How to Train for a 400M Sprint

Practicing starts for the 400 meters, with or without blocks, is essential.

Practicing starts for the 400 meters, with or without blocks, is essential.

The 400-meter race is track and field's longest sprint event, covering exactly one lap of a standard outdoor track. Taking anywhere from just under 50 seconds for the fastest women in the world to around a minute for a talented high school girl, the 400 -- about 2.3 meters shy of a quarter mile -- requires both top-notch jets and anaerobic strength, so proper training for the event includes many different workouts. Start your training two to three months before your competitive season begins.

Preseason Conditioning

Run for 15 minutes at a steady but not demanding pace, once or twice a week.

Run for 30 minutes, interspersing faster periods of three to five minutes with gentle jogging of similar duration. Do this once a week, on a cross-country course, if possible.

Do six repeats of 800 meters at a challenging pace, taking five minutes of rest in between, once a week.

Run four to six 40- to 60-meter sprints on the track to practice your start and acceleration, twice a week. Do this on the curve, since this is where the 400 starts in competition.

Rest your body on Saturday or Sunday or both to prepare for the week to come.

Early Season and Midseason

Shift your emphasis from aerobic endurance to speed and speed endurance by doing shorter times, easier running and more track work.

Do dynamic stretches and mobility drills Monday through Friday, on nonrace days, under the guidance of an experienced coach or other mentor.

Work on starts twice a week by doing 4 X 40, 4 X 50, 3 X 60 meters, with or without starting blocks.

Do runs of 500, 400, 300 and 200 meters with five minutes of rest between each, once a week. Perform these at 75 percent of all-out speed. These develop anaerobic power.

Do eight to 12 100-meter sprints twice a week at 90 percent effort, taking a slow walk back to the start for recovery.

Take Sunday off if you race on Saturday. Run easily for 20 to 25 minutes if you do not race on Saturday, then rest on Sunday.

End-of-Season Competitive Peak

Continue to hone your speed and technique while scaling back the overall amount of work done, so that you are well-rested for the important championship meets or other season-ending races.

Run an easy one-mile warm-up jog before each track session. Stretch after the warm-up.

Run a workout three times a week that includes three repetitions of 200 to 300 meters, done almost all-out and with 10 minutes of rest between reps. Note that the number of repetitions is down from earlier in the season, but the speed is greater and the rest intervals longer, closely mimicking race conditions.

Work on starts twice a week, doing 4 x 50 or 4 x 40 meters.

Take two days off before your most important race, but continue to stretch.

Items you will need

  • Running shoes
  • 400-meter track
  • Road and off-road running courses
  • Stopwatch
  • Starting blocks (optional)

Tip

  • You may want to add weight training to this regimen if you are an experienced athlete and have done strength work in the past; consult your coach for specifics.

Warning

  • Never do these workouts without a proper warm-up, as skipping the warm-up may increase your risk of injury.
 

About the Author

L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.

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