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:
Hill sprints to 40m
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.
Technique work (mainly drills and some form runs)
250m, 200m or 150m
(300m for 400m athletes). No more than 8 reps done here.
Circuit training (bodyweight exercises - burpees, press ups etc)
Drills for endurance
Technique work (mainly drills and some form runs}
Slow speed endurance (is that possible??), anyway. 200’s
Saturday p.m 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.