How many reps for 400m sprinter?

Hey guys,

I was wondering how many reps I should be doing in order to train for the 400m. I am lifting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all after and never before track practice.

At the moment I am doing;

5 x 5 Power Cleans; 25/30kg
5 x 5 Snatches; 25/30kg
5 x 5 Deadlifts; 60kg
5 x 5 Squats; 60kg
5 x 5 Bench Press; 40kg

For what it is worth I am 173cm and 60kg. My P.Bs are; 200m; 24.88, 400m; 54.83.

I have heard that I should be going lighter (I am not very strong, at least not as strong as I’d like to be haha) with more reps.

So how many reps & sets should I really be doing? Or is 5 x 5 fine? According to a Baylor University program I was reading, they only do 1 set and 13 reps?

Cheers guys.

I’ll just comment on the cleans and snatches. From my experience and from much of what I’ve read on the subject, Olympic lifts like these are more effective if done in sets of 3 reps or fewer. Higher reps can be done for olympic variations like pulls-mid-thigh pulls, clean pulls, high pulls, etc.

maybe something like this, using all the drills you mention:




you may want to think about adding a pull and post chain lift. you can keep the ol at 5x5 for a short time but keep the load lite or start them at 5x3.

I normally do 2-3 reps for squats/deadlifts. Olympic lifts under 3 reps. Bench 3-6 reps.

Cool thanks for the replies guys, I’ll keep it at 5 x 5 for now as I have made some good gains with it.

I think you are right to trust your instincts here. Five x 5 is a pretty safe and effective basis for any lifting regime.

With regards lifting as it affects 400m sprint training, I reckon stay with what you have. I think if you’re trying to get very strong, then 1-6 reps for 1 to 6 sets covers the spectrum (wherein your 5x5 fits comfortably, though at the top end of your poundage, up near 100 per cent capacity you’re obviously not going to get out 5 reps in a single set.

If you’re looking for strength endurance, I think the first thing you need to establish is a decent top level of strength. That will determine your strength-endurance capacity and reps/sets numbers.

I’m sure you’ll get arguments, but I would say you should use weightlifting to develop a high-level of general strength as may be measured by your capacity to achieve certain lifts.

For instance, in the back squats (thighs parallel) a 400m runner would want to be able to comfortably handle at least double bodyweight and probably quite a bit more.

But it depends on leg lever lengths etc and predisposition to 100m performance. A really explosive sprinter will most likely handle more weight in any of the usual lifts than someone perhaps coming to the 400m from an endurance (800m running) background.

In general though I would say the weightlifting form of strength training is still only an adjunct to the running training.

And the more specific the “strength” training the better, so that means you work “movements” rather than “muscles” (in isolation exercises).

The most specific form of strength endurance for 400m runners is still based around hill sprints because you have resistance applied through a range of movement specific to running - especially if you keep the angle of the hills fairly narrow, say around 10 per cent give or take a few degrees.

That way you can still establish a fairly “normal” running action which corresponds to 400m action and you can load up the fatique factor while maintaining a reasonable degree of speed.

How exactly you play off the need for speed against the desire for better endurance gets down to how you design your reps (length) and sets (number of reps) and how you manipulate the recoveries.

Why double the bodyweight? What does this ratio have to do with running performance?

It’s just been my experience of the senior 400m runners I have worked with. Those who went at least two and a quarter times bodyweight were very successful, those who couldn’t reach double bodyweight didn’t make world class. Maybe they were just born to be world class athletes, which enabled them to squat more than twice their own weight. It’s just an emperical finding of personal experience, but having spoken to plenty of coaches of world class 400 men and women, double bodyweight seems to be pretty standard - among those able to do squats. Some athletes can’t squat but are still great 400m runners, but even these athletes are immensely powerful although unable to express that strength by means of squatting.

