Deanna Delisle designs workouts for peak performance


Helping athletes achieve peak performance is as much a science as it is an art.

As a strength and conditioning consultant for the Canadian Sport Centre, Deanna Delisle is responsible for designing stylized training regimens for Olympic swimming stars like Erica Morningstar who will be competing this summer in London.

“To train an athlete is completely different than to train the average population,” Delisle said. “With general fitness, as long as you’re changing it up once in awhile and you push yourself so you’re a little tired, it doesn’t matter if you get fatigued, you’re not going to be over trained.”

For optimal sport performance, however, it’s essential to ensure athletes are peaking at the right time, which involves several phases of muscle training, said Delisle, who has a degree in kinesiology and played for the Dinos volleyball team at the University of Calgary.

First, Delisle works with clients in a “hypertrophy” phase, which focuses on gaining muscle mass through multiple sets, higher reps and moderate load.

“You can have big muscles and not be very strong, so once you put all this muscle mass on, we need the brain to be talking to that muscle,” Delisle said. “We do that by adding a strength phase, which is lifting heavy, with high-sets and low reps.”

By finishing with a power phase, athletes get the most from their work in the gym and are primed for competition, Delisle added.

Without careful attention to timing, athletes can seriously hamper their performance.

“If you finish it on a hypertrophy phase, and they were trying to compete, they are going to be so tired,” Delisle said. “We beat them down deliberately in that phase so they would probably perform horribly.”

Nicole Blackmore, 22,who competes in barefoot waterskiing, relies on Delisle’s expertise to keep her in top condition for performance.


Deanna Delisle watches Olympic long-track speed skater Tyler Derraugh’s form during a squat.  Photo by: Jessica Rafuse

“I’m off the water for eight months of the year, so strength and conditioning is so key. It’s the only thing I have to maintain what I do on the water,” Blackmore said, adding that, “It’s so common to have a trainer that just makes you strong. Deanna has done an exceptional job at working on my weaknesses to help me improve.”

For anyone stepping into the Canadian Sport Centre, the surroundings are surprisingly austere.

“When people look at it, they go, ‘Holy crap, this is your gym?’” Delisle said. “We keep it basic, but it has everything you need. You don’t need any of the fancy machines.”

Delisle stresses the importance of athletes being able to control the weights with their bodies. Newer machines isolate muscles at the expense of exercising muscles that help stabilize movement.

Though Delisle works with athletes performing with national teams, it’s not unusual for them to come into the centre without weight-training experience.

“Even if they’ve played their sport for 10 years, some have never been in a gym, it’s not uncommon,” Delisle said.

During the off-season, Delisle pushes athletes harder, getting them to put in up to five hours of training a day. As competitions loom closer, training becomes more sport-focused.

She also works closely with physiologists, nutritionists and sports psychologists to support athletes in a holistic approach.

Life balance is essential since training schedules can become quite grueling.

“If they’re not loving what they’re doing, because they don’t have time for anything else, then you start to end up with a lot of psychological factors that no amount of training can fix,” Delisle said.

Nick Simpson, also a strength and conditioning consultant with the Canadian Sport Centre, describes Delisle as a breath of fresh air.

“She has a really positive attitude,” Simpson said. “The atmosphere just lights up in here when she’s around.”

“I’m such a firm believer in fun, life and living,” Delisle said. “When you exude happiness, people can feel it.”

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