Hello Dear Reader and lover of Speed development and Sprinting;
Thank you so much for showing up to read my blog. I'm interested in questions and knowing what you think. Bug me if I'm not attending to you faster. ( faster is better right? ;)
( photo of Charlie @1972 Olympic Games in Munich 100m heats)
There does not appear to be volumes of quality information or research around the central nervous system and sprint training. Coach Charlie Francis educated himself on this topic primarily because he was forced to quit his sprinting career early due to injuries he later learned were due to chronic tightness which could be prevented. ( before signing off as a competitor, Charlie was plagued with one injury after another due to the primary focus of high intensity work with little attention to rest or recovery. "Speed Trap" the book Coach Francis cowrote in 1989 with Jeff Coplon, tells a story about his life as an athlete and coach. Francis wanted different for his athletes.
You will find the most specific information about how the CNS and sprinting in another book Francis was asked to co write with Paul Patterson. "The Charlie Francis Training System". Understanding how the CNS works in speed training has been central to how Charlie coached countless sprinters, coaches and a variety of athletes from multiple speed and power sports.
Here is a question asked by www.charliefrancis.com forum member;
Forum Member Question
What is an efficient nervous system, which if an athlete has, allows him/her to be naturally fast? I'm familiar with the telltale signs of short temper, the quickness of their feet and a bunch of other stuff.. but moving past those subjective tests, what are the true metrics of a powerful CNS? Read in my psychology textbook about the sodium/potassium ion pump, action potential, excitatory neurotransmitters.. are those phenomenon’s related to someone's inherent speed? And that leads to the question - how can I purposely affect/increase these measures? Will supplementing with electrolytes translate to increased firing of neurons?.....
I saw Andre de Grasse at Canadian Nationals... he's a standard IMO of what a person with a superior CNS is. He is twitchy. He couldn't stop moving. There was always some articulation of the limb going about even when he was drinking his water. He could not be still. I think it's that neural configuration plus zero aggression/excessive effort that lets him run very fast.( forum member from www.charliefrancis.com since 2013 and junior pan american team member)
Coach Ange’s Answer
According to 'The Charlie Francis Training System', two telltale signs of an elite sprinter are:
1- High level sprinters tend to be short tempered; explosive and intense… an explosive personality is an indication of an explosive nervous system.
2- The athlete who can move his or her feet at high frequency is a candidate for sprinting.
( taken from 'The Charlie Francis Training System' page 10. See also “Theory and Methodology of Training The key to Athletic Performance” by Tudor Bompa Chapter 13 )
As far as true metrics of a powerful CNS go?
CNS has to be fully regenerated so that the chemical environment required for optimal transmission of nervous signals is intact. (The Charlie Francis Training System page 29 to 32)Supplying excellent nutrition including electrolytes will optimize your physiology to both develop and enhance the nervous system you already have in place. Electrolytes work best during and post workout.
Motor pathways, characteristic of optimal technique and efficient routing of motor signals must be in place …. Appropriate training creates chemical changes. Notice “appropriate", not any training that some feel works for them, which advance the capacity to do both CNS work and muscular endurance work under conditions of correct technique, before fatigue is reached. (The Charlie Francis Training System pages 29 to 32)Routine regeneration is important because it will be your first line attempt to take full advantage any training you will perform. The training effect of the work you perform will be minimized unless you routinely ensure your personal chemistry is ready to respond to high quality work. Otherwise you are not optimizing your existing level of performance.
Regeneration is equally as important if not more than training. My suggestion is to apply a few routine methods of regenerating to your week or two of training and see what you think. .
This means more contrast baths for all of you.
"Sprint your own race"
Coach Angé Coon
Hamstrings are not supposed to be sore and tight 24/7.It is not normal or desirable to have sore and tight hamstrings around the clock. I am not talking about bodybuilding, cross -fit, training to have an instagram rear end. I am speaking about speed training, sprinting and literally kicking butt across the finish line or end zone first and often. If you can’t walk from tightness and soreness of your hamstrings, trust me…. Your speed training suffers and worst case you get injured constantly.
Speed training is different than anything else regarding sports as it’s unique in how you ultimately gain speed consistently.
Sure almost anyone can get faster by making simple routine improvements in the warm up as one example. But how to max out on becoming a speed demon you will need to pay attention to each variable often get overlooked in sports.
Tightness and soreness can be managed and needs to be managed to be fast, get fast, stay fast and get faster.
Some soreness of the hamstrings will be natural when doing speed work or high volumes of work related to speed work. Chronic tightness will never end well for anyone.
