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How to Pace 200m and 400m Events?


Hi Gary,

I was just wondering how it is best to pace 400m freestyle and also the 200m’s free, back. breast.

I am asking because I am a sprint swimmer I often find myself struggling with these distances which I think is probably due to my pacing.

Thank You, James


Hi James,

The most common patterns in 200m and 400m races are:

• that each lap gets slower especially when the swimmer has gone out too hard or does not have a high level of fitness;

• the middle laps are the slowest and the swimmer has plenty of energy to speed up and swim fast near the end of the race; or

• the third 50m in a 200 or third 100m in a 400 are the slowest because the swimmer has a mini rest to prepare themselves for the last quarter of the race.

The secret to pacing a 200m or 400m race is to even split the whole way through the race.

The first lap will tend to be a bit faster than the others because of the start and how fresh you feel, however it is important to pace all other laps around the same time.

To get the best time possible, your lap times need to be at the fastest pace possible where you can hold that pace for the distance of the race.

For example in a 200m race, your first 50m may be 35 seconds and then aim to hold 38 seconds for the last three 50’s.

Swimming with even splits will often give the swimmer the best time possible.

Strong swimmers will often negative split a race, meaning that the second half of their race is faster than the first.  These swimmers normally have a lot of experience and are very fit.



The Swimming Expert

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30 Responses to How to Pace 200m and 400m Events?

  1. patrick peterson January 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Hi Gary, Now I am working on 15 x 100 free not easy to do. No air after 11 x 100. At the end of my workout swim I do 15 x 100 hydrlign center cnorkel 50/50 w/padd’s form. patrick peterson

    • Gary June 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      That’s great Patrick. Keep working on your fitness and you should get closer to the 15 x 100 without losing all your air!

  2. anonymous May 31, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    i do a strong first 100, build the middle 200 and try to all out the last 100 for a 400
    for a 200, i swim strong the first 50, sprint the middle 100 and hold on the last 50

    • Gary June 5, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

      Yes, these are very good strategies for 200 and 400m races.

  3. Nelly December 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    I’m very young competitive swimmer but I am competing in a 400m free race tomorrow and I have know idea how I’m going to pace myself. If I go to slow at the beginning I will get left behind. If I go to fast at the beginning I will lose a lot of energy. Do you have any Advice? 🙂

    • Gary December 14, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

      Hi Nelly, Good luck in your 400m freestyle tomorrow. The best advice is to talk to your coach before warm up so that you have a plan on how you will race it. The secret is to swim quite fast in the first 200m and then really go after the last four 50s so that you get the best possible time. Let me know how you go.

  4. Nelly December 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    I’ll tell you how it goes tomorrow. Thanks for the help 🙂

  5. sarah January 6, 2014 at 5:29 am #


    I have the problem that im not very fit

    do you know the best things i can do to raise my fitness so i can even split?
    ecspecially good exercises or methods for 200 breastrokers


  6. Gary January 7, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Hi Sarah,
    The best way to raise your fitness is to attend practice more often. This will improve your aerobic fitness and also provide you with more time to develop your skills and technique.
    The number of sessions you do each week will depend on your age. I have done a couple of articles addressing different ages including 8 year olds and 11 year olds. There is also this article that may be of interest at How many hours should I train?
    Breaststrokers should do a number of sets each week focusing on their pull and other sessions focusing on their kick. This will help a lot to improve your breaststroke fitness.
    The Swimming Expert

  7. Ian May 17, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    I am a 12 year old swimmer and I had a few questions for you. In long course what is the way to pace a 200 meter LC fly and breaststroke?
    Ian Grum

    • Gary May 23, 2014 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Ian,
      The general rule of thumb is to go out in the first 100m within 2 to 4 seconds of your best 100m time holding good technique. Most swimmers will have to swim very solidly in the first 100m to do this.
      Many coaches will talk about the third 50m being the key in 200m events and this relates to both the 200m breaststroke and 200m butterfly.
      Be strong off the wall into the third 50m and hold a good rhythm for the entire lap. There is no need to ease up.
      Once you turn and there is 50m to go, hold a strong rhythm again for the entire last lap. Accelerate the last 25m if you can.
      In regards to your splits, your first lap will be about 1-2 seconds off your best 50m time and then the last three 50s will all be around the same time.

