Training For The 400

                                                          By Steve Bennett


The 400m event is a difficult one to prepare for as it requires the meshing together of the training to develop basic sprinting speed with the endurance of 400m specific speed. How to put all aspects together to develop the best performances at the right time is the difficulty.

The plan for an athletes training is best to be developed looking further ahead than just one season. This will allow over the course of the athletes development the opportunity to work more on some aspects in a given race season. Some athletes have plenty of speed to run a good 400m but lack the endurance where other athletes have plenty of endurance but lack basic speed. The primary requirement to determine potential at 400m however is basic speed. To run for example sub 50.00s for 400m the athlete will need an absolute minimum of about 23.50s speed for 200m. However an athlete with 22.0 400m speed should have a pretty easy time running sub 50.00s. Simple mathematics predicts that any 0.5s improvement over 200m should transfer to a potential 1.0s improvement over 400m.


An athlete that can relax at 400m back straight speeds and can develop superior efficiency will have a better conversion of their 200m speed to 400m. To improve this area 400m athletes need to do race tempo sessions with low levels of accumulated fatigue. The habits of running relaxed with good rhythm needs to be a long term priority.


This area of training is focused on two goals:

1. Development of better maintenance of good body position while running at 400m speed especially under high levels of acidosis. Athletes need to do a good variety of trunk training so that posture and maintenance of posture during races are optimized over the course of their development.

2. Improvement of general strength, specific strength and power to aid in the development of basic sprinting speed.

Athletes that have larger muscles also have the ability to cope with higher levels of acidosis as the inactive muscle helps the athlete cope and maintain higher levels of power for longer.

Speed Endurance Training

There are many different types of sessions that athletes need to do to optimize speed endurance. The catch is that to do too many sessions or sessions that are too big or too intense will actually decrease speed endurance by damaging energy systems. Repetitions of 10s or 20s or 40s or 50s all have very different effects. Intervals with long rest run fast have very different effects to Intervals with short rests.

The traditional way is to start slow and longer to build basic endurance and then speed the sessions up as the year progresses. I feel a better way is to focus on 400m race speed and try to deviate from the pace minimally with all your training. I have heard that Cathy Freeman rarely if ever trains on the track at speed slower than 14s per 100m. Recall that in a race a 49.0s 400m athlete may run the first 200m in 23.5 and the second 200m in 25.5 with the last 100m in 13.5 with the last 50m in maybe 7.0s or occasionally slower. Cathy would never in a race need to run slower than 14.0/100m so why practice slower. As an 800m coach I always like to think that any 400m athlete should be able to run a good 800m but it does violate the principle of endurance at 400m speed. It may help endurance physiology but may also be detrimental to 400m efficiency. In an 800m a 2:00min athlete may run the last 100m at maximum effort in as slow as 16-17s. This is a very big and different strain on postural maintenance than they will face in a 50s 400m.

I recommend with 400m athletes starting early in the season with short repetitions at back straight 400m pace. eg 10 x flying start 100m runs with 5min active rests and progressing with these until they can be done with good form with shorter rests of 2-3min. As condition improves (demonstrated by good maintenance of form at race speed ) these can be extended to 6 x 150m with 5min progressing to 2min at the same pace. Finally a good session to do is 5-6 x 200m with decreasing rests run at about race pace. Rep 1 at start of 400m pace and the last rep done at about finishing pace for a 400m. Rests decrease 5min, 4min, 3min , 2min (and 1min if doing 6 reps).

The athlete also needs to do some sessions of repetitions that are around 40s in duration. For many this is 300m but is best to be adjusted for slower athletes so that it is not over 40s. At high intensities sustained near 40s and above produce a large amount of anaerobic energy contribution that really starts to increase metabolic waste rapidly above 40s. An athlete can do maybe up to 5 reps of 40s with 5min rest but will find even 3 x 50s at a similar pace much more difficult with similar rests. 60s repetitions have been scientifically reported to tax the anaerobic system maximally but an athlete cannot do very many in a session even with long rests of 15-30min. In the 60s reps the extra problem is that the pace will certainly be much slower than 400m pace. Many athletes do peaking sessions of 2-3 x 40s with long rests eg 8-20min. These are done at 400m race pace and each rep is pretty much maximum effort. These types of longer speed endurance sessions tend to help the athlete have more sustainable speed as they expand the contribution of energy that comes from a special part of the anaerobic system.

Coordination Training

Athletes can develop great speed up to 40s of effort but still really fade in the final straight of a 400m. To improve this area means putting their body in situations with a high level of acidosis and trying to co-ordinate to maintain as much speed as possible. The best way to get this in younger athletes is in races. However serious experienced athletes need to do some special sessions to develop this area optimally. These are the most highly stressful sessions and if done more than once or twice a fortnight may cause a drop in performance. It is usual for these sessions to be accompanied by an increase in overall recovery for the athlete in their training week. Sessions like the 5-6 x 200 described above with decreasing rests or 2 x 2 x 200 at 400 pace with 2min rest and 10min between sets. or 3 x 3 x 150m rests 2min and 6min or 300 rest 2min 150m. Most athletes would have finished this type of training as they enter the peak performance phase of their season ad would then focus on easier tempo sessions and on being fresh for high quality races. The best performances at 400m usually come when the athlete is fully rested and has had some high quality races over 200m and 400m.