French training methods

French training methods

I open an other topic from the Zhanna Block training topic in order to make things clearer.
We were talking about French training methods and especially Piasenta’s training. Since mid’70s, he has coached nearly all top French hurdlers from their childhood or at one point of their career (Michelle Chardonnet, Monique, Anne Piquereau, Patricia Girard, Cécile Cinélu, Linda Ferga, Guy Drut, Stéphane Caristan, Philippe Tourret, Dan Philibert) and some sprinters (Marie-José Pérec, Christine Arron, Frédérique Bangué, Muriel Hurtis, Stéphane Cali…) who all won international laurels.

Jacques Piasenta is a famous coach in France, but doesn’t tell much about his secret methods. He has stopped coaching since 2001 by the way. He coached Marie-José Pérec for 1991, 1992 and 1993 seasons, and Christine Arron from 1993 to Sydney Olympics. Arron left him as he remained unable to improve her start, and she wanted to change her life after Sydney (she had a flue with her roommate Muriel Hurtis and both had disastrous results…). Arron had bad results with John Smith so she came back to France to work with Muriel Hurtis with Guy Ontanon (one of Piasenta’s friends).

He puts the emphasis on quality work, make biomechanical analysis from his own high speed camera films, create machines for muscles and technique development …

He didn’t gave much details about Arron’s training, but i have some training tips about Pérec for 1991 season for example, the year she ran 10.96 / 22.26 / 49.13 and World 400m title.

