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Life Summer warriors: Pan Am Team Canada athletes on how we can all be fitness winners this season

This week, close to 7,000 athletes from across South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America will be in Toronto to compete in the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. We tapped the brains of Team Canada members for their best advice on how to win your own medal this summer

Cross-country mountain biking

Catharine Pendral, 34, is a two-time world champion and the 2007 Pan Am Games champion. She lives in Kamloops and is originally from Harvey Station, N.B.

Focus on this: “Cycling is all about the legs, primarily quads, glutes and hamstrings. It’s about accumulating the miles and all the small changes happen in the muscles to make you more efficient. Get on your bike frequently – that’s more important than the duration.”

But don’t do this: “Many [new riders] have their seats too low and they are pushing a really heavy gear. They are making too much work for themselves and putting more strain on their knees. Pushing an easier gear is more efficient.”

Pro tip: “It has to be fun, or you won’t do it with regularity. Sometimes doing lower volume at a higher quality can make a bigger difference than trying to do one massive ride and then not being able to complete the rest of your week.”

Open-water swimming

Richard Weinberger, 25, of Victoria became the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in the 10-km marathon swim when he raced to bronze at the 2012 London Games.

Focus on this: “The real motor is the arms. The main thing I do before swimming is arm swings to stretch out my shoulder blades and the muscles in my arms.”

But don’t do this: “Many good 1,500-metres freestylers come try open water and get whooped by experienced open-water guys. It’s a lot harder. Pace yourself with the pack for 6 kilometres then start pushing, because at 8 km, that’s where the race starts.”

Pro tip: “We try to use longer pools because there is a different level of fatigue in swimming straight versus laps in a 25 or 50m pool. I usually just get in the open water on race day, since often the body of water we’re swimming in has bacteria or sewage, so we just train in the pool and limit our exposure so we don’t get sick.”

Wheelchair tennis

Joel Dembe, 31, of Toronto has spent much of his career as Canada’s top-ranked male wheelchair-tennis player. He says the way to improve is to play with able-bodied players.

Focus on this: “All the back muscles are so important, because a big part of pushing the chair comes from your back. I do a lot of weightlifting drills to make my back strong. I use medicine balls to engage core muscles.”

Best exercise: “A really tough one is chin-ups. I can’t just pull with my arms, but really use my back muscles. I sometimes do them with my chair strapped on – an extra 20 pounds or so – to make me work harder.”

Pro tip: “Constantly work on chair mobility. Put a tennis ball on the baseline and three on the service line, then weave in and out and time yourself. Or have your coach throw a ball, and you track it down and throw it back to him while he throws a second one for you to go chase next. The thing about wheelchair tennis is that you can never stop your chair, or you’ll lose the point.”

Beach volleyball

Jamie Broder and her partner, Kristina Valjas, train in Toronto and are among the top-ranked female pairs on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.

Focus on this: “Be ready to move and react with confidence at all times, taking control by calling the ball and executing. I often see a ball drop between partners with no one calling it.”

Best drill: “A star drill works on your fitness and movement on sand. Place five volleyballs on one side of the court, one in each of the four corners and one in the centre. Begin in the middle and move to touch the ball at each corner, moving back to the centre after each touch, with your body always facing the net. Rest for 45 seconds after each circuit, and repeat six times for a great body blast!”

Pro tip: “My favourite way to help my muscles recover is by using a foam roller to release soft tissues and relax contracted muscles.”

Golf

Brooke Henderson is Canada’s most promising golfer at the age of 17. The native of Smiths Falls, Ont., turned pro last December, forgoing a scholarship offer from the University of Florida. (She recently withdrew from the Pan Am Games to compete in a pro tournament.)

Focus on this: “Balance is a big thing in my swing, so having a good core is important. I use my legs a lot and my forearms so I want them to be strong. When there’s tall fescue grass, I really need strong wrists and forearms.”

Best exercise: “I’m not a big fan of stretching. But I learned a warm-up sequence a couple of years ago as part of the national team that I always liked. It involves a series of twists to warm up my body and it sort of mimics the same movement patterns as a golf swing.”

