400 - how important is acceleration training

I am going up to the 400m for the next year since I have had hamstring problems during the acceleration phase of the 100m. I have had 3 pulls, not all in the same hamstring, occuring at 25-30m each time and in training when performing 30-50m reps.

Therefore, I am wondering if I can avoid training the acceleration phase for the 400, or atleast not above 95%, and just concentrate on flying 30’s for speed work. Similarly I would not go above 95% max acceleration pace when racing. Any thoughts?


Not actually answering your question Richard - do you mean avoiding it only in the short term or long term?
If not will you not only put yourself in greater danger of injury during comp. etc?.
Might I suggest a rigorous ham development program as the best insurance against the injury?

I think going to 400’s will help reduce this strain and help give you your confidence back in races, however you should address the problem. Maybe you are overstriding at top speed when you are in your transition phase or maybe your quads are too strong compared with your hamstrings so that when you begin using your hamis more, together with your stride length, the stress might be too much.

Viedo tape yourself and try and see why your hami grabs/tears/cramps at the 30m mark, but in the mean time 400’s will do you good to avoid this problem in the short term.

I totally agree that you have to attack the problem. First and foremost is working to get any scar tissue out of there with massage and regaining range of motion equal to that of the other leg. Then a strengthening program focused first on eccentric strength and muscular endurance till you are able to do some serious full range squats and deadlifts (wide grip deadlifts are awesome). Definitely video yourself running a 60m. Often times pulls at the 30m range is the result of poor transitioning from acceleration or drive phase mechanics to max velocity mechanics (or upright running). If you dont focus on hip extension during this phase you will have too much “back-side” mechanics and your hamstring will get overworked. Often a sprinter will get the initial hammie pull and then pull and pull and pull because of the scar tissue. And it usually happens during the rehab as you start increasing the speed of your runs and become more aggressive. Keep those muscles healthy and strong. That means hydrated, fueled, recovered, strong, flexible yet elastic and good sound mechanics. In other words dont back off the acceleration phase. Lack of speed will hamper you no matter what distance. Just my 2 cents.

Scott Weiser

All the above is correct, but just to specifically answer your question in that 400 training and racing for you will be a good way (whilst you are doing all of the above strategies) for you to be running as hard as you can and feeling fast without actually running at 100% intensity for a 100% 400m race is not the same as a 100% 100m race so definately go ahead with your 400m racing plans. It will give you your confidence back to run fast over a short distance, just dont rush it.

Thanks for the replies. I have actually been through intensive rehab using physios and a osteopath and am now at a point were my hams arestronger than ever. I am just wary with the acceleration phase and wonder whether it is really neccessary to train this, especially when the great majority of the race is at top speed (400 top speed anyway).

Richard I’d be interested in learning about the rehab approach/techniques/strengthing/stretching program if you have time.

A former co-worker of mine when going through the USATF Level II certification process was told by the instructors that the hamstrings arent fully involved until 30m during which the sprinter is transitioning from acceleration to max velocity mechanics (upright running). I would be curious as to what your mechanics look like during your first 30m. From my experience in coaching someone who forces the upright running position or consciously “stands up” is really only lifting the head and shoulders and it results in a lot of back-side mechanics and puts more stress on the hamstrings during heel recovery instead of the hip flexors. The focus should be on the hip flexors not the hamstrings. what do you all think?

Scott Weiser

Weiser I was told by a strength coach of a local professional football team that the hamstring concept depends upon the individual. Some use the quads predominantly in acceleration and some use the hams. I personally am training with a mild hs strain. I have no problems from 0 to 25 meters, but when I come up into sprinting form I have to be careful. For Richard I would say that your top speed is grossly dependent on your acceleration. I would focus on just taking longer time and distance to get up to top speed.

I wouldnt put much stock in what football coaches/strength coaches have to say about anything involving training even at the professional level. Most have no backing to their philosophies except what their talented athletes are able to do (mostly in spite of the training) and almost all have only experience with football where top speed is hardly ever reached except in break away plays. When in acceleration IF YOUR TECHNIQUE IS BIOMECHANICALLY CORRECT both the quad and hamstring are used. Assuming correct technique, after the push off most of the quad with the exception of the rectus femoris is recovering from the work executed. Same with the hamstring but to a greater degree because the hamstring group is not a hip flexor and with right cause because the hamstring by mass of muscle tissue is a weaker muscle group than the quad. Correct technique allows for muscular recovery and a relaxed muscle can also move faster or allow the limb to move faster. Therefore more emphasis in the hip flexion part of the mechanics allows for more efficient movement. that is not to say training should focus on the hip flexors - it shouldnt They are a weak set of muscles but the hip flexion part of the running technique should be emphasized by the coach.

