Amongst many types of training methods, you may have come across fartlek training and wondered “What on earth is that?”. Well, it comes from putting together two Swedish words – “fart” and “lek” which mean “speed” and “play”, so together become speed-play!

What Is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek training is where you are running for either a set distance or a set amount of time and varying (‘playing’) with intensity whilst running. By varying the intensity, you are altering your speed which is why it’s known as speed-play.

Fartlek Training For Runners

So you’re wondering of a practical example on how to implement fartlek training in running. Here’s a suggestion.

  • Sprint to the next lampost on the road.
  • Jog for 2 minutes.
  • Mix it up and run fast downhill.
  • Run at 80% effort till you reach that tree in the far distance.

Do this for 30 minutes in total, and make it up as you go along. To do fartlek training effectively, try and have some efforts when you run really hard – at least 90% intensity.

By varying the speed and terrain during fartlek training, you are placing various stressors and stimuli upon the body which will help it to adapt to the training you are doing. You can run for as long as you feel like, but to maximise the aerobic benefits, you’ll want to do it for at least 20 minutes at this is when most cardiovascular adaptations start to occur.

If you prefer running on a treadmill, you could do a fartlek session on there by simply varying the speed set on the treadmill and the incline at various points during your run to simulate a fartlek outside. However, you won’t be able to simulate the terrain (grass, rubble, rocks etc…) which can aid the development of proprioception (your body’s awareness of its position and movement).

I imagine these principles could also be applied to cycling and swimming, where you have the chance to vary intensity and terrain (although it’s hard to vary terrain for swimming).

Group Fartlek Training

Fartlek training can be even more fun and enjoyable when done in a group. In a group of 4 people of similar running ability, one person could lead each effort. For example:

  • Andy runs for 2 minutes at a steady pace and drops to the back signalling it’s Bill’s turn to take the lead.
  • Bill feels energised and decides to sprint hard for 30 seconds before letting Charlie take over.
  • Charlie decides to surprise everyone and instead of going at an easy pace, continues the effort at 85% intensity for 1 minute.
  • David takes over and eases the pace down to about 50% effort until he reaches the 4th tree in sight in the park.

This is a great way to not only train your aerobic and anaerobic systems but also teaches runners to adapt to different situations within a race. You don’t know when the runner in front of you will pick up the pace or sprint or how long they will maintain it for. It’s a good way of creating mental strength as well as physical strength and can aid adaptations through hormesis.

A similar sort of session can be replicated where a coach blows a whistle and you have to run hard until the whistle is blown again – but you don’t know how long this is. You don’t know whether you’ll be running hard for 5 seconds or 2 minutes. I did this once with my coach and the shortest sprint effort was about 12 seconds whilst the longest was a painful 100 seconds (unsurprisingly, I was hurting by then after going out as if I was doing a sprint).

A more common session for runners is where you will run a ‘pyramid’ and you know how long you’re running before and the duration of your recovery beforehand. Here’s a sample session with 60 seconds jog recovery:

  • 4 minutes
  • 3 minutes
  • 2 minutes
  • 1 minute
  • 2 minutes
  • 3 minutes
  • 4 minutes

There’s less of a speed component in this type of session as the shortest effort is 1 minute, but there is still a range in the speed you are running at which will help to develop aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Fartlek Training For Games Players

By games players, I’m talking about many of your other typical team sports such as football, basketball, hockey, netball, handball and more. Fartlek training can be implemented for games players as it can help to mimic the ‘pace’ of the game. Games players aren’t always running at intense efforts and are usually jogging whilst waiting for an opportunity to make their move or take action.

To make fartlek training more specific for games players, they should include walking, jogging, running and sprinting in a variety of directions. The specificity could be increased even further if a hockey player has to sprint whilst dribbling a hockey ball.

How Does Fartlek Training Improve Fitness?

One of the key aspects of fartlek training is the speed element. Make sure that during a fartlek you have some efforts where you go really hard so you’re breathing heavily.

When you run at high intensities, your anaerobic system is worked, creating an oxygen debt which is repaid by excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In addition, you’re working for a long period of time so you’ll also improve aerobic fitness as well as muscular endurance from and you’ll even help facilitate adaptations in speed if you run fast enough at a high intensity.

By running at different intensities you are using different types of muscle fibres, and if you can vary terrain, that will further increase the different types of muscles and muscle fibres being used.

Advantages Of Fartlek Training

  • Great way to make training more fun and enjoyable.
  • You can control the intensity you are working at.
  • Adds variety and can break up monotonous training.
  • Can be used for games players as it mimics the game.
  • Less risk of overtraining or injury.
  • Can be used when tapering before a race or recovering.

Disadvantages Of Fartlek Training

  • You need to control the training intensity.
  • Requires good self-discipline to ensure you are working sufficiently.
  • May not work in a group of runners if you are trying to stick together and vary too much in ability.

Conclusion

Fartlek training is a great way to break up a normal training routine and add some variety. It’s even more enjoyable doing it in a group and is a great way to try and enhance your aerobic system, anaerobic system, muscular endurance and speed. Due to the nature of the training, it can help develop a strong mentality for races since you don’t always know what pace others in the group of runners you are with (if you are running in a group) will go at, and you will probably find yourself trying to stick with the pace they go at.

Definitely give it a try!


Have you tried fartlek training before? How did you find it? If you found this article useful, please share with friends and let me know if you found this article useful down below!