Time to fight the power
TV3's Lisa Cannon has gone from novice to competitive powerlifter in eight weeks and, though she has found it a tough challenge, she is excited by the effect it has had on her body.
Attending top star-studded award ceremonies and getting up close and personal interviewing Irish and international stars on the red carpet is all in a day's work for Xposé's roving reporter Lisa Cannon.
Now add to the equation the strength sport of powerlifting, and it feels like an unlikely match for the stylish television presenter.
"Everyone thinks it's a contradiction. The great thing is that's it's about dispelling myths and to show people you can do other things, because if you always do the things you're used to, you will never do anything different. Maybe I am glamorous – that's part of my job – but there is a huge side to me that's not glamorous. Before I get my hair, make-up and nails done I'm certainly no glamour puss."
Cannon has taken on the ultimate challenge when she takes part in the Powerlifting Championships this Saturday.
In just eight weeks she has gone from novice to competitive powerlifter and is hoping to be able to lift weights of up to a hefty 100kg in two days' time.
"It's been a massive battle, a struggle, a challenge, really hardcore. Going from your normal person who gets up in the morning and slides out the door with a banana and a latte in hand, to now having to get up and make porridge with a protein shake with strawberries all over it, pack a lunch and eat six times a day – it's so different to what I'm used to."
From the age of four until 19 years of age, the ballet barre was Lisa's best friend, where she spent years of training learning and mastering the performance dance.
"I still have a lot of that muscle memory. I wanted to be a prima ballerina but realised my body shape was completely wrong as I'm rubenesque, very curvy with a 34E sized chest. I have a smallish waist and hips; I'm not particularly tall, either. I've got that Kim Kardashian, a bit of a shelf going on and I wasn't built for a ballerina stature, so you have to think about other options."
Playing lots of hockey, netball and cricket in Mount Anville, her all-girls secondary school in Goatstown, Co Dublin, this soon fell to the wayside.
"When I went to college I discovered boys and booze so a lot of exercise went out the window," says Lisa (35). There was a good lull of 10 years there and something would interest me for six months and then I would give it up. I have never done as much exercise as I have done now."
The curvaceous style queen has had to work hard to keep in shape and has spoken previously about struggling with her weight, trying every diet possible. "Like everything, you go through periods where you don't care but there are periods where you do mind and you need to pull back and can't believe you have gone up a dress size again. You realise, unfortunately, you're not genetically programmed to be a skinny mini and I'm the type of person where if a cupcake is left on a table and I look at it, it will go on my hips. I haven't been blessed with eating whatever I want and it not going on me."
As much as she is realistic about her body type, losing weight is secondary to why she has chosen to put herself through this hard slog. "It's a bonus that I'm losing a bit of weight but I'm actually gaining lots of muscle, so it won't be drastic what people are going to see on television, it's me tightening up the loose bits but gaining lots of muscle so my weight essentially doesn't change. I'm not going to look like Christian Bale from The Machinist after just eight weeks. It's about being strong."
A lot of people are asking her will she have bigger, fuller and more defined chiselled muscles like body builder Jodie Marsh.
"Powerlifting is about strength and body building is about muscle. People get quite confused, so I'm trying to dispel a lot of those myths. It's not to do with my weight or the wedding; it's to do with getting those weights up and achieving a goal for my family and for myself."
It was while the presenter was training at her local gym in Leopardstown that the idea came to light of pushing herself beyond her comfort zone. "At the gym one night I saw a girl pushing and grunting doing these weights and I thought 'what the hell', so I went over and talked to her and she was so nice and gentle, she told me weights burn loads of calories and it is a really great way to get out aggression and it makes you stronger. I thought it would be a great way to tone up and, the more I learnt about the way it changes your body, I got excited."
Lisa said that her granny was another one of the reasons she decided to take on the body-builder programme in the first place and started to feel better about herself. "I also spoke to my grandmother, who turns 101 in April; we had a big chat about it, she told me to do things that challenge me and set goals for myself, so I'm also doing it for her.
"My mum passed away five years ago, so I'm obviously very aware how important your health is and to keep your body physically strong so it has a whole dimension to it, not just 'I want to lose weight' – that comes so far down the list."