When you are able to balance the training loads needed to become faster as well learn to manage soreness and tightness proactively it will help with injury prevention. Coaches and athletes need to learn the factors effecting hamstring health and when they are addressed they will be creating an ideal environment for speed training.
Factors to be addressed to prevent Hamstring tightness for speed training.
Planning and Methodology of Speed Training includes:
If you are a sprinter wishing to compete with success it will be a good idea to have a plan to improve your speed development and it will be your job to know which methods of training and recovery you respond to best. Repeating successful methods will be the most efficient way to make the most of your annual speed-training plan.
It’s common for those interested in speed training to think running more reps of sprints at any speed will bring success to becoming a faster athlete. Monitoring quality and rest intervals of speed training is key. Successful methods of training for speed might create muscle tightness and soreness but managing active regeneration, diverging from what might be written down for training opposed to responding to how individual sessions play out will help you keep your body healthy and prevent injury.
1- The Annual Plan:
Take a look at a one hour lecture of Coach Charlie Francis’s plan to create one of the fastest people on the planet who eventually broke the world record and won the gold medal at the Olympics in a record breaking time.
Note: Annual plans need to be customized for individuals more so as an athlete improves over time. Beginners will have a more generalized plan. Take a look at this informative video on tips to prepare all athletes in sport.
2-Continual Improvement of Personal Nutrition:
Eating well has never been as important for athletes due to increased processed foods devoid of nutrients. Environmental stress depletes our food chain due to damaged soil and pollution. Athletes proactively managing their diets will be rewarded with more consistent training gains and improved recovery so adding work becomes seamless. Basic supplementation via a simple protein smoothie is easily adopted and will enhance your achievements for your speed training goals. Read this blog for more info
3-Practicing Rest and Active Recovery:
Learning to be good at doing nothing was how I first observed the essence regarding rest and recovery. The trick is to add varied methods of rest and recovery into your training day and cycle the same way you routinely practice other training variables. The rewards are large, as you will experience once you are prepared to put in the time and work.
4- Massages Don’t Have to Be 1 Hour:
One of the most innovative aspects behind Coach Charlie Francis’s training methods was born out of the idea of his own experience of had to quit sport prematurely as he was suffering constant hamstring injuries due to tightness and soreness Finding ways to keep muscles loose with short and consistently preformed massages. Check out Charlie Francis Facebook Page to see how it might be done.
Simple Things First and Consistently
Tight muscles means circulation of blood flow has been compromised. Creating circulation can happen manually with massage or contrast baths or perform low intensity exercises, which promotes blood flow. Continued tightness restricts motion and prevents routine high performance within daily workouts.
Log raining habits to record patterns that will impact training goals.
Fatigue can be one of the first signs of dehydration. It’s easy to be lazy about drinking water but it is not a difficult thing to make sure you are drinking enough water before, during and after training.
Make a List of Your Routine Regenerative Habits:
Check them off or list them in your diary once you have completed each action.
Stay Off Your Feet:
Part of managing fatigue and energy as an athlete is building in a routine where you are not on your feet. Find ways to get things done while resting at the same time and prioritize all things that effect your performance.
Are You an Expert Sleeping?
Sleep is the best and most natural way to heal and keep your body recovered. Learn about eating foods to regulate and optimize your hormones from reducing blue lights from electronics and phones to understanding blood sugar management as one of the most important ways in the prevention of food cravings as well as eliminating energy drain which deprives consistent training goals achievement.
Low Intensity workouts to alleviate, treat and prevent constant muscle tightness and soreness from speed training ( low intensity is performing work at 75 percent or less your maximum effort or speed)
You don’t need to have resistance on the bike to get the blood flowing. Creating tension on the bike may have adverse effects to promoting needed circulation to tight muscles.
Performing recovery runs or tempo at 70 to 75% your max effort on grass in flats will promote cardio vascular fitness and provide a flush of your tight muscles. Finish the last runs at the same speed you began.
Using an interval of 45 seconds of running in deep end preferably with floatation belt. Start with 1 set of 10 reps of 45 seconds with 15 seconds of rest and build up to 2 sets of 45 seconds over time. The Jane Project
Alternating high intensity training with low or very low intensity:
Elite sprinters are able to handle 2 or 3 high intensity speed sessions per week.( HI is defined as 95% - 100 percent of your best time) To optimize speed work allow alternation of high and low intensity work. ( low intensity work defined as 75 % of best time or slower) The hamstrings ( as well as the central nervous system) need 48 to 72 hours recovery and to repeat speed work.