Pro tip: “On weeks when I’m not competing, I’ve been caddying for my sister during her first year competing on the Symetra Tour, because caddying and then playing in the afternoons is a good way to keep my game sharp.”

Triathlon

Kyle Jones, 30, of Oakville, Ont., finished fourth at the last two Pan Am Games.

Focus on this: “For us, it’s heart and lungs because it’s an endurance event lasting almost two hours. We do strength in the off-season and not with heavy weights. We focus on a strong core and injury prevention.

But don’t do this: Cross-train. “Endurance athletes tend to go in straight lines and we don’t venture into other sports or exercises where we could injure ourselves.”

Best stretch: “Hamstrings are so important to me. I like to lie on my back and wrap a rope around my foot. Then I hold onto each end and pull the rope to bring my leg up until I feel the stretch. I bring it up 10-12 times, pulling it further each time. You notice improvement by the 12th time.”

Pro tip: “I recommend trying to get out each day, even if you just have 20 minutes. Try to avoid those one or two huge weekend ones and spread it over the week.”

Water skiing

Whitney McClintock is a five-time world-champion water skier from Cambridge, Ont., where her family runs a water-ski school.

Focus on this: “I’m huge on shoulders. It’s my balance point and it’s where my power and strength come from. If I feel I’m being lifted by the boat, I feel vulnerable and I can’t ski well. Before I ski, I do a whole system of shoulder movements, because that’s where I’m connected to the boat. I do a lot of shoulder rehabilitation work.”

But don’t do this: “We have people come to the lake who haven’t skied since last year and 90 per cent of them are skiing way too fast. Women pros compete at 55 km/h, and a lot of people think they should be skiing that. You shouldn’t. Chill out, slow the boat down to around 43 km/h hour and focus on your position.”

Pro tip: “In between [skiing sets], I ride in the boat for other skiers, which also helps me learn.”

Soccer

Samuel Charron, 17, of Orleans, Ont., has been playing for Canada’s para soccer team for three years and was in the program’s development camp by the age of 12. He has cerebral palsy and it affects movement in half of his body.

Focus on this: “Ninety per cent of soccer is using your lower limbs. Overall fitness would suffer if the leg muscles aren’t conditioned and I would experience a lack of speed, lack in shot power, less control on the ball and would be less solid on my feet.”

Best exercise: “I like squats for the glutes – they add strength, plus they help your balance. I also like leg presses, for the simple reason of adding raw power to your legs.”

Pro tip: “[Build] lean muscle instead of bulking up. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against bulking up. But in soccer, you need to have lean muscles to move quickly and have the cardio to run between 60 to 90 minutes a game.”

Rugby

Kelly Russell, 28, of Bolton, Ont., is one of Canada’s most experienced female rugby players and has competed in World Cups as both a sevens and fifteens player.

Best exercise: “My favourite is the power clean. It works a lot of different muscle groups in one go. You lift an Olympic weight from the floor to shoulder height in an explosive power move.”

Best stretch: “It’s the figure four. I have consistently tight glutes, so this is always a good one for me. Lie on your back with both legs in the air and then place your right ankle on your thigh above your knee to make an upside down shape of the number four. Slowly grab your left hamstring and draw it toward you as the left knee slowly bends. Repeat on both sides.”

Don’t do this: Skip the basics. “[Learn] the proper techniques when it comes to contact. Tackling, scrumming and rucking can go very wrong if you don’t know what you are doing.”

Sprint canoe

Ben Russell grew up around the sport of sprint canoe in Dartmouth, where he still trains on Lake Banook.

Focus on this: “Upper legs and lower backs. We generate a lot of our power with our bigger muscles, and the legs and hips do a lot of that work.”

Best stretch: “A simple hamstring stretch – elevate your leg and reach for your toes – can do wonders.”

But don’t do this: Skip your warm-up. “Being prepared for races and practices takes a real commitment to your warm-up and it is something that is often ignored as not important or not a part of the training session.”

These interviews were condensed and edited.

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