400m and 400m Hurdles Speed Work

The 400m is all about speed and the ability to run at over 90% of maximum speed for the duration of the race. This involves building a level of tolerance to the raised lactate levels in the bloodstream (produced by working at a level too high to adequately re-oxygenate the blood).

There are 3 areas of work that are needed to produce your best results in a race.

Pure Speed - this is the ability to improve your top speed. Even the greatest athletes on the planet can only hold this for up to 40m, but if you improve this then running at 90% of maximum speed is clearly faster.

Speed Endurance - The key to 100m and 200m running, this is also very important here. It is the ability to run at near maximal speed for further than pure speed will allow. Generally, this doesn't involve high levels of lactate and will be repetitions of up to 150m (or maybe 200m if long recoveries are involved).

Lactic Tolerance - 400m races are won and lost in the last 100m often by the athlete who "dies" the least. A runner like Michael Johnson used to move away most significantlly from the rest of the field in the last 100m - not because he accelerated, but because he slowed less than the other athletes. Here you are looking to condition your body to cope well with the high levels of lactate or lactic acid, which are causing you to slow (a natural reaction of the body to avoid your doing permanent damage to yourself).

Here are some examples of the types of session that a 400m / 400m hurdler would undertake. These sessions are for an athlete in reasonable condition who is fit enough to handle training at a reasonably intense level. As mentionned before for a personalised training schedule with advice, please use our interactive Online Training facility.

We have split the year into 3 sections for each type of training - conditioning, pre-competition and competition phases.

Maximum Speed

Often maximum speed sessions will be added to other sessions - always done before fatigue has set in to avoid injury.

Conditioning - there is little need to do this here - the aim is to get fit and strong and add in the speed in the forthcoming phases. It is however very useful to do technique and drill work at this time, so you are ready for the explosive work later on. These elements should be maintained throughout the year.

Pre-Competition - a session such as

4 x 40m with 5 minutes rest prior to a longer session will start to build up speed in this phase.

Competition - here speed is essential. A Session such as

4 x 30m from blocks

3 x flying 30m (with a 20m run up)

3 x 30 overspeed work (with elastic or slightly downhill would make a very good workout. It is important to note that this is very intensive and good preparation over the previous months is needed to attempt it without undue risk of injury.

Speed Endurance

Conditioning - Light sessions to get used to running at a reasonable speed are useful e.g. 10 x 150m (3mins) (80% effort)

Pre-Competition - here we would cut the number of repetitions, but try to increase the intensity 5 x 200m (7mins) (90% effort)

Competition - This would involve sessions with very long recoveries, as you would try to run as fast as you can on each effort e.g. 4 x 150m (15mins) (98% effort) This is not 100% effort - as it is not possible - you are trying to run as fast as you can, whilst maintaining as much relaxation as possible.

Lactic Acid Tolerance

Finally we come to the key for 400m runners - the training to adapt the body to cope well with the onset of high levels of lactate. This sort of training needs to be done about twice a week for runners wishing to compete at their best. HOWEVER, you need to have a high level of general background fitness before this training will benefit you and not run an unreasonably high level of risk of injury or illness.

Conditioning - This work will be fairly aerobic, to prepare your fitness levels for later in the year. However, you lactate levels will be high, due to the short recoveries and the work will be tough 6 x 500m (4mins) (running at a controlled pace)

Pre-Competition - The most important time of the year for this training. High quality runs with significant recoveries (approx 10mins) at a pace normally about race pace if the rep were 200m longer (eg if it is 600m - do it at 800m race pace). 600, 500, 400, 300 (10mins) (pace as described)

Competiton - Here your races will provide some of the conditioning for lactate tolerance that you need - other training will replicate this. 500, 300, 200 (20mins) (as fast as possible)

If you would like more help from the authors of this page, why not find out more about the services we offer to athletes. We'd love to be able to help you.

Learn more / further reading

  1. 400m Fitness Training
  2. Strength for 400s
  3. Mobility for 400s
  4. Running Kit
  5. Getting Involved
  6. Online Coaching



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