I recently attended one of the Charlie Francis seminars in Australia. Prior to the seminar I thought I had a reasonable understanding of his training philosophy and principles after all I have read Speed Trap and Training for Speed, own 2 of his DVD’s (GPP and Fundamentals 1) and am an active member of his forum. I knew I would learn many things but was amazed at how much more I learned. The 2 main things I finally comprehended were the importance of flexibility and weights being general..….I can be a slow learner.
Below is a recap of some of the things covered, as I understood them. There was whole lot more and if you ever get the chance to attend one of his seminars I strongly suggest do!
Charlie the man.
People have asked me what was Charlie like? To me he seemed down to earth and pretty comfortable with his lot. He entertained with anecdotes and insights. No question was dodged. There was no false modesty, bragging or PR speak in his delivery, it was a matter of simply presenting things as they are.
Charlie appears to have little respect for officialdom in big part due to his belief that money is taken away from where it really needs to be spent …athletes. There is also a large amount of self serving hypocrisy and favouritism.
The CNS is like a cup.
The best way I can relate my understanding of the CNS is that it is like a cup. You never want it to overflow! This means you should always play it safe. You are better to slightly under train than over train. Supercompensation may not be as great but it will still be ok. Never go for the great super workout as the best possible outcome from it is a return to normal. There is no need to see the ultimate levels of an athlete in training.
The volume of each training session needs to be managed at the time. If there is an extraordinary speed session you may need to drop weights altogether as including the weight session may cause the cup to overflow thereby stalling, or even regressing progress. Progression is vital. If it is a high CNS day you adjust the volume as required to reach the appropriate CNS limit, conversely if the day is low CNS ensure it stays that way. Never have back to back high CNS days.
Whatever you add in to your training you have to take something out, so if you want to start doing arm curls what are you going to take out?
Extraordinary results come from extraordinary preparation, they don’t just magically happen. When correct preparation is done results will follow. That said it is crucial to train to the athlete’s level, if they are average and can realistically go 2 rounds at a meet then train for that not for them reaching the final. If they make it to round 3 that is a bonus and you can then just see what happens.
How do you mentally prepare for an important race? By having adequate and appropriate preparation and training. Yes you get nervous but if you have done the work you draw confidence from that, if you haven’t done the work you create pressure on yourself.
Flexibility is imperative. You simply cannot achieve the necessary positions without it. Incorporate stretching as part of your warm up. A shortfall in flexibility should be addressed with stretching after a session however you have to do what is necessary. If an athlete is tight and you have to perform PNF or static stretching before a race then that is what you have to do. Better that than them trying to race as they were.
During the practical sessions Charlie performed some PNF work on the athletes, I was amazed at the effort used. Some of the guys were quite strong and he was really working hard to maintain the resistance, harder than I expected he would do. I was also intrigued to see mid session he would call athletes out and give them a ‘straighten out’ (back to Charlie, arms across body, breath out and he would lift them off the ground).
There is often debate about appropriate squat depth, full range versus 1/2 ….it doesn’t matter that much. Flexibility is not gained in the weight room! It is done outside of that. The weight room is for gaining strength and flexibility is dealt with separately.
Always stretch after a session and it doesn’t always have to be a lot. Top athletes are so flexible that often them hitting a position is more of a spot check lasting a second or so to ensure adequate range of motion is in place. If it weren’t it would be addressed. When stretching just go to full range of motion not necessarily hold for X amount of time.
If you only ever do ballistic stretching how do you increase your range of motion?
Have a set warm up and stick to it regardless of the situation. So do the same thing whether it be a training session, club meet, nationals or Olympics. Suitable warm ups are given on the GPP DVD.
Therapy is ALWAYS a gain.
Heat rubs can help just don’t get it in your eyes…..or elsewhere!
Athletes should never be sore from training. In contact sports they will obviously get aches and pains but it should not be not from conditioning work.
Sauna’s can be useful but always take a cold towel for your head.
Charlie doesn’t like creatine due to ‘false’ strength gains and the possibility of injury from those. If you do use it then use a limited amount and use it both pre and post workout. No need for a loading phase.
If you use coffee don’t add sugar or artificial sweeteners. Ben (and most West Indian’s) not big coffee drinkers so got a real boost from a cup.
