Core training

UChicago style

Core training

Mathematician Lauren (Murphy) Siegel, AB’88, adds natural bodybuilding to her routine.

As told to Anne Ford, AM’99

I thought I was just a math nerd. In college I went to Bartlett Gym one time, and I thought, “I don’t like this,” and I never went back. Years later I found myself with 40 pounds to lose. I hired a trainer, and when I had lost the weight, the question was, “What do I do now?”

So I started building muscle. It took me three months to do a pull-up. What hooks you is, if you try hard today, you’re gonna come back stronger next time. And it’s very measurable. It’s good for number nerds.

Core training

Someone said, “You should try competing in bodybuilding.” I competed the first time, and I was terrible. The posing is actually pretty hard. I thought “Wow, I am really terrible at this! I will keep going!”

After I did my first competition, I sent pictures to my in-laws, not having told them I was doing this, and they thought I had pasted my head on someone else’s body. It was partly because for competition, you get a spray tan, so you look like you’ve been dipped in dark chocolate. They were like, “Ha ha, that’s so funny! That can’t be you.” But it was.

I’m a natural bodybuilder, meaning that I don’t even take creatine, which is considered a nondangerous performance enhancer. Because I’m a natural bodybuilder, when I show up in a skirt and a sweater, I don’t look like anything out of the ordinary. We went to Lollapalooza, and someone needed to move this big wooden Adirondack chair, so I just picked it up and lifted it over my head. This woman near me went, “Oh, my God!”

My husband [Philip Siegel, AB’85, MBA’88] thinks it’s awesome. Last year he planned a surprise 25th anniversary party for us. I thought we were just going to tour the place where we got married—a historic home in La Jolla, California—but he flew our family there, and we had our wedding ceremony again. They had found my wedding dress and had it waiting for me. I fit into it perfectly.

My husband and I have started, which is a foundation to promote math. Before that, I was the head of the math department at a private school here in Austin, Texas. My students didn’t know about my bodybuilding, and I was hesitant to have them find out. I didn’t want to have them focused on that. And to be honest, there were some times at school when I was so sore from working out that I couldn’t lift some things anyway.

There are lots of ways to address your strength needs. If you don’t like a particular exercise, there’s another exercise you can do that’s just as good. Mathematics is like that also. There are a lot of different approaches you can take to a problem. And in bodybuilding, you can’t just try once and walk away; it’s about persistence. Math is that way for sure. Keep coming back.


Siegel poses during last spring’s Texas Shredder Classic. Next year she hopes to persuade husband Philip Siegel, AB’85, MBA’88, to compete as well. See Siegel’s recipe, “Breakfast of Champions.” (Photos courtesy Lauren Siegel)