Stephen Francis - interview/training

Stephen Francis

An i n t e r v i e w Andrew Maclennan (Sports Conditioning Consultant, Get Fast and Strong Limited)

Recently at the Sydney International Track and Field meet, coaches and athletes had the opportunity to listen to and ask questions of Stephen Francis, Jamaican coach. Francis is the controversial coach of Asafa Powell, who was this time last year known as the ‘world’s fastest man’. Francis is also the coach of 100m hurdles gold medallist Melaine Walker. Shelly-Ann Fraser’s gold in 100 metres, Shericka Williams’ silver in the 400 metres and Sherone Simpson’s silver in the Women’s 100m. Other athletes whose careers he has influenced include Michael Frater. Ainsley Waugh. Winston Smith. Kenneth Sylvester, Oral Thompson, Ryan James and Olympic high jump silver medallist Germaine Mason (who competes for Great Britain). Francis works on technical skills, physical conditioning and, if this does not bring about improvement, “we move to the mental”. He adds: "Sometimes, we need to send the athlete to a sports psychiatrist so that he or she can visualise and achieve the calm (state of mind) needed to win a race. "

A coach who attended from New Zealand was very willing to share his notes with all coaches. Modern Athlete and Coach would like to thank Andrew f\4actennan for agreeing to share the knowledge from a very interesting character. Some very interesting information. Here is Andrew’s report of what was asked from the floor and answered by Stephen Francis (SF).,.

Q. Do your hurdlers do sprints too?

•,f. Yes, in the late part of the preparation period, as well as the early part of the competition period. They will maybe 'lo two 4O0’s and two lOO’s then its hurdles from then on, he women’s hurdles is such a sprint influenced event it is very important for females to be able to sprint fast, with high frequency especially as they are all doing three strides in between, so whoever does those fastest will do well.

Q, Why do you have your athletes running the 400m early on in their competitive program?

…F. Most of the training done in Jamaica is done on a grass track in flats on a 370m track (and because the high school season goes from Jan 1 until late March and the elite athletes want to compete in these meets to keep the sport going well) it is easiest for the sprinters to start their competitive program by running a 400m, There is less shock on the body and is not a long way away from the speed they have been running in training (38s 300m for 1 OGm sprinters, 1 min 31 s for 600m for 400m athietes),

Q, When do your athletes start training on the track?

SF, usually about March 1 on a Mondo surtace. They have to be able to start racing fast then as most of them need to compete in Penn Relays to make them some dollars or keep their sponsors happy. They don’t train all the time on Mondo though: they keep training on grass too.

0. What does your General Program Plan look like; take us through a weekly set up?

SR Well, firstly, it’s a 5am start, I do this to control the night time activities of my athletes. If they have to get up early for training then they don’t want to be in bed too late…any way, we do 7 day cycles, 3 weeks hard and 1 week easy. The 4th week is no reps but we do testing here instead. So a typical week looks like:

Mon 5am
Hill sprints to 40m
Ab work
Mon 3pni

Tues 5am
Long speed endurance
400’s, 35O’s or 3OO’s
(or 800’s, 6OO’s, 5OO’s for 400m athletes).
No more than 6 reps done here.
Ab work
Med Ball

TUes 3pm
Technique work (mainly drills and some form runs)

Wed 5am
Long hills
250m, 200m or 150m
(300m for 400m athletes). No more than 8 reps done here.

Wed 3pm

Thur 5am
Circuit training (bodyweight exercises - burpees, press ups etc)
Drills for endurance
Med Ball

Thur 3pm
Technique work (mainly drills and some form runs}

Friday 5am
Sled work
Ab work

Friday 3pm

Saturday 5am
Slow speed endurance (is that possible??), anyway. 200’s

Saturday p.m Rest
Sunday Rest

The weights done are free weights mainly with cleans etc, very few machines.

Q. Is it a long to short program?

SF Yes it is long to short. High volume, short recovery leading on to low volume, long recovery, high intensity. We don’t do much low intensity work either. I read in a book a while back that to run longer than 20 mins continuous will affect your
speed so the longest run we do is 20 mins. The women tend to do 20% less volume than the men.
I believe you can work hard on successive days ¡f you are working different energy systems, e.g sprints to 30m one day and then speed endurance the next day. The athlete needs to do a certain amount of work and this is more important than any theory about CNS and its recovery.

I think you need to do 15 distinct sessions per week and so sometimes it is not what the theories agrees with but that’s just how we do it.

Q. What is done in the 4th week or the light/rest week?

SR Testing is done, two tests/day with four exercises/day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon). For example, we might do a 12 min run on Monday morning and Standing Long Jump or Vertical Jump in the afternoon. Or we will test the 1000m one day and then the next day we will test the 800m. Over time these distances get less and less, so we might be doing a 400m on one day and a 300m on the next.

