In 2008, the IAAF New Studies in Athletics’ asked Victor Lopez, the Chairman of the IAAF Coaches Commission and a long-time friend of Hart, to get Hart to speak about the fundamentals of his approach to training 400m runners.
New Studies in Athletics: What does it take to perform well in the 400m?
Clyde Hart:: It is important for 400m runners to follow proper race strategy in order to obtain the best results. We like to use what we call the 4 P’s:
- PUSH – the first 50m hard.
- PACE – It is important that the runner knows prior to the race after consultation with his coach, what their time should be for the first 200m of the race.
- POSITION – the runner must use the third 100m to evaluate his position in the race and determine if he needs to continue at the present pace or if more effort is necessary to put him in a better position going into the final 100m.
- POISE – This is the most difficult of the four segments. Not knowing exactly the status of your runner at this point it is difficult for the coach to advise the runner anything other than to maintain their poise, good technique, and stay as relaxed as possible to prevent the onslaught of fatigue.
(SpeedEndurance.com NOTE: see Michael Johnson’s racing strategy in the 400 meters)
NSA: Which type athlete has the most potential to improve the worlds best performance in the 400m: the speed or the speed-endurance type of sprinter?
Hart: I classify all 400m runners into two categories. Type A 200/400 and Type B 400/800. I feel that the Type A runners have a potential to show more improvement simply from the fact that I have found it easier to develop endurance in type A runners than to develop speed in type B runners. This is because speed is inherited to a high degree and can only be improved by very marginal amounts, whereas endurance and strength can be developed through hard work and time.
NSA: How do you balance training contents covering endurance and speed? To what extent have they to be adapted to the individual?
Hart: We balance training for endurance and speed by first classifying each runner to make sure they fall into either of the A or B type categories. Once this is done, their training regiment can be adapted to make sure that we are training them towards their strengths and training to supplement their weaknesses. Our general philosophy is really pretty simple. We believe in going from quantity to quality.
NSA: How do you identify
- the speed-barrier?
Hart: Keeping a daily training log helps us to identify if an athlete is possibly over training. I think it is essential that the coach monitor the amount that the athlete is doing in any given week. In regard to speed barrier, this is an area that we have never had a problem thus, I am not in a position to give you a fair evaluation as to how to identify such a problem. I feel strongly in limiting the amount of hard sprinting in practice. Knowing that it is necessary in such areas as starts and relay exchanges, we make exceptions. Otherwise, most of our hard sprinting is done in 60m distances with a 40m swing-down. By limiting hard sprinting, we not only protect the athlete from possible injuries but we are able to run more repetitions in practice. There are several ways to control the build up of lactic acid: by controlling the speed of the run, the distance to the run, and the amount of rest that is needed for recovery. The coach will have to determine which of these factors is contributing the most to the athlete not recovering sufficiently in training. In most cases, I have found that too short of a recovery time is the cause.
NSA: To what extent does strength has an influence on the result in the 400m and what type of strength is required?
Hart: Strength certainly has a major influence on the results of the 400m. Simply put, strength and speed are synonymous. Strength must be developed both through running and strength training in the weight room. Strength training for our 400m runners starts with endurance training in the autumn – long continuous runs varying from 5 miles (8 km) down to 800m. As they enter into the pre-competition period, the distances will be below 800m and will decrease all the way down 450m. As the distance to be run decreases, the effort of the run increases in proportion. This is only one example of strength running. I can’t go into all of the types of training available to the coach, but I would recommend that early on in the training up-hill running be incorporated because I feel it is a great strength and endurance method. In regards to development of strength in the weight room, in the early season our 400m runners are doing the standard Olympic type lifts and as the competitive season approaches a more specific weight training program, emphasizing mainly the core system is adapted.
NSA: How do you plan a competition period?
Hart: We plan competitive period with the philosophy that we never want to compete, if possible, more than three weeks in a row. This insures that we will have a week of no competition that we can go back and re-load our athletes for the next session of competition.
NSA: What is your approach to peaking?
Hart: I do not believe in the term "peaking". I believe that with proper scheduling and reloading throughout the course of the competitive season athletes can reach several high levels of performance and still be at their best at the end of the season.
NSA: What preventive measures do you apply for avoiding running/sprinting specific injuries?
Hart: Making sure that your athletes warm up and cool down properly is essential in every practice and competition. This routine should involve at least 15-20 minutes of running with the speed of the run gradually getting faster. This is followed another 15-20 minutes of stretching. I believe athletes should be taught that light stretching should continue during the workout to make sure flexibility is maintained. For athletes who have a tendency to have sore legs, running on a level grass area as much as possible is recommended. For us, minimizing hard sprinting in training sessions is very important for reducing injuries. This one factor, I feel, has cut down our injuries in the past and at the same time allowed us to develop a system that incorporates quite a bit of volume in training. Finally, ice and cold tub treatment after practice will help your athletes’ legs to recover and they will be better prepared for the next day’s sessions.