Share the Knowledge – 400m Training

Posted by Marc Mangiacotti

During the second half of the season I shy away from racing long sprinters in the 400m every week. I’ve found this strategy effective because it allows me to evaluate where each athlete is in his or her training. As part of the evaluation process I use several staple workouts to help gauge improvement levels and to design efficient workouts for the remainder of the season. This period is extremely important for athletes who have qualified for championship season, and for 400m training.

Wilbur Ross developed a workout I use to examine midseason training progress. For critical zone assessment I use 2 x 3 x 160m with 20-30 seconds between repetitions and 8-10 minutes between sets at 90-100% depending on the time of year.  The athlete runs 3 x 160m with short recovery.  I time the first two 160m’s then the first 80m of the third 160m to get a 400m training value (160+160+80=400m).  After a longer rest the athlete tries to replicate the first set.  I want to see if the athletes can keep the time of the two sets fairly close to one another.  A differential of +1 second is excellent, +2 seconds is good, and +3 seconds is not satisfactory.

stopwatch_trackSince the sport of Track and Field continues to evolve, I try to keep up with the latest advances and tips other coaches share. Last week, I read an article by Gabe Sanders which sparked my interest in the different workouts other coaches use to predict 400m times or gain more insight to the overall fitness level and training for 400m runners. So I did what any eager coach might do…I started investigating.  Here are some of the responses I received from some great 400m coaches.

Gabe Sanders
Boston University

“In addition to the workouts in the article from last week, another workout I’ve done in the past is a “400 the hard way” around the track:  Essentially it’s 7x100m full tilt with a 50m walk back after each 100m segment until you cross the finish line.  Two aspects of my execution of the session are the first 100m is out of blocks, and the following 6 efforts are with a three step walk in, making it a little more reflective of actually 100m segments of the race.  Each and every athlete I’ve ever put through this session truly feels like the separate 100m stages of the race; reps 1-3 feel like the opening 100-150m of the race, reps 4-5 feel like 150-300m, and rep 6-7 is like the final 100m.

As a predictor I take out the fast and slow segments, take the average of the remaining segments and multiply by 4.  This workout has been pretty spot on in predicting 400m relay legs 3-4 weeks out of target competitions.”

Dave Cusano
Wheaton College (MA)

“I use 2 x 250m (50m On- 50m Off) last 150m full go. The athlete sprints 50m, floats 50m, and then runs full effort for the final 150m.  I use this a few times a year, as rest decreases I look to see how close the two reps times are in comparison to one another.”


Ron Grigg
Jacksonville University

I know Coach Grigg uses 4 x 300m with 4 minutes recovery several times throughout the year.  The goal is to get to 4 x 300m at 82% of the athlete’s current 200m time with 4 minutes recovery.  He usually starts with a lower percentage the athlete can handle earlier in the season like 75% and builds as the year progresses. Coach Grigg believes that if the athlete can run the first three 300m efforts at 82% then come back even faster for the 4th repetition then that athlete is really ready to roll.

Greg Roy
Head Men’s T&F/CC Coach

“If I had to pick one, it’d be the world record workout.  Blocks to 100, short rest 1-2, 2-3, 3-4 all on the fly, attempting to mimic technique for each segment, while trying to be as close to breaking the world record as possible.  I only do this late in the season (post conference) with advanced 400m athletes.  Don’t have much empirical data, but if you can go 11-10.5-10.5-11, you should be able to run in the 46.0-46.7 range.”


Reuben Jones
Columbia University

“I use a 320m time trial and add + 12″ to the 320m time to predict 400m time”


Mike Ekstrand
Umass Lowell University

“I like several work outs for 400m training.  The one I use every year 11 days out from the beginning of NCAA’s Is this: Full warm up then 1×60 out of blocks take full rest, then 1×80. Take full rest then 1×150 fast but very relaxed. Take full recovery then run from a 3 step roll a 300. The 3 guys that have run 46 open all have dipped under 34 sec hand time. Guys that have run 35 point have run 47 open and most have split 46 on a relay. Guys that run 35 are your standard 48 sec guys. Occasionally a few will surprise with a 47relay split. After this, we rest 20 min then do a rolling 200 in 21sec. This work out has been an excellent predictor for us.

Another work out we do about a month earlier is more of a strength work out but, it gives me a good indication of where we are with our training. It goes as follows, 2x3x200@ 25-24-24 rest 2 minutes between the 1st and 2nd repetition and 1 min between 2nd and 3rd repetition. We then rest 10-15 min before starting the 2nd set. Some times we run 25-25-24. It varies a bit.”

Matt Gardner
Gardner Performance Training

“In the past, I have used ‘Bleed Runs” in my 400m training. Bleed runs are a very dense and intense form of intensive tempo. Why are they called bleed runs? There are multiple reasons as I see it, but the big things are the runs “bleed” together and they hurt… a lot. I’ve heard intensive tempo described as a burn that progressively bubbles up your body. Bleed runs you’re cut pretty early, never really catch your breath, and it just keeps coming until the session is over. It could also be said that there is a lot of bleed between what qualities you are training here as velocities here can make it very close to speeds seen in more full rest special endurance 2 work.

I typically program it as 4-6x250m @ 90 seconds rest aiming for around 90 percent 400 pace.  Learning how to relax, keep posture and run through fatigue is one of the most valuable skills in the long sprints. You’re not trying to blow kids up in workouts like this, but have them perform well in an extremely physiologically demanding environment.

I have used this (for folks that respond well to that type of work) with last workout falling 7-10 days out from champ meet with higher level high school 400-600.”

These are some fantastic examples of 400m training from some great coaches.  I want to learn more about what other coaches do to test fitness levels and make predictions for 400m runners.  PLEASE post workouts that you use below. Do not criticize what works for others.  Lets learn from one another. Share your knowledge.

Please follow mw on Twitter.  I try to post workouts daily. My Twitter handle is @MarcMangiacotti


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Marc Mangiacotti is an assistant track coach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

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