Complete Track and Field

4 Goals of 400m Training

The 400-meter event is no different, in general definition, from any other sprint event.  There is an acceleration to a level of maximal race velocity which concludes with the attempt to maintain the highest possible level of that maximal race velocity for the duration of the event.  When training for any sprint event, velocities and duration of the event will dictate the specificity of the training.

The difficulty in training for the 400-meter event lies in the decisions the coach must make regarding the number of energy systems and their precursor qualities that must be addressed.  The 400-meter event must address the issues of maximum speed development with all of the additional burdens of specific endurance required to race for 43+ seconds.

GOAL # 1: Absolute Speed

The first goal of a 400-meter athlete is to be as fast as possible as measured by a 10-meter segment.  Speed development is trained from the earliest days of practice.  A basic technical model of sprint mechanics that will allow for efficient foot contacts should be mastered.  Then, the variables of stride length and stride frequency can be manipulated through “contrast training” methods.  Simultaneously, power and the ability to express that power through force application at track level will be developed.  The training menu will include acceleration development, fly-in sprints, ins and outs, multiple jumps; multiple throws, and weight room work in the form of Olympic, core and supplemental lifts.

Although the five bio-motor abilities of speed, strength, endurance, coordination and mobility are always being trained, maximal speed development is the overriding theme of our general preparation phase.  Two, and sometimes three, sessions per microcycle are dedicated to this theme.  These training sessions have high neuro-muscular demands.  The remaining days of the week are spent with complimentary training themes or restoration that will allow for the greatest improvements to the maximal speed goals.

Once new speed goals are achieved during the general preparation phase, there will be a progression along the speed endurance spectrum throughout the specific preparation and competition phases.  Mesocycles will be designed for improvements of alactic short speed endurance, glycolytic short speed endurance, and speed endurance.  In theory, we try to have our 400-meter athlete be the best 60-meter sprinter they can be during general preparation.  During specific preparation, we want the athlete to be the best 200-meter sprinter they can be.  Finally the athlete will master the 400-meter event during the competition phase.

For more information on speed development, check out the 3 Laws of Speed Development

GOAL # 2:  Capacity

The second goal of the 400-meter athlete is to increase the lactate threshold so that less lactate is produced at any given speed and reduces hydrogen ion interference with motor unit operation.  The primary means for developing increased capacity by shifting the lactate threshold curve are Tempo runs and Speed Endurance runs.

Extensive and Intensive Tempo sessions are used throughout the season.  Tempo sessions begin at 70-75% goal pace runs in General Preparation and may increase by 5% of goal pace per mesocycle as the volumes decrease.  Traditional distances of 100-meters through 500-meters are used.  Training session paces are calculated times based on 200 or 400-meter goal pace.

Extensive tempo (XT), or sub 80% runs, may have little significance while training the 100/200-meter athlete, but it can be argued that it has value that is more significant for the 400-meter athlete.  A recovery system must be built so that 400-meter athletes can handle the increasing volumes of work necessary to develop all five bio-motor abilities adequately throughout sessions, microcycles, mesocycles, macrocycles, and careers.  Extensive Tempo is a logical precursor to Intensive Tempo (IT), or 80-90% runs.  More importantly, Extensive Tempo aids in recovery from previous days workouts, enhances muscle capillaries, increases or maintains work capacity, provides low intensity opportunities to develop healthy joints, and strengthen soft tissue.

Intensive tempo mixes aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and allows for the shift of the lactate threshold curve. Some 400-meter training protocols focus on Intensive Tempo.  Intensive Tempo is the precursor to higher intensity Special Endurance runs. Both extensive and intensive tempo runs closely mimic the duration of the 400-meter event at sub maximal velocities.  Tempo runs may occur once or twice per microcycle in General Preparation and Specific Preparation. You should use them less frequently in other phases of training.

Tempo runs are also a way to teach the lessons of race distribution, pace, and general relaxation cues to the long sprinter.  Tempo sessions are calculated using percentages of goal pace and are expressed to the athletes in terms of pace per 100-meters. The athlete should steadily increase effort throughout each run as well as throughout each workout so that the pace is maintained.  Running too fast too early in any run or during any training session is to be avoided so that the total product of the run or session is not compromised.

A variety of speed endurance runs including Glycolytic Short Speed Endurance (GSSE), Speed Endurance (SE) and Special Endurance 1(SE1), will challenge the anaerobic glycolytic system at velocities that more closely mimic the demands of the 400-meter event over shorter durations.  These sessions are used during the Specific Preparation, Pre Competition and Competition phases of training.