If a 400m runner has knee problems and is limited in how much wt. he can squat; what alternatives can you give to try and reach that body to wts. ratio. Would you reccomend a leg press machine etc. Thanks


How did they get the knee problems? Can the knee problem be eradicated? Is it a senior 400m runner whos knee might not fully recover?(like culmanative knee problems from years of pounding.)

Yes Goose it is a senior runner, ( its me). :slight_smile: I can squat fairly well stilll ( ass to grass) but would like some alternatives for later on.


Some squats are less agravating to knee than other types of squat. Your training experiance probably has let you know this. Do you eperiance any knee pain when squating heavy?
I’m not sure why you want to avoid squats. I’m guessing you either experiance pain with them or you feel they are contributing to the knee problems.
Not all great 400m runners did lower body weight training anyway. For example, Ewan Thomas who had a pb of something like 44.2/3 seconds. He was a former world champion.
I dont think other lower body exercises that still work the quads are any better for the knee than squats.

Perhaps some more drills on the track if you need an alternative to squats?
If you are interested in the strength ratios mentioned in this thread, you could perhaps achieve them via the romanian deadlift. This wont do your knees in, but powers up your glutes and hams and buffs up your spinal erectors. It ofcourse leaves the quads out though, so perhaps you could combine it with hack lifts. (deadlifts with your feet in front of the bar, awesome for the vastus medialis/quads.) But you dont need squat or hack lift if you are doing hills combined with say romanian deadlift.

Bare in mind what was mentioned earlier in thread about hills being excallent muscle endurance work for 400m man. Obviously dont run back down the hills if you want to protect your knees.

Posted same post twice.

Goose thanks a bunch for your response; it is very helpful with altenatives and gives me exactly what I need in future.

Thanks Again

sorry … didn’t realise Mike Nike had responded … I agree with all that Goose has written.

There are no doubt many world class sprinters who did not/could not squat. The best guy I ever coached could not squat, or at least was barred by our chiropractor so I wasn’t about to put my anatomy knowledge up against his. Bottom line, you find alternatives, but hit across a range of options because in truth it is difficult to be certain which kind of training is having the best outcomes - and mixing it up prevents stereotype response, plus picks up on syngerists muscles which may not otherwise be activated doing , say, only squats for leg strength.

Hack squats in a Smith Machine are great in some ways, but you can do simple things such as leg extension and hamstring curl on a machine as an adjunct to hill sprints and you will get good results.

Machines have a bad rap, but the fact they are single plane means they can be used without stirring up some types of injuries. You probably don’t want to lock out the knee though, especially when you’re banging away on the leg extension/hammy curl devices.

My best guy was barred by our chiro from doing anything that may further destablise one of his lumbar joints, so that ruled out cleans, snatches and squats. Apparently it didn’t slow him up, at least for sure not as much as being sidelined by (preventable) injuries.

The hills though really work the hips which the leg extension - hammy curl machines don’t touch. By the way, the machines we used were the Keiser pneumatic machines (they also have a leg-press machine which I didn’t think much of). We added in some pulley work, as well as we did some sets on the Keiser hip-flexor machine which I think was useful.

A lot of physiotherapists have keiser in their clinics and some of the physios - the half decent ones - won’t mind if you do a bit of training on them, (probably so long as you buy them a nice bottle of wine from time to time; or bring your superstar athlete friend down to be seen to be seen, signing the odd fan photo)

By the way Iwan Thomas didn’t win a world (outdoor) 400 title, although on his day he was certainly good enough during the period he was at his best. He was dominant at the 94 Comm Games (which he won in around 44.57?) and had that been a world championships, he may well have won it (although on reflection, Michael Johnson was in his prime by then, so…).

By the way I had the great pleasure of being introduced to Iwan in the Athens transit lounge by former UK coach/admininstrator and fellow Welshman, Tudor Bidder. Iwan seemed to be a top-shelf man, from the brief chat time permitted us.

Goose, did you work with Iwan? How is he doing these days? I heard he had gone through some tough times, sadly like too many of our great former champions.