With trainer Robert Lynch, the pint-sized 5ft 3in Dubliner has been working tirelessly three times a week to get competition-ready, lifting weights and doing a lot of conditioning work.
"With powerlifting, it's like instant gratification; it's like television, that's why I love it. You go in and get aggressive, you put the weights down and you're done. You can see the results build over a couple of weeks. Within two weeks I felt stronger, was sleeping better and my diet was getting better. I've got very strong thighs now and strong arms. I feel like a champion.
"I'm listening to music I never listened to before, grungy rock like Linkin Park where they just scream and lots of Eminem and rap; I would never have been a fan of the heavier rappers but this music makes you really angry. The only way you can get heavy weights up is to get yourself angry."
Welsh sportswoman Non Evans, who has competed internationally in four different sports – rugby union, judo, weightlifting and freestyle wrestling – even came to live with the brunette for two days to give her diet a complete overhaul.
"My partner Richard, who is a rugby player, is very good friends with sports guru Non. She is a nutritionist to some of the top rugby players in the world and gave me this six-meals-a-day diet. She also gave me the technique of powerlifting and told me to start walking in the mornings. An ex-TV Gladiator, she was a brilliant person to bounce ideas off. Eight weeks is a very short period of time to nail the techniques of the sport but also to get your body physically ready for it."
Swapping pints for protein shakes, binning alcohol and chocolate and doing away with lattes which are high in sugar, Lisa is eating a lot of lean meats and grilling a lot of steaks and chicken.
"It's such an education, I would have always believed the more you eat the bigger you get but this isn't the case. It's the more you eat of the wrong foods the bigger you get. Small little things make a difference like chopping the fat off the meat and having salads. I now eat more chicken and fish than ever I did and I've started to eat more sushi. It's tweaking it rather than eating healthy, without going on a diet.
"In the morning, I have porridge heated up with a protein shake poured over it and a handful of blueberries. At 11am I have a protein shake and a banana. For lunch a grilled chicken breast with some salad and vegetables. At 5pm a tin of tuna with brown rice and vegetables. For dinner some turkey mince or spaghetti bolognese made out of quorn or turkey mince."
This coming Saturday Lisa will lift weights in a competition that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and dead lift. In three attempts she is hoping to lift 100kg for the dead lift and squat and about 45kg for the bench press.
"The two I am really focusing on is the dead lift, which I lift up past my knees and the squat where I put it on my back. It's a one rep max on each but you do it three times. I might start with 80kg, work up to 90kg and, please God, for my last lift go for gold and get 100kg.
"If I won a medal it would be amazing but I certainly want to go there and push what I said I would do. Wherever I land in the whole scheme of things, then that's great. A lot of these women have trained for months and years so I can't compete with that, I'll do my best and do what I said I would achieve which is nailing 100kg. Being successful is challenging yourself and going for it. Even if I fail, I will have felt I did something different."
Unsure if she will continue with the strength training after the competition, Lisa has mixed feelings about the demanding sport: "There are parts of me that love it and parts of me that hate it, like on a wet Tuesday night where the last thing I want to do is put on a tracksuit and go down to the gym, but then there are times when it is a bright, crisp Saturday morning and you're in the gym and feel great when everyone is in bed snoring their heads off, recovering from a hangover and I'm up and making something of my day – it's bitter sweet."
Lisa said she couldn't have done it without her Welsh rugby player fiancé who proposed to her in Le Palais Royal on a romantic weekend in Paris last October. "Richard has been amazing, I couldn't have done it without him, he is doing the male equivalent of the powerlifting on the day, too. The moral support and the domestic support has been great. You're eating these dull meals from scratch, so we are cooking for both of us. He gets up in the morning and makes the stuff which I'm awful at."
Chipping teeth and hands covered in calluses are just some of the extremes the TV3 presenter has had to undergo on her new powerlifter programme, which involves intense weigh training sessions and pushing her body beyond its normal limits.
"I was grinding so hard and I gritted my teeth so tightly that my bottom brace clipped the top of my teeth twice and cracked it. I'll get it fixed after. Mentally as a sport it's quite tough but I get a buzz from it."
An hour-long documentary about Lisa's strict diet and training regime over the past two months will air at 9pm on TV3 on April 15.