The fartlek training method is one of the best ways I know of that you can use to spice up your every day run while increasing your fitness and speed.
So today, I’m going to share with you some practical guidelines on how to proceed with this awesome training method, along with a list of the best fartlek runs you need to add to your training program.
Fartlek Training Defined
Fartlek is a Swedish term that translates as “Speed play”, and as the name implies, Fartlek training is all about playing with your speed by performing boots of fast and slow running over varying distances.
When you do Fartlek training, you play with speed by varying the intensity level and duration over distances of your own choice. So instead of keeping the same pace through the whole workout, you sprint (or run at a higher intensity), then jog (active recovery), then speed up again, repeating the on-off cycle throughout the session.
Benefits of Fartlek Training
Here are some of the benefits you are going to reap by adding Fartlek training to your program.
Speed & endurance. Fartlek training stresses both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways. Therefore, it’s one of the best ways to help you improve running endurance and speed at the same time.
Ideal for racers. While racing, you will typically run fast, then slower, then fast again. This method of training involves varying the intensity level of your training to teach your body how to recover faster, no matter what level you are at, which can help prepare you to better handle the uneven and intense surges of a race.
Kills boredom. If you are just a recreational runner and you are in it for the fitness and fun, then fartlek is ideal for spicing up things and beating boredom—especially if your running routine has grown stale during the recent weeks. Fartlek training offers a creative, less structured, and on-the-go form of interval training that’s guaranteed to shake things up with your training program.
Sheds mad calories. The typical fartlek workout session will force you to work at a higher energy level, leading to greater calorie burn and energy expenditure. After all, it’s a form of high intensity training.
Make your own. What I love about Fartlek training is that you can customize them to how you feel and to fit your own personal fitness level and training goals. There are plenty of fartlek runs you can do to train for different races and/or stimulate various systems in the body.
When to do Fartlek Training
I recommend that you do at least one Fartlek workout per week, depending of course on your current fitness level and training goals.
Beginners Start Slow
If you have never done any speedwork before and you are also building weekly mileage and doing hill workouts, then an easy fartlek session every other week will be enough to help you improve without doing too much too soon.
Nonetheless, if you are a regular runner and/or looking to race your best, then the best time to start doing Fartlek runs is when you are making the transition to more challenging, faster running training.
Fartlek Running Workouts to Try
Here is a list of 6 Fartlek workouts you need to be doing. You can perform one of these workout once or twice per week—depending on your fitness level and training goals of course
1. The 5K/ 10K Specific Fartlek training
Start with this Fartlek workout and you will be set and prepared for more advanced track workouts. This workout is ideal if you are looking to improve your 5K/10K racing performance.
During this workout, aim to perform at least 8 to 10 gentle, controlled surges, lasting for one minute to 90-seconds with a one-minute jog recovery between each. These pick-ups should not feel terribly hard—shoot for at least 10 to 15 seconds per mile faster than your 5K pace race. That’s roughly the equivalent of 85 to 90 percent of your maximum effort.
According to study, running at this intensity for more no more than 10 minutes each session can lead to vital increases in VO2 max, which is your body’s ability to consume and utilize oxygen.
Begin the session with a proper warm-up, running at a comfortable pace for 5 to 10 minutes.
After the warm-up, increase your speed for one minute, then drop back to normal speed for one minute. Next increase your speed for one minute to 90 seconds, then take it down. Repeat the cycle for 20 to 25 minutes, then perform a final 2-minute surge at maximum speed before wrapping up your workout with a 5-minute cool down, jogging at slow pace and bringing your heart rate down.
2. The long Run Surges
This Fartlek run is ideal if you are looking to improve your endurance and speed for longer distance events such as half-marathons and marathons. Just be sure to pace yourself and not do too much too soon.
The pick-ups should not feel terribly hard, so to stay on the safe side, aim for 20 to 25 seconds per mile faster than your normal long run pace. If you feel too tired at the end of the surge, then you are doing too much, and that’s not the goal of this fartlek run.
During your longest run of the week—anything lasting for more than 10 miles in my opinion—and after a 10 to 15 minutes warm-up of slow jogging, aim to perform a one-minute pace pick-up every 7 to 8 minutes, shooting for at least 8 surges before you end the session with a 10-minute cool down.
3. The Pyramid Fartlek
Also known as the ladder workout, this is a more structured Fartlek type of a run. The main purpose of this fartlek session is to mimic the increases in effort and speed occurring during a race—especially during 5K and 10K races events.
It will take you a total of 30 minutes to complete the whole workout, warm-up and cool-down included.
After a thorough warm-up, run two minutes at roughly your 5K pace, two-minute easy, 3 minutes at roughly your 10K pace, two-minute easy, 4 minutes at half-marathon race pace, two-minute easy, 4 minutes half-marathon race pace, two-minute easy, 3 minutes at your 10K pace, two-minute easy, 2 minutes at your 5K pace or faster, then finish off the workout with a 10-minute steady jog cool down.
4. The “Surroundings” Fartlek
This fartlek run is dependent upon your surroundings and it’s your permission to go and run in the street just like a kid. This type of Fartlek training is ideal if you are looking to maintain fitness and speed without putting too much stress and pressure on yourself. You follow no set structure here. You just go by intuition and feel.
First of all, plan a 3 to 4 miles route, then after a warm-up of 10-minute of easy jogging, pick a landmark in the distance, whether it’s a telephone pole, a mailbox, a tree, a building, you name it, then 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 feel you need, but never stopping, then speed it up to a different landmark.
Keep in mind that there are no rules here, so run on feel as you go along.
If you are running with your training partner then make a game of it by taking turns in picking the next landmark. This is fun and will help you break out of the monotony of structured speed work sessions.
Fartlek stands, after all, for speed-play.
5. The Music Fartlek
During this workout, you are going to use music as a template for your Fartlek run by changing your speed and intensity according to different songs (or different parts of a song, like speeding up during the chorus of the song then slowing down during the rest of the song).
Therefore, during the recovery songs, you recover, and during the fast tempo songs, you run as fast as you can.
Come up with a predetermined list of songs by putting together a mix of standard running songs that alternates between songs around 120 BPM for the recovery boots, and songs around 160 BPM for the surges.
Here is one of my favorite playlists to try out. I encourage you to come up with your own.
Raise Your Glass – Pink (120 BPM)
Blow – Keisha (120 BPM)
Hey Ya! – Outkast (160 BPM)
Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke (120 BPM)
Forever – Drake, Kanye West & Eminem (160 BPM)
Lights – Ellie Goulding (120 BPM)
Pain – Three Days Grace (160 BPM)
Bleeding out – Imagine Dragons (120 BPM)
In Pieces – Linkin Park (160 BPM)
All these things I Have Done – The Killers (120 BPM)
Sail – Awolnation (120 BPM)
6. The Multi-Sprint Sports Fartlek
If you do any type of sports that require a lot of varying levels of intensity and efforts throughout the competition, such as tennis, basketball, soccer and football, then you should add this Fartlek workout to your training program.
By designing your Fartlek training to mimic the variety of intensity these sports require, you will definitely improve upon your game.
After a throughout warm-up, perform the following intervals:
- A 60-second run at 70 percent maximum effort
- A 90-second hard run at 80 percent maximum effort
- A 45-second jog at 60 percent maximum effort.
- A 20-second sprint at 90 percent effort
- Run backward for one full minute at the fastest pace you can run.
- A 45-second jog for recovery
- Run hard for one full minute
- Repeat the above cycle for two to three times.
- A 10-minute cool down.
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Image Credit – Istjammer via Flickr