Coaches don’t always agree on the training for the long sprint events of the 300m/400m. However, no matter your approach, there is a balance between speed reserve, lactate training, and some aerobic work. This becomes an even more daunting task in the winter or without a good facility. In Massachusetts we have had a relatively mild winter, so we have been able to use the outdoor facilities for a lot of the season. In past seasons and on certain days this season we have been forced to regroup and head inside or elsewhere.
This article and topic are near and dear to my heart, since at Triton we have dealt with any and all challenges with regard to this. We even went more than five years without a home meet! We had to resort to traveling to a nearby high school for occasional access to a track for practice. Our “home” track during this time was in such disrepair that it was nothing more than a concrete oval with the rubber stripped away. Not surprisingly, our numbers dropped embarrassingly low, and our program visibility plummeted. In some form or another we have always made it work.
No matter what, nobody wants to see their long sprinters’ technique erode and then completely fall apart.
When the snow covers the track or the temperature drops below a certain degree, I move my sprinters inside. Forty degrees is the number I usually like to see before heading outside. If it is an early season acceleration workout featuring drop-ins or short hill accelerations, perhaps a bit colder is acceptable if athletes wear sweats and a hat. I would rather be inside late in the season than outside spiked up in the cold. It is less miserable and is submaximal in intensity either way.
The workouts and training modalities listed in the article are not always the best method, but they still present as attractive options that have netted us some successful results. Coaches need not always shake their fist at the weather or administration when it comes to a lack of training facilities.
Speed Is Always Possible
I will state the obvious even if I don’t focus on it in this article. Even without a track, it is possible to train the speed reserve necessary in the long sprints. There are always stairs or enough space around to get in some quality high-speed reps. There is really no excuse.Even without a track, it’s possible to train the speed reserve necessary in the long sprints. There are always stairs or enough space around to get in some quality high-speed reps. Click To Tweet
If the surface is a concern, then doing fewer reps and keeping distances within the 10- to 30-meter acceleration range could be wise. I love starting early season with short hill runs. We are lucky to have a few hills on our grounds that I consider a suitable gradient to sprint up. You can also consider supplementing with plyometrics on mats or other softer surfaces like grass for an excellent way to get the speed stimulus without killing shins.
We commonly sprint in the high school basketball gymnasium. Fly times are slower, but through timing the effort is still high. Running fast is great, but not at the cost of lower limb health. Even if you don’t always touch 95%+, I think you can make do until better options arise.
Video 1. Acceleration is important for 400m athletes, as sometimes relays and indoor events have more tactical demands. They can do short hill runs in the fall as a way to help build capacity through volume instead of distance.
Split Runs Wherever Possible
At times we measure out reps with a wheel anywhere we can, including parking lots, grass fields, and sidewalks. I find split runs to be an excellent way to improve the quality of training with high school athletes. If you mention running 320 or 350 meters 2-3 times to some high school athletes, they may look at you with skepticism. Splitting it up into smaller distances with short rest is psychologically easier to handle. It also allows slight recovery to take a few breaths and then attack the next rep while maintaining form. Of course, being spiked up on a track would be ideal, but I think that even split reps at intensive tempo pace working to high 80s for percent effort is enough to elicit an adaptation that builds the mental grit to run fast long sprint times.
I am very much experimenting with the rep distances and how best to split them up. I think the only answer is to find what yields the best results for the athletes in front of you.Even split reps at intensive tempo pace working to high 80s for percent effort is enough to elicit an adaptation that builds the mental grit to run fast long sprint times, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
I have used this mostly with my female athletes, for a few reasons. First, they run longer, as they are usually slower than their male counterparts. They respond better to longer reps. Two years ago, I had a girls’ 4x400m team run 4:04, and they trained much differently than the boys’ team. They ran more aerobic reps, some critical velocity reps, and longer intervals on both speed on special endurance. The following year I kept the training more similar to the boys’ team. The end result? The same girls ran 4:15—11 seconds slower. I was experimenting, but ultimately it was a huge coaching failure on my part.
Here are a few split run workouts I have utilized this year.
- 4x4x75m @80% of RP in a hallway. We have gone as high as 85%+ on turnaround rest between the 75-meter reps with four minutes between sets. It’s a good starting point and a technically intensive tempo. It provided a nice early exposure to some lactate work, and the 75-meter reps were clean-looking due to their short length. I like alternating weekly between this workout with a 5x200m at either backend 400-meter pace (early), median 400-meter date pace (mid-late), or front-end 400-meter goal pace (late and less than five reps, if needed). I think doing a little of this work in the early season allows us to unleash a firestorm during the competition phase while running pretty.
