Cheshire-born Penny Lane has been a professional model since she was 16 and now at the ripe age of 22 has moved to New York to further peruse a successful commercial modelling and film career. Over the past six years she has become a fitness and nutrition convert and whether she’s working as an ambassador for SBC aka ‘the world’s toughest workout’ or training for an action film, her approach is mindful of health at all times. Here she reveals what it really takes (hint: it’s a lot) to achieve the optimum results.
‘I was scouted when I was 13—I was out shopping and my mum and we were approached by an agent. Back then I thought it was amazing. My mum had been a beauty queen in the 80s and it was definitely something that captivated me as a teenager. That era was so glamorous. My dad is a doctor, but he has never put any pressure on us to follow an academic path—he has always encouraging me to do what felt right.
Back then, I was 5’10’, but had absolutely no boobs, hips or clue. I felt like a complete giraffe—you know the story. I was the tallest teen in my class, none of the boys were anywhere near as tall as me and I just felt like a lanky misfit. I was so self-conscious–there was a permanent feeling that I stuck out like a sore thumb.
“This is the reality of what you have to do to get what you want to have. And it’s not for everyone.”
My family moved to Australia a year or so later and the rest of my teens were spent between Sydney and London. Aged 16 I moved on my own back to London into a model house then had a stint in another model house in Istanbul. The homesickness was brutal, but I grew up quick and have become very independent. It’s the kind of experience that is sink or swim and you have to have something inside you that keeps you going.
Full Time Fitness
My interest in fitness began ironically with one of the worst days of my working career. I was 18 and back in Australia on a job and the client had decided that I was ‘too fat’ for her clothes so she wasn’t going to pay me. Her criticisms were really personal and vicious–you get used to rejection in this industry but this was something else. It was true that the samples didn’t fit me–but that’s because I’m bustier than most models and always have been. From that moment I decided that I would never be in the situation again. I have never felt that there is anything wrong with my body, but ultimately modeling is a profession which requires a certain body shape, so I was determined that I was going to achieve it—but in the healthiest way possible. After living in a model house, I’d seen how destructive and miserable dieting could be and there was no way I was going to do it that way.
For me it’s always been about making the best of yourself and your individual body. I am never going to be a waif—I’ve got boobs, a curve and strong legs. But I can build muscle and create a strong shape which makes me feel good.
It’s also not all about expensive trainers—running along the beach in Australia was one of the first things I found I loved doing. And that’s the key—finding something you actually like doing. It’s definitely shouldn’t be the dread of thinking you’ve got to do five days a week on a treadmill. If I can inspire anything it’s that exercise really can be fun and that it’s achievable for anyone. Over the years I really have tried everything and the results have been really different. At the moment, I train with SBC. The classes are a lot about animalistic movement and light training without too much weight and I really like that balance.
In terms of the most dramatic results I’ve seen, it would definitely be the training I did for a small acting role in the upcoming Justice League DC film earlier this year. It was probably the most hard-core training I’ve ever done with a crossfit programme using pretty heavy weights. The role required a good knowledge of combat skills, so I had to do a whole month of training in the Warner Bros Studio gym. It was Crossfit training, cardio and balance exercises to pull in the core, for three hours every single day. The super high intensity workouts pushed us to the edge of our strength and fitness and over those four weeks, that was my only job. We ate so much protein, greens and carbs to build the muscle tissue—so unsurprisingly, I saw a huge difference in my body shape. For me that level of training is about getting ‘match fit’ for a specific reason rather than something that I would maintain the entire time. For me personally it wouldn’t be sustainable.
“It’s crazy what you can actually achieve when you really set your mind to it.”
After that I took a step back and I started to introduce more fighting classes, especially Kung Fu, into my regime. In my opinion the martial arts create such a well-honed body. You’ve got weights involved, it’s a great workout for the core and it’s a 360 practise. I also do SBC Fight classes with swordplay—an approach which focuses on areas you’ve never considered before from your wrists to your stomach and neck. It’s about creating long, lean, springy muscles. I’ve always loved action films and have a real ambition to be involved in film combat in the future, so this type of training has been amazing for me personally.
It’s crazy what you can actually achieve when you really set your mind to it. Through pictures you can’t really tell, but I know when I do more running, for example, my body becomes more lanky and lean, when I do fighting, it’s more toned and tuned, whereas Crossfit makes it more muscular and tight. Any form of that is absolutely fine with me—it’s just amazing to see results. It isn’t about vanity – it’s much more about that feeling of strength and achievement. That’s what I get from it at least.
Personally, I’ve always looked up to the 90s supermodels. Amazonian women are goddesses to me. I think my mum’s got a big role to play in that —she’s 6’2’’ and had curves in the right places. To me that shape represents a strong woman in a visual sense, whereas the super skinny look suggests vulnerability. It’s amazing to know I could throw a good punch if I needed to and that I can carry my own suitcase up the stairs.
“If you want to see real results, you have to change your lifestyle and your mindset. End of conversation. If you’re not prepared to do that, you won’t achieve what you want. And that’s ok too–but let’s be real about it.”
