An Inside Look at Karsten Warholm’s Revolutionary Training

OSLO, Norway — Norway has a rich sporting history. In the Winter Olympics, no country has won more medals. In athletics, its success is much more modest but it historically has almost always come in mid-d or distance running (Grete Waitz, Ingrid Kristiansen, the Ingebrigtsens) or field events (Andreas Thorkildsen, Trine Solberg, etc).

Karsten Warholm has changed that narrative. Before Warholm, no Norwegian had ever won a sprint medal at Worlds, let alone gold. Warholm has one Olympic and two world titles in the 400m hurdles. The 27-year-old is also the 400mH world record holder since 2021, taking an incredible 0.84 of a second off Kevin Young‘s legendary 46.78 world record that had stood for 29 years. That’s a 1.7% improvement. Percentage-wise, this would be the equivalent to a 1500m runner bringing the world record down from 3:26.00 to 3:22.30.

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Intrigued by this astronomical change to the 400m hurdles brought about by Warholm, earlier this month I sat down with the world record holder himself and the mastermind of his training, coach Leif Olav Alnes, to understand his beginnings, money in the sport, and the sprint side of Norwegian training. Here is what I learned from our two-hour discussion at Warholm’s training base, the IK Tjalve club in Oslo, right outside the famous Bislett Stadium.

From Octathlete to 400m Hurdler

As a 7-year-old child, Warholm started out his athletic journey playing soccer and running track. As he grew older, he would compete in youth national championships in Norway and would take gold in a variety of events. Due to this success in a multitude of events, Warholm migrated to the multis, which for boys starts out as an octathlon at the youth level before advancing to the decathlon at the professional level.

Warholm’s first real taste of international success came at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine, where he took home the gold medal in the octathlon. His most impressive time was 13.86 for the 110m hurdles, signifying early on that he had the potential to be a solid hurdler.

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For the next two years, Warholm was still in high school and competed at the national and international level in the combined events, whether it was the octathlon or the decathlon. He enjoyed mild success.

After finishing high school, Warholm started on a degree in economics. At the beginning of 2015, however, Leif Olav Alnes, who was already well known in Norway for coaching the best Norwegian sprinter up until that point, Geir Moen (10.08/20.17, 200m European champ 1994, 200m World Indoor champ 1995), met Warholm and saw his potential in the 400m hurdles. Warholm’s PB at that point was only 51.09 and he was not focused on this event. Alnes made sure to heavily vet Warholm, making sure he met his family, before committing to be his coach, as he believed not having a big ego and being down to earth were qualities that his athlete must have.

The two officially linked up approximately 12 months before the Rio Olympics. In January 2016, Alnes told Warholm that he believed he could run 48.50 for 400mH at the Olympics and Warholm thought he was crazy. Fast forward to Rio, Warholm ran 48.49 and although he did not make it past the second round, the partnership was well underway.

The Basic Tenets

First and foremost, the relationship between Leif and Karsten is one of mutual respect and high communication. After working together for so long, the two know each other extremely well and talk on the phone every night about training and how to get better. Alnes thinks this is important because at night the body is cold and Karsten can tell which parts of his body are sore and what the two of them need to work on the next day. The mutual respect between the two was emphasized heavily by Karsten in his appreciation and how much he valued his coach. Warholm believes that “coaches are very underestimated in the sport.” He thanks Leif for never taking shortcuts which prevents him from making stupid mistakes and getting injured.

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Leif broke down the training he prescribes to Karsten into fairly basic terms. Behind it all, Leif explained his training by asking the question, “Does this make the boat go faster?” If yes, then it would be incorporated into the training. Improving the training rather than changing the training completely is another principle hailed by Alnes. His goal in training Warholm is to take the luck out of sport as much as possible and reduce chance to a minimum. Everything that the two of them do is very calculated to maximize the chance of improvement and minimize the risk of injury.

Physiologically, Leif wants Karsten to be able to train as much as possible in a single day without getting injured. The goal is for Karsten to line up on the starting line as the best version of himself. Alnes told me that the most important and logical reason for one to have the mental belief that they can run a world record or win an Olympic gold is “because I deserve it.” Training more and training harder than anybody else is a simple way of convincing yourself that you deserve the best result. Over time, the amount one can train increases and increases, but there still has to be the right balance between work and rest to improve from it. Karsten and Leif have been working together for eight years now, and the two broke down the specifics of how they currently train.