- 3×320 outside on a measured course (160m+160m, 30 seconds between reps, 8 minutes between sets) I like this because Massachusetts runs the 300-meter dash indoors. Running 320-meter reps trims the fat off the reps and allows a rehearsal with a rep slightly longer than race distance. Later in the season, I dropped a set and increased the rest to 15 minutes, and they were flying with confidence at the 400-meter pace even though they hadn’t previously used a track. For two of the girls, I added the occasional completion rep of a dribble or high knee run for 40 yards with the focus on mechanics.
- 2-3x 350m on the sidewalk (200m+150m rest). We ran this a couple times around midseason. We aimed to run quality reps at the total length of the current 400-meter time as a starting point. A girl running 60 seconds would run a 200m at 34 seconds with 30 seconds’ rest. She would then run a 150m at 25.5 seconds. I wasn’t too concerned with someone being slightly fast or slow, only that they got a feel for the actual race in both distance and fatigue. I could get away with less rest at these early workouts. Later in the season, I would increase to 15 minutes or more, since the heart rate would be higher from going faster.
Of course, the split runs don’t have to be these distances exactly, but some specific combination and split will most likely allow your athletes to run harder. It leads to faster times even when athletes are not running on traditional surfaces. Outdoors, my top females may run some reps longer than 400 meters for split runs.
Video 2. Split runs are far from perfect solutions, but they are a gritty bridge to many high school environments. Use them selectively when you can and know when to keep things traditional.
As mentioned before, not running on a track makes it hard to hit times comparable to being on the oval. I don’t want athletes to run slow just because the surface is less conducive to fast times. I have begun utilizing completion runs as a means to counteract this. Instead of running 3-5 200-meter reps on intermediate rest (4-5 minutes) and getting discouraged by the slower times, I split the 200-meter rep into 150 meters plus 50 meters. The 150m was run at an intensive tempo pace (early season) or faster (later season, fast and loose). It is psychologically easier for them to run a 150-meter rep than a 200m.I don’t want athletes to run slow just because the surface is less conducive to fast times. I have begun utilizing completion runs as a means to counteract this, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
After resting 30 seconds (which is a pretty inconsequential rest), they performed a fast and technical final 50-meter rep to finish. I have debated using a reduced number of spaced wickets here but have not gotten around to it, as I feel like wickets need to be limited to a maximum velocity tool with proper six-step run-in.
The fastest girls ran cumulative 30- to 31-second reps. This would have been faster on a track that wasn’t covered with snow, but it was fast enough and put the focus on ending a rep with good mechanics, which never hurts. Running 30-31 seconds in sneakers on a sidewalk is at least some form of their 400-meter race pace, even if it is technically their backend 200-meter split time.
Again, some kids may need even shorter reps, but I find the completion run concept allows them to sustain the pace for a longer broken interval, which is a good thing for a long sprinter.
Video 3. The 400m is a tough event but don’t let athletes get tired and lose form. When an athlete is tired, they will fall to their worst training habit, not the other way around.
To start this workout, you need cones set at 10-meter spacing for 10-50 meters. This workout was introduced to me in college by my coach, Jeff Rockwood, and I have used it on and off throughout my coaching career.
The coach calls out a cone number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) that corresponds to the 10- to 50-meter segment desired for the athletes to sprint to. Cone 1 is set at 10 meters, cone 2 at 20 meters, and so on. The coach should predetermine the desired volume for a set. Two-hundred meters of volume could have many different looks/combinations, but the important thing is that athletes walk back quickly for the next rep. We used to do this workout in college with jog-back rest, but since I traditionally use it with younger long sprinters or older short sprinters, I usually opt to keep jogging out.
The athletes could have cone 3 called six times (30 meters x 6 = 180 meters), and then ending with a cone 2 could be the supplemental 20 meters to make it an even 200 meters. It can be any combination that adds up to 200 meters. We have called this 200 “the hard way in a hallway,” but you can run it wherever you have enough room to decelerate (inside or outside).
I like this and think it adds a layer of unpredictability. Instead of a uniform rep distance (such as 7 x 30 meters), the athletes run the reps while having to expect the unexpected. Calling out a cone 1 yields a perceived break and a resultant sigh of relief. Calling out a 50-meter rep late yields a groan, yet they still attack and relish the challenge to run fast under a little added stress. I don’t time these, although I have run head-to-head reps.
I guess, technically, this would fall under the umbrella of glycolytic short speed endurance. I think the base of acceleration really should not be rushed, so I would not use it early in general prep cycles, as it can be too much demand too soon. I do like to use it as a precursor to speed endurance or longer flys, as it eliminates a lot of hesitance with running those types of reps fast later in the season. Aggression and intent are underrated things when it comes to the average high school athlete.