      • Lilly October 7, 2014 at 3:34 am #

        Hey my name is Lillie 12 and badly wanting to qualify for junior nationals for the breastrokes and 50 free how do I make these races really fast!!! thanks and how do I build up my stamina

        • Gary October 11, 2014 at 10:46 am #

          Hi Lillie,
          It would be a good idea to sit down with your coach and share your goals with them. This way, you can work out a plan together to achieve your goals.
          Have a look at the posts on freestyle and breaststroke on this website as there are many different tips that will help you.
          Without knowing how often you train, you will be able to build your stamina by increasing gradually the number of sessions you do and the distance you cover in these sessions, whilst also focusing on correct technique and the development of your swimming skills like starts, turns and finishes.
          Please let me know how you go.
          The Swimming Expert

  8. Lilly October 13, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    Hello again

    I think I haven’t been able to put all my stamina in my race because I’ve got cold, and I’ve had this cold for a long time and cant seem to get rid of it its almost like its chronic what should I do?
    Thank for all your help

    • Gary October 15, 2014 at 6:18 am #

      Hi Lilly,
      I an assuming you live in Australia. Is this correct?
      My suggestion would be to visit a Salts of the Earth clinic and have a few sessions of salt therapy. More details are available at http://www.saltsoftheearth.com.au.
      I know a number of swimmers and members of the general public who have benefited greatly from salt therapy when they have had a persistent cold.
      Another alternative is to take a few days out of the water until you get your health right. I encourage you to work this through with your doctor and your coach first.
      The Swimming Expert

  9. adnan omar October 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    hello Gary,
    i m 34m and i ve been out of water since i was 15 then began work out last year ..i have a 400m race after 10 days..i have been training before on 20×100 on 2 min intervals,10×200 on 4 min intervals also 5×400 on 8 min intervals,,i had bad cold couldnt swim for 2 weeks then i began this week i feel lost and tired..last training was 5×200 on 4 min then 10×100 on 2 min..before that ,,my best timeswas reaching 1:30 to 1:35 .in the 100m .and i was reaching 200m in 3:15..3:20s
    now im little slower in the intervals

    i hve no coach
    used to reach on 6:15 6:20s in the intervals…im very scared and lost and i really wish u can tell me something to save those last 10 days in my training..
    Adnan Omar

    • Gary October 25, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Adnan Omar,
      There is no need to panic, you will be okay if you have done this good training in the past.
      Swimming one 400m freestyle race is very different to doing 20×100 or 10×200.
      It is a good idea to cut back a bit on your training in this last 10 days.
      Try a set like 4 x 100 freestyle at a solid pace on 2min and then 200m easy twice through. See if you can work on getting a bit more speed into your swims.
      When you race the 400m freestyle look to even split every lap and a pretty fast pace.
      You will be fine the first 100m and then do 6 x 50s at around the same time to get the best time you can.
      Good luck

  10. Adnan omar October 31, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Thanks gary for ur help…thanks to you today I raced I reach on 6:10 and on second place..the first reachd on 5:25 which is big gap.
    I am so grateful for ur help. Now I’m thinking to train for next race ..I have the will and I just need to know how to decrease my time. Is it possibe to reach 5:30 how to do it??
    I also raced 50m my time was 29s I wasn’t training for short distance at all but I found that I need to get better in the 100m to get better in the 200 and the 400..so would u suggest me a training program?