Pérec, 22 yo, started to work with Piasenta in November 1990, she was a 11.34 (88 ), 22.36 (89) and 50.84 (90) performer. She was known to train very sparingly (2 or 3 times a week), often injured with a difficult temper and enormous talent. During 1990 season, she was injured most of the year and still managed a bronze medal at Euro Champs in Split in a French record time. Someone from the French federation convinced Piasenta to coach her, he was cautious knowing the capricious gazelle.
Piasenta’s group was then composed of hurdlers: Monique Éwange-Épée (100mH European champion), Anne Piquereau (100mH World Champs finalist), Philippe Tourret (13.28 @ 110mH) and Dan Philibert (110mH finalist in Tokyo).
The weekly schedule for everyone was:
Monday - footing (20 min, fast cadence) + hills (10-30%) + muscles-development exercises (always specific to sprinting)
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - technical work (gesture corrections)
Thursday - same as Monday, but different exercises.
Friday - rest
Saturday - technical work (specific to the race structure).
Sunday morning - “organic” resistance (hills and downhills on a 4-5km park at various speeds by fractions 200, to 400m).
During winter, emphasis on muscle development, cardio-vascular work and short sprints 20-40m to work speed.
Only 5 training cession of 2h30-3h each in order to let the athlete study or work and build a “life” outside track. Quality rather than quantity.
Pérec had a meniscus surgery on 19 December 1990. Then she spent 20 days in West Indies, and did jogging only. Most of the technical changes was to correct her stride, to lengthen it from 2m30 to 2m50 (see photo attachment).
Her weight was about 60 kg (132 lbs) for a 1.80m height, and had no special diet during the year, as Piasenta considered that’s not important for sprinting. He states that anyway, world-class athletes have an extraordinary metabolism (Pérec eats 2 chocolate tablets a day…). There was no medical care like blood tests or lactate or those sort of things (because published studies are for only national level athletes, who knows if world class athletes’ body react the same way…), but in case of minor injury, the athletes had the opportunity to meet Pr. Saillant, one of some important French doctors. She did some volume endurance like 3x800, 400, 600, “organic” work of about 2km at various speed in a park with hills and down hills, technique work and specific muscles development. In Piasenta’s methods, the work is essentially specific for sprinting, the cardiovascular system is worked to be able to support the training cessions, and all muscles directly linked with sprinting are developed in order to avoid over-weight (a sprinter is like a Formula 1 car, very light but high power, and every peace of the machine is designed for speed, the rest is over-weight…). Pérec had started lifting for the first time in her life during that winter, in early April she was proud to announced she was able to lift 85kg 1/4 squat (about 187 lbs…). Muscles development is work with only 2 power-lifting exercises: ¼ squat (bar on collarbone only (to prevent spine and sciatic problems) and snatch. No bench because it’s not linked with sprinting technique. Leg and feet power is worked with Polish bench, 45° leg press, and bounding exercises, if no hamstring problems. Upper body is worked with gymnastic exercises, heavy vests and climbing rope. Emphasis on abdominal and dorsal muscles in order to keep energy in the right direction while running, and not dispersion on arms and legs (all in all, Piasenta has 163 different training movements in his notebook…).
In the mean time Pérec had English lessons paid by her sponsor…; She skip indoor season because wasn’t ready to run fast yet.
On 28 April, she had her first competition: she ran 11.41 and 11.45 for 100m, with +3.6 and 3.7 m/s wind. The times are poor but it’s because she had to run it with technical orders: fast first 30m, slow 40m and fast 30m.
In May, Piasenta announced that he planned 11sec, 22.10 and 49-49.5 for Pérec in a near future.
On 15 May, Pérec injured herself in an airport (a cart on a calf…). She was limping for some days, but on 18 May, she won a 200m in 22.60. Pérec wasn’t aware about the quality of this time, had no idea if it was good or not.
On 25 May, she had a test in practice: 500m 1:12.0 and 15min later 57.8. That’s a specific endurance test for 400m, which was useful through the season.
On 01 June, at the European Clubs Cup, she had to run 3 races (400, 4x100 and 4x400) between 5:40 PM and 8:50 PM, that made Piasenta furious. She ran the 400 in a French Record in 50.53 on lane 5, ahead Sally Gunnell 51.11 and Sandra Myers 51.50.
On 15 June, she had her first comps against hard opposition in Dijon: first beats Krabbe 11.28 vs 11.37 against -3.20m/s wind, with an outstanding finish (Krabbe led with some 20m to go!). Second, Pérec beats Grit Breuer 22.26 (French record) vs. 22.57.
Pérec didn’t trained at all on 19-20-21 June because of a knee problem (the one there wasn’t surgery). Few days later it was still hurting her, she did tests worth 52-52.5 at training. In late June, she had other tests worth 51-52. Without that injury, she could have been able to do 21.9-22.0 and 48.5-49.0 according to her coach. She had to reverse her feet on the starting-blocks due to her injured knee.
On 29 June, she wasn’t sure to compete at the European Cup in Franckfurt, but still started the race after nearly 15 days out of training. She ran 49.32 winning from Grit Breuer 49.87, and caused a big surprise. She missed her start on lane 8(reaction time 0.336 vs. Breuer 0.183) and ran without seeing her oponents. Her official split times were 12.43, 23.92, 35.93.
At that time, she had food problems has she was unable to eat during competition period, so it was hard for her to recover after her races (hypoglycaemia).
2 weeks later, she did a specific speed maintenance test: 16.1-16.2 for 150m and 9.1 for 80m, start position like Borzov with one hand on the soil (start give with a clap, manual time from the clap, not from the foot movement).
On 17 July, she had a competition in Nice, but nearly miss that meet as she had vomit that day. Her split times were 23.9, 36.6 for a 49.76 convincing win (next Fatima Yusuf 50.96).
On 27 July, they choose to run the 100m at the National in Dijon to work her speed, and because running 3 x 200m rounds was too much for her knee problems (bend and distance). She won very easily her heats 11.30 and 11.37, and ran in final against French record holder Laurence Bily. Bily had the best start on lane 5, but Pérec on lane 4 had a better acceleration, came at Bily’s level at half-way and won the race in 10.96 vs. 11.32 (wind +1.2), new NR…
Piasenta estimated that she was in a 21.80 200m form that day.
She had a small injury at one thigh, but it wasn’t a really problem.
Pérec did a small training, just to keep her shape. She did on 30 July 1x100m in 13sec and 3x500m in 1:20 with fast and slow rhythms.
On 04 August, she did speed tests with electric timing: 9.19 for 80m, 3.02 for 20m (personal best) and 23.02 for 200m.
She didn’t ran Monaco and Zürich meetings because of her thigh.
the following week, she did after a quite hard training cession a 600m test in 1:29. On other day, she did the specific 400m endurance test: 500m in 1:09.5 and 15 min later 400m in 54.6.
Then World Championships in Tokyo.
Sunday 18 August: travel to Tokyo.
Monday 19: nothing (shopping…)
Tuesday 20: footing, stretching
Wednesday 21: footing, stretching
Thursday 22: specific 400m cession planed for a 50.5-51.00 rhythm.
Friday 23: nothing.
Saturday 24: heats lane 5 1st in 51.00 (official splits 24.17, 36.71)
Sunday 25: quarter final lane 5 1st 50.61 (23.30, 36.02)
Monday 26: semi final lane 4 1st 49.94 (23.23, 35.46)
The night between semi and final, Pérec asked at midnight o’clock a massage to Piasenta. He went to the bathroom to clean his hands and discovered that she had vomit several chocolate tablets…; In Tokyo, Pérec had nearly stop to eat and her weight was only 54kg instead of 60.
Tuesday 27: final lane 4 WORLD CHAMPION 49.13 (22.61, 35.00), ahead Breuer 49.42, Myers 49.78 and Bryzgina 49.85… she needed a long time to recover due to hypoglycaemia.
Saturday 31: 4x100m heats 43.05 bad exchanges.
Sunday 01 September: 4x100m final 43.34, very bad exchanges, Pérec official anchor leg 10.44.
After Tokyo, she was nearly off training, she competed in Bruxelles meeting on 13 September against Ottey, Torrence and Privalova. Her mind and shape was elsewhere after her World title and stopped her effort after the bend and finished 7th in walking (23.98). Ottey won in 21.64…

