-“Book Review: Speed Training with Charlie Francis: PART II”
-“Evaluating Training Programs: Part III – Warm-up & Flexibility”
-“Bench Press: Estimate Your Maximal Strength”





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 removal.


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 are performed.


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 dangerous.


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 to injury.


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.





A) Warm-up & Flexibility


How 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 been avoided.


However, 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.


I 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 right now.


To 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.


Furthermore, 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? 


Before 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 prevention.


Jonathon 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 activity.


Coach 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).


So 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.





1 RM Bench Press estimation for 19-25y males

Research 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.


Determine a weight that you can use for 7-10 repetitions in the bench press and factor it into the below equation.


1 RM (kg) = 1.26 x (7-10RM wt in kg) + 8.7


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