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What Is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek, a Swedish term for “speed play” is a form of interval training involving continuous activity with randomised short bursts of high intensity efforts. This creative, less structured form of training is a great way to mix up your run workouts and challenge your body to become faster over longer distances. Unlike intervals, where you stop or walk for recovery, Fartlek is continuous running with varying paces, blending endurance with speed. The randomised nature of Fartlek training is designed to continuously shock and stress the body systems, providing both physical and mental gains.

How Does Fartlek Training Work?

Fartlek training can be structured in a number of different ways and can be tailored toward individual training goals. Different combinations that can be programmed include:

  • Fixed distance for the repetition
  • Fixed time for the repetition
  • Varying distance/time for the repetition
  • Varying pace for both the repetition and recovery period

Fartlek sessions are usually 20 minutes or more in duration (including a warm up and cool down) and can be done almost anywhere.

What are the Benefits?

  • Improves speed
  • Improves endurance
  • Helps to train the mind and strengthen willpower
  • Improves race tactics if you are running competitively
  • Provides flexibility – intensity can be adjusted depending on how you are feeling
  • Provides variety and keeps training fun
  • An efficient way to burn calories
  • Can be structured to simulate various sports

Sample Sessions:

Time Based Examples:

Random/Distance Based Examples:

  • Run uphill hard, downhill easy
  • Run hard to a certain landmark (e.g. a lamp post, tree or mailbox) and run easy to the next landmark
  • 300m hard/100m easy. Repeat x10

If you would like to learn more about different types of cardiovascular training methods and how to program activity for aerobic fitness gains, check out our Cert III & IV in Fitness and become a qualified Personal Trainer!

6 Fartlek Workouts for 3 Training Phases

Fall is often viewed as the season for change. As apples drop and leaves turn, runners across the globe who are targeting late fall, winter or spring races will begin base training, or a healthy dose of aerobic mileage and general conditioning work.

This phase of training develops strength of connective tissue, enhances the body’s ability to transport oxygen efficiently, and reduces the chances for injury.

More: Running and Breathing: A Lesson in Oxygen Intake

Too often, however, athletes fail to do any type of work that reminds the body how to change gears and engage different muscle fibers. The age-old remedy for this often-forgotten element is a workout with a funny name: fartlek.

The late, great Swedish coach Gosta Holmer was often referred to as the father of the fartlek (Swedish for “speed play”). Holmer’s Scandinavian athletes utilized fartlek training year round, but during base phase training in particular, as he felt athletes too often let go of gear-changing work during this build-up. “During transitional periods and close to peak competitions, we always do quicker work,” said Holmer. “Too often we forget about the need for shifting work and, most commonly, we do so as we begin to build the miles.”

More: How to Double Your Endurance in 6 Weeks

Base-Phase Fartlek

As you begin your fall base training, be certain to plan some fartlek work into each of your training weeks. These workouts can be as simple as some very subtle gear changes during the course of 1 to 2 runs as you slowly build your volume. If you have never done any fartlek work, here is one of my favorite workouts (taken from one of America’s coaching legends, Bill Squires):

  • During your longest run of the week, run a 1:00 surge every 6 or 7 minutes. This surge is not terribly hard—perhaps only 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace.
  • At the end of the 1:00 surge, simply return to your relaxed rhythm. If you have a hard time returning to “normal” long-run rhythm, then you are running the surges too quickly.

This work will teach you how to change gears as well as deal with bad patches during race efforts.

More: 6 Tips to Push Past the Pain

Fartlek training offers a wide range of athletes an effective ad efficient form of endurance conditioning…

But just like every other form of sports training you must structure the session to meet the demands of your sport..

Fartlek training allows the athlete to run freely over varying distances and at varying speeds. A single session might consist of walking, cruising and sprinting. It might last for 20 minutes or 5 miles. The variations are unlimited. And that means some specific guidelines are in order so each session can be made as effective as possible.

If you’ve read some of the other articles on the site youll appreciate the importance of specificity. It’s one the most important principles of training and one that is often overlooked.

In most fartlek training sessions intervals are kept relatively short and frequent. Anything too long simply becomes more like interval training. Each interval might range from 10 seconds up to 5 minutes for example.

For long distance runners (anything from 1500m to 10k) more structured sessions are beneficial. For example, you might run hard for 5 minutes (above race pace) then jog slowly for 1 minute to recover, and repeat that five or six times.

For multi-sprint sports such as soccer, basketball, racket sports, hockey and so on, shorter and more random intervals will be more appropriate. Consider tennis for example…

Plenty of stop-starting, movement patterns are unpredictable and very few rallies last longer than a minute at most.

A more effective fartlek training session then, would be a jog for 60 seconds, followed by a hard run for 30 seconds, followed by a jog for 30 seconds, followed by all-out sprint for 10 seconds, followed by a walk for 30 seconds. This would then be repeated for a total of 20-30 minutes.

In theory you could make the session up as you go along, throwing in some jogs, runs, sprints, backward running etc. as and when. But in practise this becomes hard for athletes to a) push themselves and b) measure progression over time.

