A lot of women who take up running in some form never set foot on a 400-meter outdoor track, especially if they bypass high-school track and only begin running as adults. Those who develop a hankering for competition, however, often become intimately familiar with the oval, with those tending toward the sprints and shorter distances being especially dependent on the track, since this is where virtually all of their races are held. A proper track workout has a number of distinct components.
Before you do anything else, you need to get the blood flowing through the muscles you're about to put to the training test. George Payan, a longtime track and field coach in Southern California, says that sprinters should jog at least 800 meters in a warm-up. This is two laps of the track in lane one -- note that most tracks have eight lanes for sprinting, although an increasingly fewer number have only six. After this jog, do accelerations of 10, 20, 30 and 40 meters to prepare your body for the rigors of the fast running to follow.
Stretching and Plyometrics
Stretching is advisable for athletes in general and is especially important for runners of all stripes, be they dash specialists or ultramarathoners. But for sprinters, a stretching routine is absolutely vital. Dynamic stretching has replaced static stretching as the preferred method in sprinters and others; see the Resources for a guide to specific stretches.
Plyometrics, or explosive motion drills, are a way to develop quickness, agility and rhythm without actually running. Specific exercises include jump-and-sticks, two-way hops, various types of skipping, box drills, and horizontal and vertical jumping.
Stretching and drills are usually done on the infield grass encircled by the track.
Longtime Baylor University coach Clyde Hart, who guided Michael Johnson, Sanya Richards-Ross and Jeremy Wariner to multiple Olympic gold medals in the 200 and 400 meters, notes that sprinters can be divided into "speed sprinters," who run the 100 and 200, and "endurance sprinters," who focus on the 200 and 400. Since the 200 is common to both, running a workout such as the one following, Hart suggests, provides a quality session for all sprinters:
Start with an easy warm-up jog, then do six to eight starts along the curve. Then run two times 250 meters at 80 to 85 percent of top speed with two minutes' rest, followed by two times 450 meters at 85 to 90 percent of top speed with 10 minutes' rest. Such workouts build both speed and "speed endurance," the latter being important in meets in which multiple heats or rounds of an event are held prior to the final.
The Cool-Down and Wrap-Up
Coach Payan says that the warm-down -- sometimes called a cool-down -- is as important as a warm-up and should be done after every track workout, regardless of the difficulty of the session. This is also a good time to reflect and regroup mentally. So, while jogging at least two laps, ask yourself if you accomplished what you hoped to, and, if applicable, discuss your results with your teammates and coaches to check whether you are working at an appropriate level for your experience and fitness.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.