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Developing Speed in the 400 Meters

Train hard and smart to lower your 400-meter times

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Developing Speed in the 400 Meters

As of 2014, Michael Johnson holds the 400-meter world record.

Mike Powell/Getty Images

You need both speed and endurance to succeed in the 400 meters. The following tutorial on how to gain and maintain 400-meter speed is based on a presentation by college coach Tony Veney at the 2014 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic.

Establish speed first when you're training for the season. If you’re going to work on acceleration and developing speed, give your runners one minute of recovery for every 10 meters they run – six minutes for a 60-meter run, five minutes for a 50, etc. Because the ATP – the energy supply that fuels your muscles – recovers by 97 percent in about three to five minutes. You have to recover that energy to perform speed work. Imagine putting diesel into your unleaded car; it’s the wrong energy source.

When you do aerobic training and tempo runs, however, you can cut the recovery time. You can take a sprint workout – three sets of 60-meter sprints, for example – just cut the recovery time, and now it’s an endurance workout. As a coach, you have complete control over it, depending on what you want and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Train Harder Early in the Season

Incorporate strength endurance early in the season and then build on speed with your early meets, which count as hard training days. Have your 400-meter runners compete in the 4 x 100 relay early in the year, because the event features a flying 100 – especially if you put them on the back stretch, as the anchor. If you have a 400-meter runner who doesn’t want the baton on the 4 x 100 anchor, there’s something wrong. The 400-meter runners want to chase sprinters, and they think they can catch anybody.

Use tougher tempo runs, up to 80 percent intensity, later in the year. If you hit them with this too early, they're doing speed work and endurance work at the same time. Kids can’t do all that. You can’t make them run speed, endurance and high-level tempo work early in the season. At the beginning of the season, run your 400-meter team really fast and have them do 70 percent tempo runs for recovery days. The other way to get work in on recovery days is to do extensive warm-ups and cool-downs. Have your sprinters jog three laps, so they're putting in 1,200 meters, and have them run with no shoes to protect the integrity of their feet. Otherwise, they're walking around in soft shoes all the time, and these shoes prevent your sprinters from sprinting. Then they get slammed them into a spike and we wonder why they injure their hamstrings, knees, Achilles and calves, or have stress fractures or shin splints for days. So either warm them up or cool them down with no shoes on. If they don’t want to walk barefoot, they can wear aqua socks. You’ve got to get the integrity of their foot back.

Focus on Endurance Runs Later in the Year

Use speed endurance and lactate work over the last seven weeks of the season. This is where a lot of coaches come up short. A lot of coaches are trying to run really, really fast. Don’t run real

fast at the end. You should set that up early. You want to train for speed and lactate endurance over the last seven weeks because it’s not as hard on their bodies, and the races will get easier for them. But if you start dropping speed bombs you’ve got to give them more recovery time. You don’t have to give them as much recovery time when you do speed endurance work. You can recover in 24 to 48 hours doing speed endurance. You need 72 hours of recovery after hard speed training. And you may not have that much time, especially as you get close to the end of the season. Also, don’t be afraid to rest them, because fresh legs are much better than in-shape dead legs. When a kid gets hurt, he sometimes comes back bombing, because his body is super-compensated from the rest.

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