Here are some example fartlek training sessions for different sports and events:

Sample Fartlek Training Sessions

Example 1: Long Distance Events (10k, 5k, 3k, Cycling)

  • Warm up with a steady jog for 10 minutes
  • Run hard, above race pace for 4-5 minutes
  • Jog slowly for 1 minute
  • Repeat 6-8 times
  • Cool down at a steady pace for 10 minutes

Example 2: Middle Distance Events (1500m, 3k, 5k)

  • Warm up with a steady jog for 10 minutes
  • Run hard, above race pace for 3 minutes
  • Jog slowly for 1 minute
  • Repeat 6-8 times
  • Cool down at a steady pace for 10 minutes

Example 3: Astrand Fartlek (800m)

  • Warm up with a steady jog for 10 minutes
  • Run hard, above race pace for 75 seconds
  • Jog for 150 seconds
  • Run hard, above race pace for 60 seconds
  • Jog for 120 seconds
  • Repeat 3-4 times
  • Cool down at a steady pace for 10 minutes

Example 4: Mulit-Sprint Sports (Soccer, basketball tennis etc.)

  • Warm up with a steady jog for 10 minutes
  • Jog for 60 seconds
  • Run hard (3/4 pace) for 90 seconds
  • Jog for 45 seconds
  • Sprint for 10 seconds
  • Jog for 30 seconds
  • Run backwards for 30 seconds
  • Walk for 30 seconds
  • Run hard for 60 seconds
  • Repeat 3-4 times
  • Cool down at a steady pace for 10 minutes

Fartlek training is good in the early pre-season. Its an ideal session to re-introduce athletes to more demanding endurance work after the summer or winter layoff. One or two sessions per week combined with interval training is ample.

What Is a Fartlek Run?

“Fartlek workouts entail fast or intense running interspersed with periods of active recovery (jogging),” she explains. Your periods of fast running shouldn’t be all-out sprints, but something more like your 5K pace, or an eight out of 10 effort; during your slower periods, you should be running at a pace where you’re able to hold a conversation, so you can fully recover. (If you’re looking for a sprint session, try this track workout.)

Theoretically, it’s a type of interval training, but it’s special because you never actually stop and rest. “Fartlek workouts are different from interval running because of the work-to-rest ratio: During a fartlek workout, you switch between fast and slow running. During intervals, you move from speed to walking or complete rest,” says Reed. TL;DR: During a fartlek, you never stop running.

Why You Should Try Fartlek Training

To run fast, you need to train fast-that’s why any kind of speedwork is important in a runner’s training plan. This particular kind of speedwork matters because it teaches you how to relax and recover without stopping, and pick the pace back up again when you need to. (Psst… Which Is Better: Running Faster or Longer?)

“I like to think of fartlek runs as an opportunity for my athletes to get in some speed work without the stress of feeling like they need to hit specific interval times,” explains Kim Peek, a USA Track and Field–certified running coach. “A fartlek run helps runners learn that they have more than one speed, and that they’re also able to slow, without walking, to a pace where their heart rate can recover after a harder effort.”

Fartleks can help you understand your effort or intensity level while you’re running without relying on data from a watch or treadmill-a super important skill for pacing yourself in long­-distance events like a half or full marathon. “Runners tend to become dependent on their watches,” says Peek. “A fartlek run teaches you to be adaptable and run based on how you feel rather than worrying about paces and time goals.”

“Fartlek runs will help boost endurance while also building speed,” explains Peek, because they tax both the anaerobic and aerobic systems. By incorporating different types of runs into your training plan (fartlek, intervals, steady state), you can train multiple energy systems in your body, which can improve your performance on race day and make you fitter overall. (Consider trying this 30-Day Running Challenge to dial in on your training.)

How to Do a Fartlek Running Workout

“A fartlek can be as hard or as easy of a run as you need it to be,” says Peek.

By definition, fartleks should be unstructured. That makes them an easy running interval workout to do on your own. “If you listen to music, let the song dictate your pace. Run at an easy pace during the verse, and pick things up during the chorus,” Peek suggests. Or, “use landmarks as guides to change your pace. Run five trees at an easy pace, then run harder for two.”

If you prefer something a little more structured (just for guidance), try one of the fartlek workouts from Reed below. You can do them on a track or out on the road or trail. “Each one begins with a four-minute warm-up period of light jogging, which is immediately followed by the fartlek, repeated once in its entirety. Then you finish with a three-minute cooldown period of walking or jogging,” she explains. (If you want a quick, intense treadmill workout, try this 20-minute HIIT treadmill workout instead.)

Just don’t get totally caught up in the numbers; fartleks aren’t about hitting a certain pace or time, but rather a great way to stay motivated and get to know your pace while distracting yourself from your discomfort-because that’s where the change happens. (Want proof? Read how this runner stopped chasing PRs and fell back in love with running.)

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  • By Ashley Mateo @ashleymateo

What is Fartlek Training? Everything You Need to Know

Jan 19, 2020 Author: Edward Cambro

You may have heard about it, but what is Fartlek training exactly?

For runners, there are few workouts more versatile than the Fartlek. It’s a form of speed and endurance training developed by the Swedish, meaning “speed play.” Fartleks involve varying the speed and intensity of your run in order to keep the body in constant movement, and providing both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

In short, it’s very intense.

The Effects and Benefits of Fartlek Training

Most runs require two paces: a jog during warm-ups and your steady running pace. Most endurance runs have you at a single pace for a long period of time. Fartleks are different. You’ll be running continuously at a variety of speeds. Its high-intensity pushes both the limits of your body and your willpower. Since its creation in 1930 by Gustaf Holmér, it has been a key workout for many marathon and Olympic athletes.

During fartlek exercises, you’ll be running at different paces, including your steady running pace, which allows your body to supply the oxygen it needs to feed your muscles, improving your aerobic and cardiovascular health.

However, fartleks also offer anaerobic benefits. They require massive bursts of speed, keeping oxygen from getting to your muscles. Your muscles learn to adapt to the lack of oxygen and still perform the run regardless. This is a rather unpleasant but effective anaerobic exercise and will help you burn fat–helping you run faster–and build muscle to run longer.

