Review: Speed Training with Charlie Francis: PART II”
-“Evaluating Training Programs: Part
III – Warm-up & Flexibility”
-“Bench Press: Estimate Your Maximal Strength”
– CHARLIE FRANCIS: TRAINING FOR SPEED
One of the many causes of muscular fatigue during high-intensity
exercise is the build-up of waste products. These metabolites,
such as hydrogen ions, can prevent muscle contraction. The
accumulation of the waste product lactate (lactic acid)
results more hydrogen ions, and therefore athletes want
to avoid lactic acid production or they want to increase
Charlie Francis believed that using “alactic intervals” would allow his
athletes to train hard (at near maximal intensity) without
building up high levels of lactic acid. These sprint intervals
were less than 7s in length and were separated by 3-minutes
of recovery (and often much longer).
In theory, these alactic intervals were short enough so as not to produce
large amounts of lactic acid. By keeping the intervals to
that length, the athlete would rely heavily on energy from
stored ATP and creatine phosphate and would not rely on
glycolysis. What is the importance? Lactic acid is a by-product
of glycolysis. Therefore the less glycolysis you undergo,
the fewer harmful by-products you will build-up.
Also, the long rest intervals allowed for a greater clearance of lactate
by the muscle. This theoretical approach may allow you to
train at very high intensities without suffering from metabolic
fatigue, however, there will always be some lactate build-up
and a subsequent reduction in performance when maximal efforts
Strength and conditioning professionals believe the use
of “overspeed” techniques to be very beneficial to speed
development. These include downhill running and “towing”
techniques. When Francis trained Ben Johnson, they never
used “overspeed” work because Francis considered it to be
On a related note, the Canadian Olympic gold medal 4x100m relay team (1996)
apparently never used parachutes (a popular “resisted-speed”
device) in their training. Therefore, speed athletes can
be successful by training strictly with weights, plyometrics,
and correct technique, and you may not need to rely on expensive
equipment in order to become faster. After all, no equipment
will make up for a poor program design.
Hamstrings are the biggest injury concern for many athletes,
especially those in explosive sprinting sports. Francis
believed the hamstrings operate at the fastest velocity
of all muscles during sprinting and therefore is more susceptible
Note that when injuries do occur, athletes are usually fatigued or have
not warmed up properly. This should give us an indication
of how to prevent injuries.
Do NOT overtrain and always use an extensive warm-up
prior to explosive events for the hamstrings. Other researchers
and strength coaches will agree that there is an increased
incidence of injury in training after holidays or when training
volume increases markedly.
For training the CNS (central nervous system), a higher
volume of work is less effective because Francis believed
it is an area very easy to overtrain and thought that providing
additional rest should very effective for promoting adaptation
to speed training. Long rest intervals allow for high-quality
work intervals. Remember that for speed and maximal strength,
quality is better than quantity. Furthermore, Francis believed
that athletes may need up to 10 days to recover from last
hard training session prior to peak competition (i.e. Olympics).
Francis emphasized core strength. You must have abdominal
and low-back strength or your stride will suffer during
the final distances of your sprints. Surprisingly, Francis
recommends the high-volume approach to abdominal training.
That’s right, he recommends numerous sets and exercises
to be performed with very high repetition ranges.
Francis believed that only full-time athletes get full-time results. For
high-school players that train after school and a part-time
job, or university students living an impoverished life-style,
you must realize that optimal performance may be compromised.
Athletes need support, recovery, and proper training and
nutrition to be successful and must make lifestyle modifications
if top performance is their number 1 priority.
Massage. Francis learned how to do this himself and often
spent over 6 hours per day doing this on top of his coaching
priorities. Research has yet to catch up to Coach Francis
in this respect, but someday we may see these types of techniques
validated as “ergogenic” aids (performance enhancing).
For example, while massage has not been proven to increase performance,
it does appear to benefit the athlete in terms of recovery.
I encourage people to visit a massage therapist or chiropractor
to help determine the severity of injuries or amount of
recovery needed in a particular muscle.
Finally, some great words from Francis that we should
all consider: “Train smarter, not harder”. This was a very
interesting and thought-provoking book.
– SOME THOUGHTS ON WEIGHT TRAINING: PART III
Warm-up & Flexibility
important is flexibility for athletes and strength trainers?
How effective are greater levels of flexibility at preventing
injuries and increasing performance? Contrary to popular
belief, there is little “pure science” to support its use
in injury prevention. No “expert” can truly state that if
someone had stretched better that injury would then have
common sense alone tells us that stretching should not be
completely neglected in any training program. According
to Charlie Francis, a sprinter’s flexibility does not need
to be excessive, rather just sufficient to allow for full
hip, knee, and ankle joint extension.
recently read the book, “The science of flexibility”. It
was an incredulous 300 page plus book on stretching! The
authors presented some research that showed a flexible muscle
can withstand greater changes in length before failure but
also that “slow static stretching may only improve tolerance
to slow movements, therefore even if you are flexible you
risk injury in explosive movements”. Unfortunately, the
optimal flexibility training program is a bit of guesswork
determine how much flexibility you need in your activity,
have your exercise or sprinting form analyzed. If your movement
or technique is hindered by a lack of flexibility then adjust
your training program to meet the requirements. Furthermore,
flexibility training is beneficial for mental preparation
& rehabilitation. Some athletes may not perform optimally
unless a pre-competition stretching routine is incorporated.
Often stretching gives athletes “piece of mind” to go and
perform at maximal intensity without worrying about injuries.
studies have shown a decrease in strength and power following
acute stretching (Fowles, J. et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc.
29(5): s155, 1997; Kokkenon, et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc.
28(5): s1130, 1996). With all this information, it is a
large concern as to how to address this problem. Do I stretch
for injury prevention OR do I avoid stretching to maximize
my strength and power?
trainers and lifters make any conclusions they must understand
that the above studies used extreme lengths of stretching
(20 min) prior to strength testing that would not typically
be performed by athletes prior to competition. Therefore,
an extensive dynamic warm-up followed by a minimal amount
of short static stretches are likely beneficial to injury
Fowles, M.Sc, CSCS, Ph.D candidate, is the author of one
of the above papers on stretching and strength, and as a
strength coach at the University of Waterloo, he recommends
two stretches of 15s duration after a thorough warm-up to
decrease muscle stiffness prior to working out. I agree
that this may help reduce the incidence of injury, even
if only by making the athlete feel “mentally” prepared for
Fowles also reminds us that pure flexibility training is
best performed AFTER the workout. Regarding post-workout
stretching, recent research has shown that heat + static
stretching is better than stretching alone in terms of increasing
flexibility (Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 32(5): s86, 2000).
the take home message is this: Warm-up thoroughly with light
activity prior to training. The activity should be very
specific to the training activity and must address all the
muscles and joints that will be stressed. Perform a moderate
amount of static stretching for these muscles and again
ensure that the joints are well lubricated (by performing
full range of motion movements). After the workout, incorporate
a thorough flexibility routine to address tight muscles
and to maintain a full range of joint motion.
– BENCH PRESS: ESTIMATE YOUR MAXIMAL STRENGTH
RM Bench Press estimation for 19-25y males
found that a 7-10 RM test was an excellent predictor of
1 RM (maximum weight that can be lifted for one repetition).
This is just another quick estimation (I have provided some
in earlier newsletters) that may help determine “how much
you can bench” without having to go through an actual maximal
attempt. The 7-10 RM test is likely a safe and effective
way to do this estimation.
a weight that you can use for 7-10 repetitions in the bench
press and factor it into the below equation.
RM (kg) = 1.26 x (7-10RM wt in kg) + 8.7