He questions the need for high GI intake post workout and believes it is better to keep insulin at flat level.
Tryptophan can be blocked by using Tyrosine as supplement or with a high protein diet. This slows down Ph change.
Good results can be achieved using arginine pre workout.
You should increase the efficiency of directional changes by sprinting in a straight line and playing the sport, e.g. tennis. Zig zag type drills are detrimental to performance due to stretching of the ankle region.
The focus for most sports should be on increasing speed reserve.
Develop core speed first and move out.
Speed reserve is a one-way street. Absolute speed affects Speed Endurance directly but SE doesn’t affect speed directly. If SE is moving up results will come. If SE is not improving then change things up.
With a raw beginner the best gains are achieved via general fitness, accelerations to 30m, med ball throw and accelerations on grass. Go for the whole second gains at the end rather than the partial seconds at the start.
Beginners don’t need individual programs like more advanced athletes. People would say to Charlie that X athlete should be on a more individualised program because they ran a fast time but they were only a beginner so can be not so personalised.
The number of periodization phases used annually varies on the intensities required. e.g. shotputter = 5, 100m = 3, marathon 1 or 2
Over time (after year 7) the volume MUST drop. This is both total volume and the number of max sessions. This is where many go wrong they either keep increasing or level it out, it must drop to continue progressing.
Whether an athlete follows a long to short or short to long program depends on how they can handle CNS stress. Those with a stronger CNS should go S-L. You will be able to tell from the runs and possibly how they physically handle it what they are best suited to.
If going S-L then the GPP phase may be shorter than that for L-S. The downside of L-S is that can be harder to develop speed later.
Year to year you can change from L-S to S-L but not in same year.
The number of races required to run at best.
400 2-3 (1 –200)
100 / 110 H 8
When tapering make last max session 10 days out that way if any injury is sustained you have a chance to address it. It also gives top athletes a chance for full recovery of CNS. The work from there will depend upon the athlete’s ability to handle CNS stress. A lesser athlete can go closer to the meet with last weight session. It is important during the taper to start moving away from stimulus too close to sprinting, that is why last session before meet is upper body.
400m runners can follow a similar GPP plan (as per GPP DVD) but the volume of tempo work should be higher, not a whole lot though. For example instead of doing just the long tempo session (2200m) they could do long and short one (1000) to get a total of session of 3200m. Although not a fan of continuous runs they could possibly even a 20 min run before a tempo session although NEVER on the road as it beats up legs too much. A better option may be simply to reduce rest periods of tempo session. Tempo doesn’t have to be an easy session just ensure it is not draining on the CNS and times are less than 75% of best on that surface so if running on grass that will be significantly above what it would be on a track.
If you have access to grass use it!
Pool sessions can be done in place of tempo but do 50% more work and 50% less recovery due to buoyancy. So if on grass you were doing 30 sec on 30 off then do 45 sec on 15 sec recovery.
Weights always follow track running never the other way round. That way you can adjust the weight volume (or even drop it) to manage the CNS.Sprinting moves weights up not vice versa.
The higher the level of the athlete the less need to change the weights program. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple. Some weight sessions were only 20 minutes long.
If you do weights immediately after running there is less need to warm up.
With higher level athletes be careful with testing maxes, for example a top level shot putter should never test 1RM as it is too high and potential for injury too great. Ben stopped progressing his squat poundages as the chance of injury was too great, he could squat 600lbs, did he really need to go higher? At some point the possibility of serious injury outweighs the need to keep adding weigh to the bar.
Do not do single leg plyos as the risk of injury is just too great, there are coaches who advocate that work and have had numerous achilles injuries as a result…but still they carry on with it. .
Don’t worry too much about strength discrepancies between legs.
Box squats present too much risk of injury, you are standing with a heavy weight on your back then sit down on a box, release the hips and try to get up…leave it to the powerlifters.
Can’t see any point in depth drops (sticking landing) then jumping over a hurdle, why not just do hops with as short a ground contact as possible?
No plyos for basketball players as they are already getting a high volume via practices and games.
Chains, bands, eccentrics etc will all increase weights but at what cost? Every change creates adaptation and adaptation creates trauma on the body often manifested as soreness, which stalls progress as athlete needs to recover.