The Schedule

In contrast to distance running, where there is usually a base phase of training followed by sharpening up with specific track sessions once the meat of the season comes around, Karsten trains at a high intensity virtually year-round. The difference is that the result of the training does not stay the same all year. The splits that Karsten hits for 60-meter repeats will not be the same during the year, and the splits will be slower in the fall when the training volume is higher. Similar to distance running, Leif changes the intensity during championship season and peaks Karsten to be able to have his absolute best races during the global finals.

The week is broken down into three hard days, three easier days, and a day off. The hard days are usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the easier days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, with Sunday for rest.

On the hard days, Karsten arrives at the facility at approximately 10 a.m. and does not leave until 7 p.m. He does not double like a distance runner, where there is a long break in the middle of two runs. Rather, he shows up and trains for the entirety of the day at the facility (with a break for lunch). There’s obviously a balance in the hard and easy days in the training schedule. This long training day is completed so that Karsten only has to warm up once in the beginning of the day. If he were to complete two different sessions, he would need to warm up twice, and the warmup takes a very long time and is integral to injury prevention.

The hard days are described as “red” days, and Karsten often rips off his shirt in practice, which he did in Tokyo after his 45.94 WR in the Olympic final. While the world was shocked at the sight of him ripping his shirt after setting the WR, Leif has seen it many times before and thought it was commonplace after such an unbelievably hard run.

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The “Red” Days

Karsten begins every day with a warmup that is specific for that day’s work. The warmup includes jogging and some stretching that almost everybody does before a hard session. Unique to their method, Karsten uses stairs to warm up as well. He first walks up stairs, then runs up stairs, then does triple extension jumps on the stairs. Finally, he uses a maximum of three jumps to clear the entire staircase. The staircase he uses has 21 stairs. The reason for using the staircase warmup method is to avoid the hard impact of sprinting while stimulating the same muscles.

Following the general warmup, Karsten goes into his hurdle warmup. He does back and hip activation exercises before walking the hurdles in order to free up his hips. All of the drills are done on artificial turf or grass in order to soften the banging and allow Karsten to have a higher training volume. Next, Karsten uses the Skillmill treadmill to do accelerations and some longer 20-second strides in order to stretch out his muscles.

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Right before the real session starts, Karsten does some final sprints on the Skillmill and slowly lowers the resistance in order to increase speed and simulate real sprinting. This is the final check to make sure all systems are ready to go and that his muscles are loose and ready to produce a good session.

An example “red” day session is 20-30 x 60m sprints. Karsten does them in sets of five, with smaller breaks of two minutes in between reps and bigger breaks after the sets. Do the math: if you add up the rest, the session has the possibility to last a few hours. Due to the extreme cold in Norway, most of Karsten’s sessions are held indoors. For the longer breaks, Karsten waits in a separate room that is heated to a high temperature in order to keep his muscles warm. In addition, he applies infrared heaters to his muscles before his sessions and sits on bags filled with hot water in order to keep his muscles warm.

After his hard session, he has a break for lunch at the facility.

Already well into the afternoon, Karsten continues with some hurdle work, running through nine hurdles approximately 10 times. After the hurdle work, he will go to the weight room to get in some strength training. Leif mentioned that Warholm has received hate for the training he does in the weight room, but the veteran coach loves the hate. He is motivated by the comments others leave on Instagram, and trusts his own training. “People do not understand that we are not competing in weightlifting, we are competing in running.”

Post-cooldown, the time is usually around 7 p.m. and Karsten’s “red” day is done.

The “Easy” Days

The easier days are shorter than the “red” days. Karsten only trains for about four hours and leaves much earlier in the afternoon. The function of the easier days is to clean out the body and recover for the hard days.

His easier days still entail the same warmup that is a part of the hard days. However, there is a larger emphasis on plyometrics and different types of jumps and drills for strengthening purposes.

Running-wise, the easier days can still be quite difficult, but not in the sprinting type of way. Karsten does some “tempo runs” on the easier days to increase volume and endurance. An example session is 20 x 2 mins on, 1 min rest on the treadmill. Just like the double threshold training, Leif monitors Karsten’s lactate levels after every 2-minute repeat, making sure he is not pushing himself too hard. Lactate is one of many measurements monitored during a tempo run to make sure Warholm is in the correct effort zone.


