We have had some swimmers recently signing up for 200m and 400m distances at galas particularly at Sudbury last weekend so I thought I would share with you some ideas that I have collated regarding the tactics of swimming a 400m Freestyle Race as an example.

First to basics:

We would expect a swimmers transitions to be shorter than they would be for the sprints because the longer race length makes it harder for a swimmer to go far off each wall underwater and for many swimmers their 400m pace may well be quicker than their dolphin kick capability during the race. However, it is still good practice not to breathe from the "T" through the turn until after the 1st breakout stroke (all swimmers should already be doing this in the sprints!) where fitness allows. Swimmers will need to maintain a consistent breathing pattern that is likely to be shorter than they would use in a sprint so as to prevent oxygen deficiency but without disrupting the stroke rhythm and streamlining advantages.

To swim the best possible race time a 200m or 400m race should have an even split all the way through the race but there are different ways of doing this and the fittest swimmers aiming to be able to manage a negative split i.e. the 2nd half of the race being quicker than the 1st half without swimming the 1st half too slowly! However, for most swimmers the 3rd 50 in 200m or the 3rd 100m in a 400m race will be the slowest where the swimmer tries to maintain the pace in readiness for a faster final quarter. 

I will cover 2 types of pacing for a 400m Freestyle race but I am sure there are many variations recommended by different coaches worldwide with swimmers at the top of the sport customising lap times to suit there own strategy, fitness and style so this is just 2 basic examples:

1st pacing strategy - consistent swimming. This involves the swimmer racing the 1st 200m at approx. 5 to 6 secs slower than their best 200m time then slowing the pace for the 2nd 200m by 0.5 - 1.5 secs from the split time. For example, if a swimmer had a 200m time of 2:00.00 the aim would be to swim the 1st 200m at between 2:05 - 2:06 slowing the pace for the 2nd 200m to finish with a split of between 2:05.50 - 2:07.50 giving an overall 400m race time of between 4:10.50 to 4:13.50 maximum to minimum possible.

2nd pacing strategy - going out fast. Although both strategies involve moderate stroke rate this strategy involves the swimmer racing the 1st 200m at approx. 3 to 4 secs slower than their best 200m time before slowing to swim the 2nd 200m at about 4.50 - 5.00 secs from the split time. Taking our 2:00.00 200m time example above this means the swimmer will swim the 1st 200m at 2:03 - 2:04 slowing the pace for the 2nd 200m to finish with a split of 2:07.50 - 2:09.00 giving an overall 400m race time of between 4:10.50 and 4:13.00 maximum to minimum

As you can see both of these strategies produce the same fastest possible time so I am not trying to say that 1 strategy is any better than another just that there are different ways of racing that may suit each swimmer differently.

Just to get a little more technical in conclusion USA Swimming have noticed strategic differences between the top women and men 400m swimmers strategies in as much as the men start with a quick tempo on the 1st 50 slowing 2nd - 4th 50's before accelerating consistently over the last 4 50's to finish with a tempo faster than the 1st 50. The women, on the other hand, start with their quickest tempo over the 1st 50 then stay relatively steady (consistent swimming) over the next 6 50's before finishing at the same tempo as the 1st 50.

Rather interestingly in data collated since 2011 these different strategies have resulted in 3 of the top 4 men managing a true negative split whereas only 1 woman in the top 8 did the same. All that being said, the last part is really only for information and experimentation but it is clear that 3 elements apply to successful 400m freestyle regardless of the strategy the swimmer employs:

1. An efficient energy conservation stroke for the 1st 200m.
2. Management of the middle part of the race with steady pacing through 50's 2 - 6
3. Acceleration through the last 100m ending with a significant increase in tempo by increasing the kick rate and quickening the front part of the arm stroke to finish.

I hope you find this information interesting and if you have any personal questions regarding race strategy we can discuss this when convenient but unless you intend to specialise in 400m races I personally would look to keep any pacing strategy very simple although there is no harm in experimenting with different techniques. Swimmers may also find that by breaking the race into segments that it is easier to keep count of where in the race you are with a plan to implement.

See you poolside