400/800 Meter Training Workouts – The Beakdown

Here is a classic workout from my archives under the guidance of long time McGill coach Dennis Barrett.

We called them “breakdowns” for obvious reasons: 600-500-400-300-200. Recovery is “walk what you run” to a maximum of 400m:

– 600, walk 400
– 500, walk 400
– 400, walk 400
– 300, walk 300
– 200, walk 200

  • This is a long to short program
  • 800 meter runners can do this workout with jogging as the recovery
  • This type of workout can be classified as a true “lactic acid” or acidosis tolerance – butt locking – extensive tempo workout. If you aren’t hurting by the 300m, you are going too slow
  • During the fall, workouts are done in flats, but in the spring, spikes are preferred at the higher speeds.
  • Each 200 meter segment is one second faster than the previous interval
  • You can do this workout unassisted with a watch that beeps at every 200 meters interval with the desired target time.
  • After completing this, you will gain the mental toughness and confidence required to run a 400m, as you become “strong as a horse”.


Long to Short vs. Short to Long

Of course, the speeds presented here are nowhere near what you need to run 48 point. Short to Long advocates are probably cringing in horror as they read these type of workouts. They would argue I should run 200’s in 22 seconds (or 100m in 11 sec) as being more effective. A 22 sec 200m PR means 400 meter splits of 23 and 25 respectively, potentially 48 seconds. If you are racing at 22 or 23 speed, training at 25-29 speed is considered useless.

Short to Long Coaches will agree you become “strong as a horse”, but if you are slow to begin with, that just makes you a strong slow horse, right?

Cathy Freeman, the 400m Gold medalist at Sydney 2000, doesn’t believe in training slower than her race pace. Her 100m tempo runs are never slower that her slowest race pace, which is around 13 seconds per 100m (derived from a 26 second half 400m).

Short to Long programs believe in either low or high intensity workouts. These medium intensity type workouts are just too taxing on the body with no benefit, and requires too much recovery before the next workout.

What worked for me may not work for you

On the other hand, Clyde Hart believes training slower can make you faster.

By the spring of 1992, I was able to complete the workout in 1:27, 1:10, 54, 39, 25 which lead to my 400m 48.36 PR. Note the 6 second differential in training and racing.

This type of workout reminds me of Roger Bannister’s workout of 10×440 yards in 64 seconds. He got down to 61 seconds per interval and got stale. He then took a break rock climbing, then upon his return, his 440 yards were down to 59 sec. This gave him the confidence of running the sub 4 min mile in 1956.

To contrast, John Landy was training (over-training?) with 600m slower intervals. But they both still ran 3:58 for the Mile.

Please post comments or suggestions below.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at SpeedEndurance.com
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • Hi Jimson,

    What would your basic weekly training schedule be involving this particular workout? How many consecutive weeks would you train this way and how would your recovery strategy be incorporated?


  • @Fred,

    This workout was a classic Monday workout. We would start in November after 8 weeks of the fall GPP phase.

    Wednesday workouts were 6×300 which were eventually cut down to 3×300 with faster speeds and more recovery.

    Friday was 6×150, which got shorter and faster (i.e. 30s, 60s) later in the season.

    It was a fine balance between volume and injury.

  • Hi Jimson,

    Your dedication to providing info for coaches and athletes is very much appreciated.

    I tend to agree with the short to long approach, but also see the benefits in the long to short. Would it be totally out of the ordinary to combine the approaches, like say going short to long and back to short again over an extended training period?

  • @Chad – it really depends on (1) the age of the athlete, (2) the training age of the athlete (how many years they have been training) (3) and raw speed.

    Tommie Smith and Lee Evans both ran the 400m UNDER THE SAME COACH and Tommie trained S-to-L and Lee L-to-S.

    Actually, in 1991, I trained S-to-L, but in 1992 (the above example), I trained L-to-S. So you have to look at a 2 year window for optimal results. I ran 49.15 in 1991 then 48.36 in 1992.