Now the subject also involves the transition from acceleration to max velocity so lets touch on that. Keep stressing the hip flexion and your body will naturally stand up. Most sprinters want to pick up their head arbitrarily and “stand up” mostly because they feel they will get passed if they dont. When this happens your upper body is vertical but your pelvis is locked back and this increases back-side mechanics because you are forcing your leg cycle to happen faster and therefore your hamstring becomes involved in shortening the lever quicker. Now instead of your hamstring being used in the hip EXTENSION part of running it is now used in heel recovery so the hammie is under tension through 100% of the leg cycle and since that group is small (in tissue mass) it will fatigue quickly and therefore eventually be injured sooner.

Multiple injuries accumulate scar tissue and the muscle exposed less and less to the specific speed of movement and force produces pre-injury.

It is with this philosophy I have helped a bunch of hamstrung jumpers/sprinters overcome repeated pulls, increase speed, and set up the jump better.

You can accel slower in the 400 and you can make your top speed slower, but eventually you will run into the same problem in the 400 that you have in the 100 and 200. Email me if I havent been specific enough. Its hard to illustrate over typed word. Later.

Scott Weiser

wouldn’t let me email… So how exactly did you help these "hamstrung athletes?

Its all relative, but I was at a school that was in the dark ages of sprinting. They have changed a lot in 5 years, but when I go ther to coach field events I had a couple of jumpers who happened to be the teams top sprinters as well. They also had multiple hamstring injuries most likely from competing in multiple events in every meet, training poorly, and scar tissue. Knowing what I know now I would have addressed the scar tissue thing more, but I addressed first a consistent strength training routine (with no hamstring curls, byt he way) to get some strength and flexibility to their overall lower body. We eliminated all jogging, switched to a continuous warm up (at least 25 minutes long) with dynamic/ballistic stretching, a mid-week rest day (I called it a non-contact day), static stretched at the END of the workout and attacked sprintin technique pretty hard. Basically they had poor accel mechanics, forced an upright position by arbitrarily picking up their head when they felt they had to and kicked their butt before they pulled their knee through stressing their hamstrings way too much. They couldnt get into 5th gear anymore without pulling so the head coach wanted them to go slow all fall to build strength. We went fast and lifted to get strong. By emphasizing ab and hip flexor strength through ab circuits and hurdle exercises (rockettes and can-cans) and just focusing on the hip flexor and knee “drive” during all phases of their approach and sprint they reduced their soft tissue injuries drastically. What I didnt do is stress hip flexor stretching after workouts and I also should have been working on teir scar tissue because eventually one strained his hip flexor and adjusted his technique to push further back behind him which leg to a high hamstring pull. He ended his outdoor season with 2 bandages legs, jogging down the runway at half speed and half length and jumping 22 + and 44+ to get 2nd and 4th in the long and triple. Didnt run by that point. But up until the middle of the outdoor season we saw very positive results. By the way he came back 3 weeks later after 6 weeks of nothing and jumped 23-7 for a 7th at our IC4A champs.


No23, after the pulls just the usual…ice, Ibuprofen, MSM, stretching and deep friction massage after several days, gradual strengthening after 2-3 weeks, and gradual increase in sprinting speed and distance starting at 10m accel. and flying 20’s also after 2-3 weeks. However, there was an underlying problem related to my back which I discovered after strange sensations that arose in my hams later on and so I decided to seek further rehab/advise…

Physio for several weeks - diagnosis of back refered problem - intense stretching of hams; spinal manipulation; strengthening of stabilisers ie. abs, obliques, gluteus medius, transversus abdominus to keep pelvis aligned, and exercises to more effectively recruit glutes - exercises on the bed, rubberbands tied to ankle of cycling leg whilst balancing on other leg, and jumping - pelvic alignment was checked by physio during these exercises; video analysis of pelvic stability on tread mill (which wasn’t bad) (I do wonder though if pelvic stability and glute recruitment when performing the above exercises carries over to the track?); working eccentric phase of hams in gym since concentric showed symptoms; advised to ‘suck’ transversus abdominus after acceleration phase to maintain pelvic stability - using abs here prevents diaphramatic beathing.

Osteopath a couple of times for spinal mainpulation after physio phase.

Built up speed and distance very gradually starting with moderate pace 10m accel. and mod pace flying 20’s - built up to full pace but still felt the odd twinge in hams hence this post.

Now I include reverse leg press in my weights which I didn’t before problems. Concentric phase now fine.

Also would now use DMSO and extra omega 3 also if inured again.