Don’t miss Complete Speed Training 2 for everything you need to know to train your sprinters

GOAL #3: Tolerance

The third goal of the 400-meter athlete is to alter neural thresholds to operate more normally in the presence of hydrogen ions.  Hydrogen ion accumulation slows down the rate of glycolysis as well as contractile activity within the muscles and limits both the force and duration of muscle contractions. Special Endurance 2 (SE2) runs are prescribed during the pre competition phase to increase the tolerance of hydrogen ions associated with lactate production.  This tolerance is also referred to as buffering.  An 8-week prescription of Special Endurance 2 will increase buffering ability.  One session per microcycle will be prescribed.  The likelihood exists that another session will occur in the form of a 400-meter competition and/or a 4 x 400-meter relay leg.

During these SE2 workouts, the athletes will be asked to perform while “swimming” in lactate and hydrogen ion.  These workouts are incredibly demanding both physically and psychologically.  This is the feature workout of the microcycle and all other training should be designed around having the athlete prepared to give a great effort on the day of the training session and allowing the athlete to adequately recover before being asked to perform again at a very high intensity.

GOAL #4: Intelligent Race Plan

The fourth goal of the 400-meter athlete is to take full advantage of their training by running an intelligent and sound race plan that will allow for the fastest possible result.  It is my opinion that the majority of 400-meter athletes run too fast too early in the race.  Athletes run the first 200-meters too close to their 200-meter PR, which accelerates hydrogen ion accumulation.  The race model asks an athlete to run 1.5 seconds slower than 200-meter PR for the first half of the race.  In doing so, they arrive at the 200-meter mark comfortable enough not only to be able to race over the second half of the event, but also fast enough to enable a good final time.  The race model then asks the athlete to have a 1.0 second differential between the first 200 and last 200.  Executing this race model takes tremendous discipline over the first half of the race and tremendous confidence over the last half of the race.  During the first 200-meters the athlete must not worry about what is happening in the lane outside or inside of him or her.  The athlete needs to be able to increase intensity over the second half of the event and be able to race to the finish line over the last 50-meters.

Some good examples of this race plan are Michael Johnson’s World Record of 43.18 in 1999 and Cathy Freeman’s Olympic Gold Medal in 2000. When Michael Johnson set the world record at 400 meters his race differential was .6 seconds. His 200-meter best that season was 19.93 and his first 200-meter of his world record race was 21.3.   Remembering that Mr. Johnson had run 19.32 for 200-meters in 1996, a time of 21.3 should have felt relatively easy and allow for a great second half of the race.   When Cathy Freeman won the Olympic Games, her race differential was 1.1 seconds.  Her best performance that season in the 200-meter was 22.53 and her first 200-meter of the 400-meter gold medal was 24.0.

Training for the 400-meter event is like cooking a good stew; there are literally hundreds of different recipes available.  Most of the recipes contain similar ingredients, but it is how much of each ingredient, and when they are added, that will ultimately dictate the stew’s flavor.  The dosage and order of training ingredients for the 400-meter event will ultimately dictate the success for the athlete.

More on the 400 Meter: What is the Best Way to Train 400m Runners?

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the following people, whose lectures, clinics, conversations, influences, friendship, and support have allowed me to learn and grow as a coach: Vince Anderson, Ernest Barrett, John Baumann, Randy Cole, Paul Doyle, Jose Fernandez, Curtis Frye, Ron Grigg, Sr., John Hird, Todd Lane, Marc Mangiacotti, Becky Motley, Kevin O’Donnell, Dan Pfaff, Cliff Rovelto, Loren Seagrave, “Boo” Schexnayder, Al Schmidt, Dennis Shaver, Mike Smith, Paul Souza, Kebba Tolbert, Toney Wells, Gary Winkler, Mike Young and all of those involved with USATF and USTFCCCA Coaches Education.

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About Ron Grigg

Ron GriggCoach at Jacksonville University (FL). Coach Grigg has had 10 x Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year. He is USA Track & Field Level II Certified – Sprints, Hurdles, Relays, Jumps, Throws & Combined Events, is an USA Track & Field Level I & II Instructor. He has Coached: 9 NCAA National Champions, 25 NCAA All Americans, 86 Atlantic Sun Conference Champions...
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  • Ron Grigg

    Jack,
    It would be difficult to answer that question with any accuracy as I do not know the specifics of your situation. In general, in the last 3 weeks, we are just “topping off the tank” so to speak. Racing takes priority, therefore there is more rest involved or more easy days involved in the last 3 weeks. Intensity remains high, but volumes tend to drop on the most intense days.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi there Ron :-) I have just come across this article & as a parent of a 15 year old daughter, found it extremely interesting. My daughter appears to have an amazing capacity to train hard with very little (if any) drop off in her repetitions & her training efforts suggest she is capable of running a sub 60 second 400m. However, her PB is still 60.29s. She has not raced over 200m recently but I’m hoping it would be around low 26 or even just under 26 seconds. Her coach has a program that loosely follows Latif’s 12 week 400m program from Complete Track & Field. With 6 weeks to go until a major 400m event, is there anything you can suggest that might help her cut 2-3 seconds off the above PB – or is that unrealistic?? Many thanks & kind regards.