We also test medicine ball throws - overhead backward and forward, or jump, jump throw etc. We believe over time we have built up some good correlations or measures for what is needed to be a world class sprinter. The testing Is normally won by the slow twitch aerobic guys, but that makes them feel good because when it gets to the important part of the season they are not winning anymore.

From Jan 1 the weekly set up changes a bit. Monday becomes speed endurance, Tuesday becomes sled work. Thursday becomes sled work and Saturday is long hills if they are not competing.

Q. Do you follow a single periodised year?

SR Yes we do but it depends on where you live, what the weather is like and when you have to compete. We have one long peak for the maximising Velocity and Power Track Club (MVP) from April to September. 1 don’t believe it is possible to peak for indoors then peak again for Jamaica trials in June.

Q. When you are competing in Europe, how much training are you doing?

SR Not much, you can’t get access to all the things you want so you have to stop competing and get a good two week training periods in to keep the competitive edge up.

Q. How do you measure progress?

SR It is difticult when you have 80 (yes 80) athletes in the group. There are about 15 world class, 20 close to it and the rest are average. The training is done in groups. So, group A to E. If the training is 10x300m and a guy from group D is way
out front then he can join group C who are going faster. That tells you the progress. Also, the testing we do tells us the progress. If they can jump over 2.90m for SLJ then they are doing well. I don’t have anyone over 3m at MVP For females it’s about 2.50m.

Q. Tell us about your protocol for the last 10 days before a competition

SF The athletes do 30% of the work that they have been doing. They go into a competition well rested.

Q. How do you improve the first 30m of a 100m sprinter?

SF We do sled work for 6 months. Up to 50lbs (^22kg) for men and 25lbs (=11 kg) for women. Asafa can run 2.86s for 20m in flats and 3.45s with a 50 pound sled,

0. What is your testing protocol?

SR We don’t do max strength testing. We learnt that in 2008 with Asafa tearing his pectoral so we just use what the NRL tests ideas used in the strength combine. We do as many reps as we can at a certain weight. So we see how many reps they can do at I75lbs in the bench for men and 110lbs for women.

The lowest numbers we go to in the gym are 6 sets of 4 reps.

Q. Why do you need to do 15 sessions/week in your training?

SF. I read a book by Frank Dick a while back that said you need 15 sessions/week so that is what we do.

Q. Who has influenced you?

SR Herb McKinley is probably the biggest influence in Jamaica

We follow long to short, as most people do but it seems Glen Mills is following short to long with Usain. Also, my ex coach Dennis Johnson, and 1 have seen and learnt things from John Smith and Trevor Graham. Everyone should learn and keep
learning and always ask themselves “what if I am wrong?”, or “what if there is a better way to do it?”

Q. So it seems your program is long to short with speed endurance and also short to long with speed?

SF Yes it is in a way but the short work stays there all the time, it doesn’t get taken out for longer work. The short work varies to 30m, but it is there all the time.

Q. Do you use overspeed?

SF, No, the chance of injury is too high!

Û. What age of athlete are you working with?

SF. 17 is the youngest. I don’t coach kids, they have all left school.

Q. Do you believe in a predetermined stride pattern for the 400m hurdles?

SF, No, they need to get used to space etc and judging where they are. This will happen in big races and also with winds.

Q. You mentioned that you think Asafa is in good shape this year what are you basing this on?

SF Well he had run 300m in 34 sees last year but this year he has run 32.8 sees, and this is in shoes on grass so I think he is ready to run well.

Û. What exercises do you use in the gym?

SF Most of them, just no squatting. We use single leg variations like split squat, single leg squats. We do lots of cleans - mainly from the hang. We don’t do snatch or jerks.

Q. What support staff do you have?

SF Well I have four assistant coaches and four people doing massage so that is a great help for me when I am away.

Q. Do you use any sports psychology?

SF. I don’t use a lot, but I am learning about this. I believe it is an area of weakness in our program and I am hoping to add mental strength to my athletes.

Thanks for posting the Q&A session which was presented in Sydney by NSWIS in around January this year. Franno did a session like this a year earlier, also at NSWIS which was generous of him.

I’m surprised that there has not been more reaction to this thread as there are some interesting discussion points:

1. They go Long to Short even though some have concluded on the forum based on the early season 400m times that Powell was on a Short to Long programme. However as Charlie indicates about l-to-s and s-to-l that sometimes it is just a matter of interpretation.

2. Single periodized year Well this really does go against the general philosphy of this forum but the success of the MVP cannot be argued against. The closest thing to this on this forum is Charlie’s 12 week 400m Short to Long programme where the athlete missed Fall and Winter training and was able to produce a 50.xx relay split. I can only conclude that some form of sub-periodization is occurring in the single periodization.

3. One long peak for maximizing velocity from April to September This again seems counter to what is deemed possible (though it does depend on how we interpret the term “peak”). If by peak he means within 1-2% of ultimate season best then I suppose this is possible. Anyway the success of the group within this method is difficult to argue against (again as Charlie likes to remind people, we are talking history here not theory).