By repeatedly changing your pace, your muscles are in a constant state of flux, allowing for greater flexibility and muscle growth. It’s also more fun. You’re more engaged in your workout as you time yourself, change pace, and time yourself again. It’s easy–especially in endurance-based runs–to get something like highway-eye. You just zone out after a while. With fartleks, you and your body are always aware of each other and working toward a fixed goal.

When the body can still function under less than ideal circumstances, you’re building yourself into a runner who is both faster and has greater endurance. You won’t exactly be the Six Million Dollar Man, but that could change if you land sponsorship deals.

Potential Dangers

Those new to running should probably avoid fartleks. They’re usually for more experienced runners, who, even with their experiences, begin fartleks at a fairly simple level. For context, fartleks are often employed by marathon runners about a month before their run date. There are also certain conditions to consider before delving into fartlek exercises. Considering trying tempo and interval runs first. They’re cousins to the fartlek (more on that in a minute) and can help ready your body for the kind of exertion that the fartleks require.

Fartleks are often used when runners have plateaued in their speed and endurance training. If you haven’t tried tempo and interval runs, do them first. Consider them as a stepping stone. They will help you overcome the plateau.

Regardless, fartleks can be fun. Given that the simpler versions only take a few minutes, when you’re ready to give it a shot, do them once a week and choose a variation that lasts only a few minutes. If you’ve had experience with tempo or interval running, the fartlek will be familiar but new and exciting. Likewise, your body will be prepared in some way for the exertion, but be forced to contend with a new way of functioning. Again, you’ll get more of an idea of what that entails in the following sections.

And, naturally, just to be on the safe side, speak to your doctor about your cardiovascular health before engaging in the exercise.

The Difference Between Fartlek, Tempo, and Interval Runs

Now, all this sounds familiar, of course. I know you’re here to find out what fartlek training is, but you should know that fartleks, tempo, and intervals runs are all cut from the same cloth. Interval training involves alternating paces to increase speed and endurance. Tempo runs are intense, anaerobic exercises meant to increase your speed and endurance. Seeing a pattern? The fartleks are a bit of a combination between the two but set itself apart in the level of intensity the exercise requires from you. While interval runs don’t require the “comfortably hard” pace of the more intense tempo exercises, neither tempo or interval runs are as unstructured as fartleks tend to be.

Interval runs don’t take you too far out of your comfort zone. For every 5 minutes of running, there’s a 5 minute rest period.

Tempo runs are indeed more intense and have anaerobic benefits, but their focus on “comfortably hard” running doesn’t force you to extremes the way the fartlek does.

Your fastest pace during a fartlek requires your heart rate to be higher than it is for your fastest interval or tempo pace. Also, while fartleks allow for a recovery period, you (usually) don’t walk or stop as you would in interval runs. You’ll jog at a faster rate than your usual recovery run to keep your heart rate moving. Part of the point is to keep the oxygen supply in your muscles low, so you can build endurance.

What are Fartlek Training Variations?

Now you know the basics of what fartlek training is.

But one of the great things about fartleks is their adaptability. There are practically as many fartlek variations as there are possible move permutations in Go. Yes, that’s both extremely hyperbolic and exaggeratory, but you get what we’re telling you.

Fartleks can be for anyone.

You can change the time of your workouts as you progress. You can alter distance, terrain, and speed. Listing every possible variation is impossible. However, for your needs, we’ll go over some common variations: unstructured (the original), structured, incline, and indoor fartleks. This should give you an exercise that works best for the area in which you live and how disciplined you want your run to be.

That said, there is one thing universal thing about what fartlek training is: do it between two and four times a week. No more, no less. If you’re considering more–a mode of thinking those preparing for marathons often subscribe to–speak to a personal trainer and your doctor before doing something potentially hazardous.

Unstructured Fartlek

What often draws runners to the fartlek–besides its charming name and physical benefits–is its unstructured nature. In its original form, the fartlek was more about listening to the body and engaging with your environment. The informality makes it fun since God knows the breathlessness and burning in your muscles surely isn’t. You probably have a designated running route. Choose a marker along that route. It could be a tree, a car, or the overhanging lampost outside the Monarch Theatre. It’ll be a important later. Now, here are the basics:

  1. Do a 10 to 15-minute warm-up–stretching, light running, whatever.
  2. When your muscles are loose, increase speed to a comfortably hard pace (approximately 75% of your maximum heart rate). You should be breathing hard enough that having a conversation should be difficult, but not so much that you’re gasping. Run to your landmark should take between 10 to 90 seconds to reach at this pace.
  3. Reach your landmark at this pace.
  4. At the landmark, decrease speed until you’re breathing normally again.
  5. Increase speed to a comfortable running pace.
  6. Repeat so that you’ve run at your comfortably hard pace between 4 and 6 times.
  7. Cooldown run at a comfortable pace for 10-15 minutes.

Structured Fartlek

Some people work better with structure. Fartleks are an incredibly versatile exercise and can easily work in a timed environment. For beginners, try this structured fartlek.

  1. 10-15 minute warm-up at an easy pace
  2. 1 minute at a fast pace.
  3. 2 minutes at an easy pace.
  4. 1 minute no running.
  5. Do 3 to 4 sets.
  6. 10-15 minute cooldown jog.

Structured fartleks often take a pyramid structure. To the surprise of no one, they’re often called Pyramid Fartleks. For example, a beginner’s structured fartlek example might use a 1-2-3-2-1 format. We’ll explain.