I think too much of anything is always a bad thing. I’ve pushed my fitness to the extreme sometimes—but I’ve learnt the hard way that you have to have that balance. I give myself days off. It’s ok if you don’t go to the gym every day. Or even 5 times a week. I do try and commit to 3 times a week, but look, if it doesn’t happen, you have to be ok with that. When I was running, I was doing far too much and I got really bad shins and my knees just began clicking painfully. I was just running myself down rather than building myself up. It’s important to take it in your stride, build up to your targets and so important to know your limits. If you’re in pain from working out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stay away from exercise completely. Doing yoga, Pilates or a light workout can keep the blood flowing and relieve painful muscles—but if you’re actually injured you have to take it really easy and not try and push yourself further.
Exercise may use the body, but fitness is totally and completely state of mind. I truly believe that the most important muscle to exercise is your willpower. Discipline is a muscle which becomes easier to use the more you stretch it. It is really the ONLY thing you need to work on when you start out exercising as we all have thoughts and excuses which run through our minds to undermine your resolve. You have to make it into your gym, you have to be in the state of mind to push yourself and you have to be committed to exercise as a lifestyle—and the only way to achieve all that is through strong, robust discipline and a developed ability to flex your willpower.
Not Eating’s Only Cheating (Yourself)
It’s so important for me to be honest here: 70% of what I’ve achieved with my body is down to nutrition. If you don’t feed your body what it needs and instead eat foods which offer poor nutritional value, you will only see a slow change if any at all. I’m pretty strict with what I eat. Everything starts with the protein—nuts, chicken, eggs, yoghurt, chia. If you want to build muscle you have to fuel your body with protein, it’s as simple as that. I also eat a lot of healthy fats to stop becoming foggy minded–your brain is full of fat and needs it to work properly. I cook with coconut oil and eat nuts like a squirrel. I go for low sugar in everything–it’s so important to always check the labels. I try and make the majority of my food from scratch so I know exactly what’s going in it. Look, it’s not rocket science, but it does require thought and preparation.
Aside from that it’s all about greens and veggies. I never thought I’d be obsessed with vegetables, but true story: I sometimes now crave a bowl of steamed veg. When you eat well for a proper period of time, your taste buds completely change and what you crave does that same. My favourites are broccoli, kale, spinach, sprouts. I like a bit of crunch as its satisfying to eat.
I take turmeric pills every day. If you’ve got swelling or inflammation, turmeric is ideal. Garlic oil is also really great for your joints – you can get non-odour supplements if you’re worried. If I’m flying a lot, I take magnesium as it helps muscle relaxation and stops you going into cramps and when I’m training really hard, I take CLAs and BCAAs to help with muscle recovery–but that’s more extreme. You don’t need to go crazy with supplements–just get good quality basics and make sure you take them every day.
I still have to fight the urge for a little bit of bread—I’ve modelled a lot in Italy and that freshly baked smell is almost impossible to resist. But the more you say no and think ‘that’s not even an option’, the easier it becomes. I can look at cakes and just think how pretty they look, but I don’t have that psychological pull to them. Your brain can be trained—even if you could never imagine thinking that way. For me there’s no feeling of deprivation, because I treat myself in a different way. Fruit is sweet enough. Literally it is so sweet— you don’t need a sugar covered cupcake to get the same feeling of satisfaction over time. Cinnamon, ginger and vanilla are also great flavours to add a sweetness to yoghurts or protein balls as they trigger the same feelings in your brain.
“There are a lot of nutrition myths out there. You read so many messages that suggest you can achieve your goals without putting the hard work in. But there’s no cheating.”
Since I’ve invested in my nutrition, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my skin and hair. I do also drink a lot more water and exercise so the blood flow is definitely going, so that has definitely contributed too. I used to have a really bumpy forehead but soon as I stopped eating sugar, that went away.
There are a lot of nutrition myths out there. You read so many messages that suggest you can achieve your goals without putting the hard work in. But there’s no cheating really…Unless you’re going to get liposuction. People are always saying ‘treat yourself’. The truth is you can’t constantly be treating yourself if you want body results. Think about it this way – if your friend asked you how to lose weight and gain muscle and you were being brutally honest to her, you’re not going to say, ‘just lift a few cans of beans and go on a brisk walk’. It just won’t work. If you want to see real results, you have to change your lifestyle and your mindset. End of conversation. If you’re not prepared to do that, you won’t achieve what you want. And that’s ok too–but let’s be real about it.
That can mean changing how you live your life and the people you have in it. I’ve got friends who had to step away from some relationships because they weren’t supportive of their new lifestyle choices. That can be the hardest part of it. On the flipside I’ve seen some people completely lose their social life because they feel they have to hide away to keep to their goals. You’ve got to be comfortable with your decisions and you have to be prepared to be the person who says no to a glass of wine. Or no to a burger and fries. But you can’t withdraw from life. We don’t talk much about the peer pressure when it comes to lifestyle.
I’ve only really had encouragement from the social media community. Mostly people want to know more about what I’m doing–I haven’t had any mean comments at all. But if I were to get them, I would know it’s more their issue than mine. With the job that I do, I’m used to criticism, so I’ve got a thick skin anyway. I think it’s one of those things – you have to be a bit tough, but I’ve always understood that I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone will agree with the way I do things and I’m ok with that. But if someone does want to hear or learn more about what I’m doing, I would always love to be able to share.