HealthGauge meets ‘Britain’s Strongest School Girl’
Zoe ‘Pablo’ Smith has been weight lifting since the age of 12 having first tried her hand at gymnastics, earning her the title of ‘Britain’s Strongest School Girl’. As well as a string of titles, Zoe was chosen to compete at the 2012 London Olympics where in the Women’s 58kg division and she set the British record with a clean and jerk lift of 121.0 kg (roughly the same weight as a trial motorbike) – watch here.
Training, fitness & technique
People outside of the sport may confuse weight lifting with other ‘power sports’ such as strongman or bodybuilding, something that Zoe is often mistaken for. Olympic weight lifting is in fact a highly athletic and technical sport with focus upon executing lifts correctly though explosive movements, then maintaining and managing momentum as well as balance using the whole posterior chain.
Having trained for 8 years and competed on the global stage Zoe still admits that technique is something a weight lifter continues to try and perfect throughout their career. This training involves torturous leg work and back injuries are a common occupational hazard. Whilst Zoe does partake in some HIIT which helps to work the fast twitch fibres important for the explosive techniques involved in weight lifting, cardio in general plays a limited role in her overall training scheme.
Weight is obviously a crucial aspect in weight lifting. Not only in terms of the weight being lifted, but also in terms of the weight of the athletes themselves. For a stronger athlete to qualify in a lower weight category gives them an advantage over the competition. Whereas a higher weight category generally means stronger and tougher competition.
In the absence of cardio training nutrition plays a vital role. Not only is nutrition used to promote muscle growth in order to maintain strength, but additionally weight management is critical in order to qualify within a desired weight category.
Carbohydrate management, or rather elimination, is used to limit weight whilst qualifying. This forces the body to burn fat reserves as it is starved of carbohydrate for fuel. Chicken breast, boiled eggs and salads become a dietary staple. To maintain and grow muscle mass Zoe consumes 3-4 protein shakes per day, as well as eating small meals often to promote faster metabolism. She also supplements her diet with Udo’s oil, a high quality source of omegas 3, 6 and 9 from plant sources.
So strict is weight category qualification that Zoe has on occasions undertaken even more extreme measures such as drinking lots of water and then limiting hydration to around 1 cup per day to manipulate bodily hormones and lose water weight. Zoe openly admits that losing the weight can be very difficult, especially for someone who loves food, and also that such extreme measures are not healthy or recommended.
Once competing after qualification, this finally provides Zoe with an opportunity to pile on the carbs, specifically high GI carbs which absorb faster providing muscle energy in the form of glycogen.
Girls in the male domain
As an icon for female weight lifting in Britain Zoe has seen first hand the migration of females from the comfort zone of cardio exercise and into the weight lifting section, historically the domain of men. As well as women who are trying a hand at heavier weight lifting, many more are also becoming aware of the aesthetic benefits that exercise such as squatting brings to areas like the gluteal muscles (bum bum and thighs). Zoe feels that the myth has been busted and more females are becoming aware that lifting weights won’t make you look like a man, but in fact more like a woman.
For more from the world of Zoe ‘Pablo’ Smith, you can find her on twitter @ZoePabloSmith