Three Elements of 400m Freestyle Strategy


Connor Jaeger swims the prelims of the 1500m free. (small)By Matt Barbini//National Team High Performance Consultant

Recently, significant strategic differences have emerged in the 400m freestyle between the world’s top men and women. In terms of tempo the men create a steep arc, starting with a fairly quick tempo on the first 50, slowing on the second through fourth 50s, then accelerating incrementally over the last four and ultimately finishing with a tempo faster than the first. The women on the other hand, create a much flatter line, starting with their quickest tempo on the first 50, staying relatively steady over the next six, and finishing at nearly the same tempo as the first. In that way, the men seem to be treating the 400 as more of a distance event while the women are approaching it more like a 200. 
400 Freestyle Strategy
When it comes to cycle counts, the men increase their average steadily by 50. The women have a big jump of almost two cycles from the first to the second but then hold at roughly that level for the next six, until they finally increase by a greater margin on the final 50. 

400 Free -- Average Cycles
Since 2011 these differences have resulted in three of the top four and four of the top eight men swimming a true negative split, while only one of the top eight women did the same. Below are the average splits for each. 
400 Free - Average Splits.
All that being said, it’s clear that three elements apply to success in the 400m freestyle regardless of general race strategy.

  • An efficient energy conserving stroke for the first 200.
  • Manage the middle portion of the race – steady pacing for (generally) the 2nd-6th 50s.
  • Accelerate on the last 50 (or 100 for some) with a significant increase in tempo.
    • Drive the arm tempo with an increase in kick tempo
    • Shorten and/or quicken the arm stroke, particularly on the front part of the stroke.

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