Ensure the correct arm action is established before all else. The hands remain at 90 degrees and come to the body’s mid line at eye level and DOWN to the point of the hip. Practice in front of mirror to ensure the correct angle is maintained and arms are going down not back. The arms may straighten slightly at the bottom but this is due to the force exerted and should never be an intentional action. At the top make sure the arms don’t lose the 90 degree angle and come in too close, that way the shoulders stay down. With the shoulders down they can rotate which in turn enhances hip rotation. Stride length is greatest when the knee is at its farthest from the body. Hip rotation gives an extra inch and /2 per stride for nothing.
Hands open or closed? Not important so long as thumbs are up and hands relaxed.
When sprinting you should only ever be thinking about up and down, not pulling or pushing.
Get things right at slow speeds then only increase speed when the technique is correct.
Go with the characteristics of the track surface do not try and over power it.
Don’t time easy – fast – easy runs as the athlete may be tempted to ‘go for it’ from the start which is not the objective. Focus on the fast portion is working the arms, which will lead to increased hip height; it should be visible (refer to GPP DVD).
When the hips are high and running at top speed the hamstrings and quads are not in conflict and are working as one due to the force coming from the hip like a pendulum. This can only be achieved with adequate hip height and is called Lombard’s paradox.
With good starts the first few steps feel light. On set breathe in and hold. Focus on getting the lead hand out, forget about power just let it happen. The rest of start information is in Fundamentals 1 DVD. Med ball drills can be found in GPP DVD.
Charlie’s squad had the best starts in the country and didn’t own blocks. All work was done via drills and med ball work.
Drills and med ball work avoid paralysis by analysis in blocks.
When running the bend tilt your head down and to the left, eyes look at the line approx 5m ahead, all else remains the same. This helps hug the line. It is important to stay like that till you complete the bend then lift it back to normal position. You can practice by starting from 1/2 way through bend and build up.
I guess before I get on to the details of the seminar the thing that sticks out in my mind was that of Charlie the person. It’s not like I can really comment on his true personality after a two day seminar and a couple of words exchanged in person BUT he came across as a humble, open and quite generous person. It was quite impressive really and really highlighted what separates him and other successful coaches in different sports (or with very different coaching philosophies) from those who aren’t as successful. What appeared to be the key to me and many others who attended who I discussed this with was that he seemed to:
1) love what he did
2) cared immensely about his athletes
3) was willing to go that extra step
From learning and performing massage himself until he could pay for professionals to do it, to simply the way he spoke about his athletes, spoke to them and knew about his athletes – it was all testament to how he was a step above most coaches and willing to go that extra step for his athletes.
He came across as a pragmatic thinker – he was not too concerned with studies and science – merely with what works. When asked “why do you think your program works?” (I know a strange question from a strange man. I’m certain he was after a science based answer involving intensity, periodization and restoration) Charlie simply responded “because its been used produce multiple sub 9.8 runners world record holders and Olympic champions” actually answering the question “why he thinks the program works” perfectly rather than why the program works or how they program works. Maybe that was not a great example but Charlie seemed to see things for what they were, he was able cut through the shit and come up with brilliant yet in retrospect obvious solutions to problems. You know how sometimes you are struggling to work something out and then suddenly the answer is obvious and you can’t believe that you couldn’t work it out the first place? There were quite a few of those moments for people in the audience.
Okay on to the presentation – Charlie’s style was unstructured, a combination of theory and graphs demonstrating multiple various theories, interesting and comical anecdotes and answering questions from the audience which made it open, interactive, interesting and entertaining but also prone to being side-tracked which was both good and bad but I will get on to audience members later.
Through no fault of his own the screen was too small making it difficult to see any of the text for many people, the bar and slot machines which were located literally a couple of meters away were quite loud and annoying. Hearing “ching ching ching ching dododo do do followed by some loud Indian music” every couple of minutes when someone won some money pissed me off quite a bit. Anyway enough negativity neither Paul nor Charlie could possibly have predicted that the Rugby club would feck up the way they did.
Okay back to the seminar.
I’ll do the rest in point form to hopefully limit some rambling
1) Testing in Sports
On the first day of the seminar there was a newspaper article about how 3 players on the Australia’s Rugby Union team were sent home for not passing an endurance based test on the first day of training after the off-season. Charlie brought up several points and highlighted a test which he said would be very effective for identifying the best athletes in strength and power sports. “Have all of your athletes run a mile – the ones who come last will be your best, most powerful athletes” .
