Fartlek, developed in the 1930’s, a Swedish term that means “speed play,” is a form of interval or speed training that can be effective in improving your running speed and endurance.
Fartlek running involves varying your pace throughout your run, alternating between fast segments and slow jogs. Unlike traditional interval training that involves specific timed or measured segments, fartlek’s are more unstructured. Work-rest intervals can be based on how the body feels.
Fartlek training puts a little extra stress on your system, eventually leading to faster speeds and improving your anaerobic threshold.
(Anaerobic exercise means you’re working at such a high level of intensity, that your cardiovascular system can’t deliver oxygen to the muscles fast enough.)
Fartlek Running – continuous run at varied pace (65- 90%) over undulating terrain with hard efforts followed by active recovery of easy-steady state running. Repeat for 30- 45 minutes.
This will work on both aerobic and anaerobic systems so long as the changes in pace/effort (hills) are reasonably dramatic. If you are working with a partner you should take it in turns to call the sprint/activity.
With fartlek training, you can experiment with pace and endurance, and experience changes of pace.
From a coaching perspective, the creation of a fartlek session is to achieve two things, one is to give a session that benefits the runner’s development and the second is to provide the person with an environment which is a change to their normal surroundings when doing a quality session determined by their effort.
Athletes by their very nature are often hard task masters and when providing an interval track session, they can hammer themselves for not achieving the target times set. Fartlek provides the break from that intensity, it is meant to be rewarding to how the athlete feels. The session is according a perceived effort and is best not timed for distance but specifically duration.
Fartlek is recognised by the hard and easy running during the session.
An example for those that are running solo and not comfortable with an instinctive approach would be:
5-10 minutes light warm up. Good Stretch. 3×3 minutes hard with 90 seconds easy then 3 minutes of steady state easy running. 4×30 seconds hard with 1min easy then 3 minutes steady easy. 6×1 minutes hard with 1minute easy then 5 minutes warm down.
Hills should be run hard and as 1 of the hard runs. Hilly terrain is the best.
This type of training has grown in popularity and has proven to be successful as it can be applied under any conditions, be it weather or terrain. The beginner runner has also benefitted in their development towards structured speed training. Fartlek, as mentioned means … SPEED PLAY
It is considered that the original purpose of fartlek training was to serve as a break from the mundane structure of a training program, while still achieving the physiological benefits of the training. The benefits achieved mentally, plus the fitness benefits have made fartlek training a popular addition to an athlete’s routine.
Bacon, A.; Carter, R.; Ogle, E. et al. “VO2max Trainability and High-Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis.” PLoS One. 2013; 8(9):e73182; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073182.
Kumar, P. “Effect of fartlek training for developing endurance ability among athletes.” International Journal of Physical Education, Sports, and Health. 2015; 2(2):291-293.
Mackenzie, B (1998) Fartlek Training