  1. Do your warm-up.
  2. Run hard for 1 minute.
  3. Run easy to 2 minutes.
  4. Run hard for 3 minutes.
  5. Run easy for 2 minutes.
  6. Run hard for 1 minute.
  7. 10-15 minute cooldown run at a comfortable pace.

When you’re ready for more, move on to the advanced 2-3-4-4-3-2 structure.

  1. Do your warm-up.
  2. Run hard for 2 minutes
  3. Run easy for 2:30
  4. Run hard for 3 minutes
  5. Run easy for 2:30
  6. Run hard for 4 minutes
  7. Run easy for 2:30
  8. Run hard for 4 minutes
  9. Run easy for 2:30
  10. Run hard for 3 minutes
  11. Run easy for 2:30
  12. Run hard for 2 minutes
  13. 10-15 minute cooldown at a comfortable pace.

Structured Fartleks for Marathon Runners

While structured, we can be a little less specific here. You’ll have to know ahead of time what your pacing is to properly modulate this exercise.

  1. Do your warm-up
  2. Run 1 minute at your approximate 5K race pace.
  3. Jog for 1 minute
  4. Run for 2 minutes at your approximate 10K race pace.
  5. Jog for 2 minutes.
  6. Run for 3 minutes at your approximate half-marathon race pace.
  7. Jog for 3 minutes.
  8. Run for 2 minutes at your approximate 10K race pace.
  9. Jog for 2 minutes.
  10. Run at your approximate 5K race pace
  11. Jog for 1 minute
  12. 10-15 minute cooldown at a comfortable pace.

Inclined Fartleks

If you live in a hilly area, you can adapt your fartleks around it. Use your climb up the hill to run at your fastest pace. This will help you build your aerobic capacity and leg muscles. After you’ve reached the summit, run downhill at a relaxed pace to aid in recovery. Depending on the terrain, you can simply reclimb the hill for the duration of your workout, or move on to the next. In advanced inclined fartleks, you would increase the duration of these workouts.

Indoor Fartleks

Inconsistent weather patterns and seasonal difficulties like extreme heat or cold have often been a detriment to runners. However, treadmills have helped make a difference. Modern treadmills especially can be programmed for your specific needs, keeping time and alerting you of your speed to help maintain your pace. Literally, all you have to do is show up. You know, show up and not pass out from exertion. But that’s anybody.

If you have access to a treadmill, consider this popular hill-based fartlek exercise, popularized by NSCA-certified personal trainer and coach Mike Simon.

  1. 5-minute warm-up at 3.5 miles an hour and at a 7% incline.
  2. Run for 1 mile at 6MPH and 1% incline.
  3. Decrease to 5MPH for 3 minutes at 1% incline.
  4. Increase speed to 6.8MPH for 30 seconds at 1% incline.
  5. Decrease to 5MPH for 3 minutes at 1% incline.
  6. Continue to shift between 6.8MPH for 30 seconds and 5MPH for 3 minutes at a 1% incline until you’ve run for 25 minutes.
  7. Run for 1 mile at 6MPH at a 1% incline.
  8. Cooldown jog at 3.5MPH at a 5% to 7% incline.

The treadmills can also be programmed to structured 1-2-3-2-1 and 2-3-4-4-3-2 fartleks if you aren’t into inclines and need to train for a marathon.

Fartleks aren’t for every runner, but they are something every runner should try. Even in its most basic and simplest forms, they can help you overcome plateaus and give your training a boost of fun.

And there you have it: now you know what fartlek training is.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Sources

  1. Runner World
  2. BBC
  3. Runtastic

The word ‘fartlek’ is a Swedish term which means ‘speed play’. It is a running session which combines speed and endurance. The principle behind fartlek training is to enable the body to adapt to various speeds, conditioning the body to become faster over the longer distance.

Why is fartlek training so popular?

It’s important not to always run at the same speed or distance, as the body will quickly adapt to this, getting comfortable with the session, and you will not progress.

In order to improve speed and endurance one must vary one’s speed and be prepared to push oneself out of the comfort zone. Not only do fartlek sessions have beneficial effects on the body’s physical condition, but they also train the mind in becoming stronger, strengthening willpower and thus allowing the runner to keep running and not give up as easily. When we race there are usually some occasions when the mind can overwhelm us and tell us to stop. The more training sessions we do that incorporate this speed variation, the stronger and more resistant we become to giving up mentally mid-race. The body can usually go much longer and faster than the mind would have it believe it can.

How does fartlek training work?

When running a fartlek training session, you run for either a set time or distance and within that block you don’t stop and rest.

For example, if you were doing a 30-minute fartlek session, you would plan how many minutes of that session will be at a faster pace and how many minutes will be at a slower pace. You would then repeat this for the 30 minutes and just alter your speed within the time.

If you want to improve your speed you would then increase the speed of the slower segments of your run slightly over time so that they become closer to the speed your faster segments are already at. To improve the endurance aspect of the fartlek session you would simply reduce the shorter, recovery segments. If you want to improve both speed and endurance then you can combine both aspects within the fartlek session.

The benefits of fartlek training:

  • It’s a great test for strength and endurance
  • It improves speed and race tactics
  • It improves the mind over matter game
  • It improves your ability to put on a spurt in races and overtake a competitor when tired, or knock seconds off your finish time
  • It is great for getting into the racing mindset as a fartlek session mimics the surges of speed you may put on in a race for example: to pass other runners, sprint for the line, or reach check point on time
  • Incorporating these surges of speed helps runners to gauge and learn how much they can push their body over shorter segments while at the same time keeping enough physical and mental energy in reserve to go the whole distance and complete a race
  • There is a lot of flexibility within the workout, for example a high intensity session where you push your body to its limits or a low intensity session if you are tapering for a race or easing back into running post-injury
  • A fartlek session can be completed alone or with another runner or in a group.

