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Epic Speed Training Interview with Chris Korfist

I got my undergraduate degree in exercise science, but my undergraduate in sprint training came from reading the articles of Chris Korfist on the old “Inno-sport” website.

Chris’s articles about things like too much barbell squatting’s tendency to reduce hip and ankle extension, “push” vs. “pull” sprinters, as well as his case studies on the training needs of various sprint athletes were a strong influence on the way that I eventually trained my sprinters at Wilmington College, and now in the way that I approach strength training for the sprints in my current gig at California, Berkeley.

Chris is no slouch when it comes to sprint training success.  His sprinters at York high school have been kicking butt year in and year out.  In his Illinois high school coaching experience, he has produced 59 all-state athletes in the last 22 years.  The great thing about Chris is that he approaches sprinting from a perspective of movement quality that is second to none.

On one end of the spectrum, you have old-school sprint coaches that breathe fire and tempo training (and ask no questions along the way), and then on the other hand… you have sprint revolutionaries like Chris.  I hope that you enjoy the answers that he was able to put together for me.  You can read more about him in his biography at the tail end of this article.

Just Fly Sports: For those who aren’t familiar, could you give us a brief rundown of how your methods differ in training sprinters than traditional, volume and tempo based programming?

I view the problem from the standpoint that my sprinter has between 200-600m to race during a 3-5 hour meet. So I design the program as how to make them run that distance the fastest. So, I break down the workouts in different ways to cover that distance with full rest with the basis being some sort of fly in most workouts. It could be a grouping of fly 10, 20 or 30’s or 2 x250. Or we take a time that is the goal and race to see how far they can run in the time period and see how close they can come to their goal. We measure every workout and take rest seriously, meaning we don’t do anything. We don’t strength train, tempo work or stretch in season either. 

Korfist Interview 1

Just Fly Sports: How did you come to arrive at your current training method?  Who has played the greatest role in forming your training philosophy?

Years of learning from others and trying new ideas and measuring the success with tests that would relate to our events. So for me, fly 10’s, block 30’s, and vertical jumps are tested often. Meet times can be frustrating due to weather. I think having the patience to stick with an idea before getting frustrated and moving on is also important as well. We all do the T-Nation workout of the week and soon move on. For myself, I am guilty of this in my own training. But with my athletes, I stick with something to see if it actually works. The problem is all of the other factors that get dumped into the athlete. So, I cut back on what I do. I try to focus on one aspect per block. Bigger, faster, stronger can’t all happen at once.

I have been all over town with different gurus. They all have something to contribute but we all may have different athletes with different needs. Some of their stuff may not translate to the high school athletes that I work with. So, what you learn needs to become a tool box and not a swiss army knife. I am a “no stone unturned” kind of coach. I try hit a goal from many angles; for example, a sprinter needs many different attributes to be successful. For strength, I like Cal Dietz, Louie Simmons and Bret Contreras. Bret’s butt book has some good exercises that I have found that good sprinters can do and slower people can’t. And a surprise, it is not the hip thrust, although that one is helpful too. Louie’s is a classic. Cal has the best program for development of an athlete. His book is very thorough.

For timing and form, I like Frans Bosch and The Gait Guys. Both stress lateral stability and rigidity.  The Gait Guys have great stuff with ankle rocker which to me is the most important aspect of making a great runner. Bosch has the best front end mechanics ideas. He understands the timing necessary for good front end mechanics and has the drills that actually work.

For functionality, I like Douglas Heel. He is the one who really has a great activation program who see the system as a whole and ties in breathing and emotions which can drive muscle function. For neural development, I like Dr. Kerry Egan. She looks at vision and breathing in role in muscle recruitment. For example, if one eye takes in more info than the other, won’t your body rotate to that side to see more. So you don’t make a big circle when you walk, your brain has to counteract the drive to put the good eye on more. It creates a torque in your body which reduces power output. Brain won’t give full power to something that is twisted. For diet I use Dr. Kerry Heitkotter. She uses a Zyto machine to check health of mitochondria and can select food and supplements that help get the full power of your mitochondria. This is huge for sprinters. This drastically changed how we workout. Improve mitochondria function and run faster longer.