I agree with KitKat.
Just to clarify on Iwan Thomas, 44.36 pb british record holder.
U are correct KitKat in saying he was not a world champion, my bad. He won the world cup 400m aswell as European gold 98’ and commonwealth Gold 98’. I didn’t work with him.
What I know is that he is old school when it comes to training. Rocky style. Just gruelling hard work. “It’s the only way I know how to train,” he said in an interview years back. Med-ball, circuits, basketball. The hills, forest paths, woodlands and fields were a big part of his off-season training. Track was only used in spring and summer, rarely ever in winter. No lower body weights. Not sure if he did upper weights. His reasoning for not doing lower weights is becuase he was allready a big man at 6-4, 200 pounds, he said he didn’t want any more mass.

As a side note to your point kitkat, about machines;
The I.O.C did a study which showed the Reverse hack squat as being more influential at improving 30m sprint times compared to teh control group who did barbell squats instead.
Seeing as it was the I.O.C’s work, I’ll assume the athletes that took part in the study were atleast sub-elite standard. 10.2 to 10.6 sec 100m men.
You mentioned the hack squat, so I thought I’d mention that when the athlete turns round and faces the back rest “reverse hack squat”, it apparently becomes a more usefull exercise for an athlete than the conventional method. I don’t know if you knew that idea allready but it talies with what you mentioned.

I wanted to try it out for myself, but as soon as I went to a certain gym for first time in months, they had gotten rid of the hack squat machine.
Lol, all those years thinking it was a crap machine - only for bodybuilders. bad for some peoples knees when using conventional technique, the bodybuilders finally wisen up, and get rid of the machine, just as the “reverse hack squat” idea becomes popular among athletes! lol. (The reverse hack shouldn’t give knee problems).

Mike Smith, Iwan Thomas’ coach, has a book out.

This was his general yearly plan for 1998 (Won European Championships, World Cup and Commonwealth games):


  • Steady 30 minute runs
  • Fartlek leading to short recovery hill runs over various terrains, including some road work.
  • Sand hills and “woodland circuits”.
  • Indoors: medium-intensity weights, power circuits and med ball work, flexibility.
  • No track work until mid-December.


  • Sand hills and woodland runs continued until early February.
  • Short recovery track sessions including 8x200m, 6x300m and 500x400x300x200x100. Gradual decrease in reps and increase in recovery.
  • Indoors: pre-Jan work continued, plus plyometrics and sprint drills.
  • Warm weather training in South Africa + some competition - clocked 45.13 in the 400m
    -Late April training in Algarve (presumably more of the same)

Competitive season

  • “All sessions based on speed with good recovery” (no specifics) - included 3x200m, 2x300m plus 2x 150m, 2 x split 200m, blocks off bend, sprint build-up runs, drills.
  • Reduced maintenance-level weights, continued circuits.
    -July 26th. Won AAA title and from there until mid-September, only relaxed quality sessions between the numerous important races and championships

Says that Iwan could run the 200m under 21 seconds.

Core lifts in weight room were:

  • Power Clean
    -Bench Press
  • Front/Back squats

The sessions for the 100m/200m are pretty hardcore (SE work - 10-12x100m with 30-60secs rest in between runs). Speed work for the 100m barely looks like true speed work at times.

…and yet Iwan Thomas said in an interview that he didn’t do any lower body weight training.
Strange. Is that weights work what his coach recomended for ALL or MOST of his athletes?
Or is weights work what Iwan deffinately did himself, bearing in mind he even gave his reasoning for not lifting?

Do you have the specifics of this study?

I can see that this might be the case with begginers, or if the squats were the sole training element, but I would question whether this would be the case with more experienced athletes?

It’s Iwan’s specific yearly plan for 1998; perhaps he didn’t need it later?

Although circuits, hill running and woodland running formed a major part of his yearly plan.

By the way, when did you see this interview?