Two experts give their thoughts:

“There doesn’t need to be a set structure to the run. For your first quick burst, you might choose a target that’s just 100m away and sprint to it flat out. Then for the next hard run you’ll see something 800m away and stride towards it at your 5K race pace…If you want to add an unexpected element to fartlek training, run with a friend and take it in turns to call the next fast leg.”
– Bud Baldaro, coach and RW Contributing Editor

Brian Mackenzie (runner, running coach and creator of Cross-Fit Endurance)
gives a more structured example of a Fartlek session:

Source: Mackenzie, B. (1998) Fartlek Training

Training

Fartlek Training

If you fancy a change from your training routine, Fartlek training makes a great alternative to normal road running.

What is Fartlek training?

The word ‘Fartlek’ comes from the Swedish meaning ‘speed play’ and Fartlek training is just that – rather than running a set distance in a set time, you ‘play’ with different running paces and distances until you feel you’ve completed the workout.

Here’s an example of how it works. Remember to warm up before you start and approach the session with an open mind. Try to avoiding putting a time or distance limit on the session before you start.

Step 1

Jog gently for 5 minutes then pick a landmark in the distance to aim for and a running pace. For example, this could be the next lamppost in your view, and you decide to run at 70% of your maximum speed until you reach it.

Step 2

Run towards the landmark at the pace you’ve decided and when you reach your target, start jogging again until you’re ready for the next burst of speed.

Step 3

Pick a new landmark and running pace, but make sure they’re different from the previous one. For example, you now decide to run to the end of the street at 90% of your maximum speed.

Step 4

Keep completing these varying distances and speeds with gentle jogging in between. End the session when you feel you’ve done enough and had a thorough work out.

What are the benefits of Fartlek training?

Training without an overall time or distance to work towards will feel strange for a lot of runners, but it’s these differences that give Fartlek training its unique benefits. Here’s how Fartlek training could boost your fitness for the Virgin Money London Marathon:

  • It’s a great test of strength and endurance.
  • It’s great for improving your speed running and race tactics.
  • There’s lots of flexibility within the workout so you can adjust it to your chosen level. Keep it low intensity if you’re tapering or recovering. Make it high intensity if you want to push yourself.
  • Rather than a set time or distance, your body is the deciding factor in when the workout is complete. This means you’re less likely to stop too soon, or go too far and risk overtraining.

The Definition of Fartlek Training

Derived from the Swedish term that means ‘Speed Play’, fartlek can provide an excellent endurance and strength session, as well as help improve your speed and race awareness. Fart=speed and lek=play

Fartlek Training Definition

The use of ‘fartlek’ came about to provide a less structured approach to that of interval training. Its origins and use were developed in the 1930’s. Whereas, in interval training the structure prescribes a given distance run in a given time with a given rest, fartlek’s approach is to have you run at a given time, 2 minutes for example over undulating terrain or flat wherever your run may take you. The effort prescribed can be at 10k race pace to whatever speed you wish to make your effort. The rest in-between is normally at an easy pace to allow recovery before the next effort.

The intensity, duration and terrain is determined by the runner. Fartlek can be used on all terrains, even on a track surface.

The session is known to stress both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways. Fartlek has grown into a popular method of training used by runners to provide an enjoyable and constructive alternative to simply pounding the streets with no purpose and plan.

Fartlek – speed play, is essentially a training session that comprises some speed change and at the same time as enjoying the session. It is similar but unlike interval training. Interval training is more disciplined and precise in it’s training goal. Fartlek is not as demanding and can be incorporated to suit one’s needs.

Further articles under the Fartlek method:

  • The Creation of a Fartlek session discussed
  • The Top 6 Favourite Fartlek Sessions

with more to follow

Author: Gavin Doyle

Fartlek Workout 101

The word “fartlek” is a Swedish term which means “speed play.” It is a training method that blends continuous (endurance) training with interval (speed) training.

Fartlek runs challenge the body to adapt to various speeds, conditioning you to become faster over longer distances. Most run workouts typically target one or two paces, and a basic long run is done at a single, steady pace.

Unlike intervals, where you stop or walk for recovery, Fartlek is continuous running. Fartlek running involves varying your pace throughout your workout.

While top speed might not match intervals, your overall average heart rate (HR) should be higher for a fartlek workout than for intervals, because the jogging recovery also means HR does not drop as low during the recovery portions. It is great for a variety of fitness levels and can be customized according to personal preference and current training situation.

Different Ways to Run Fartleks

Fartlek can be structured, though classic fartlek is based on feel and inspiration. “Run hard up the hill to the crest, jog to cross walk, accelerate the short downhill, jog to the intersection, run quickly around the block” versus “run 6-5-4-3-2 minutes faster with 2 minutes jogging recovery,” is an example of a structured fartlek.

Fartlek workouts are versatile. A traditional fartlek is run on the road using available landmarks as guides. If you are the analytical type, take your fartlek to the track and use set distances. Live in the city? Use lamp posts or blocks as distances for easy, medium and hard efforts. Bad weather? Bring your fartlek workout inside on a treadmill. Out of town and worried about getting lost? Fartlek is a great way to make a small loop more interesting. Have a friend joining your workout? Even if you both may run at different speeds you can regroup at certain landmarks or times. Can’t avoid the hills? Great! Hills are effective means to elevate your heart rate and work on strength, speed and endurance. As you can see, fartleks can be done anywhere—it’s convenient and packs a powerful punch of benefits.

