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Zoe Smith: On the Road to Recovery

by Holly Venning(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 234 - November 2016

Champion weightlifter, Zoe Smith experienced an injury in June 2016 which blighted her hopes of competing as part of Team GB at the Olympic Games in Rio. Here she discusses her injury and recovery, including the vital role sleep in playing to get her back on top of her game.

This year was set to be one of the biggest in Zoe Smith’s career. A young weightlifter from South London, Zoe has been achieving big things in the sport in recent years and was all set to represent her country at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio.

However, it was not meant to be, and the British clean and jerk record holder and Commonwealth champion had to put her Olympic dreams on hold due to the shoulder injury she suffered at the British Championships just weeks before Team GB’s selection was announced.

Zoe Smith

But there is no stopping Zoe Smith, who is absolutely dedicated to getting back to the top of her game. As well as working with her physiotherapist and coach, Zoe looked to sleep expert, Sealy, for help with getting the rest she needs to recover.  Zoe understands that sleep is vital when it comes to recuperation. This is when our brains stay awake overseeing the internal maintenance schedule that keeps our bodies running in top condition. Sleep helps the body repair itself - it restores our muscles and tissues, activates the healing process, rehydrates our spinal discs and our immune system gets a boost too. Without enough of this type of restorative sleep, we won’t function, let alone recover.

Commenting on her injury, Zoe said: “Not only was I incredibly disappointed that I was unable to compete at the Olympics, I was also in a great deal of pain. The injury was a hard thing to deal with. I've been injured before but never had a trauma injury or been hurt this severely. It was also the first time I’ve had surgery so that was a new experience too. Thankfully I'm recovering well and making progress with my rehab which is keeping me motivated, but there are still times when the whole situation can feel very frustrating. 

“The next steps for me are to continue with my rehab. Once I'm pain free, the plan is to strengthen up my shoulder so I can lift again. Although I can't lift yet, this rehab period has given me the opportunity to concentrate on the small technical and physical issues that have been underlying for some time. This should hopefully make me less injury prone and consequently able to lift bigger weights in the long run. The idea of coming back stronger after overcoming something difficult is often talked about, but in this case it's literal. 

“Alongside surgery and physiotherapy treatment, rest is my top priority as I need to allow my body to recover. I’ve always valued sleep as part of my training regime and now it’s an essential component for my recuperation.

“Sleeping was extremely difficult the first few nights after my surgery - nobody talks about how hard it is to find a comfortable sleeping position when they're injured. Trust me, it's hard. I was waking up in pain every few hours despite the huge cocktail of painkillers before bed. Sleep is an important part of recovery and does wonders for mental wellbeing too, so I think this bit was one of the hardest to deal with. 

“For now, I'm back up at the British Weightlifting Headquarters in Loughborough a few days a week working with the support team there, which consists of my physio, strength and conditioning coach and psychologist. Between them they've put together a great plan to get me back to full health and are working around the clock to make sure it's completed. I am dedicated to being back in action for the European Championships in Croatia in April 2017, but I have to be patient and put the work in.

“I'm hugely lucky to be in a position where I've got so many people to support me through such a difficult time - not least Sealy who has provided me with a brand new Profile bed which is designed to get me back on the road to recovery!

“Finally, if you’re recovering from an injury of your own, here’s my advice:

  • Rest is key. Don’t use the part of your body you’ve injured - believe me, this is the only way it will get better;
  • Sleep as much as you can. When we sleep our bodies repair themselves, our tissues and muscles recover and our immune system gets a boost too. I cannot stress the importance of a good quality night’s sleep;
  • Work with the experts. Whether it’s a new injury or something you’ve been dealing with for a long time, the best thing to do is to speak with a physiotherapist. If you visit your GP they should be able to refer you on the NHS too;
  • My next piece of advice is to stay active. Concentrate on other forms of exercise which don’t aggravate your injury. It will feel much better when it’s time to get back on track;
  • And don’t give up! You will feel down about the situation and sometimes you might not be able to see yourself ever recovering, but stick with it. Remember, hard work really does go a long way.”


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About Holly Venning

Holly Venning is the Brand Marketing Manager at Sealy UK. Sealy is the biggest bed brand in the world with the UK arm operating in Aspatria, Cumbria.

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