  • What modifications (if any) would you make for a master runner. 50 years old, running 59 second 400 looking to get it down to 57.5.
    I have struggled in my recovery with the volume of the workout. It takes me 3-4 days to get my legs back.

  • my best 400 meter race was a 50.9 last year and my best 200 meter was 23.9, but i could have ran a faster 200 meter. but my coach wants me to change to the 800 meter, because he says i would be better at it. do u know how well i would run it in, and is it enough to get part scholarship. also i run a 1600 meter in 4:50 and i’ve never trained for it

  • so how do i get to that aerobic conditioning…like do u want me running miles or should i train like a 400 meter runner. then when season starts train how my coach wants me to.

  • How much “breakdowns” could be normally for 17 y.o. female 800 m runner per one training session. I’m not sure that I understand.

  • @Austris – it’s all about volume and intensity. This workout is 2100 meters of fairly medium to high intensity. So I would adjust the speed accordingly to your age and background (you’ll have to extrapolate the chart in Excel).

  • Ok. But, if I understand right we should do this 2100 m (600/500/400/300/200) not just one time per session but some more times with icreasing speed. Or we need to do this 2100 m once. Let me understand it.

  • need some help. have trained daughter for 2 years in the 800 meters. She is currently a 10th grader and runs a 2:15 800. Just finishing cross country. I need to confirm a good weekly workout schedule from monday to sunday. This would include distance days and speed workouts. Getting ready for indoor track. thank you for you help.

  • sir, my age is 19years
    my personal best was 1.58sec in soil track in 800mts.
    i have national meet with a duration of 20days time, i need your sugession to improve my timing so plz send me some work out for these 20days that fetches me to get good timing i.e,1.53sec in soil track so plz help me with ur valuable sugessions. so plz plz send me that really help ful to me.
    sir this is my best timings in 400 best was 52sec, 300m 37sec, 200m 24sec, 600m 1.24sec so by taking the above considerations send me work out shedules

  • My daughter is a freshman in high school who just finished cross country a month ago (End of Nov.). She will have track tryouts on Fedruary 14, 2011 for the 200, 400 and possibly the 800 if it’s not too much. She will start training after Christmas. Any suggestions on startup workouts up to her tryouts in February please? This is anout a month and a half before her tryouts. Also is the 200, 400 & 800 mixing it up too much. Will the 800 interfere with her 200 & 400 training? Thank you in advance.

  • My daughter age 17 runs the 400 meter and 4×400 relay, she runs the first 200 in 28 sec and her finish time is 1:05 she needs to get under 1:00 she is so tired at the 200 mark, what can she do to have a better 2nd 200 time.

  • my name is abadin i do 800 meter in 2:05. I train for myself everday please help my i want to make my time better

    • dont worry friend we can easily run 800 mts you want to run more continuous and endurance strengtheni excercise core excercise mfriend

  • hey, i’m 15 years old & a junior in high school. my coaches are making me run the 800 now because of my pr of 53.4 in the 400m & that we are short on crew due to the graduation last year. i have never ran anything near an 800 in a race although i ran a mile time trial at 5:26 cold. any suggestions on what i should do to prepare my self for the spring?

    • Hi Dan,

      Those are impressive times and I wish you the very best. However, I find your statement: “my coaches are making me run the 800 now because…” a bit disconcerting. The most important consideration should be: do you want to devote your time and energy to running the 800m event. Obviously your coaches want to have someone with your talent to enhance the track program so hopefully you’re both on the same page as far as desire and the ensuing work is concerned.

      And are they knowledgeable and capable enough to help you prepare even if outside sources provide you with an ideal personal program? Another consideration is to determine how many events will you be running in the spring given that you will likely be slotted for competing on your school’s relay teams.

    • @Uttam, i would start reading this Blog.. 5 things you need to know: a proper annual plan, track workouts, weight/plyo workouts, recovery & regeneration, and nutrition. It’s all here, use the Categories to find them.

  • please help me for 600 mts workout and before meet how can we and iam a junior friends who knows please see in facebook rohithkumar rohith tirupur

    • @rohith, depending on your body type, train like a 400m and move up in distance. Or train like a 800m and move down.