Fartleks – For Faster Times and More Interesting Workouts

Interval training is doubtlessly a regular part of your routine. This fast-paced, on and off training method has been proven through years of use and clinical trials to improve speed, boost your metabolism and help clean up your form.

But it’s also fairly boring. Regardless of how you design it, traditional interval training is predictable and repetitive. Fartlek training, despite the funny name, is a unique approach to intervals that can help you get faster while enjoying your workouts more.

What’s A Fartlek?

Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish, which is an excellent description of this training method. Whereas traditional interval training consists of a predefined period of high-intensity activity, followed by an equally long or longer bout of active recovery, fartlek training is much more informal.

In keeping with the idea of speed play, fartlek training allows you to listen to your body and base your intervals off split-second decisions. Once you’re warmed up, you run at a high-intensity for a short burst to a landmark that you pick, like a sign or a parked car, and then return to an easier pace for recovery.

The purpose of fartlek training is to keep you’re run free-flowing so that you’re not stuck glancing at your watch or thinking about your plan, while helping you run at gradually increasing intensities.

The Benefits

Fartlek training comes with many of  the benefits of traditional interval training, plus a few others. In addition to increased speed, endurance and a faster metabolism, fartleks make your workouts more interesting. Because the transitions of speed and intensity in fartleks are unstructured and somewhat random, both your mind and body are kept guessing.

In a real-world setting, this mental alertness could be a valuable skill. During a repetitive activity like running, it’s easy for your mind to wonder and for you to lose focus on what you’re doing. Fartleks, though, keep you focused on your run.

Their random nature can make fartleks especially fun when running in groups. Try taking turns with who gets to lead in picking pace and distance. This will add an aspect of excitement and competition to your run that can help you stay motivated in a way that’s sometimes difficult to achieve.

When it comes to competition, fartleks have a direct application on race day. Fartlek training will condition your body to perform surges of speed that are unnatural for the human body. Your body operates best at steady, even paces so the ups-and-downs of fartlek training are difficult for most runners to withstand. By varying your pace wildly, like in fartlek training, you stand a chance at wearing down your competition both physically and mentally.

How To Do It

While there are many fartlek workouts available in magazines and the internet, it’s difficult to plan a training method that is intended to be spontaneous. It’s best to perform fartleks instead of your interval training when you want to try something new.

After a five to ten minute warm-up, speed up to a pace that is slightly faster than your conversational pace. Keep up this speed until you’ve reached your landmark, then drop to below your conversational pace until your breathing has return to normal and your feel recovered. Increase back up to your moderate intensity pace, where you could carry a conversation, until you reach a landmark. This time, increase your speed to a full run before returning to your recovery pace.

Have you incorporated fartlek training into your workouts? Please share your experiences in the comments.








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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.