One of the players sent home from training camp because he was out of shape
Charlie with the aid of some player history from one of the ACT Brumbies S+C coaches pointed out that
– testing on the first day of training after several weeks off is stupid because local muscular issues ie cramping and tightness etc will limit performance far more than true conditioning
– a 5 week off-season is not enough to lose a significant amount of conditioning – the conditioning was built up and maintained for 9 or so months – you simply cant lose that much in one month.
– One of the guys sent home for failing the test failed the test when he was selected for the team at the end of the season last year yet went on to tour successfully representing Australia – I want to reiterate that point – at the end of the season when he clearly showed that he was fit enough to play his position by outplaying everyone else in the country in his position he could not pass the same test.
– Less elite players are more suited to the test because they are not as explosive/powerful and more suited to an endurance based test
So finally Charlie summarized it by saying “you’ve got a guy that was the best in the country at his position who couldn’t pass a test at the end of a long season when his in game conditioning was the best it will ever be, getting sent home for failing a test that he couldn’t pass when his game conditioning was at its best… What do you think should get sent home? The test or the player?”
This really highlighted to everyone that testing in sports should be considered very carefully. He also said “if coming back into camp the first day after the off season in better condition than you finished the season is that important to you then why bother with an off season?” basically illustrating that players need that time to rest and recovery improve strength and speed etc some detraining of conditioning is inevitable but necessary and not much detraining is even possible in the 5 or so weeks that international players get.
2) Training Intensities
Train fast or slow NOTHING in between
Charlie’s athletes train > or = 90% max speed/intensity 35% of the time and < or = 75% max speed/intensity 65% of the time. They never train in the 75-90% zone (for track work – weights work is different)
Medium intensity training interferes with and distracts from high intensity training
The work at less than 75% intensity/speed is “chicken soup work”. Tempo runs and some pool work is ideal but as long as it’s not stupid it doesn’t matter too much.
3) Quality and Volume of training
Less is more (almost always)
It’s better to under-train than over-train
4) Omega Wave
Charlie was impressed by the technology and felt that it was a good piece of equipment. He felt it was noninvasive, quick and easy and gave good results. He mentioned using it to determine your own baselines first during an array of different circumstances (I’m guessing some would include – highly productive training, less productive training, overtraining or high fatigue training, and during peaking etc). Then the next time around you can use it to monitor and continually reassess where you are at. He warned against using the baselines that are preset in the machine. He said that basically he doesn’t care what some data on some 10.4 runners says as it has nothing to do with his 9.8 elite sprinter or a 11.5 woman or weekend warrior etc.
5) Ben Johnson
Weighed 173 lbs
Looks heavier doesn’t he? Amazing what low body fat will do!
Bench pressed 450 x 2 on a miss-load. It was supposed to be 365 x 2 but they were not used to fancy Olympic weight plates
6) Weighted Vests
Good for drills only not for sprinting
If you are tight DON’T stretch do other warm ups and test flexibility intermittently to see where you are at but don’t actively stretch. Stretching when you are too tight is not good.
Pre-workout static stretching, even of the hamstrings is not the end of the world.
“It was hard to deny knowing Marion Jones when us performing this stretch was on the back page of the news paper”
Short to long is for people with “stronger” nervous systems – who can handle more frequent NS stimulation and stress
Long to short is for people with “weaker” nervous systems who can not handle frequent NS stimulation and stress
I have a question on this which I will ask later.
9) Flo Jo
Was a freak who was immune to deceleration. She could literally hold top speed from the point of reaching it throughout the remainder of the 100m. Charlie feels that this is partly because her technique was nearly perfect.
10) Weights for kids
Kids can/should start weights at about 16 years of age. It’s not compulsory by any means though. Med ball throws will go a long way to getting the job done. In fact Charlie’s athletes didn’t use weights until much later as they simply did not have access and made do with med balls.
11) General vs Specific weight training
Weight training is general not specific.