Hope that helps to understand Piasenta’s coaching methods.

The picture shows the correction on Pérec’s stride from 1991 (comparison between pelvis and cycle of her foot at maximum speed during a 100m in 1988 and in 1991.), from Piasenta’s book “Apprendre à Observer” (INSEP).

Pierrejean, what exactly is meant by footing?

I thought “footing” was an English word. Apparently it’s only used in French.

The word for it is “jogging”, and Piasenta think that a short (20 min is enough) and fast (or at various speeds) jogging is more efficient for sprinters than a long and slow jogging.

Could you please elaborate on the “technical gesturing” that Perec used? Charlie do you have any info on this component? Thanks


This is a very difficult issue to explain here…

“Technical gesturing” includes body position in starting blocks to body position on the finish line…

Piasenta has described 18 adjustments for starting blocks and around 45 adjustments during a stride cycle from left to right foot ground contact while running (9 references x 5 leg positions each)…

In 1991, Piasenta worked to make Pérec’s stride longer and her action on soil more efficient.
He used his cameras to film her races at practice and competition in order to check parameters they had to adjust.
At training, muscles development was essentially specific to sprint as i said, so attention was on the search of the “perfect” technical movement while lifting, which will be linked with the movement while running.
Pérec worked on Piasenta’s patented machines (impossible to describe here) to work specific gesture and force.

The result of this work is shown on the picture i sent in my previous post, with comparison between 1988 (the year Pérec reached international level) and 1991.

I can give you details about her “technical gesturing” for a precise point of her technique only! :o

My understanding of footing was that it included drills for shortening ground contact etc. is this correct?

  1. what is polish bench?

  2. what day did the volume endurance fall on? (ie the 3x800m etc)

Originally posted by Charlie Francis
My understanding of footing was that it included drills for shortening ground contact etc. is this correct?

Actually here the aim of footing is to jogg during around 20 min at various cadences on different soils (grass, ground, asphalt, etc.) with hills and downhills in order to warm-up before muscles-development exercises, and work general endurance abilities to support training cession during the season. This global endurance makes short sprinters able to have relativeley fast times at 500m or 800m; incidently, in Piasenta’s group , Stéphane Cali and Patricia Girard who were the best at 60m, were able to produce the fastest times too at 500-800m, proving that those long distances are not linked with speed endurance. Those times are not important, they are just a result of all the work done, not a proof of speed endurance.

