If you’re looking to run further or get to the finish line faster, then you should add fartlek runs to your running plan.
In fact, fartlek training is one of the best ways to spice up your everyday runs while boosting up your fitness and speed.
In today’s article, I’ll go through everything you need to know about fartlek training so you can start doing it without risking injury or burnout.
By the end of this article you’ll learn:
- What is Fartlek training?
- What is the difference between fartlek training and interval running?
- The benefits of Fartlek workouts
- The Downsides of Fartlek Training
- How Often Should You Do Fartlek Training
- 7 Fartlek Runs to Try
- And so much more…
Let’s lace up and dig in.
Fartlek Runs Defined
Fartlek is a Swedish term that translates as “Speed play”, and as the name implies, Fartlek training is about playing speed, performing boots of fast and slow running over varying distances. It’s a speed game literally—a run during which you change u your pace multiple times throughout a run without following a set structure.
Still confused? It’s actually not rocket science.
When you do a fartlek workout, you start by running at your usual pace, then you pick up the pace—usually to a medium to high speed—then try to maintain it for a random period of time or distance. Then, you’ll slow down for a few minutes before ramping up the speed again.
So instead of keeping the same pace through the whole run, you sprint (or run at a higher intensity), then jog (active recovery), then speed up again, repeating the on-off cycle throughout the session.
Fartlek Training Vs. Interval Training – What’s The Difference?
“But David, isn’t fartlek training just another variation of interval training?”
Although similar, fartlek workouts and traditional intervals are not the same things.
When you do interval training, like 400m on a track, you’re following a defined training pattern. You also typically stop or walk to recover between the high-effort surges.
But when you do fartlek runs, flexibility is the priority. You’re changing up things and staying unpredictable.
What’s more, fartlek training requires continuous running. You actually never stop and rest.
Benefits of Fartlek Workouts
Here’s why fartlek training is good for your athletic performance.
Speed & endurance. Fartlek training stresses both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways. That’s why it’s one of the best ways to help you improve running endurance and speed at the same time.
Ideal For Sports Training. If you play any basketball, soccer, or football, then you’re well familiar with the changes in pace and speed that these sports require. Even an elite endurance runner might be left panting for air by 30 minutes in a soccer match since the physical demands are different.
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. This can help prepare you to better manage the uneven surges of a race.
Kills boredom. Fartlek runs offers a creative, less structured, and on-the-go form of interval training that’s guaranteed to shake things up with your training program. You can also customize depends on your fitness level.
Sheds mad calories. Fartlek is one form of HIIT workouts. The typical fartlek workout session will force you to work at a higher energy level, leading to greater calorie burn and energy expenditure.
The Downsides of Fartlek Training
Fartlek workouts, just like another workout method, has its own disadvantages that you need to pay attention to if you want to make the most out of it.
Here are a few things to consider before you start fartlek training.
- Running experience. You don’t need to be an elite runner to do fartlek training, but a running base is required. If you’re still a beginner runner, take a few months to build your cardio base before start counting lamp posts.
- Injury risk. If you’re recovering from injury or have underlying health issues, consult with your physician first before you try fartlek running.
- As with overdoing any other form of workout, doing too much fartlek training too soon can cause overtraining. Again, be careful and stay within your fitness level the entire time. Don’t try to chew more than you can swallow.
- Not buddy friendly. Sure, this is up to your pace, but if you and your running buddy have a fairly different pace, it’s going to be hard to keep up the pace—unless one of you is the leader and the other one is willing (and capable) to follow.
How Often Should You Do Fartlek Training
I recommend that you do at least one Fartlek run every two weeks, depending of course on your current fitness level and training goals.
As I have already explained, fartlek workouts requires no real structure. If you want to give it a try, simply warm-up, and then start inserting some surge effort every few minutes.
Still confused? Do the following:
To start doing fartlek workouts, try adding some short periods of faster-paced running into your normal runs. Keep the higher pace for a short distance or time, such as 300 meters or 45 seconds.
The faster pace surges can vary throughout your run, and you can even use streetlights or houses to mark your segment. The word key is play.
Once you complete a surge, slow it down until you’re fully recovered, then speed up again.
Beginners Start Slow
When you’re just starting out with fartlek training, don’t push too much too soon. Remember, the higher the intensity, the higher the risk too. Be careful.
With practice, you’ll soon learn what pace feels comfortable and how fast you can run for an interval.
Once you’re done your interval, maybe you’ve reached your landmark, slow back to a normal pace, and let your body recover. Then prepare yourself for the next interval.
Fartlek Workouts to Try
Here is a list of 7 Fartlek workouts you need to be doing. You can perform one of these workouts once or twice per week—depending on your fitness level and training goals of course
1.The 5K/ 10K Specific Fartlek Run
Start with this Fartlek workout and you will be set for more advanced workouts.
During this workout, aim to perform at least 8 to 10 gentle, controlled surges, lasting for one minute to 90-seconds with 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 the 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. Check this link for more about VO2 max.
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 cooldown.
2.The Fartlek 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.
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’re doing too much. Keep it slow and gradual to build your strength and endurance.
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 cooldown.
3.The Pyramid Fartlek Run
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 Run
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. Your creativity is the only limit but stay safe. Remember you’re not the only one using the street.
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.
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 speedwork sessions.
5. The Music Fartlek Run
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 Run
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 this Fartlek workout suits best.
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 cooldown.
7.The Treadmill Fartlek Run
Who said you can’t do fartlek on the treadmill?
When weather conditions prevent you from enjoying your speed play outside, you can hop on the treadmill instead.
For example, if you watch television during your treadmill running, you might use commercials as a time to pick up the pace.
Can’t do that?
Then here’s how a fartlek treadmill workout should look like:
- Begin with a 10-minute warm-up at 7 MPH
- Speed to 10 MPH for one minute
- Keep the same pace but increase the incline to 6 percent for 30 seconds
- Recovery by jogging at 7 MPH for 3 minutes
- Speed up to 11 MPH for two minutes
- Reduce speed to 9 MPH but increase the incline to 7 percent for one minute
- Reduce speed to 6 MPH for 3 minutes
- Keep the same speed but increase inline to 7 percent for two minutes
- Keep the same incline but increase speed to 9.5 MPH for as long as you can run with good form.
- Finish the session with a 5-minute slow jog at your cool down pace.
There you have it! The above training guidelines are all you need to get started with fartlek training in no time. Now the ball is in your court.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
Thank you for dropping by.
Keep running strong.