The Power of 400s

The standard track distance is a powerful training unit for runners at all distances

By Steve Macklin, National Junior Endurance Coach and endurance coach education lead for Athletics Ireland

400s – or ‘quarters’ as they are known in the US – are integral to many athletes’ training programmes. Your local track is 400m in length, so one lap is an easy distance to utilise in training. What we need to understand as athletes and coaches is that repetitions of the distance can be used in multiple different ways to achieve different stimuli. In this article I will outline different types of workouts that athletes can use, using 400s. Please note that all the workouts given here are samples and should always be tailored to the individual depending on their target race distance, physiological profile, training and injury history.

Samples:

800m Pace:

  • 4 x 400m with 5-6 mins walk recovery OR 2 sets of (2 x 400m) with 90 secs walk recovery between reps and 10 mins walk between sets

1500m Pace:

  • 6-10 x 400m with 90 secs-2 mins walk/jog recovery OR 2-3 sets of 3 x 400m with 75 secs walk/jog recovery between reps and 3 mins walk/jog recovery between sets

3,000m Pace:

  • 8-12 x 400m with 75-90 secs walk/jog recovery OR 2-3 sets of (4 x 400m) with 45-60 secs jog recovery between reps and 3 mins jog recovery between sets

5,000m Pace:

  • 12-16 x 400m with 60 secs jog recovery between reps OR 3-5 sets of (4 x 400m) with 45 secs jog recovery between reps and 3 mins jog between sets

10,000m Pace:

  • 20-25 x 400m with 45 secs jog rec OR 2 sets of (10-14 x 400m) with 30-45 secs jog recovery between reps and 3 mins jog between sets

Half Marathon Pace:

  • 30-35 x 400m with 30 secs jog recovery between reps OR 2 sets of (15-20 x 400m) with 15-30 secs jog recovery between reps and 2-3 mins jog between sets

In the examples above we can see that 400m intervals can be used at a variety of different paces from 800m pace all the way to half-marathon pace. What essentially changes is the volume of the workout and the recovery between reps and sets. As athletes and coaches, when prescribing workouts we simply play around with the pace, the volume of the workout and the recovery between reps/sets. By doing this we change the stimulus we get from the given workout. This holds true for using any distances –  400m/600m/800m/1000m/1200m/1600m/2000m etc. Think about what you are trying to achieve from the workout, what stimulus you are looking for and then look at the pace, the volume of the workout and the recovery. With regards to the recovery, think about whether you would like this to be walking, shuffle-jogging or a float-jog recovery, where we keep the recovery part steady.

When we talk about achieving a certain stimulus let’s look at two examples on the opposite end of the pace scale. The 4 x 400m workout at 800m pace produces very high lactate levels and heart rates near max levels; it is very physically and mentally demanding and produces an anaerobic stimulus. The 400m workouts at half marathon pace, however, produce far lower lactate levels and lower heart rates, helping to improve lactate shuttling and a total aerobic stimulus.

Also consider that 400m reps can be used in many other ways other than just as a stand-alone workout. They can be tacked on to the end of a workout or used within workouts. There is no one way to use them and mixing them with other paces works very well.

Some examples for experienced runners may include:

Tempo + 400s:

  • 10 min Tempo effort, 4 x 400m @ 10km pace, 4 min Tempo effort, 4 x 400m @ 10km pace, 10 min Tempo effort

Uphill Tempo + 400s:

  • 5 min steady state uphill effort, 4 x 400m @ 5km-10km pace, 5 min steady state effort uphill, 4 x 400m @ 5km-10km pace

Power Hills + 400s:

  • 4-6 x 400m @ 10km pace, 4 x 10 secs short power hills, 4-6 x 400m @ 10km pace, 4 x 10 secs short power hills, 4-6 x 400m @ 10km pace

400s at descending paces:

  • 4-5 x 400m @ HM Pace, 4-5 x 400m @ 10km pace, 4-5 x 400m @ 5km pace, 4-5 x 400m @ 3km pace

Continuous Tempo + 400s:

  • 20-30 minute continuous Tempo followed by 4 x 400m on a track descending paces from 10km down to 3km pace

Mile Reps + 400s:

  • 1 Mile @ 10km pace, 4 x 400m @ 5km pace x 2-4 sets

The examples above are just a way of showing how you can incorporate the use of 400m intervals in a mixture of different workouts. The key message here is that there is no one way or no set way to use them and they can fit into many different workouts. Athletes and coaches just need to play around with things, use their imagination and keep changing their workout designs. Again, a key message to reinforce is that what we do with the volume of the workout, the pace of the rep and the recovery between reps/sets dictates the overall load and the stimulus we achieve from it. Try different things out with different athletes and see what works well and what may not. It’s about trial and error at times. Have fun with your design of workouts and don’t be afraid to try something new.