    • Gary October 31, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      Congratulations Adnan, that is a great achievement. Well done also on improving your 50m time. You are right that to improve a 400m time you need to improve your 200m time and your 100m time and your 50m time!!
      To swim the time of 5min30sec for a 400m freestyle a good goal would be to split around 1:18/1:24/1:24/1:24 for each 100m. A set that would prepare you for this is to do 5 x 100 freestyle on 2min holding between 1:20 and 1:24 for each one. Then do a 200 easy and do the same set again. Gradually over time you could do this set 4 times.
      The first goal I would set would be to swim under 6 min for the 400m and to do this, aim to swim all four 100s under 1min30sec. Once you have achieved this aim to get under 5min45sec.
      The same set as above can be used however your starting goals would be to swim under 1min30sec for each 100.

  11. Lulu December 13, 2014 at 3:29 am #

    Any tips on how not to get fatigued on the 100 fly and 200 free tomorrow?

    • Gary December 13, 2014 at 7:49 am #

      Hi Lulu,
      If you want to swim fast then you will get fatigued at some stage in each race. 🙂 The key is to swim as fast as you can in the first half of each race whilst still maintaining a reasonable level of oxygen and then really go for it in the second half of each race.
      Good Luck

  12. Tony Goodwin March 21, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    Your reply to Ian last year was spot-on but I just cannot seem to do it. Yesterday, I went 45.42, 51.54, 53.00, 52.42. While that is fair enough, with even last 3, I continually go too slowly in lap 2 which affects the next 2. How should I train to overcome this? I even use a Tempo Trainer but it never happens on the day. I am 78 and a Masters Breaststroker. my 50 time is around 40 to 41 so if I wnt 43 for the first lap, I would not make it.

    • Gary March 23, 2015 at 9:25 am #

      Hi Tony,
      I would keep working on your 2nd, 3rd and 4th 50s to get them around 51 seconds each. The first 50 is fine compared with your best time.
      Try doing a set like 6 x 50 breaststroke on 1:15 holding 50 seconds for each one. If you can do this easily them do them on 1min10sec.
      Hope this helps.

      • Tony Goodwin March 23, 2015 at 10:04 am #

        Thanks, Gary. I will lock that in.

  13. Meara April 14, 2015 at 3:28 am #

    I have a big swim meet in a couple of weeks, and I have 10 races. I am a breastroker, but I have to swim 100 fly, 200 IM, and 400 free, all events I have never done before, and I have no idea how to pace myself. Please help!!

    • Gary April 14, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

      Hi Meara,
      I recommend that you talk to your coach in regards to each event and how they would like you to swim them.
      They will be able to guide you based on the training you have done leading up to the meet.
      Good luck.

      • Meara April 16, 2015 at 3:05 am #

        Thanks, your advice really helped. I talked to my coach and she gave me some really good ideas and tips on how to she wants me to swim each race.

        • Gary April 22, 2015 at 10:00 am #

          That’s fantastic Meara. Well done.
          This will help you to build a relationship with your coach that will help you at practice and at events.

  14. Liza April 17, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    Hi Gary, I’m 11 yrs old and my time for 200m free in long course is 2:49:36 but I can’t seem to beat that time! I really want to aim for about between 2:40 and 2:45 but I lose energy quite easily, not all the time but in some races. So I really need a plan on which 50’s I should pace myself on or something. Help! And I will be doing it on the 24th april as well as the 800m free on the 23rd!

    • Gary April 22, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      Hi Liza,
      I would suggest that you talk to your coach in regards to having a race plan for your 200m and 800m freestyle, as they will be able to help you with this.
      For anyone without a coach I recommend that swimmers your age aim to swim the first 50m of a 200m freestyle at a fairly fast pace but with “easy breathing” so that you do not get too much out of breath. Then you need to focus on doing 3 fast 50m of freestyle. The 3rd 50m is the most important and you will need to swim as fast as you can in the third 50m and then work really hard to do a fast last 50m.
      Good luck.

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