12) Dynamic effort training
DE is not useful to running athletes. A weight training exercise may move at 0.5 metres per second. Increasing that from 0.5m/s to 0.75m/s or 1 m/s by doing DE work is adding nothing considering during running the entire body is moving 10m/s and the legs are cycling at 5 times during that second generating huge forces something like 35000lbs per foot on each step. He had some exact data on foot strike force and limb speed approaching ground contact but I didn’t write it down unfortunately.
Is good shit apparently – increases the rate of recovery from muscle tears. It needs to be injected under ultrasound guidance though.
One of the professional AFL teams S+C coaches new about it but said that Australian doctors won’t go near it though.
I’ve never heard of it and will need to look this up.
Good – didn’t really go into detail but felt it was potentially good due to its wave form.
15) Lombards Paradox
I have no idea what this is, it’s a note for me to look it up.
16) Squat style
Half squats are okay, just need to go deep enough to feel hamstring involvement other than that it doesn’t really matter. In fact the exercise selection probably doesn’t too much at all. Ben couldn’t clean very well so he just did not do them.
17) Weight training
Weights really are just assistance and that’s it. No need to change exercises up and in fact most weight training sessions were ONLY 15-20 minutes. I was quite surprised by this given how massive some of the athletes weights were.
17) Weight Belts
His athletes always used them. He didn’t know or care if he did or didn’t need to use them, he just did.
1Cool Neural Priming/Facilitation etc
Neural priming lasts days in high level athletes NOT minutes. Therefore complex training and wave loading has limited value in high level athletes.
19) What to train
Train to your strengths not weaknesses
20) State of Strength and Conditioning
Most NFL S+C coaches are good and the RAMS have an excellent program.
This was interesting considering how much you read on the net about what idiots pro strength and conditioning coaches are.
Musashi products are good. Arginine is a good supplement
22) When to stop training
When asked what to look for to tell when to end a session and back off Charlie responded “I can’t really ‘look’ for anything, a half inch drop in the hips is a lot but imperceptible to the eye. I listen, when the foot steps become louder I will stop the session.”
“It’s also important to talk with the athletes, ask them how they are feeling, how much more they can do. If someone is going through a stressful or emotional period I may cut back, change a speed session to a tempo session or have them not train at all.”
Positive reinforcement is MASSIVE. DO NOT put an athlete in a race they will do poorly in. Pick your events and opponents carefully to ensure a good experience. Charlie mentioned how it was crucial that athletes meet challenges that they can overcome and are rewarded.
24) Interesting fact
Ben would train alone for speed sessions because if others trained with him they either became demoralized or injured.
Sports training should not be long to short or short to long it should be short to short.
26) Reverse Hypers and hypers
Charlie is a big fan of reverse hypers and hypers. They can be done with or without resistance. He appears to use them as an activation exercise as much as anything. Manual resistance ie him pushing on the athletes foot was enough to get the job done for even his strongest athletes, it can also be done before sprinting and you should feel the exercise – which is why I thought he was using it as an activation exercise. He didn’t seem that much a fan of other activation work – he put it in the chicken soup category of things.
27) Athlete Development
The best 100m runner will not be a good 100m runner when they are young. For a child there is minimal time to top speed and the vast majority of the race is speed endurance. A good 100m runner as a child likely has shitty top speed but good speed endurance and will be a good 800m runner (or something like that I forget what he said) when they are older. 30 metres for a child is like 100m for an adult.
Early in a career both volume and intensity will increase. Within years it will be impossible for volume to continue to increase for intensity to improve and must plateau. In the later stages of a career volume will have to decrease to ensure that improvements in intensity can be made or even maintained.
The percentage of high intensity work must decrease with time also (rather than just volume as a whole) as young athletes are incapable of overloading their NS because they can not reach the output levels. A much greater % of work as a youngster can be high intensity in nature without burning out.
2Cool Athlete development again
Take whole seconds where you can get them ie. a young guy is better off worrying about speed endurance early on. No point perfecting his first 40metres, he may gain 2 tenths of a second there if he can cut his 200 time by a second just by getting better at running 200m. Later though, you will need to train and extend the alactic threshold which is covered in the next point.
I have a question about this later too…
29) Enhancing alactic threshold will have huge effects on performance
If you can increase the time to lactic threshold by even a second the effect on 100m performance is huge. It means that you have 1 extra second speeding up and 1 less second slowing down. It means 65 metres accelerating and 35 decelerating rather than 55 and 45 – which is massive.
