BY JOHN PLUMMER
She was once a police officer but now Lisa Cross is an arresting new sight on the UK physique scene. Could she be Britain’s next big female bodybuilder?
Britain doesn’t produce many world-class female bodybuilders but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. In the first decade of the century the nation produced three IFBB female pro show winners: Andrulla Blanchette, most notably, won the Ms. Olympia lightweight title; Truro’s Joanna Thomas finished first at the Jan Tana Classic on her pro debut, and last year Barnsley’s Kizzy Vaines won the fitness class at the Fort Lauderdale pro show. In comparison, only one British man – James ‘Flex’ Lewis in the 202 pound class at the 2008 Europa Pro – has won a pro show since Dorian Yates retired in 1997 even though far more British men than women have competed with the IFBB.
So who will be the next female to pick up the baton carried by the likes of Carolyn Cheshire, Kimberley-Anne Jones, Paula Bircumshaw, Joanne Lee and Andrulla Blanchette to become the next British inter-national physique star? In 2006 Michelle Jones broke Joanna Thomas’s record to become the youngest-ever national champion but she announced her retirement in 2008. Two-time British lightweight champion Venetia Gloux undoubtedly has the genetics but she did not compete in 2009 when Xyleese Burford took the overall UK title.
Xyleese will certainly be one to watch in the years ahead but another name to look out for is Lisa Cross. “Lisa who?” you may ask. She may only have competed three times but she has already shown enough to suggest she has what it takes. Last year she finished second in the physique category at the Ms. Universe in only her second contest, then a week later she made a successful transition to the UKBFF, winning the physique class at the Hercules contest to qualify for this year’s UK Championships in October, where she will start as one of the favourites.
At 70 kg she packs enough size to mix it with the big girls and, equally importantly, she is well balanced with a nice shape and pleasing symmetry. Although she is relatively inexperienced on stage she knows what the sport is all about, having travelled extensively in America to watch top pro and amateur contests and shoot with some of the sport’s leading photographers. Now she aims to prove she belongs with the elite. “My ambition is to win my pro card and to compete on the Olympia stage and at the Arnold Classic,” she says.
Lisa, 31, began training seriously four years ago. “I have always been athletic,” she says. “But I didn’t really get into bodybuilding until 2006. I was living in Japan teaching English and my boyfriend at the time was a Japanese bodybuilding champion. I read up everything I could about it and overtrained big time. I didn’t know anybody out there and could not understand the TV so the gym became a substitute for my social life.” Her body responded well and soon other gym users began commenting on her potential. “People suggested competing but I never felt I was ready,” she says. Her attitude changed in 2007 when she got married and for her honeymoon flew to Las Vegas to watch the Olympia weekend. “Until then I had only seen female bodybuilders in magazines like FLEX,” she says. “When I saw them in the flesh I realised that size-wise I wasn’t that much different from the other women. I knew I wasn’t at that standard yet but I realised the look was attainable.”
Since then bodybuilding has become her passion, hobby and profession. She used to work as a police officer but now has her own risqué bodybuilding website and lives the lifestyle, travelling the world and training full time. She spends a lot of time in the United States, where she would ultimately like to compete, but her main home is in Plymouth where former UK junior champion Lewis Breed oversees her training and precontest preparation. “Lewis has been absolutely awesome, I can’t believe he is so young,” says Lisa.
The fruits of her hard work were displayed on stage for the first time late last year when she won her debut show to qualify for the Universe and after taking the runner-up spot at that event she decided to commit herself to the UKBFF, which is the UK arm of the IFBB and the only route for an IFBB pro card. She made a strong impression on her debut at the Hercules show when she beat a tough class, which included the likes of Tracey-Ann King, who placed third in the heavyweights at the 2009 finals. Now Lisa, who is sponsored by sports nutrition company CNP Professional, has her sights set firmly on the UK finals at Nottingham in October and attending more major muscle events in the United States and Europe. “I am planning to attend the FIBO expo in Germany and the Bodypower event in Birmingham before I start a 16-week competition diet for the UKBFF UK finals,” she says. “At the moment I am in my first offseason and am aiming to put some size on and work on lagging areas.”
