• Introduction
  • The basics of fartlek training
  • Benefits of fartlek training
  • Fartlek training samples
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Fartlek training, also known as speed play, refers to continuous long-distance runs that are divided into slower and faster phases. In simple terms, it combines endurance training with interval training. Although fartlek training is usually associated with running, the same training concepts can be used for other activities such as swimming, cross-country skiing, rowing, and cycling. 

The word fartlek comes from the Swedish words of fart (speed) and lek (play). The method was developed by a Swedish coach Gösta Holmér all the way in 1930. Back then, it was used by the nation’s cross-country running team to train athletes to run faster than their race pace. The theory behind this was that athletes could improve both speed and endurance simultaneously without causing significant discomfort and fatigue. The results were impressive, and one of Holmér’s athletes, Gunder Hagg, ran a mile in a record time of 4:01. This was a world record for 9 years.

Since then, fartlek running has slowly grown in popularity and it remains one of the most well-known alternatives to low-intensity endurance exercises. It is also recommended by several coaches and physiologists as an effective way to improve endurance and overall health. 

This article explains the basics of fartlek training and why it is so effective for a variety of fitness levels. We’ve even hand-picked some of our favorite fartlek samples for you to try out.

The basics of fartlek training

The basic concept of fartlek training is alternating between faster sprints and jogging at a consistent pace. This allows the slower phases to work either as a warmup or recovery between more intense phases of the run.

The benefit of Fartlek training is that it adapts your body to work at various speeds while maintaining a relatively high heart rate for the entire workout. The faster intervals also condition you to become a faster runner over long distances. The continuous nature of Fartlek training also separates it from other forms of interval training or HIIT, which require complete rest between exercises. 

Although fartlek running was originally designed for speed endurance athletes, its biggest benefit is how incredibly flexible it is. In fact, the same training methods can be used by nearly everyone regardless of their fitness level. The intensity and interval duration are simply determined by the running terrain and how you feel during the exercise.

Fartlek sessions can also offer some much-needed variety to your usual running routine. You may even find yourself exercising more consistently due to the added versatility. With this in mind, we still recommended that you structure your fartlek workouts beforehand for the best results. 

Fartlek Training


Alternates between light jogging and faster interval runsLight jogging phases work as recovery

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Benefits of fartlek training

Fartlek training offers several benefits for both your athletic performance and overall health. For example, it improves your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles while removing carbon dioxide, leading to better endurance. This is a result of better aerobic and anaerobic capacity, higher lactate threshold, increased hemoglobin amount, improved venous return, and improved stroke volume. Consistent fartlek training also boosts your metabolism and may even improve your running technique.

Aerobic capacity, also known as maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max), refers to the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during an exercise. It is also considered one of the main factors in endurance capability. Fartlek training can improve your ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles during exercise.

Anaerobic capacity describes the total amount of energy produced anaerobically, or without oxygen. Because fartlek training varies between low and high-intensity intervals, it can also go beyond the lactate threshold (highest level of performance where energy can be produced aerobically). After which your body starts producing lactate, which is one of the main factors in causing fatigue. Fartlek exercises improve both your maximal oxygen uptake and your ability to tolerate and remove lactate.

"Fartlek training is a great way to add variety to your regular training."

Metabolism also undergoes several changes due to fartlek training. For example, consistent exercise results in better insulin sensitivity and faster resting metabolism. This is due to improved ability to oxidize (burn) fat for fuel as well as increased fat-free muscle mass. In fact, more intense exercises can keep your metabolism elevated a long time after the exercise. On the other hand, increased energy expenditure helps maintain healthy body composition.

Fartlek training also offers an array of heart health benefits. First, it increases the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, which is responsible for delivering oxygen in the bloodstream. Second, it improves the stroke volume of the heart, meaning that you can pump more blood with each heartbeat, resulting in a lower heart rate. Third, it improves venous return, which describes your veins’ ability to return blood back to the heart. Lastly, it also increases the number of capillaries in the muscles which increases blood flow in and out of the muscles. 

Improved running technique is another great reason to perform fartlek training. The reason for this is that faster intervals can help you increase your regular running speed while still maintaining an efficient technique. This is due to reduced ground reaction time (less time spent on the ground), increased step length, and optimal running cadence (step rate).

Intense exercises can keep your metabolism elevated for a long time even after the exercise.

Fartlek training samples

Are you ready to lek with your fart? Well, you’re in luck! We’ve made a list of some of our favorite speed play exercises for you to try out. They can also give you some ideas on how to create a perfect fartlek workout for your needs.

Pyramid Fartlek

  • 1min at 60% of maximum
  • 2mins at 65% of maximum
  • 4mins at 70% of maximum
  • 5mins at 75% of maximum
  • 4mins at 70% of maximum
  • 2mins at 65% of maximum
  • 1min at 60% of maximum

This can also be reversed and started with higher intensity.

35-minute Fartlek

  • Jog at a regular pace
  • Increase running speed for 60s every 7 minutes

Fartlek hill run

  • 40-minute jog at a regular pace
  • Increase speed at every hill

10-20-30 training

  • Run 30s at an easy pace
  • Run 20s at a moderate pace
  • Run 10s at maximum speed
  • Repeat 5 times
  • 2min recovery
  • 2-4 sets

Fartlek run for music

  • 40min jog at a comfortable pace
  • Increase your speed during every chorus

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

The intensity of Fartlek workouts are determined by the running terrain and how you feel during the exercise.

Final thoughts

Fartlek training has long been used to switch up your regular running routine – and for good reason! It is a fun, effective, and healthy way to improve your cardiovascular endurance and overall health. As we all know, exercising is not always easy to do. So why not make it a little bit more motivating to do? What’s even better, you’ll see positive results relatively quickly. This also makes it possible to run more efficiently at a faster pace – a trait that can be useful in a number of sports. 

While training is at the heart of athletic progression, you should also remember to take care of your nutrition and maintain sufficient rest. Once these three factors are in balance, you’ll see results in no time.

Did you learn anything new about fartlek training? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

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  • Falcone, P.H., Tai, C-Y. Carson, L.R., Joy, J.M., Mosman, M.M., McCann, T.R., Crona, K.P., Kim, M.P. & Moon, J.R. (2015) Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 29, Issue (3), pp. 779-785.
  • Gunnarsson, T.P., Christensen, P.M., Holske, K., Christiansen, D. & Bangsbo, J. (2012) Effect of speed endurance training on performance and muscle adaptations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Volume 44, Issue (10). pp. 1942-1948.
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