I have two children, my son is now 20 and my daughter is 13. I realized 5 years ago that I was making excuse after excuse to them, to myself and to everyone else when it came to participating in most summer activities because they required wearing shorts, tank tops and swimsuits. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of what I had let myself become and there was no way I was going to wear clothing that further confirmed to everyone that I had neglected myself for so long.
Once I acknowledged that my children were in a sense being punished (especially my daughter since she's younger) for MY refusal to take care of myself and keep myself healthy, I also realized that I was setting a horrible example for them. By eating large portions of totally unhealthy foods day in and day out with absolutely no exercise at all, I was essentially telling them that this way of life is acceptable and that taking care of yourself isn't important. I was depriving them of having a "participating" and "involved" parent when it came to swimming and other outdoor activities. I realized how unfair it was of me to say "no" when they asked me to go to the beach or go swimming with them. Not to mention the absence of all energy due to having a completely unhealthy diet.
I looked my worst and I definitely felt the worst I had every felt. At 5 ft 1 1/2 inches tall, according to my doctor's chart I should weigh anywhere from 108 lbs to 117 lbs, not 160 lbs. I'll be completely honest with you, I met with a personal trainer that a friend of mine referred me to with every intention of asking him to help me with nutrition only. I had always been extremely intimidated by gyms and had no intention at all of joining one or even working out. I met with this trainer, Michael Wilkie, (who, coincidentally, is now my boyfriend) and told him exactly that. He in no way shape or form pushed me to joing the gym or to even train with him one on one. He DID, however, explaing the importance of weight training and proper nutrition together. Still, I was adamant. I was NOT joining a gym. My reason was "Working out just isn't my thing."
He agreed to help me with a nutrition plan but not before explaining to me that my results wouldn't be as significant as I was hoping they would be without any exercise at all. I thought alot that day about what my plan was and I finally admitted to myself that the ONLY reason I wasn't willing to join a gym and exercise is because I was STILL giving in to my fear and also to my laziness of not wanting to work hard for what I wanted. I have always admired toned and muscular physiques on both men and women, but I always "knew" that I would never have one. I believed that I simply wasn't built for it.......especially have having two children.
Talk about walking around with blinders on for your entire life! I decided that if I was willing to take the necessary steps to improve my nutrition then it was worth putting in the time and effort to exercise as well. I called Michael that afternoon and told him that I'd like to also hire him for personal training sessions. Needless to say, he was surprised to hear that given the fact that I wanted no part of weight training earlier that day. There was no way I was going to put less than 100% into this. If I was going to commit to changing my lifestyle, I was going to fully commit. I'm worth it and my children are worth it. I was so sick of growing out of clothes, sick of having no energy whatsoever and most of all so sick of making excuses.
Within 9 months of weight training and completely changing my diet, I was down to 130 lbs and had more energy every single day than I've ever had in my life. I maintained that weight for 2 1/2 years and decided that it was time for a new goal, to compete! Since Michael is a competitive bodybuilder and has also trained many male and female competitors, naturally I asked him to help me prepare. After listening to my reasons for wanting to compete, he felt that I wanted to compete for the right reasons and felt that I could be successful at it. My first competition was in October of 2007 where I placed 4th in the novice figure group.
I've competed 3 other times since then with my best placement being 2nd. My son is now a regular at the gym and is well on his way to having a bodybuilder's physique, though he is undecided about competing. My daughter is very knowledgeable about proper nutrition and is very mindful of how she eats. She's just beginning her 11th year of dance, she's also resuming gymnastics classes, she has recently starting running and she is most definitely my "at home trainer". She knows what figure and bodybuilding competitors have to do in order to be competition ready and she encourages me every step of the way.
I honestly feel as though taking that intimidating step into the gym and meeting with a professional and asking for help is the best thing I have ever done for myself. I'm now setting a great example not only for my children but for everyone out there who honestly believes they could never do this. Remember, I "knew" I could never have a competitor's physique and now at 38 years old I'm not only in the best shape of my life but I HAVE that bodybuilder's physique that I always admired. All it takes is the desire, the commitment and the proper guidance.
Muscle and Strength: That was incredibly inspirational. Thanks so much fro sharing that with us!
Because of your past tendency to over-eat junk food, do you allow yourself cheat days? And if so, how do you handle cheat days so that old habits don't slip back in?
Pamela Murray: I definitely allow myself cheat meals, not usually a full cheat day though! In my opinion, you SHOULD incorporate a weekly cheat meal. If you attempt to deprive yourself permanently of the not-so-healthy foods that you love, you’re likely to fall off the wagon at some point when temptation presents itself and you may very well end up bingeing because you HAVE deprived yourself for so long. When I first started eating clean and weight training, I was afraid to eat anything that wasn’t on my suggested food list. I saw all other foods as the sole cause for my 160 lb body that I hated so much, so there was no way I was going to eat junk food of any kind. What I finally admitted to myself over time was that it was my willingness to overindulge in these other foods that was the real reason I was overweight.
