Charlie Francis, the world-renowned sprint coach passed away this past week from Mantle Cell Lymphoma. Charlie’s concepts were and still are a huge influence on the programming of my athlete’s training. He has given the world of track and field, strength and conditioning, and anything related to sports performance a great deal.
The background on Charlie Francis, for those who may be unfamiliar, is he was Ben Johnson’s sprint coach. He was the coach who was busted when Ben Johnson was caught doping in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There is much speculation as to how Ben tested positive and Charlie even wrote a book on the topic called Speed Trap.
Over the course of almost a decade of programming training I have changed many things and several in part due to CF. I use to be a full-on advocate of four-day training weeks utilizing an upper / lower split, with sprint days mixed in on Monday’s and Thursdays, much like the majority of college football programs in the summer use. Charlie was the initial influence on me to look into a three-day training split. Since that time I have been influenced by several other sources as well as the body’s own physiology to fully understand the benefits of the three-day split that I utilize, but it all began in chatting with Charlie on his forum.
He has always been the source for me when it came to speed training. There is relatively little information out there on the topic of speed development; or good information for that matter. Charlie was a huge advocate of Eastern Bloc training, and understood the drawbacks of Western methodologies.
A few of Charlie’s concepts that have stuck with me:
Periodization – Vertical Integration
One of the more effective methods of periodizing all facets of training. Each element is present in differing volumes throughout the year. They are never removed from the training only increased or decreased according to the time of year, season, etc. This is one of the large drawbacks to Western Periodization.
He was one of the first coaches to be an advocate of recovery methods. The off days for his athlete’s training were always recovery based. This is where tempo runs come into play. Tempo runs are training of submaximal intensity designed to aid in recovery of the body after a high intensity training day. These runs are always done at 75% or less intensity. They are great for focusing on the technical aspect of sprinting. Charlie advocated them for their general conditioning effect, and the ability to increase capillarization. By increasing capillarization athletes could stay warmer, longer during rest periods between training runs or at competitions.
He was also huge on soft tissue work. They utilized massage extensively with the sprinters he trained. He perfected that art as it relates to sports performance in my opinion. They had different variations of massage for the differing needs of the athlete, whether it be stimulatory, recovery based, or for actual soft tissue manipulation.
Central Nervous System
Possibly the biggest influence to me was CF’s knowledge and importance of the CNS on training and performance. He never trained the central nervous system on back to back days. Speed was developed by training at 95%+ effort and being rested. He believed in a high / lo concept of training. Athletes would train high intensity on day 1, then low intensity / recovery on day 2. It was an every other day concept or even several days of rest; never back to back days of high level training.
The idea that speed work isn’t 10×100 can be attributed to Charlie. Like I said earlier, there isn’t much information on the topic of maximal speed development. Speed is developed by being rested and sprinting at 95%+ speed / effort. He didn’t believe in doing anything in the 75%-95% zone of intensity when it came to sprinting. Runs in this zone were too fast to aid in recovery and too slow to develop speed.
His concepts on speed training and the overall development of the athlete were second to none. These few concepts really don’t do him justice as I could go on and on about his training philosophy.
Although he will always be remembered for the drug scandal that rocked the Olympics, he will forever impact the future of sports performance training.