A competitive drive and a passion for fitness helped Mona build the body of her dreams

January 04, 2012

You'd never guess it now, but Mona Muresan was once picked on for being scrawny. "The kids on my junior high school track team used to make fun of my skinny legs," she says. Fast-forward some 20 years and it's clear that the IFBB pro figure competitor and editor-in-chief of Muscle & Fitness Hers is getting the last laugh.

Her Body Transformation Begins

Mona and her family left Romania when she was 18 and moved to New York City in search of a better life. "I grew up poor and always dreamed of owning my own business," she says. Unable to afford college, she worked several jobs over the next six years, eventually landing a gig as a coat- check girl at Nebraska Steakhouse & Lounge in the Financial District. As Mona immersed herself in American culture, she became aware of the importance of sports and fitness. "I saw a picture in a magazine of a girl with a six-pack and was blown away," she says. Eager to add some muscle mass to her lanky 5'7", 120-pound body, Mona joined a health club. Having never set foot in a gym, the former track star gravitated toward familiar territory: the treadmill. "I stayed away from free weights and cable machines because I had no idea how to use them," she says. "I didn't want to accidentally smack myself in the face!"

Her reluctance to try strength training disappeared one day when she noticed a girl doing deadlifts and squats. With her interest in pumping iron piqued, Mona began reading exercise books and magazines like Shape. Soon she was spending an hour at the gym six days a week, dedicating 45 minutes to strength training and 15 to abdominal work. Because she wasn't trying to lose body fat, Mona limited cardio to 20 minutes a day. In just a year, she added 15 pounds of muscle to her lean frame. "My triceps and biceps got cut, and I gained definition in my abs," she says. "As my body changed, I became even more motivated to train."

Strength Training and Determination

Mona's strong work ethic was paying off in other ways as well. In 2005, at age 30, she bought the restaurant where she had once checked coats (and later tended the bar). Then, two years after taking the reins, she discovered a passion for figure modeling-a type of fitness contest that emphasizes muscle tone over muscle size-while attending a friend's show. "I was so impressed with how shapely and fit all of the women were," says Mona. "I thought, ‘I can do this too!' " In preparation for her first competition, she had to gain even more muscle mass. "We're judged on our muscle development, so I doubled the weight I was lifting and reduced the number of reps I was doing." She also started following a six-meal-a-day, high-protein diet, which aids in muscle growth. Four months into her training, she made her debut. "After I won first place in my division, I felt a huge surge of confidence," says Mona, who went on to participate in seven more shows in the U.S. and abroad.

Starting next month, Mona will take on a new role as a Shape contributor. "I want to give women the resources they need to live a healthy life and look amazing," she says. Mona admits she's extremely proud of how she's transformed her own physique- especially her legs. "These days, I take great pride in my muscular quads, hamstrings, and calves," she says. "And the fact that I can push 500 pounds on the leg press is pretty awesome too."