    • Ron Grigg

      Elizabeth,
      If she can run 26 low, and shows strong capacity in training, but still isn’t breaking 60 seconds, then I would look at the race model to see if she is running too fast in the first half of the race, or if she is running too slow in the first part of the race. For someone who run 26 low, they should be right around 28 flat at 200 meters.
      Over the last 6 weeks, the races themselves will provide the strongest specific stimulus.

      • Elizabeth

        Thanks so much Ron – we think Kelsey was slow for the first 200m (around 28.5 sec).

        We are a little unsure as to what her training should be for these last 6 weeks. She can race twice a week (one at club night where the distance varies each week) & a more official race over 200m or 400m in the weekends.

        Over this last week, Kelsey’s training has included the following;
        1) 5 x 200m on a rough track with really, really long grass. She did these in just under 30 sec with a 4 minute recovery (due to the length of the grass).
        2) 3 x 300m (approximately 44.9 sec per repeat with 10 minute rest between each) plus a 150m to finish (23 sec).
        3)Kelsey has also done a couple of anaerobic alactic sessions – one of which included block work

        I take your point about the racing & how this will help her to run a sub 60 :-) But feel we need some help with balancing out the other sessions – particularly in developing the effective sessions for each energy system.

        Thank you so much

        • Ron Grigg

          Elizabeth,
          It really is difficult to comment specifically on training without knowing the detailed specifics of someones past training.
          I will make some general comments. Two special endurance sessions (faster than race pace) and a “couple” of anaerobic alactic sessions per week are appropriate in the specific preparation period prior to racing. However if she is ALREADY racing twice per week, AND doing all of those other mentioned sessions, it will surely compromise her ability to produce her best performance on race day.
          If she will be racing twice per week, then there should be more moderate and less intense training sessions surrouding this period. Perhaps limit the anaerobic alactict work to 1 session per week, and you can extend the duration of each rep up to 60 or even 75 meters.
          The repetition running sessions could be more “maintenance work” at paces 80% or even below of 400m goal pace.
          The races should take priority, and the body should be rested enough to produce top performances, especially in the last 3 weeks of the season during what should be the most important competitions.
          I always caution that her coach likely has a plan, and outside advice could not only interfere with that plan, but it could create doubt in the mind of the athlete if the current coaches methods are being contradicted or openly criticized. The best athlete is one who believes fully in her preparation.
          Hope this helps,
          Ron

  • Robert Mc Gimpsey

    Great article; the training is spot on; but, every coach has to be able to modify to the athletes that he/she has…..this is a really good overall plan and explains everything well…another winner…!!!!!

  • charles

    This is the most logical explanation, I will use this theory for the rest of the season. I will use this method to train myself. Im planning to start running again, and will be competing in the masters.

  • Eugenia

    Very informative article. I have a question about mapping out goals for a freshman girl who runs a 26.6 200 and a 60.4 400. I have been following the CST vol2 program. It has worked very well for my sprinters. Many of them have dropped between 3-6 sec. and are healthy. I come from more of a distance back round so this has taught me a lot. I will have her for three more years and want to be able run to the best of her ability. She is very motivated.

  • Jack Boylan

    During the late season
    With 3 weeks left what kind of work load do you believe in. I don’t want to push my hs. Kids to much.
    Thank you
    Jack Boylan

  • http://www.myterminalvelocity.com Tony Veney

    Ron makes so much sense about training all of the systems involved in a great 400 on whatever level your kid is currently running. Nothing in the body improves in isolation, so all the systems must be touched. Sometimes if a kid is genetically predisposed to be fast, a slower base-like approach will work (cuz they are just fast). The fast kid fools us into believing the train slow to run fast is the best or only way to go. But if you look at the top 400 men and women in the world, they all have some fast 200 Pr’s, or they run 4×100 legs, 4×200 legs and get their boost there.

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  • Ken

    Hi Coach:

    How much of these goals can be applied to 800 m or 1500 m runners? It seems that the same concepts, with minor modifications, can be applied to other events. I know each event and each runner is unique, but the base plans should be very similar.

    Thanks for sharing your information.

    Ken Hampton

    • http://www.judolphins.com/wtrack Ron Grigg

      Coach Hampton,

      You are correct. Every event has its menu of ingredients. Identify them, and remember the principles of progression and specificity. The 800 and 1500 are beautiful events that add a much greater aerobic component. Even our 800 and 1500m runners learn to accelerate and run at top speeds, but they spend far less time there than do the sprinters.

      Middle distance and distance athletes still do hurdle mobility, multi throws and jumps, they skip for height and distance, and they learn to squat and clean. All of that is good fundamental track and field training. But the volumes and densities are different than for the sprint group.

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  • http://www.sftrack.org Nick

    Coach Grigg:

    It couldn’t have been written any clearer. Beautiful way to lay out the big picture!

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