Typical Rest Interval for 10 Meters of Speed Work:
Is 1 min rest for each 10 meters of speed work / rest time may increase as quality and distance improve with experience and age of athlete
Stuff To Do Before You Start Your Speed Training
Make a habit of wearing layers to begin training especially keeping your hamstrings and glutes warm. Extra layers can be taken off once technical speed training begins.
Wrap With Heat and Plastic Wrap:
Apply heat and or anti inflammatory creams depending on severity of tightness and soreness of hamstrings. Wrap with plastic food wrap and tensor bandages and covered by tights loose fitting sweat pants to bed. Repeat in the morning for training sessions. We used to do this routinely for hamstrings, glutes, calves and low back.
Epson Salt Baths Are Awesome:
After training Epson can minimize some lactic acid in your muscles. Keep baths away from competition prep.
Use Water To Bounce Back:
Swim in it, drink it, and use it to heat you up in a bath or cool you down to contrast showers and baths. Water can promotes circulation by submerging yourself in it, exercising in or drinking it because it accelerates the removal of waste products in your system.
Actively keeping your hamstrings healthy and loose will save you a great deal of time and heart ache and allow you to train successfully and consistently. Your hamstrings are one of the largest muscles in your body and when you have a problem your hamstrings it will creates other issues that ultimately prevent you from sprinting your best.
“Sprint your own race”
Sprinting has become increasingly more interesting for people who are not competitive track and field athletes. Sprinting as fast as you can is one of the most exhilarating human experiences in life. By adding sprinting into your weekly exercise plan you will be improving fitness, strength, body composition, mobility and you will improve your overall health. Sprinting at your maximal effort can be one of the most intense forms of exercises outside of Olympic lifting. ( understand why your current weight routine might be slowing you down. See CF Lecture Series : Weights for Speed Part 1)
1. Warm yourself up.
Muscles perform optimally when warm and hot. Relaxed, easy movements like jogging and skipping with little or no effort are ideal to prepare for sprinting. Keeping muscles covered up until your sprinting preparation has been completed makes it easier to get warm.Warm up for sprinting blog
2. Include light, full range of motion drills before Sprinting.
You are not ready to run your fastest just yet. Keeping your warm up clothes on, taking your time and adding a few exercises like side skipping, arm circles, small numbers of sit ups and a few calisthenics add some fitness building as well as more warmth to your preparation.
3. Add Sprinting Specific Drills to the warm up
You will help yourself by practicing a few movements, which mirror the broken down parts of sprinting. Three simple drills in the suggested volumes of 3 x 10 meters is the best way to start. You will progress this distance over time. Typically, it’s ideal to not exceed 20 meters unless you have become an expert sprint technician.
- Bum kicks, standing straight vertically, heals touch bum isolating the work in the hamstring.
- “A” March, think of marching in a band where you want yourheal that is off the ground to be parallel to the straight leg which means you perform a proper right angle with the bent leg.
- Running “A’s”, like a march, keeping a right angle but touching down repeatedly as you run on the spot. You want to have high knees but you don’t want the knee exceeding the height of your hip.
I know there is a great deal of debate, discussion and research regarding when and how and for how long to stretch. I’ve seen people do so much stretching they run out of time and energy to sprint. It makes sense that if warm muscles perform produce best sprinting results that muscles react best to stretching when warm. Think of stretching at this point, as a checkpoint to see what specific stretches may need to be done to ensure you are ready to do strides.
5. Relaxed Strides. It’s not jogging or sprinting.
It’s not jogging or sprinting. When I say relaxed that is not the same thing as easy. Relaxation is everything in learning to sprint well. The before mentioned steps and preparation will give you your best chance to sprint naturally without thinking. (see sprinting as a hind brain activity in Speed Trap and The Charlie Francis Training System) Progressively run 3 to 4, 50 to 60 meter strides and increase effort and speed as able. Walk back after each one before repeating the next and take your time but do not rush.
6. Spike ready?
Before you are ready to do some sprinting, take a small break to once again stretch your increasingly warmed up muscles. At this point you have progressively prepared your body to do it’s best. To begin sprinting I suggest starting with distances of 10 meters to start. An excellent drill for all levels of sprinters is to lie flat on the ground or track, on your stomach, with head down and either have someone clap or start yourself. The idea is for you to scramble up without thinking to the 10-meter mark. 2 to 3 sets of 3 x 10 meters with this start is an excellent first step to expanding the distance to 20 meters. (I suggest taking 2 to 2. 5 minutes between each set and stretch and lay down and shake your legs in-between sets). This exercise intrinsically places the body in a sprinting position as you get up from the ground
7. Final Suggestions to Avoid Sprinting Injuries
My guess is most people reading this will look at my last sprint volume suggestion and laugh. I know this to be true as one of the single biggest problems with non-experienced sprinters is too high volumes and distances that are too far to begin with. This vital fact sets people up to fail. Keep it simple in the beginning and don’t underestimate the value of high quality short sprints to start your sprinting adventures.