Fartlek Improves Your Mental Game

Beyond physical benefits, fartlek also trains the mind, strengthening willpower, sustaining and repeating efforts when you feel like stopping.

We can all probably relate to a race situation when the mind can overwhelm us, questioning whether we can maintain the pace or respond to an opponent’s attack. The more training sessions we do that incorporate this speed variation, the more resistant we become to giving up mentally mid-race. The body can usually go much longer and faster than the mind would have it believe it can.

The Benefits of Fartlek Training

  • Improve speed
  • Improve endurance
  • Improve race tactics; improves your ability to put surges into races and overtake a competitor or knock seconds off your finish time.
  • Improve mental strength.
  • Fartlek provides a lot of flexibility, so you can do a high intensity session to push your limits or a low intensity session if you are tapering for a race or easing back into running post-injury.
  • Fartlek is playful, playing with speed and saying the word often elicits giggles!

Three Sample Fartlek Workouts

Long Run Fartlek

  • During your longest run of the week, pick up your pace for 1:00 minute every 6 to 8 minutes. This is not drastically faster—perhaps 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace. If you have a hard time returning to “normal” long-run rhythm, then you are running the surges too quickly.

Speed Play

  • After a 12 minute warm-up jog, plus a few drills and strides
  • Build for 3 minutes as moderate, moderate-hard, hard each for 1 minute
  • 2 minutes jog
  • 7 minutes moderate-hard
  • 3 minutes jog
  • 3 minutes hard
  • 5 minutes jog
  • Cool down or repeat

“Surroundings” Fartlek

  • After 10 minutes of warm-up jogging pick a landmark in the distance—this can be a telephone pole, mailbox, a tree, a building, etc, and run to it at a faster pace. Once you have reached it, slow down and recover with your normal running pace for as long as you need (just don’t fully stop), then find a new landmark and speed it up again. Keep in mind that there are no rules here, so run on feel as you go along.

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article.

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How Fartlek Runs Will Make You a Better Runner (Plus 7 Workouts to Try)

In this day and age of GPS watches and uploading your runs to Strava, many runners are dialed in to very specific paces and distances for their speedwork.

And that’s fine; if you want to know how to run faster, this has its important place in your repertoire.

But there’s another type of speedwork for runners that is much less structured and still just as effective.

It’s called fartlek.

Fartlek training is Swedish for speed play—and it can deliver a lot of bang for a little buck.

A fartlek run is one of the oldest types of speedwork, dating back to the 1930s. Swedish coach Gosta Holmer created this phase run as a way to bring his national-level athletes to competitive form and target their rival Finnish runners.

His thinking with the method?

Create training that would simultaneously work on endurance and speed.

What is a fartlek?

At its simplest form, fartlek requires that after a warm up, runners alternately surge and recover in the midst of a middle distance run.

No set paces, no set distances, just a chance to turn the legs over at a faster than normal rate until the legs have had enough.

Then a cool down.

Today we are going to explain when you should use fartleks in training and share 7 ways you can give it a try.
If you are looking for a first workout back after some time off running, this is one of the best ways you can give your body a kick start into hard running again.

The beauty of the fartlek is that it can work so many systems in one workout, depending on how your run it.

Your aerobic and anaerobic systems can get in on the act.

You can also work your sprinting ability, and conversely, your ability to hold a faster pace for a longer distance.

Everything wins.

It’s also a great way to break the habit of being slave to your watch.

Sure, you can set out for a specific overall distance for these runs, but the in between sections—where you play with speed—should be strictly off the clock in the sense that they represent any type of specified pace.

Remember, this is loosey goosey running, but with a purpose.

But you can also develop fartlek “routines,” which is to say slightly more structured fartlek.

These might be by time, by distance, or by terrain.

Truly, the sky is the limit.

Sound like fun?

It is.

Here are some guidelines and variations to get you started:

When to Run Fartleks

You can use speed play any time throughout your year, but probably the most optimal time is between your base training and specific speed training cycles.

Let’s say you have a May target race.

You’d spend most of winter up until about February building a solid base. Then take a month to build in weekly to twice weekly sessions of 30 minute fartlek sessions.

It’s not the hard pounding you’ll perform later with track or even tempo, but it’s a solid transition phase to prep your body for the hard work ahead.

Another option is to use a 45 minute fartlek once a month once you are into your heavy speed training as a way to give your body a much needed break.

How to Run Fartleks

As explained, true fartlek is lacking in any real structure.

If you want to try this approach—and you should now and again—simply warm up and then after a couple of miles, start inserting some surge/recovery efforts.

Fartlek training for beginners?

You could try this:

Mark off streetlights, and use them for destinations. Surge from one light to the next and then recover until you reach the next one.

Or press the pedal to the metal at about 90 percent effort and roughly 100 meters, then back off for a comparable distance.

Keep alternating until your legs begin to tire and then back off/recover.

There are no hard and fast rules to this type of training, which is why it serves as a perfect introduction/transition to the next, more structured phase of training.

Hill Sprints for Speed

My friends and I run a very hilly route every Thursday morning.

For the most part we run it at our aerobic pace, but sometimes, we throw in hill surges, too.

All told we probably hit about 10 to 12 hills on this seven-mile route. This is a great way to incorporate fartlek.

Find a hilly route and after warming up, push every hill that you encounter. Recover at the top and on the downhill/flats.

Do hill sprints make you faster?

Yep.

You’ll find it builds strength, helps your legs turn over faster, and also makes you a stronger downhill runner.

Trust me, my friends can crush some hills and I think it has plenty to do with running this course just like this.