The most important piece of advice I can give someone regarding cheat meals is to eat in moderation, and also explore the healthier alternatives when choosing a cheat meal. It’s very difficult to break yourself of old habits but it can definitely be done, I know this from experience. Anyone who’s been overweight at some point and loves food as much as I do knows that when you have your favorite junk food in front of you, it’s very easy to just keep eating even after you’re long since satisfied from it. During my off-seasons, my perfect week as far as my diet is concerned consists of a cheat meal and/or dessert on Saturday night.
I say “perfect” because this is what I try to do most of the time. But as we all know, life gets in the way and interferes with our original plans and we have to go with the flow. There might be office luncheons during the week, holiday parties, summer outings, last minute change of plans, etc., where I might eat some things I didn’t plan on eating. Depending on how much I did or didn’t eat during these occasions, I might still have my cheat meal come Saturday night but it will consist of either a cheat meal OR a dessert, not both. If I’ve been perfect all week as planned, then I might have pizza and ice cream Saturday night or my own personal version of S’mores that my boyfriend coined as “Hershey Bombs”. Here’s where I do anything and everything necessary to heed my own advice to eat in moderation.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I LOVE sweets! My Hershey Bombs consist of Nilla Wafers with half a marshmallow on each and topped with a Hershey Kiss. The Nilla Wafers with the marshmallows are put in the oven for just a few minutes and then the Hershey Kiss is added while the marshmallow is still warm. ****Side Note****: Given the potentially high sugar and fat content of these Hershey Bombs, I don’t always use those exact ingredients and I only have them once in a while, not with every cheat meal.
Sometimes I’ll use sugar-free vanilla wafers made by Murray (ironic, isn’t it?) and sometimes I’ll use the sugar-free Hershey minis instead of kisses. Even when I’m going to eat my junk food, I try to make healthier choices when doing so. For instance, if I DO have pizza I might make it myself with whole wheat dough or a ready-made whole wheat pizza crust, low sodium sauce, fat free cheese and top it with veggies. Knowing all week that I have that cheat meal coming Saturday night makes cheating during the week much less tempting for me. Eating clean all week also makes that cheat meal guilt-free!
Over the past 5 years, I’ve been able to change my way of thinking. Instead of looking at the ice cream in the freezer at the grocery store and cursing Ben, Jerry and all of their evil, yet cleverly named ice creams, I grab a pint of Americone Dream, head home and practice a little (or a lot on some days) self control. Once I have 1-2 servings, I put it away and look forward to next week’s cheat.
Once competition training is in progress, none of the above applies. No cheat meals, no leniency at work luncheons or family gatherings where my nutrition is concerned. I pack a cooler with all of my meals for the day wherever I go. I never allow myself to be unprepared or caught off guard by a last minute change of plans. I give myself anywhere from 12 weeks up to 17 weeks to prepare for a competition. Because I’m still fairly new to the sport and I’m still learning, I’ve approached each show a bit differently than the last based on advice I’ve been given and mistakes that I’ve made. One thing that’s been consistent with every show is that I cut out cheat meals altogether no less than 10 weeks out from a show, typically 12 weeks out. Once the show is over, I usually allow myself 1-2 weeks of somewhat “free” eating and no gym time. Anything more than that just makes it difficult to get back into a rhythm and also causes a lot of damage that needs undoing once I DO get back into it.
Muscle and Strength: You were featured in Oxygen magazine last year. Tell me about that?
Pamela Murray: Oxygen Magazine has been my favorite women's fitness magazine since I started weight training. While thumbing through an issue in late 2007, I came across one woman's "success story". As I read her story I instinctively thought to myself "Wow, good for her! I wish I could.........." and then it hit me. I DID do that. I was still so conditioned to "wishing" that I could be one of those success stories that it escaped me at that moment that I AM one of those success stories.
I thought back to so many of the success stories that I've read and heard about over the years and remembered that they not only inspired me but also proved to me that I COULD be in the best shape of my life regardless of my age and how many children I have. I realized that I could now be the source of inspiration and proof for so many women AND men who are right now in the same seemingly helpless situation that I once was in. I was overweight and completely ignorant to just what the human mind and body is capable of becoming if you put the time and effort into it with the proper guidance. I decided to contact an editor at Oxygen Magazine and sent along a few before and after photos with a summary of my story.