Lisa reckons her 15-inch biceps could do with more peak and her calves could be a bit bigger. Overall though she already has plenty of size and doesn’t want to go mad by sprouting overblown muscles at the cost of her symmetry. One area that doesn’t require any ‘bringing up’ is her leg development. Lisa’s 27-inch quads are probably her best bodypart. “Different people see different strengths in me,” she says. “I like my legs. They are certainly my strongest bodypart. I can lift crazy amounts with them – I’ve squatted 200 kg, for example. For me, legs tend to set physiques apart.”
So how does she train? “Hard and heavy, with the emphasis being on high intensity,” she says. “In order to shock the body though, I will sometimes train with lighter weights and higher reps and with less rest. I have come to find that when planning my training routine for the day I always have to focus on the intensity so that the muscle is fatigued and to maintain good form when performing exercises.
“As I am trying to put size on I never train more than two days together but during the offseason I will train hamstrings twice a week, on legs and back days, and three times a week I will do double split sessions so that in the morning I will train abs and calves.”
Lisa’s coach, Lewis is constantly hammering home the importance of nutrition. “In the offseason the emphasis is on keeping the calories high and clean and ensuring that I take in sufficient amounts of protein,” she says. “My coach is always reviewing my offseason diet but at present I aim to take in 1.5 g of protein per pound of body weight and eat eight meals a day. I also augment my diet with a range of supplements from CNP. Making sure I get in sufficient nutrition on a daily basis is a full-time job in itself!”
When FLEX first caught up with Lisa last year she had just won the Hercules. By then she had already been to America three times in 2009 and shot with a bunch of well-known photo-graphers. After finishing her competitive season she crossed the Atlantic again, this time to Miami and New York. “Whilst in Miami I went to watch the NPC Nationals and had a great time,” she says. “I shot with quite a few photographers, such as Chris Zimmerman, Rick Dobbins and T’challa Hawk in some beautiful locations. Whilst in New York I shot with Brian Moss at his studio, which was a great experience and ate every day at Victor Martinez’ restaurant Muscle Grill.”
What was it like meeting the top American female bodybuilders? “It was lovely to meet people who do it,” she says. “The older ones are full of advice and are very encouraging. Now I have started competing over here hopefully I will get to meet some British competitors. America is much more professional but we have a heck of a lot of talent over here.” And how does she reckon British bodybuilding compares with America? “We’ve got a more hardcore philosophy,” says Lisa. “They seem to have it a bit more easy over there. They have amazing gyms but I don’t see many people training properly in them. I train at a council-run gym and Core Fitness. It shows you don’t need all these fancy machines!”
It’s possible Lisa could be lining up against some of her new found friends on the US pro scene in the years ahead. But first of all she has to beat the best of British and her quest to do that will unfold at Nottingham in October. “I am at the very beginning of my career and have a long way to go and I find that very exciting,” she says. Exciting for her, scary for her rivals but thrilling for the fans. Stay tuned… FLEX
Lisa’s offseason training program
Monday am/pm – Abs and calves/Chest
Tuesday – Back and hamstrings
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday am/pm – Abs and calves/Shoulders
Friday – Legs
Saturday – Rest
Sunday am/pm – Abs and calves/Arms
Pec deck: 3 sets x 20 reps
Bench press: 5 pyramid sets
Dumbbell flye: 3 sets x 10 to 12 reps
Lat pulldown: 4 sets x 10 to 12 reps
Deadlift: 4 sets culminating in a 1-rep max
Seated cable row: 4 sets x 12 to 15 reps (the last set is a drop set)
One-arm dumbbell row: 3 sets x 8 to 10 reps
Lying leg curl: 3 sets x 20 reps
Standing leg curl: 3 sets x 20 reps
Dumbbell shoulder press: 4 sets x 12 to 4 reps
Side lateral raise: 3 sets of walk through drop sets
Rear lateral raise: 3 sets of walk through drop sets
Leg extension: 3 sets x 20 reps
Squat: 5 pyramid sets
Leg press: 4 sets x 12 to 6 reps
Lying leg curl: 3 sets of 20 reps
Barbell curl: 4 sets x 12 to 8 reps (first set is a warm-up)
Preacher curl: 3 sets x 12 to 8 reps (last set is a drop set)
Concentration curl: 3 sets x 12 to 15 reps
Triceps pushdown: 4 sets x 12 to 8 reps (first set is a warm-up)
Skull crusher: 3 sets x 12 to 8 reps (last set is a drop set)
Dip machine: 3 sets x 12 to 15 reps