Short Interval Fartleks

This type of speed play is better done on flatter terrain where you can really work the leg turnover.

One of my favorite early, pre-season workouts has always been:

Warm up a few miles.

10 x 1-min hard with 10 x 1 min easy in between.

Cool down a few miles.

This gives your body a chance to get into a nice, faster rhythm and then recover out before beginning again.

You can shorten it to 30 seconds on/off, or lengthen it to two minutes on/off, all depending on your fitness level, race goals, and time of season.

Long Interval Fartleks

Just like shorter intervals, you can run fartlek with longer surges/recovery and boost your stamina.

This is especially good when you are prepping for a season of longer races like half marathons or a at the start of a marathon training schedule.

You can simply alternate matching time periods.

After your regular warm up, try this:

5 minutes on with 2-3 minutes off, repeated 4-5 times.

Finish up with a cool down.

Or try this:

Build in 2 x 10 minute sets, with a 5 minute recovery between each.

Ladder or Pyramid Runs

As the name suggests, ladders give you an opportunity to go up and/or up and then down again in time spent pushing your pace.

An ascending ladder might look like this:

Warm up your usual distance.

1 minute hard, 30 seconds easy

2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy

3 minutes hard, 1 minute 30 seconds easy

4 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy

5 minutes hard, 2 minutes 30 seconds easy

Repeat the set a second time if desired.

Or try the pyramid this way:

1 minute hard, 30 seconds easy

2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy

3 minutes hard, 1 minute 30 seconds easy

4 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy

5 minutes hard, 2 minutes 30 seconds easy

4 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy

3 minutes hard, 1 minute 30 seconds easy

2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy

1 minute hard, 30 seconds easy

Cool down as usual

How to Know What Pace to Run in a Fartlek

Since you won’t be using a watch to see your paces during fartlek, I’m not going to outline specific paces for you to hold.

However, you can pace by feel for much of fartlek if you want to work some differing systems.

In the case of an ascending/descending ladder set, for instance, try running the shorter segments faster than the longer segments.

Or try to negative split the descending intervals when compared to the front set.

Want to know the most important part of running a fartlek?

Don’t look at your watch!

Simply let your effort level tell you how you are doing.

An added bonus to this approach is that it helps you learn better how to run by feel as opposed to aiming for a certain number.

This can come in quite handy on race day.

How to Use Terrain for Fartleks

Much like the hill surging mentioned in number three, you can use the terrain you are running as markers for your fartlek.

Try running hard on a few hills, then give it a go on descents.

When you hit the flats, try to go all out for short bursts.

Remember, there are no rules, so try it all on for size and see how it feels.

You might learn something about your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to work on when you move on to more structured speed work later on.

Trail Running Speed

The Swedish runners who first used fartlek were rumored to do most of the training on dirt trails.

This is actually a perfect place to “play” with speed.

You probably already know:

Trail running is slower than road running, but did you consider that you can use trail running for a workout?

You get a forced variety of terrain when you run trails and you can find perfect spots to alternate pick ups.

Climb to the top on a hilly trail at a nice and easy pace, for instance, and then practice alternating pick ups all the way down to build quad strength and important stabilizing muscles.

Of if you hit a nice stretch of flat trail, turn on the burners for a few minutes and then recover for a shorter period before starting it up all over again.

What is Most Important with Fartlek Runs?

Have fun!

Running with concentrated, structured intent 12 months out of the year can get just as mentally exhausting as physically.

One of the great gifts of fartlek is that it gives your mind a break from all that thinking about pace, distance, and watch stalking.

Use these sessions to interject some fun into your running.

Find your inner kid again.

Then when you come back to the more intense sessions, you’ll feel like you hit the refresh button.

Come this late winter, give fartlek a go. I guarantee you’ll reap the benefits come spring and summer, both mentally and physically.

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In addition to tempo runs, one of my favorite running workouts for myself and my athletes are fartlek workouts. Not mile repeats, not quarters, not even hill repeats: just fun and effective fartleks.

I could (and will, soon) devote an entire post on different methods of building speed without increasing your risk of injury. One tried and true method: fartlek workouts instead of traditional speed workouts on the track.

What’s a fartlek workout? It’s a Swedish word for “speed play.” In a fartlek run, instead of pushing yourself hard at a particular pace for a designated distance (3 x 1 mile at 5K pace, for example), you focus on a hard but not all out effort for a certain amount of time.

You can even create an even more unstructured fartlek by running faster for a few blocks, easy for a few blocks, and repeating, or by running faster every time that an angry goose begins to chase you on the trail (or does that just happen to me?).

One common cause of running-related injury is doing too much too soon. Speed work done all year round, or even in the early weeks of race training, can cause you to push yourself too hard too soon, especially if you are basing your paces off of older PRs or goal times rather than your current fitness.

Fartleks provide the integral step between the easy runs of the base building phase and the mile repeats of the sharpening phase. The fartlek run prevents you from doing too much too soon since they usually cover less distance at a lower intensity than traditional speed workouts. You run a fartlek by effort, not by a prescribed pace, which means you are running according to your current level of fitness and are not pushing yourself too hard too early in training.

Even if you’re not injury-prone, fartlek workouts are an ideal form of speed work for most stages of training. They’ll keep a bit of speed in your legs during the off-season and base building, they’ll transition you from base building to race training, and they’ll release you from the stress of hitting specific paces during race training.

Most of all? Fartlek workouts are fun! Very runners actually make money from the sport; most of us do it for fun, so why not keep an element of fun in your running, even when you’re training hard for a goal race?