(danger mouse: the volume endurance fell on Sunday morning…)

Also, running in different grounds is good to develop feet actions.

The work of feet actions was built to develop those abilities:

  • foot resistance during flexion, bending strength during ground contact
  • quick traction of ankle during impulse.

BUT, Piasenta noticed that the athletes who have the best feet actions (smaller GCT) had a small flexion amplitude and a high traction of ankle… So the key was to find a compromise between ankle suppleness and tonicity.
Analysis were made to evaluate Groud Contact times and ground / foot / ankle / tibia angles. The feet shall be on the same axis on the ground, and when feet are “opened” on the ground, the problem is a lack of adductor strength or simply a morphological characteristic.
For Pérec, it was the opposite, she uses to walk with the feet turned to the inside.
Piasenta used also the sound made at each step to evaluate feet action, and he states that the bests doesn’t make sounds while running.

For specific feet action work, Piasenta used “Polish bank” with several exercises (see picture), snatch with a precise technique, low hurdles exercises with weighted vests, depth jumps (Piasenta thinks that only 20-30 cm high is more efficient than 100 or 120cm, and it prevents Achilles injuries, from biomechanical analysis), etc.

In order to continue this topic, i give the last specific 400m training cession that Marie-José Pérec did just before taking the plane to Tokyo. It was built to run distances close to a 12.5sec per 100m speed, the tempo required for a 400m in 50sec.
It was only her 22nd specific 400 cession since her track training debut in March, because of injury problems Pérec had. She did her 23rd 400 cession few days later, in Tokyo.

It went like this:
10:00 AM

  • Footing
  • stretching
  • skip exercises with low hurdles and short intervals, starting-block technique with advice to lift the knee to the inside axis like Florence Griffith-Joyner, that will force the feet to be on the race axis at touch-down, in order to not lose ground at each step.
    11:00 AM
  • 2x100m easy with a flexible stride.
  • 1x100m bend in 12sec in order to find her race rythm.
  • 1x400m with various speeds: 0-200m in 25sec, 200-300m jog, 300-400m in 12sec
  • 20min rest
  • 1x800m with various speeds: 0-250m in 31.5sec (worth 100m in 12.5), 250-450m jog, 450-600m in 18.8sec (worth 100m in 12.5sec), 600-700m jog, 700-800m in 12.5sec. Pérec ran just a little slower than the required split times. She was also supposed to walk and not sit-dwon after that race, but she fell few meters away and vomit water, as she had been unable to eat her breakfast again.
    -30min rest
    12:30 AM
    She was recovering well…
  • 500m with various speeds: 150m in 19.1 + 200m jog + 150m in 19.4.

I want your comments on this, and some suggestions about specific 400m cessions!

A few thoughts about the material here.
Re Footing: The athletes with the fastest 500 to 800 times were being judges against the other members of the group, and this is, in no way, a reflection of Special Endurance abilities.
Re Ankle movement: The reduction in flexion is, in large measure, a reflexion of hip height and the time available to begin the foot’s travel DOWNWARDS prior to foot strike (creating higher forces to resist flexion). Hip height is a complex interaction of factors that are not limited to the ankle.


could you post some examples of foot work with the polish bank.

thank you

Originally posted by Charlie Francis
Hip height is a complex interaction of factors that are not limited to the ankle.

It seems like hip height comes up in every equation that deals with sprinting. Charlie, can you start us off with what you have discovered to be the major factors that influence hip height directly an indirectly? I think most coaches and athletes here would gain alot if we could solve that “complex interaction of factors” you mentioned.