I have also been using the flywheel from flywheelusa.com (a distributor for Exxentric, producers of the Kbox) all summer. In my opinion, the best piece of equipment that I have come across. This is another piece that I can determine your power just by how well you control the wheel. I have the most 34+inch jumpers right now with the addition of this piece. And Dan Fichter is still doing amazing stuff up in Rochester NY. He has a great total program and really pushes the envelope in training. I should mention that DB Hammer was also important in helping change the way to train. But most question his existence, so I won’t push it. 

Kbox

 

Kbox by Exxentric is a great inertial training tool for athletes

Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on training sprinters in a “long to short” or “short to long” format in light of your coaching philosophy?  How might you train a powerful, highly fast-twitch sprinter compared to a longer, agile, but moderately fast twitch sprinter using these considerations?

I am a short to long coach. How can you get fast without running fast?  Long to short is running at 95% for a distance and never getting the nervous system to feel the speed. The second part is tough because I would need to see them move and find stuff that they may or may not be good. One thing that I learned is that generalizing is a great way to make mistakes for an athlete. Try to train the athlete and not push a program. Try stuff and see what works for the individual and test to see results. I had one athlete that would train once a week and consistently improve his times. Anymore and he would not improve. He did a diaphragm exercise and sprinted and got faster every week. With improved efficiency and breathing, he didn’t need to do all the longer stuff- 4 all-state medals and a 40 inch VJ on the mat. Was he a faster twitcher or slow? I really don’t know.

Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on tempo training for sprinters?  

I don’t do it because I never really saw any improvement with it and saw improvement when we dropped it. Adding volume puts more stress on the body and on my rest days, I want just that-rest. I did it because someone told me that’s what you do. It was a great way to practice for a day and make athletes feel like they had a workout.  

Korfist Interview 2

Just Fly Sports: Is there ever a situation where (tempo training) would perhaps be useful for a less “fast twitch” athlete to achieve a strong training result compared to other speed-endurance methods?

If I tried it and got results, I would use it. 

Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on the development of overall fitness for sprinters in light of low frequency programming and the absence of tempo training?

I stole Cal Dietz’  Triphasic Training Metabolic Injury Prevention Running and added Frans Bosch running drills instead of his and that is what we use for an aerobic base. It has worked really well for me that last 2 years. I can get a lot accomplished in a short period of time.

Cal Dietz Injury Prevention

Cal Dietz’s “Injury Prevention Running” mixed with Bosch running drills (straight leg bounds, high knees with a premium on forefoot stiffness, etc)?! Now this is a “base” for sprint success.  Photo taken from www.xlathlete.com 

Just Fly Sports: What major mistakes do you see being made in the strength programming of sprinters by typical coaching practices?

Mixing powerlifting with sprinting. Powerlifting technique is not always the most beneficial in developing movement patterns. For example, in the squat, when the athlete’s torso breaks a parallel relationship with the shin, the spinal erectors become the main mover. That is not what I want in a sprinter. I want hip drivers. I think this is why we see so many average HS athletes. We undo them in squat rack. The drive for a big max makes them slow with poor form. So that relationship is very important to me. It helps develop ankle rocker and hip drive. In fact, it is hard to get a good glute contraction in a vertical position without good ankle rocker.

The same can be said about proper lateral chain development. If your hip is not stabilizing laterally, the brain will limit power to glute so you don’t break yourself and get eaten by a bear. I have had some international elite sprinters to 7th graders and I can say that the good ones had both ankle and hips and the bad ones didn’t.

 Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on the general vs. specific debate in strength training for sprint athletes?  

I don’t have any. I try to use what works for the athlete. As the athlete progresses, his body changes and may need different exercises or stressors to continue to improve. Again, I have the benefit of coaching adolescents mostly, so the improvements are more noticeable than they would be for an elite sprinter although they break down too.

Just Fly Sports: What are your thoughts on the distribution of vertical vs. horizontal plyometrics for sprinters?

I think they are both important for different people in different phases of their race. I think top end speed is vertical force. Dan Fichter proved that a long time ago with his iceman video on Youtube.  He sprinted across an ice rink at top speed and didn’t slip. We rented the rink to do this. He laid runners down for the first 1/3 to get up to speed. Acceleration is horizontal. But, why defend a position if no one really knows and try both. See what works for an athlete. I had one kid improve quite a bit with light sled runs and another with single leg squats on the flywheel.  

