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The Time I went to a Charlie Francis Seminar

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah training at the Utah Olympic Oval as a long-track speedskater. So imagine my surprise when I found out that Charlie Francis (along with Canadian strength coach Derek Hansen) were giving a seminar at a new training facility up in Layton, Utah (about 25 minutes north of where I live).

Now, I’ve been influenced heavily by Charlie, I read his book Speed Trap annually, always finding something new in it.  His Charlie Francis Training System is also excellent.  Given that I’m currently in a sport that has some sprint component, I couldn’t miss it. And given that my coach has essentially developed a system of training similar to Francis’ but applied to speed skating, I took him with me.

Friday: Day 1

The seminar started at 6pm Friday evening. Charlie and Derek introduced themselves and so did everyone in the room. A moderate sized turnout brought people from the Utah area, Florida, Philadelphia, Canada, Vegas and probably a couple of others that I have forgotten. These are coaches who came to learn from the best, along with a couple of athletes. When I wasn’t busy being a touch obnoxious, I was doing as much networking as I could, these are the folks doing good work in the trenches with athletes.

The first day was mainly introduction with a good bit of training theory. I won’t bother detailing every bit that was talked about since there was just too much of it.

Of course, since I’m just that kind of nerd, I got Charlie to sign my prized copy of Speed Trap (his ‘biographical’ look at his training career). As mentioned above, I highly recommend folks pick up this book. Even though it mainly tells the story of his work with Ben Johnson and his other athletes, there are training gems hidden within it. It’s completely out of print in hardcopy, although you can download it in e-book format via his website (see below).

Saturday: Day 2

Saturday was loooong, we started around 8am and finished around 6pm or so. A great deal more training theory was provided including a discussion of recovery and regeneration. More interestingly this was a day for demonstrations. CorPerformance was preparing a football player for his college combine and we got to watch Charlie and Derek work with him hands on.

They took him through warmups, Charlie stretched him out and they moved to various drills such as A skips. Problems were fixed with basic cues and he then moved to standing starts. Charlie coached minimally, giving only small cues for the player to work on and this is where his true brilliance really started to shine. Any coach can overload an athlete with information, the best coaches can get you doing what you need with minimal information. With each repeat, the player got noticeably faster off the line and into his short sprints; they had to open the door at the end of the track so he wouldn’t run into it.

He then moved into another combine exercise which is a test of lateral movement and agility. Derek did more work here although it’s still all sprinting. With even minor fixes, you could see the player getting faster and faster with each repeat. It was impressive as hell to watch.

Derek and Charlie also took one of the seminar attendees (my coach wouldn’t let me do it since I was tapering for my finale) through some basic sprint drills, accelerations and block starts. Again, watching Francis work first hand and fix major problems in a matter of minutes with simple cues was a sight to behold. This is why the man is arguably one of the top coaches of the Twentieth Century. Frankly, I think watching him work with an athlete for three days straight might have been as informative as hearing him outline his approach to training and training theory.

We also did an EMS demonstration with yours truly as the guinea pig (since I had shorts on). Charlie placed pads on my inner, middle and outer quad along with the tensor fasciae latae. After a 5′ easy warmup, they moved me into the strength program. I dialed it up to a decent level during the hard parts and it was freaky watching and feeling my entire leg contract and contract hard (I was sore the next day). We did a bit of that and then played with the recovery program, a light pulsing mode that felt pretty good.

Some informal discussion about things such as vibration plates, the Omegawave, and other recovery modalities came afterwards until we finally broke for dinner where more conversation and general ranting and ravings went on over food. As I’ll come back to below, Derek Hansen (who is quite the technical boy) had some good data using heart rate variability to track training, I’ll blog about this in the future since I’ll be using it this coming season for myself.

Sunday: Day 3

Sunday was awful because the clocks had moved forwards and we had to get up even earlier than we should have to start on time. Everybody was looking pretty exhausted by that point but we had to forge ahead. More information was presented including discussions of strenght and power training, periodization and others. Oh yeah, someone asked Charlie about chiropractic and he mentioned that he would often pop his athletes. So he used me as a guinea pig and popped me nicely.

Overall Thoughts

Although I was familiar with a lot of Charlie’s work (through his books and forum), it was still informative to see him present it live with the ability to ask clarifying questions which I did for most of the weekend. If there’s any drawback it’s that the presentation could be a bit more organized (he tends to jump topic to topic a lot). I also think he’s been doing this so long that he often forgets that the folks listening to him aren’t on the same page.

Basically, Charlie is so far ahead of everyone that he forgets that a lot of people don’t even have the fundamentals. I saw a lot of confused faces when he was talking and some of my questions were as much to clarify for them as for myself.

Charlie has endless stories and this actually led to a lot of tangents from the main information of the seminar. While they were entertaining, they did detract from the seminar overall because a 20-30 minute tangent would come in-between the first and second half of an informational point.

The presentation in terms of the slides and graphics was absolutely excellent and Derek Hansen (who didn’t contribute massively to the overall presentation except to clarify points and do some of the hands on stuff with the athletes) still had some excellent information to present. He seems to have every piece of sprint video footage known to god and man on his computer and many were shown to help illustrate the technical bits that Charlie was discussing. As I mentioned above, he had some good heart rate variability (HRV) to show as they tracked an athlete through a taper. This is what convinced me to finally break down and get a watch that can do HRV for the next season.

Despite some of the small negatives (no presentation would ever be perfect), I wouldn’t have missed this seminar for the world. I consider it a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear a man who literally changed the face of sprint training (while many will say that his ideas are currently “nothing new”, just keep in mind that he was training his guys the way everyone else is now 30 years ago) and developed one of the fastest men of all time. Consider that it took nearly 20 years for Johnson’s 100m record to be broken (Johnson ran 9.79, the current record is 9.74).  Had he actually run through to the tape, he might have set a record that was never broken.

And before someone starts posting ignorant stuff about drugs in the comments section, I’d only note that elite sports have included drugs in athlete preparation since the 70’s. Johnson wasn’t the only one using at the 88 Olympics, he’s just one of the few who got busted. Nothing more to say about that, honestly. If you think Francis was “just a drug coach”, I can’t change your mind. You’re an idiot, mind you, but I can’t change your mind.

Update: Charlie Francis passed away on May 12,2010 which means I was lucky enough to attend one of his last seminars.  And I do consider myself truly lucky to have had that opportunity.

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2 thoughts on “The Time I went to a Charlie Francis Seminar

  1. Great review. And OMG, it’s hysterical that people think that elite athletes and Olympians are “drug free” because they can pass a drug test. It’s called designer steroids people (among many other things) and Pat Arnold wasn’t the only chemist synthesising and distributing them to there’s a few more out there than just THG. Computers are swift idiots when it comes to passing a drug test. On a completely unrelated note, Lyle I have to say that you share a striking resemblance to Harold Ramis in that picture. How does someone with a Irish/Scottish name of “McDonald” end up looking Italian and Jewish??…not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’m sure you love potatoes for more reasons than just that they are a great source of complex carbs.

  2. Man, what is it with people comparing me to the guy from Ghostbusters?

    You’re not the only one to make the association.

    The answer is that I’m only half Scotch/Irish


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