Fartlek Workouts for the 5K to Marathon

5K Fartlek

The purpose of 5K training is to get comfortable with being very uncomfortable for a short amount of time, so your workouts should serve that purpose. A quick cadence and fast foot turnover is vital for running a strong 5K, so fartleks that emphasize quick bursts of very hard running will help you become a more efficient runner and prepare your body for the demands of 5K race specific speed work.

This workout is actually an all-around versatile workout which any runner can utilize, whether they are training for a 5K or a marathon. It’s an ideal workout for the early weeks of training, when you’re focused on transitioning from base building to speed work.

The Workout: Warm up with 1-2 miles at an easy pace. Repeat 12-15 repetitions of running hard (at 5K race effort or slightly faster) for 1 minute and running easy for 1 minute. Cool down with 1-2 miles of easy running. Focus on taking short and quick steps during the hard running segments.

10K Fartlek

10K runners want to achieve a good balance between endurance and speed. To run a successful 10K, you need to learn how to how a fairly hard pace for a decent amount of time, which means that a smart sense of pacing is necessary to keep you from starting out too fast and slowing down over the last 2 miles.

For 10K runners, fartlek workouts are ideal for the earlier weeks of training; when you approach the final weeks before the race, you want to practice running at your goal pace with measured distance workouts as as 800 meter or mile repeats.

The Workout: After a 2-3 mile warm up, run for 4 minutes at a hard effort, 2 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, and 1 minute hard. Run easy for 5 minutes and then repeat the fartlek again before cooling down for 1-2 miles. Your hard effort should be in the range of 10K to 5K race effort; what matter is being able to sustain an even effort for all of the hard intervals without slowing down.

10 Miler/Half Marathon Fartlek

So, tell me if this has ever happened to you: you’re gliding along at a comfortably hard pace for the first 8-10 miles of your half marathon, when suddenly you feel as if you can’t move your legs any faster. No matter how hard you push (and you feel as if you’re pushing at your very limit), you see the clock along the course or check your Garmin to realize that you are actually slowing down.

It’s happened to me! My solution to this conundrum came from Brad Hudson’s Run Faster from the 5K to Marathon, which if you’ve been following my training for the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon, you know that I’ve been following an adapted version of Hudson’s plan. One of the workouts Hudson’s half marathon plans call for are fartlek long runs, which served as an inspiration for this workout.

This half marathon fartlek workout serves to teach your legs to pick up the pace after you’ve been running for several miles. After adding a few fartlek long runs into your half marathon training, you won’t struggle to speed up during those last few miles of the race. Instead, you’ll be passing other runners and finishing your race strong.

The Workout: Run 8 miles at your normal easy long run pace. Once you reach mile 8, alternate between 2 minutes at tempo effort (half marathon effort or just slightly faster) and 2 minutes at an easy effort for 3-4 miles. Tempo effort should feel comfortably hard with a breathing pattern of 2 counts inhale, 2 counts exhale. This workout will cover 11-12 miles and can take the place of an easy long run.

This workout is also effective if you’re training for a 10 mile race!

Marathon Fartlek

Too much speed work during marathon training will cause injury before you can actually reap the benefits of regular speed work. Since the priority of marathon training should be on long runs, goal pace runs, and safely increasing your weekly running mileage to improve your aerobic fitness, fartleks are an ideal speed workout for marathoners.

By running according to effort, you avoid pushing yourself harder than you should just to hit an arbitrary split time. Fartlek workouts also usually cover less distance at a lower intensity than traditional speed work, so they’re ideal for marathoners who are already pushing their bodies to the limit with long runs and high mileage.

Long fartleks are an excellent workout for full marathoners, but don’t neglect the value of short bursts of harder when you’re training for endurance events. You don’t need to push yourself to a vomit-inducing pace; fartlek intervals between half marathon and 10K effort (moderately hard) will provide you with all of the benefits of speed work without the risk of injury.

The Workout: Try this fartlek workout sprinkled throughout the earlier and middle weeks of your marathon training cycle. Warm up for 2-3 miles, run 6-8 repeats of 3 minutes at a moderately hard effort (10K effort) and 2 minutes easy, then cool down for 2-3 miles.

For many runners, you will cover just under half a mile in these workouts, but they’re easier on the mind and the body than all-out 600 meter or 800 meter repeats. Meanwhile, you’ll cover anywhere from 8-11 miles in this workout, depending on your speed and number of repeats, which means this workout will also help you increase your endurance.

Where to Run Fartleks?

Personally, I love to run fartleks on the road or a multi-use paved path (no spotlights means no stopping!). You could run these on the track, but the repetitive motion of the track increases your risk of injury such as IT band syndrome. Running on the roads or smooth trails also means you will not be running on a completely flat surface, which is beneficial as well to teach you how to pace as elevation rises and drops. Fartleks are also a great way to prevent treadmill boredom if you’re stuck inside due to weather!

When Should You Hit the Track?

Unless you are training for a track race, you should really only hit the track for specific interval speed work such as 400s, 800s, and mile repeats during the sharpening phase of your training. The sharpening phase occurs in final few weeks of training before you taper for a race, when you already possess a strong sense of an appropriate goal race time and are doing those last few workouts to prime you for the race.

Disclaimer: I am a certified running coach, but I may not be your running coach (want to work with me? Learn more about my coaching services here!). Always consult your coach if you have one and train in a way that is best for you, your goals, and your body.

Linking up for Wild Workout Wednesday!

Enjoy this post? You may also like:
Turning Track Workouts into Fartlek Runs
Early Season Running Workouts to Safely Build Speed
Fartlek Countdown Workout for Off-Season Speed Work

How do you keep your training fun?
Do you include fartlek workouts in your running routine?

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