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Diversify Your 400-Meter Training

Use variety to spice up your one-lap workouts

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Diversify Your 400-Meter Training

Standouts in the 400 meters, such as Sanya Richards-Ross, perform a variety of running drills.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

To develop a good mix of drills for your 400-meter runners, check out these ideas from college coach Tony Veney, based on his presentation at the 2014 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic.

What’s the best training for the 400? Running 400 meters. But you have to do other training as well, such as speed work, unders and overs, and accelerations. For example, have your sprinters sit on the ground with their legs folded and their hands on their knees. On your signal have them get up and run 10, 20 or 30 meters. Place a cone at the end of their run so they have to reach down to touch the cone at the finish. This helps them work on their race finish – leaning forward at the line. Sprinters should practice their finishes regularly by working on driving and pushing through the line. If they slow down at the line in practice, they’ll do it in the meets, so they have to develop good habits.

Fartlek Training for 400-Meter Runners

Fartlek training is a great conditioner for a 400-meter runner. For example, go through a cross-country course in 200-meter segments. You can post signs on cones every 200 meters that give them instructions. If a sign says, “open your stride,” the runners know they’ve got to open up. Another sign can say “jog,” or “shuffle” or “sprint.” If you just want your runners to get some distance, have them do a basic Fartlek, alternating jogging and sprinting.

Short and long recovery workouts are very good for teaching your sprinters tolerance. Give them short recovery on one day, and long recovery on another. Make the recovery days more aerobic in nature, but understand why you do aerobic training. Aerobic training cannot make anyone faster. You can’t run slow and go fast. That’s like saying, if I lifted 100 pounds I can lift 200. But aerobic training does help you recover faster. It improves the size and depth of the capillary beds in the muscles, and the larger and deeper and richer the capillary beds, the more oxygen is transported to the working muscles. Aerobic training helps you recover so you can run multiple heats, if you have to. In Florida's state meet, for example, they run the 100, 200 and relay heats in the morning, there's a two-hour break, and they come back and run later in the afternoon. So if you run in the 100, 200 and both relays, you’ve got eight races in about 12 hours. Aerobic training allows you to recover your speed so you can run over and over and over again, at a fast pace.

You can also try quit-time workouts. If you schedule your runners to do a 350-250-150 session, for example, they can quit if they hit a certain time in the 350, or in the 250. They don’t have to do any more, although they still have to cool down and do their other protocols. So, if they have to run their 350 in 45 seconds, and they run 42-flat, they get to quit. Because a 42 is so much more intense physically and emotionally than a 45.  If we're doing 10 sprints of 200 meters in 30 seconds – with two minutes of recovery – they can quit early if they can do seven 200s in 30 seconds, with just 30 seconds of recovery. It makes them tougher. It gives them a mindset of, “I’ve got to get out there and knock it out.”

Ins and outs are another option – you can run a 200 at about 80 percent of race pace, then jog 50 meters, run 100 and then jog another 200 – going in and out on the intensity. You decide what distance they need. You decide how tough each kid needs to get. You can also do a 50-meter drill. Have them run 50 meters within eight seconds, jog for 50, walk a lap and then do it again three more times. You want them to feel what a 50-flat, 400-meter rhythm really feels like. They start to realize that they’ve got to push harder and harder. It’s not the eight seconds that hurts in that drill, it’s the stopping and re-starting. You’ve got to be able to make your runners do things that are hard. You’ve got to make them do things that are going to force them to really get going.

Have them do a 350-250 drill. Run for 350 meters, rest 90 seconds, run 250. Give them 20 minutes of rest if you repeat the drill. You can do ladders, up and down. To go up, do 150-250-350-450. Go the opposite direction to go down. Kids usually prefer the latter.

If you’re going to model the race, you can break it down really simply by telling your runners, “see your hands on both turns, don’t see your hands on both straightaways.” When you come out of the blocks you want to get through the turn fast, pumping your arms hard – that's why you see your hands – then the momentum can help carry you down the backstretch. When you go into the second turn you want to see the hands again because you'll start to slow down a little bit on the final straight.

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