30) Hill runs
Are great. They put you in a position of optimal acceleration that you may not be able either achieve or maintain. They teach proper acceleration technique and trains acceleration specific strength. He is not a fan of running up sand dunes though – which is a great Australian tradition for some reason.
31) Medicine Ball throws
32) Training adaptations
Training at one level of speed or ability does very little to prepare you for a higher level. Running 10.5 a million times is great but you will still be fecked the first time you run 10.3. An example was during the field session where Charlie worked with some young athletes. He worked a few things out on their start which freed them up to run faster. One of the guys in particular was exhausted the next day despite not really doing much during the training. Charlie pointed out that although the volume wasn’t that high the guy just wasn’t used to running as fast as he was and consequently was more drained than he would normally be for that given volume and effort. The guy was a 10.6 runner so he wasn’t holly shit fast but he wasn’t exactly slow either.
33) Start technique – the human body the ultimate machine
Charlie mentioned he doesn’t really work much on start technique. He has them do other drills which help prepare for the start but doesn’t actually spend much time at all teaching how to set up blocks etc. One of the young athletes during the field sessions had a terrible start. Charlie fixed it in a matter of minutes by simply getting him to lie down face down on the ground and have him get up and run as fast as he could on a command. Funnily enough he got off the ground and into an excellent start technique the first time he tried. After a few of them and a couple of med ball throws I think he had the athlete get in the blocks and have a go. His form was remarkably better – even I could see it…
He also doesn’t focus too much on commands for other parts of the sprint.
He says that telling an athlete how many steps to take when and where during each 10 metre segment is bullshit and pure marketing hype. The reason for which is in the next point.
34) Stop thinking
The more you think the slower you act. Fore-brain is slow and involves thinking hind brain is fast and involves natural movement and reactions. Why move something from hind-brain to fore-brain? It just slows things down and makes movement less efficient.
35) Interference – priming – general vs specific training
Medium intensity training interferes with high intensity adaptations as was said before. Different high intensity techniques, however, have different effects ie. sprinting, weights and plyometrics are all high intensity exercises but naturally have different effects. Plyometrics are more similar in nature to sprinting than weight training is. If you only have enough energy to do 2 of the three then drop the plyos (Charlie has nothing against plyos and uses them this is just an example he used). The effects of plyos are already largely covered in the sprints so there is no point doubling up on those adaptations and neglecting those from strength training. This hits home that the specific training should be entirely specific and the general training should general. No point keeping everything as similar as possible to the event.
Thinking along the same lines can be used to identify how to prime for an event. Upper body weight training is high intensity but also very different too sprinting which is a predominantly lower body exercise which is explosive in nature. Upper body weightlifting can be used to generate a neural stimulus to prime the NS for the lower body sprinting in the next couple of days. The idea is that you want something which is still high intensity but which will not cause excessive fatigue or risk injury in that area and therefore won’t detract from the goal task. So for swimming you could use lower body plyometrics to prime as swimming is an upper body strength type event.
36) Audience members
It was great to see so many like minded people, some were S+C for professional football clubs etc a lot of T+F athletes. It was great to meet some of them.
Some wanker kept asking questions every 5 minutes. Being extremely inquisitive myself it wouldn’t have bothered me except the questions were
“How would you set up a speed session for say a 15 year old 400m female runner??”
“How would you set up a tempo session for say a 15 year old 400m female runner?”
“How would you set up a recovery session for say a 15 year old 400m female runner?”
“Is EMS useful for a 15 year old female 400m runner? And if so how would you theoretically do it?”
“What kind of volumes and intensities would you recommend for say a 15 year old female 400m runner”
Dude should have just asked “Charlie can you please do my job for me?”
The same dude told Charlie that “stepping over” was not necessary and that not stepping over and keeping the foot directly under the knee when brining the foot back from toe off to hip flexion was the quickest and best way to go. Despite it being fecking stupid he insisted on showing us all how it was done – only when he did it he had the most obvious stepping over technique – then refused to believe us when every single audience member yelled out that he was in fact stepping over.
All in all I really enjoyed it. The only things that I really would have wished be different are that the Rugby Club would have been a bit better set up and some of the people in the audience wouldn’t have been so annoying.