The 6-5-4-3-2 Workout in Middle Distance Training

Posted by Scott Christensen

During specific preparation and pre-competitive training periods there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to achieve future competitive season fitness for the middle distance runner.  These two blocks of time are also the most crucial for including a close monitoring of workload by the coach in regard to under-recovery challenges.  Middle distance coaches have many competitions to fit into the track & field meet schedule beyond the work sessions at this time as well.  Considering this, today we will discuss the value of using the 6-5-4-3-2 workout in middle distance training.

One of the least desirable approaches is to do too many work sessions that require 48 to 72 hours to recover from.  With so many training things to do, and so many meets to compete in, recovery sometimes takes a backseat.  This is a recipe for danger.  For this reason, a longer microcycle is so desirable for middle distance training, as it allows time for everything to be done before the workouts began repeating themselves in the next microcycle.

Workouts that build the highest lactate levels, or keep the system under a higher than threshold acidosis level for a long time, require the most time to recover from.  For that reason, the workout that is prescribed better pack some punch to deliver the stimulus needed for adaptation as the athlete recovers during this time of the year.  Middle distance coaches constantly seek these workouts.

Some of the most stressful work sessions for middle distance runners are those that cross between Special Endurance 1 and Special Endurance 2 workout types.  While this hybrid style of work is not recommended for runners in the novice training group, those runners in the emerging and experienced groups will find great adaptation if done at least 20 days out from the most significant competitions.  Milers and 800 meter runners with training ages of more than two years will find the double-variable aspect of the following demanding workout to be especially effective if done in the portions of the macrocycle that characterize high levels of work.


Recommended Resource: Daily Distance (2 Mile) Workouts For The Entire HS Season…From January To June


This hybrid workout is called the 6-5-4-3-2 work session because the demanding aspect of the unit are run at those distances – 600 meters, 500 meters, 400 meters, 300 meters and 200 meters.  The athletes go through the cycle twice per session for a total volume of 4000 meters of fast running for the day.  Combined with 4000 meters of slower, recovery-style jogging, makes a total for the day to be 8000 meters for this work unit.  Adding in a 5000 meter warm-up and a 3000 meter cool down makes a grand total of 16,000 meters for the entire training session, or about 10 miles.

This workout is called a double-variable training unit because there are two aspects of the session to consider, emphasize, time, and include in the athletes’ profile.  The first design aspect are the times prescribed and run by each athlete in the various repetitions of work.  Because the prescribed work is anaerobic in nature, the prescribed times need to be based on their individual anaerobic capacity.

For example, let’s set up a workout for a miler that owns a current date 55 second 400 meter time.  In data that can be used for this workout, that pace is the same as 0.13 seconds/meter.  The athlete cannot run 600 meters at 400 meter pace of course, nor can they sustain anything near date pace 400 meters for much of the total workout.  So, let’s have this athlete run at 80% of their 400 pace or 0.16 seconds/meter which will be the pace for all the various repetitions of this specific workout (about 64 sec pace).  These are known as intensive intervals because of the percentage they are run at.  The math, using the aforementioned 0.16 seconds/meter would be: 600 meters = 1:36, 500 meters = 81 seconds, 400 meters = 64 seconds, 300 meters = 49 seconds, and 200 meters = 32 seconds.

Like any prescribed interval work this session is nothing without the recovery period necessary to achieve these times as the unit unfolds.    For the first time doing this workout in each macrocycle, rather than set a timed recovery interval, have the athlete use a slow jog equal to the just completed repetition distance (i.e. run 600 meters hard then jog 600 meters, run 500 hard meters then jog 500 meters and so on).  Have the jog recovery a sensible pace and not what looks like a fast walk.  Once the athlete has progressed through the ladder once, have them start again on the second half of the ladder.  This would be another 600 meter (following the recovery from the 200 meter effort) and then just finish repeating the descending distances and the recovery jogs.

The coach should monitor each of the ten fast efforts from both portions of the ladder and compare with the prescribed goal paces that were set beforehand, and also from previous data accumulated from this workout in the athlete profile.  How well the athlete handles each of the ten segments is the first statistical variable of this workout.

The second variable for the coach to analyze is the total time used for the entire workout – start to finish.  For this data, use a second watch and start it when the runner begins the first 600 meters, keep it running throughout, and then stop the watch after the final 200 meter jog recovery.  The goal is to get a little faster total time each time the workout is done.  Some of this time will be from a slightly faster hard effort pace as the runner gains fitness, but most of the time improvement will come from faster jog recoveries while still maintaining target goal pace.


Recommended Resource:  Daily Middle Distance (800 – 1600) Workouts For The Entire HS Season…From January to June


For example, the first time it is done by a good middle distance runner in the spring, the entire work unit may take 42 minutes start to finish.  The next month it may be down to 40:30 and so on.  By the end of the runner’s career it may be down to 37 minutes for the entire 8000 meters.  Doing it in less time, while still maintaining pace, is an important aspect of this workout.

Finding new workouts for middle distance runners is difficult.  Not only must the workout be specific to the event, but also individualized to the athlete.  The 6-5-4-3-2 workout satisfies both requirements.




Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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