Just Fly Sports: I was reading on “Freelap USA” about your experience in “activation” through working on neurolymphatic points.  What are some of your experiences on the benefits of this method, and do you see it becoming a routine practice (similar to things like ART) in the training of elite athletes? 

Douglas Heel was introduced to me by Dan Fichter. Dan attended Douglas’ seminar in London and was blown away. It was an answer to some neural questions that we had, like making sure muscles were working properly for performance and injury prevention. We decided to fly Douglas in from Cape Town, South Africa and hold a seminar in Chicago. He is different from the other techniques in its simplicity, sequencing, effectiveness and view of the body as a whole.

After a few seminars with Douglas, I started to incorporate it with my track team and other athletes. We ran faster, efficiently and were injury free. The distance guys can log their heavy mileage with less problems and sprinters get more out of their workouts. When the body is in the proper sequence, any movement is good exercise because you are constantly reinforcing the proper recruitment pattern. It is really fun to film amd time someone run, activate them and watch them body change and time drop.

 

On one occasion this past season, I had an athlete who had an arm that wouldn’t straighten from an injury incurred when he was born. So, one arm was shortened, bent and atrophied. Douglas worked on him for 20 minutes and got his arm to straighten. He did not have the immediate improvement however because his brain had to relearn how to use and balance with a functional arm. The first two weeks I was frustrated because he had the talent to be a top sprinter. It took him 8 weeks for his brain to adjust and get his body to go. But once it caught up he could go. He anchored our 4×1 and 4×2 which ran 2 of the fastest times in the history of the state. By the way, he has a horizontal runner. We only worked on vertical drills.

Douglas will be in Chicago Oct 18-19 and 25-26 for some level 1 clinics. 16 hours of instruction. Truly a career changing event.


Chris Korfist has been coaching track for 22 years in Illinois. He has coached at Hinsdale Central, Downers Grove North and York HS, producing 59 All-state track athletes, 3 individual state champions, 2 team state champions, 3 second place team finishes, and 2 3rd place finishes.  He owns the Slow Guy Speed School which is a gym that focuses on running and athletic development from which other All-state athletes have trained. He used to run the Inno-sport website and wannagetfast.com with Dan Fichter. He also had the opportunity to work occasionally with some Olympic sprinters and other professional athletes.

13 comments

  1. This is an excellent interview! Joel, great questions, and Chris, even better answers! I appreciate the humility, openness, and insight.

    • Thanks Bret, glad you enjoyed the article, and see some of the fruits of your labor that is making the industry better year by year!

  2. Good Stuff as always. Love reading articles in which Korfist shares his knowledge and expertise.

  3. What Frans Bosch drills is Chris referring to?

    • Hi Trey,

      Are you familiar with the Bosch drills? If not, they generally involve a lot of drills that isolate peices of the sprint mechanic, and are fused together in 5-10m segments. So it might be something like straight leg bounds, to low ankling, to straight leg bounds, etc etc. Or high knees to straight leg bounds. Single side repeating A skips and high knees with the arms behind the head and the shoulders twisted to one side is another. I don’t have his videos, I just learned them from one of our previous track coaches at Cal.

      Joel

    • The Bosch drills we like are more of a high knee type exercise where you are skipping on one leg and doing a quick touch down and back to the original leg- so maybe a type of an A skip. We change body positions and arm positions as well. I save the stiff leg stuff for the workout. Doing them on a daily basis added to a hip flexor problem that we eliminated. The Bosch DVD and book are great.

  4. Hello

    Great article . Mr. Korfist is does us a tremendous favor
    in revealing so much. Very informative.
    I especially like his articles at the inno sport site.

  5. Chris,

    How many times a week do your athletes perform the ISO Split Squat holds using the DB Hammer or Kbox?

  6. I am curious to what exercise(s) Chris is referring to regarding the glutes of fast versus slow individuals.

  7. Which exercise was Chris ref. to when he was talking about Brett C. exercises Sprinters can do but others cant?

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