The 400m / 800m Conundrum

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Matthew Birchall's picture
Matthew Birchall

I am a former 400m hurdler who is now coaching athletes over a range of distances from 200m to 800m. Through my own research, attendance on training courses and experience talking to other coaches, I have noticed an apparent paradox between the training of 400m runners and 800m runners that I hope has a satisfactory resolution.

The 400m is considered a sprint event, and most of the recommended training for this event concentrates on anaerobic work, power development and technique. It is very rare for 400m runners to include steady running or even vVO2Max sessions. The proportion of anaerobic to aerobic requirements for this event are typically given as about 75%:25%.

The 800m is considered a middle distance event, and most of the recommended training for this event involves a mix of aerobic and anaerobic work. Steady runs and vVO2max sessions are the norm for developing the aerobic side, and flat-out sprinting is included only occasionally. The proportion of anaerobic to aerobic requirements for this event are typically given as about 60%:40%.

My question is this - as the 800m is only double the distance of the 400m, and the difference in energy system requirements is no more severe than between the 800m and the 1500m, why is there such an enormous difference in the recommended training programmes?

There is a huge culture gap between the 400m and 800m, far more than any other equivalent pair of sequential events, but is this justified?

On the face of it it seems that 400m runners may be lacking adequate aerobic capacity and that 800m runners may be lacking sufficient speed, spending disproportionately long developing a lesser energy system.

I would be very interested to hear from any other forum members who may be able to shed light on this conundrum!

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