The 400m IM: Where Strategy Meets Everything Else

The 400m IM: Where Strategy Meets Everything Else

By Matt Barbini//National Team High Performance Consultant  | Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Strategy in swimming is a relative concept. A 50 freestyler might have a point of emphasis to think about. A 100 freestyler might have desired tempos and a back 50 split in mind. A 200 freestyler may plan for easy front end speed. 400, 800, and 1500 freestylers likely think about pace. 

A 400 IMer, however, better have a true strategy.

What makes this race fascinating is that the strategy involved is based entirely on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the swimmer in question. There is no “right” way to swim a 400 IM, but there is a right way for YOU to swim a 400 IM. The challenge for you and your coach is figuring out the right formula specific to your ability.


With respect to the individuality inherent in this race, below are some trends from the performance of the top eight male and female 400 IM’ers over the last four years. This is obviously not meant to be a prescription for success. Rather, this should be considered a guide for the way that the top eight in each gender have approached their races. From an advisory perspective, the 400 IM is one of the trickiest events for which to provide counsel, so my hope is that this information can provide a contextual basis for consideration. 

Charts for 400m IM Strategy. (Free)

While the charts above are not meant to dictate every IM’ers race plan, there are a few things that anyone can take from these numbers – namely that the 400 IM is the perfect intersection of fitness, execution, and strategy. Fitness is obvious. The execution is highlighted by the level of precision these 16 swimmers show. The ability to even (nearly) or negative split each of the last three legs of the race is remarkable. Also notable is the consistency of tempo throughout each leg. That speaks both to awareness of technique and the fitness to execute throughout a race. 

Effective strategy is where the elements of fitness and execution meet – knowing your own fitness level, your in-race strengths, and the required feel in the water to put it all together. 



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