Zonal Training for the 400m


This post may not appeal to many of you that are not involved with Track & Field. This represents a close to 40 year obsession with the 400 meter event. this is an approach that I have used throughout the years with real good results. It certainly is not a traditional approach.

The thinking behind this is to take a fresh look at race distribution in order to take full advantage of the athlete’s physiological and psychological capabilities. This approach should result in a concrete individualized race plan for each athlete regardless of the level of development. The goal is to have the athlete control the race, not the races control the athlete.

The ultimate goal is to get the athlete to run at the highest percentage of their maximum velocity for the duration of the race. This is based on the principle of speed before speed endurance; you cannot endure a quality you do not have. It is essentially endurance through speed, not speed through endurance.

The first step in the process is a detailed race analysis

If 50 meter segment times are available determine the fastest 50 meter segment. Then determine the slowest 50 meter segment. The difference between is the efficiency factor.

Johnson (Athens 97) Fastest 4.98 Slowest 6.14

Freeman (Athens 97) Fastest 5.64 Slowest 7.04

In most situations 50 meter race segments are unavailable so it is necessary to simulate or recreate this in training.

30 meter fly – To determine max velocity expressed in M/Sec

4 x 50 meter fly with 30 seconds recovery between runs. Look at average time for the four runs. Look at average velocity in M/Sec. Compare this to average velocity in the 400 meters.

For comparison purposes also look at the average velocity for the 200 meters in a race situation.

All training target times are determined off of max velocity or race velocity. The goal is to narrow that gap. It is an adaptation of Bill Bowerman’s date pace/goal pace idea.

Race Distribution
Traditionally the 400 meters has been broken into two segments 200/200, 300/100, 250/150 etc. I conceptualize the race into three zones, the length and duration of which is determined by each individuals capabilities based on max velocity, racing history and psychological makeup. The goal is to give the athlete an individual race plan and a context for choosing training distances. The zones are:

Zone One – Set-up (Controlled aggression, get out and set-up the race)

Zone Two – Float (Free wheeling, relation carry the speed)

Zone Three – Attack (Go after it, build and go, hold form. Unleash the energy. Own the last 50 meters)

Race distribution through the zones will determine training. Training is set-up to address the zonal concept. Training is organized into revolving cycles (blocks) based on seasonal goal and current race results as well as the adaptive response to training.

Start short and simple

50 set-up -50 float -50 attack

Manipulate these distances through the spectrum from speed to speed endurance, to special endurance, intensive and extensive tempo.

Speed Buildup Block






Finishing Block







All with 30 meter to 50 meter A3 (High Knee Run) after last repeat

Polishing/Sharpening Race Plan Refinement Block






Thematic Work Distribution

Day One – Acceleration work + Maximal Strength

Day Two – Speed Development + Explosive Strength

Day Three – Speed Endurance (Alactate)

Day Four – Extensive Tempo + Strength Endurance

Day Five – Acceleration + Maximal Strength

Day Six – Lactate Production or Lactate Tolerance

Day Seven – Recovery

Some other random thoughts
Construct Ying & Yang Cycles – One cycle short and fast followed by a cycle of long and sustained work. Put these into six week blocks.

Always include something fast! For example 3 x 3 x 100 meters Extensive Tempo

Every third 100 meters go last 40 meters at 90%

Build the race from the finish – own the last 50 meters

Always end the workout fast or explosive – “Leave em laughing”

Too much effort = Tie up

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
RT @GreatestQuotes: Your aspirations are your possibilities. - Samuel Johnson - 4 years ago
Vern Gambetta

Latest posts by Vern Gambetta (see all)