The most obvious answer to the question of hip height is power. Leaving that as a given, there are a series of technical issues which can affect hip height as well.
Common Faults:
1: The knee rises to a point higher than the hip, causing:
A: the hip to drop in reaction, lowering the CG.
B: the knee to pass the point of maximum distance ahead of the torso, and begin travelling through an arc back towards the torso, leading to the “buckling” and movement forward of the support knee, reducing backward thrust and lowering the CG still further.
2: Quad tightness prevents the free leg from folding up tightly underneath the torso on the way forward, causing it to swing through a large arc, which, in turn, causes additional stress on the hip flexors, a hyperlordotic back position, and an inability to achieve full extension of the support leg.
3: The attempt to maintain dorsiflexion throughout the entire stride cycle (yes, some people recommend this!), causing the loss of propulsion forward and upward that would result from the full extension of the foot. This action also prevents full extension at the suport knee.
1: The optimal effective knee height is exactly the point of maximum distance away from the torso. This height allows full extension of the support leg and allows the maximum height/time to accelerate the foot downwards for the next foot contact, to ensure the application of all available force.
2: Relaxation, with the shoulders down and aligned with the ears (seen side-on)allows for the natural flow of the stride through its complete range.
3: Proper arm action, with the elbows at approximately 90 degrees with the hands pulling DOWN from approximately face height to the hip or slightly behind.
4: Flexibility and good muscle tone for maximum performance.

Thank you.

Originally posted by primo
could you post some examples of foot work with the polish bank.
thank you

Actually, the right translation shall be “Polish bench”, sorry!
Polish benches can have different shapes, and you can make hundreths exercises with them.
Those exercises are well described in Piasenta’s books, and also in Tadeusz Starzynski’s EXCELLENT book “Le Triple-Saut” (Collection Sport + enseignement, Éditions Vigot, 1987).

Polish Triple Jumpers used this bank during strength development training, after warm-up and before Plyo/lift exercises.
They usually did 3x80 bounds on the bank, using body weight, weight vests (4 to 8kg) or barbels on shoulders (30 to 40% of body weight). After the cession, athletes did rotating movements of the feet in salt water.
The main aims of those exercises are to:

  • prevent injuries
  • eliminate cramps problems
  • enhance ankle and knee flexibility, strength and resistance
  • enhance active and passive stabilization, sense of balance.

I draw for you different shapes for the Polish bench. Using hollows and bumps, you can do:

  • bounds at a snale place with joind ankles or with a small space
  • bounds from left to right or right to left
  • bounds from front to back or back to front
  • 1/4 or 1/2 turns
    Don’t push with your legs/thighs, but with your feet and ankles, so in most of bounds, the legs are straight. From this, using the different shapes, you can design tons of different bounds. Let your imagination work!

Pierrjean You said
“No bench because it’s not linked with sprinting technique”

Charlie you are a big beliver in Bench what do you say to this in the first post on this tread,? :clap:

I’m not Charlie, but look at this:

I don’t want to speak for pierrejean but I think he is giving the methods of the french coach, not giving his personal views on how to train.

Remember that, when discussing different successful training programs, there is no right or wrong. This is a history lesson- not a debate. Any change to a successful program carries with it the risk of introducing undesireable side effects.

Exactly, Pete.

For Piasenta, it’s useless to have big arms and pectoral muscles for sprinting. The upper body is work of course, but if you look at Pérec or Arron’s arms, they weren’t big at all. Also, bench movement is found nowhere in the sprint technique structure. Piasenta uses lifts which technique is linked with sprinting. He sees corelation in squats and snatch (although those exercises are modified from the traditional way), but not in bench.

Charlie is true, not a single way to train.
The main point is that every sector of a same training are coherent.

In my months of lurking here it seemed sad that this thread died prematurely.

A few questions for you Pierrejean:

  • The weekly schedule that you gave is obviously GPP. What would next phase of training look like? How would Piasenta transition to the type of training that Perec did prior to WC’s?
  • Since all of the athletes did the same type of training in GPP, when did Piasenta seperate his athletes into more specific event groups?
  • What were the training volumes like during the various periods? How much extensive tempo/aerobic type work did Piasenta keep in Perec’s program throughout here season.?