To my amazement, an Oxygen Magazine editor contacted me and told me that they were interested in publishing my story. I was shocked! I couldn't believe that Oxygen Magazine actually considered MY story worthy of publication in their magazine. I think this is when what I've accomplished really sank in with me. I did a few telephone interviews with a writer and my story was published in the June 2008 issue. What made this even better was that my story appeared in the same issue of Oxygen as the 2008 Arnold Classic results and only a few pages away from my story were photos of my favorite competitor, Gina Aliotti, winning 1st place in the women's pro figure group!
Although Oxygen didn't publish my e-mail address with my story, I've had many people contact me after seeing my story on Bodybuilding.com's transformation of the week and then recognized me and my story when they saw it again in Oxygen. The best part of having my story published is meeting so many different people, hearing their stories and being able to help them reach their goals even if it's by simply providing emotional support. I'll always welcome e-mails from people who want to share their stories, regardless of what their story is.......success or struggles. The way I see it is I'm not finished learning and there's always going to be someone else out there who's more experienced than I am, more knowledgeable and more successful. I can't help educate anyone else if I don't continue to educate myself.
Muscle and Strength: I'm sure you get asked for advice. What advice do you give to someone that is struggling with their weight or health, and wants to turn their lives around?
Pamela Murray: I’ve had many people ask me to give them a detailed layout of my nutrition and workout routines. In my opinion, one of the most common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight and get into shape is following a nutrition plan and/or workout routine that isn’t customized for them or even worse, is recommended to the general public. We’re all very different with different goals and different needs. It doesn’t make sense that one particular “diet” is perfect for everyone. I don’t offer unsolicited advice to anyone, but when someone tells me that they’re “on a diet” that allows them to consume less carbs per day than I consume in one meal, my first question for them is “What do you think is going to happen when you start eating ‘normal’ again?”
When someone asks me to give them my exact nutrition and training routines, the first thing that I tell them is that both my diet and workout routines are customized for ME based on MY goals, MY health, MY height and weight and MY medical history and any previous injuries and/or conditions. I also emphasize to people that “diet” isn’t something I DO, it’s something I have and follow consistently...forever. My diet changes based on whether or not I'm competing, but I also know what I should be consuming daily given either scenario. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that if you truly want to lose weight, get fit and be overall healthier then you have to make a lifestyle change. You have to change your habits by educating yourself on how to do that properly based on YOUR needs, not someone else’s.
I’m always more than happy to give people a list of the foods and supplements that I use on a regular basis and even suggest specific meals. But as far as portion sizes and specific macro-nutrient contents, I refer them to my boyfriend and long-time trainer, Michael Wilkie. Michael is a Diet Doc distributor and has customized my nutrition from day one. More and more professional and amateur competitors are using this nutrition program year-round, but it’s not limited to competitors. This is a program that is customized for each individual based on their goals and their individual needs. It teaches you how to make that lifestyle change and also how to recognize and choose healthier foods.
I’ve referred many people to Michael who have become long-time successful clients and work with him via e-mail, telephone conferences and/or in person. Some of them work with him for nutrition only, some for training only and some for both. I had a woman in Massachusetts contact me last year after reading my success story. Just a little over a year ago (summer of 2008) she weighed approximately 160 lbs at 5 ft 2" tall. Her long-time dream was to be a competitive bodybuilder so I, of course, referred her to Michael. She just competed for the first time this past June and placed 5th in her class. She did exactly what I did........she consulted a professional and learned how to make the necessary changes to reach her goal. And with that training, we also know how to maintain a healthy weight during our off-seasons.
The best advice I can give to someone who is struggling with their weight and/or health is to consult a professional...a professional with proven results who will be more than happy to provide you with referrals. I never get tired of telling my story because I’m always hoping that people will finally realize that these cookie-cutter diets aren’t the answer for permanent results. There's so much information available on online which can make it overwhelming. I find it helpful to get input from as many people as possible who have the same or similar goals as mine. I've found that the advice and tips I receive from other competitors, pros and amateurs, is pretty much the same advice that I give to people. We must be doing something right!
Muscle and Strength: Tell me about your current training routine...how do you split your workouts, what training techniques do you use, and why?
Pamela Murray: Since I’m not currently preparing for a competition my training routine isn’t as intense as it would be if I was preparing for a show. I’m a bit more liberal with my workouts when not preparing for a show. I currently train 4-5 times per week separating muscle groups. If I plan to train only 4 times in a week I’ll break it down something like this:
- Monday: Chest/Biceps/Abs, 30-45 minutes of cardio
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Shoulders/Triceps/Abs/30-45 minutes of cardio
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Legs/Abs/30-45 minutes of cardio
- Saturday: Back/30-45 minutes of cardio
- Sunday: Off
I like to superset so I’ll go right into a bicep or tricep exercise after each chest or shoulder exercise. I do 4 sets of the larger muscle group with 12-15 reps in the first 2 sets and going heavier with 10-12 reps in the last 2 sets. I typically do 3 sets of biceps and triceps following the same pattern. When training just one muscle group I still superset but will do 5-6 sets.