I can recall one especially bad winter in which some of my more seasoned long sprinters progressed to running two sets of 300-400 meters total volume of the cone workout in the gym or hallway with about 15 minutes of rest between. Perfect? No, but it was a decent option in less than ideal conditions, which is why we are here in the first place.
Video 4. Athletes have to stay elastic for 45-60 seconds, and that means repeated double leg bounds. Sprinters don’t need to go for extended durations, but a longer session of bouncing is demanding metabolically.
Aerobic work is often debated and hated when it comes to 400m training. I am not going to debate that too much in the scope of this article, but I think some (as Carl Valle says, just a “dash”) aerobic work is required to support the 300m/400m. The longer the race and the slower the time, the more aerobic it is. However, I think the athletes who do it, as well as what events they do and where you place it in a training week, are all important things to consider before just deciding to run junk tempos. Tempos can be run beautifully and can help running form, but if the wrong athletes run them incorrectly or overzealously (or at all?), you have spoiled the training pot for the week. Where you put this work requires a little thought.I think some aerobic work is required to support the 300m/400m…(but) where you put this work requires a little thought, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Again, I think for females more aerobic training is necessary, due to them running longer than their male teammates. Speed reserve is king (or queen), but just a little “fitness” can extend the king’s reign.
When stuck inside with only 30 meters of space, I often improvise when I have a need for such a workout. I turn the warm-up into the workout during the early- and mid-season points. I think the athletes appreciate these workouts because they are light and allow practice to be about 30 minutes in length, which is a good thing.
I usually select the most general drills that can be done with terrific form. The simpler, the better. There is usually an array of skips, core exercises, and light drills. The important thing is that the exercises in the circuit are low-impact and not too demanding. I opt for “restoration” days to be less about med ball throws or expressing additional power and more about posture and rhythm. We are really just loosening up for the next day, and athletes usually come in feeling refreshed the next day.
The term “core exercises” as mentioned above is probably a mischaracterized and ambiguous term used to refer to exercises that challenge lumbopelvic stability/control or glute strength or focus on resisting rotation and not just the abdominals. However, I work with high school kids, so I call it “core” because it sounds exciting and challenging, and they think it gives them abs. The best “core” work of all is sprinting fast and lifting heavy. I typically run 3-4 rounds of this circuit, and a typical round looks something like this:
- Loose skip forward, 30m x 2
- Loose skip backward, 30m x 2
- Side skip, 30m x 2
- Low carioca, 30m x 2
- Core exercise: bear crawl hold, 30 secs
- 2 x 30m tempo stride or 30 jumping jack/front jacks
After the bear crawls, athletes will be breathing pretty hard. There is only enough rest between exercises so I can call out the next item and give a simple cue. The important thing is not what exercises they do, but that they do them well and look athletic.
I have experimented with a few things, and ultimately, the best information comes from asking the athletes how they feel during the workout and the day after. Once their face gets a little pink, I give them 2-3 minutes’ rest before the next set. Again, the number of sets and exercises they do depends on what you think they need and what you see. It is always about them and not about providing work for work’s sake.
To add variety, here is a list of some of the exercises I have used:
- Loose skips
- Cross and clap skips
- Donkey kicks
- Jumping jack variations
- Lateral pushes
- Ankle pops
- Big arm side skip
- Side shuffle
- Low carioca
- High knee carioca
- Jumping jacks
- Bear crawl
- Push-up plank
- Bear crabs
- Bird dogs
This is not the main thing, and it is just a piece of the week. We do not do aerobic work in large volumes every week or at times when we need to be at our best. I think the movement circuits have helped our athletes gain an understanding of how their bodies move, and they allow me to zero in on areas of need.
Video 5. Simple mobility and pillar strength are great ways to keep an athlete in shape by adding more without piling on the meters. A 400m athlete needs core endurance just as much as core strength.
Finding the Right Fit
Again, a lot of long sprint coaching is just identifying who has the mindset and talent to run these events. I think that culture can be created, and I have plenty of kids who have excelled at the 300m while focusing primarily on training for the dash events.
I am not advocating these training strategies for everyone, and some of my long sprinters will never see some of these reps as underclassmen. It really just depends. I can say these workouts have helped the mindset and confidence of many kids this season and last season. Our boy’s school record 300m time of 35.52 was set last winter, and several top five marks (girls and boys) were set this winter before a single rep on an actual track, so it can be done.Coaches can still provide sufficient training for their long sprint athletes in the absence of a training facility, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
I think coaches can still provide sufficient training for their long sprint athletes in the absence of a training facility. Preparing them adequately enough to race and then allowing the races to be a major component of the training schedule when necessary can be enough to develop them and have success.
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