4. 10 day taper is just 30% of work they have been doing Is this simply it. I assume that he is talking about the high intensity elements only.

5. Do not do much low intensity work There does appear to be at least some tempo (10x300) that is a constant. He also includes abs (which I assume for the large part is of the low intensity variety). However it appears he is not doing the 65:35 low intensity:high intensity ratios mentioned by Charlie.

6. Single leg exercises (no squats) and cleans mainly from hang Not a system of strength training that is widely advocated on this forum though if you are strong enough you could possibly rack-up some reasonable numbers on the split-squats (which are not strictly single leg). Whatever one feels about it, the strength system in place does seem to support the track work.


His long to short includes a lot of acceleration work up to 40m year round. I’ve seen how he lays out his GPP, but theres no mention as to how he progresses from there. Thats to say, do his acceleration days progress to speed workouts? Do his special endurance workouts progress to speed endurance?

Seeing as it is a single periodized year, he must progress from one element to another much slower than typically seen. If they start racing in Feb. than its possible thats when they start to work on speed. Asafa’s times would certainly indicate that speed is not the emphasis until he starts racing (10.2-9.7).

I think i’ve seen them do deadlifts as a core lift. The heavy sleds and hills would provide great specific strength.

I think his 2x accel/wk year round workouts are what make his athletes stand out at the start.

I think it’s a matter of interpretation. Clearly the vol of short hill work and sled work (previously described as up to 960m of 40s plus the short sled vol) exceeds the volume of long hills (either 450 or 400m), and the increasing intensity/rest is common to all approaches. Likewise, wouldn’t slow speed end be tempo by another name?
As for the weights, again, this is a matter of interpretation. I don’t call split squats or step ups single leg exercises, and, obviously, cleans aren’t either. As they do bench press, it is a general lifting program.
It appears that the sled work is tough and would lower the program requirement for lower body lifts.

How about the extended peak period (April to September). During this period heavy lifting seems to be going on rather than strictly maintenance. I recall the commentator on Eurosport in 2005 when Asafa broke the 100m world record (9.77) stating that he was surprised as Powell had done a heavy, and quite intense, weights session two days before. Does this mean that MVP are mixing max strength lifting during the early part of the season for the relatively low key early meets? Or is it maintenance from April and it is the step-up in intensity of the track work off-setting the effect that the losses in max strength may have on speed?

His program look very similar to the Jamaican couple that workout at the track I train at. They do tons of sled pulls, runs in the 150-300m for example 6x300 in the fall, general weight program, stj, slj, bounds etc. They put a huge emphasis on over distance training.

If your max strength phase went high enough, your maintenance lifts would look petty tough to an outsider.

What’s your thoughts on the over distance work on Tue/Sat. It look more like basic ext tempo work I can’t remember you going out to 300-400m range with your crew

Fair enough

Would Stephen’s approach be considered concurrent? It seems to me that it resembles Dan Pfaff’s set up, with 2 accel, 2 special endurance/ week all year long.

Its odd how he says he avoids doing anything over 40m because thats when people tend to pull up with injury. Isn’t this a little counter intuitive?

You are what you train, how do these guys get so fast by avoiding true speed work?

Yes it is concurrent, this has been covered once before. Where are the two special endurance days, I see two ext tempo days?

They are fast because:

1: Genetics

2: They are fit, which helps your overall top speed and your ability to finish races.

3: Yams+Yohimbine.

nothing to think about really. It works for them and we don’t know the extent of the challenge

I am a believer also, my gpp will look very similar to there setup. I am debating if I should have long hills on wed or a controlled speed session. Tue will be tempo 300-400’s and Thur tempo 200’s.

I guess I was thinking that those ext tempo days could have been special endurance if they’re running them fast enough. I thought form runs and slow endurance would have been considered the tempo.

I thought those 300’s were done in 38-43sec = ext tempo for those guys.

How valid is the " it’s okay to train at a high intensity on consecutive days( 30 accel / SE )because we’re training different energy systems?" Might be emphasizing different energy system but it’s with the same CNS and hamstrings.

I understand the risk/reward about max testing with weights but wouldn’t watching the athlete just train give you an idea? Or even do a 3rm? We all know the role max strength plays in rep tests, but is it fair to use it as a predictor?

I a bit confounded that you do not view split squats or step-ups as single leg work :confused:

Split squats use both legs. The hip extensors of the front leg and the hip flexors of the rear leg.

Step ups also involve propulsion from both legs, and aren’t limited by balance due to their dynamic nature.

Neither is really a true unilateral lift.

Ive read his answer to that question before. I believe he has said he doesn’t consider those single leg movements because both feet are supporting the weights. He views One legged squats, single leg dead lifts and such as single leg movements because only one leg is supporting the weight. Correct me if I mistaken.