Although on the surface the term “recovery” seems like it would be easy, one of Warholm’s recovery tactics is still quite intense. The prime example is the extreme amount of time he spends in a jacuzzi on his rest days. The jacuzzi is located in Leif’s backyard, and one time Leif’s wife was curious about the amount of time that Karsten spends in the hot tub because she felt as though he never left. She timed it on multiple occasions. Karsten’s record: 3 hours and 47 minutes.

Outside of the hot tub, his recovery is pretty straightforward. He receives physiotherapy once in a while — formerly from Leif’s wife, who is a massage therapist — and he makes sure to stay away from processed foods. More interestingly, it is the days that he is working that are important for his rest and recovery. Staying on grass, artificial turf, and soft surfaces as much as he can in order to prevent hard impact is very important. In fact, Leif, who is educated in human biomechanics from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, has created his own 32 mm Mondo surface that his athletes train on. It softens the blow of a normal Mondo surface and aids in recovery.

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Being new to working in the track & field industry, I am always curious about the financial side of the sport and how much money the athletes are making. Since track & field is such a niche sport and a smaller market compared to the NBA, NFL, or soccer, the comparison between the larger market and smaller market sports has fascinated me.

That being said, while I primarily wanted to speak about training with Karsten and Leif, I could not pass up the opportunity to talk about finances and money in the sport with one of the biggest track & field stars in the world. 

The first deal Karsten ever had was a contract from Nike in 2017. Warholm understood that it would take more than just one win for substantial money to be offered in the track & field world. There needs to be insurance for a company that “you need to be more than a one-hit wonder.” He provided insight into the fact that it is very difficult to stay atop an event in track & field for many years, which is why so many people do not make a lot of money in the sport. The majority of great athletes only stay near the top for one or two years, which is not a reasonable investment for a company to make.

After more wins and some records, Puma offered him a much larger contract in July 2019. Specifically, Karsten said that his deal with Puma is unique because he brings more to the table for them than just being an athlete. Leif and Karsten work closely with Puma to create shoes and spikes and add more value to their products. Warholm believes it is critical as a track & field athlete to “bring more to the table than just running.”

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This might seem unfair to track and field athletes as NBA players and soccer players just have to focus on their performance in order to make millions of dollars. However, this is just the reality of being an athlete in a smaller sport. Having a story that is unusual and interesting will bring more to the table than just being a phenomenal athlete.

Although Puma is his main and largest sponsor, Karsten also has Norwegian-specific sponsors. His market value in the country of Norway is relatively a lot higher than it is internationally. Therefore, Norwegian brands are more willing to pay him to back their products. For example, he is sponsored by a food chain, milk company, and insurance company that are all based in Norway. Finally, Warholm believes wholeheartedly that truly using and believing in the products of his sponsors is integral to their partnership. This is most evident by his (maybe more so Leif’s) use of Red Bull.

Lastly, on the performance side, Warholm detailed that he makes significantly more money in appearance fees than he does in prize money. Winning a Diamond League race pays out $10,000, and he is paid more than that to just show up at the starting line and race. (In 2022, Norwegian media reported that Warholm turned down approximately $30,000 to race at the Prefontaine Classic). Each appearance fee contract is different, and he even stated that when he got injured in Rabat in 2022, the meeting coordinators acted very fairly even though he pulled up injured and did not complete the race.

The Future

Warholm opened up his 2023 season with the 4th-fastest time ever over 400m hurdles and a Diamond League record of 46.52 in Oslo on June 16. Then on July 6, he soloed a 46.76 to run the 8th-fastest time ever at the Norwegian championships, beating the field by six seconds.

Warholm’s next race is the Monaco Diamond League on Friday. Reigning world champion Alison dos Santos and second-fastest man ever Rai Benjamin are both entered in that race as well (Benjamin has stated that he is still deciding whether or not to run the race). This is the fastest Warholm has ever opened up a season, and with him losing the World Championship last year due to injury, I am sure he is motivated as ever to prove he is the best in the world and bring the title back to Norway.

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