When preparing for a competition, I train no less than 5 times per week with a minimum of 4-5 cardio sessions per week. I lift as heavy as possible when preparing for a show which means I try to work out with my boyfriend and trainer, Michael Wilkie, when it comes time to train chest and shoulders. Here’s an example of how I might set up my routine when preparing for a show:
- Monday: Legs/45 minutes of cardio
- Tuesday: Chest/Abs
- Wednesday: 60 minutes of cardio
- Thursday: Back/Abs/45 minutes of cardio
- Friday: Legs/45 minutes of cardio
- Saturday: Shoulders/Abs/45 minutes of cardio
- Sunday: Arms/45 minutes of cardio
I usually throw in a 2nd leg workout no less than 6-8 weeks out from a show because my weak spots are my glutes, quads and hamstrings. I might target my glutes and hamstrings on Monday and then my quads and calves on Friday. Depending on how my body’s responding as the show gets closer, I sometimes do cardio twice a day, once in the morning and then again at night. I lift as heavy as possible with every workout doing no less than 5 sets for each muscle group beginning with 12-15 reps and ending with 8-10 reps.
I never do abs two days in a row and never when they’re sore, even if I’m scheduled to train them. I stick with mostly free weights. Using free weight prevents me from depending on my stronger side to lift/push/press the majority of the weight. I usually stick with the same exercises for 4-6 weeks and then change it up some. I might keep some of the same exercises but throw in a couple of different ones.
For cardio, I love to use the step-mill. As I mentioned, my glutes don’t like to cooperate and using the step-mill with very deliberately motions definitely helps with that stubborn area. I also use the elliptical and the treadmill on a steep incline. Let’s be honest...walking or climbing for 45-60 minutes at a time and going nowhere can be a bit monotonous. I HAVE to have my music when I do cardio so my iPod is on throughout my entire cardio session and during training...even when I’m training with someone.
I have a specific playlist set up on my iPod specifically for the gym. I’ve seen some people read while they do cardio but I can’t do that unless I’m on the step mill. Even then, I have my music on while I’m reading. But if I’m on the elliptical or the treadmill, I still find myself sometimes watching the clock which just makes the time go by slower! My boyfriend catches up on his favorite TV shows on his portable dvd player while he does cardio which I think I might try when I’m on the treadmill or the elliptical! That’ll certainly keep me from watching the clock!
Muscle and Strength: What's are your goals for 2010 and beyond?
Pamela Murray: 2010 will bring my son’s 21st birthday, one last year in that I’m able to say I’m still in my thirties and my daughter’s first year of high school!
As far as competing goes, I plan to compete next in the INBF Northeast Classic most likely in early May 2010 where I’ll hopefully walk away with my WNBF figure pro card. That’ll be one of at least 2 shows that I compete in next year. I have an itch to try bodybuilding at some point…..so that itch just might have to be scratched next year!
Other plans over the next year include becoming certified as a personal trainer and educating myself further on proper diet and nutrition for weight loss, for competing and for maintaining. Given the fact that my boyfriend is a trainer, nutritionist and bodybuilding competitor himself, some of his other clients are also competitors. It’s become the norm for me to get involved in the coaching aspect with his female clients who are preparing for figure competitions.
Many of them are new to the sport and, just like all of us when we first started, have no idea what to expect. I help coach with posing for both model walks and quarter turns and I’ve been able to provide his figure competitors with a woman’s perspective on what works best for all of those other small (yet oh-so-important) details...such as choosing a suit, jewelry, shoes, how to wear their hair, makeup, etc. I’ve enjoyed working with other competitors VERY much and plan to continue doing so with Michael’s guidance and expertise. And with continuous experience of my own in figure competitions, each new show will help expand my knowledge and understanding in every aspect of the sport.
Having said that, my future “services” certainly won’t be limited to competitors only. Maintaining a healthy balance of proper diet and exercise applies to everyone!
My plans for the future may change a bit here and there but one thing that will remain constant is that I’ll do my part to remain healthy and fit. I owe it to my son Tommy and my daughter Jaimi, I owe it to myself and I owe it to everyone out there who’s desperate to lose weight but afraid to take that first step toward a healthier life, just like I was for so long. Some of us need motivation, some of us need inspiration and some of us simply need a living, breathing real life success story before we finally believe that we, too, CAN do it. I plan to continue telling my story to anyone willing to listen. In doing so, I’m hopeful that the people out there who are still feeling completely discouraged will finally see the possibilities and realize their own true potential.