Take rest intervals and breaks seriously. Short distances of 10 and 20 meters can be a walk back recovery but don’t rush. Rest intervals between entire sets are needed. Be sure to take 2 to 2.5 minutes rest before repeating another set. It’s important to allow your best effort without failing.
The more work you are able to do on the grass before sprinting, the more you will be able to save your body both short and long term.
I hope you will enjoy sprinting fast and safely.
- Train the hamstrings as extensors of the hip as the most important way to train the hamstring for sprinting (opposed to training the hamstring as a flexor of the knee)
- Regeneration and therapy performed in small amounts OFTEN opposed to large amounts infrequently
- Keep your hamstrings warm and dry in and out of training
- Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) can play a wide role in building and strengthening as well as rehabilitating hamstring injuries
Before we look at these factors in detail, here are two key facts to consider:
FACT One:Hamstrings operate at the highest velocity (up to 88kph for elite sprinters) of any muscle group. To understand this, think that if you are running at top speed your hamstring contracts as a flexor of the hip and as your leg extends behind you in your stride, your hamstring continues to contract at more than double your top speed as it flexes the knee and recoils the lower leg before the leg starts moving forward again.
What are the implications of the speed of this muscle?
The implications of this is muscles moving at this speed makes the hamstring sensitive to injury if high intensity training is attempted with poor technique or during conditions of incomplete regeneration or overtraining”. (page 40 The Charlie Francis Training System)
The hamstring is one of the largest muscles in the body. When it is tight, overworked and or trained primarily as a flexor of the knee the risk of injury increases. Large amounts of time and energy go into the rehabilitation for an athlete who has a hamstring injury.
Hamstrings: Extensors of the Hip for Sprinting
The hamstring has multiple roles as flexors of the knee and extensors of the hip. For Sprinting, coaches and athletes need to focus on the following exercises:
- Half squats
- Reverse Leg Press
- Power cleans done with excellent form
- Exercises with pulleys and cables
- Explosive medicine ball drills
Easy to perform non-strength exercises that facilitate hamstring development should also be done. These are:
- leg swings
- side leg swings
- donkey kicks
- hurdle drills against the wall
Two Common Mistakes in how the Hamstring is trained for Sprinting
- Overtraining the hamstring with high volumes of large variety of lifts.
- Emphasizing strength training as a key goal instead of speed work as the key priority.
Regeneration and Therapy Performed Often
A hamstring might be strong and it might also look big and beautiful. For the hamstring to be healthy for sprinting ROUTINE regeneration done in small amounts often is most effective.
A common mistake made by coaches and athletes is avoiding therapy all together because they think it’s not needed, the thought that it is expensive or they don’t understand the importance.
Quality sprinting requires muscles rested but reactive, strong but loose, agile yet relaxed. Routine regeneration and therapy facilitate healthy hamstring development.
Keep Your Hamstrings Warm for Best Performance
Wearing layers of clothing to keep all of you muscles dry and warm helps speed up the process of getting appropriately warmed up to do the highest quality of work as well as the highest intensity of work.
Work to improve your method of warming up which should include routine exercises performed daily all year around including competition. (See my blog on the warm-up)
Heat can be added to hamstrings and or tighter muscles to assist in the process of getting your muscles in the best possible state for training.
Heat can be put on any muscles, wrapped in saran and then loose tensors overnight for best results.
Electronic Muscle Stimulation
EMS can be used to both strengthen hamstrings and relax or massage the hamstrings. The usefulness as well as the effectiveness of this small device is invaluable.
Wellness for Hamstring Health
Hamstrings need to be warm to be loose and relaxed.
Hamstrings need to be strong, but agile and balanced.
Hamstrings need routine rest, complete regeneration to be ready for more work.
The notion of wellness or balance as an athlete is vital. At the heart of preparing your hamstrings to be as healthy as possible, this large muscle group must be hydrated and fortified with the best nutrition possible. As a coach or athlete you need to understand that while strength building plays a key role in sprinting, your long-term performance of the health of your hamstrings is most important.
I hope your training has been going well.
best and warm regards,