What Is Fartlek Training? And What Are The Benefits?

Fartlek training is excellent, whether we talk about the way this word slides off the tongue or the exercise itself! Many runners, cyclists, sportsmen, and women use this training method to improve their performance.

What is fartlek training? And what are the main benefits of a fartlek workout?

Fartlek training is continuous running or cycling intervals, varying between low, moderate, and high speeds without rest. Fartlek training improves the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of the body, works the slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers, and increases resting metabolism.

As with all running trends that enter the public sphere, there are many variations of fartlek training. Each has its own pros and cons, so let’s take a closer look!

What Is Fartlek Training?

What are the benefits of fartlek training?

Fartlek training is a Swedish word meaning “speed play.”

Gösta Holmér, a Swedish cross country running coach invented this type of training to add variety to his athletes’ training and a little fun. Little did he know that many athletes worldwide would use and benefit from his technique.

As the meaning states, you will play with different speed levels during this training. It might sound like interval training, but it is not the same. Interval training requires you to do a specific interval, usually a short burst of speed or energy, and then rest completely (standing and waiting for heart rate to come down).

Fartlek is continuous intervals where you jump between different speeds. You might start with your average running pace, add in a 1-minute speed section, followed by a slight jog for 2-minutes, and repeat from the average pace again.

There are different ways to approach fartlek training, but the goal is to work on your aerobic and anaerobic systems to ensure you can run longer, faster, and pass your opponents easier. 

During the recovery running at a slower pace, you are working your aerobic systems (the part that needs oxygen to transport energy to the muscles). During these bouts of fartlek, you will also work on your slow-twitch muscle fibers – the ones you need for endurance running.

The speed bouts will work on your anaerobic systems (the part that doesn’t need oxygen to transport energy to the muscles). The bursts of speed also work on your fast-twitch muscle fibers – the ones we would like to develop to give our legs the extra strength to push through hard times and pass an opponent towards the end of a long run.

Fartlek training is a fun approach to getting better at running, improving your time for a certain distance, and developing better metabolic systems.

Read more: the history of interval training and the invention of fartlek

The Different Types Of Fartlek Training

Fartlek training has many different approaches available to suit almost everyone. There are more structured options for those who like to work according to specific times or distances. Then there are unstructured ways of doing fartlek for those who want to break away from the routine and do something else.

More structured fartlek workouts:

Time Fartlek – When running or cycling fartlek using times, you will typically divide your speed variations into specific time frames. You might set your minutes or seconds before you start or make them up as you go. An example is running your average pace for 5 minutes, speeding up for 2 minutes, jogging for 1 minute, and so forth.

Long Distance Fartlek – You set your end goal, for example, 10k, and workout your intervals according to that. You can either divide your intervals according to distances or time. Experts recommend that you at least have four top-speed sections during a 5k or 10k run/ ride.

The Pyramid Fartlek – this structured fartlek entails that you divide your intervals according to a pyramid – 2-2-3-3-5-5-3-3-2-2. You jog 2 minutes, run two minutes, jog 3 minutes, and run 3 minutes. The aim is to build up the length of a certain pace and back down again. You can set your pyramid according to your abilities and goals.

The Uber Fartlek – This method is excellent for beginners to start with fartlek training. Running or cycling at your average pace and increasing your speed for 1-minute before returning to the average pace throughout your run/ cycle.

Unstructured fartlek workouts:

Landmark Fartlek – while running or cycling, you look at some landmarks in the distance and decide when you will speed up. Then you choose a landmark again for when you slow down. These can be houses, trees, street lights, etc.

Music Fartlek – This is a fun way to do fartlek training. Add music to your playlist of varying tempos. When each song begins, equal your speed to the song’s tempo.

Randomized fartlek – this method is what it says – random. You can go for a run or cycle and randomly decide when you want to speed up, slow down, stay at pace, or even walk. Experts recommend you keep some structure, like using landmarks or time, only to keep on making progress.

Break-up Fartlek – This one can be fun or terrible for some. You need to decide if this is something you enjoy, but it is primarily fun when doing it in groups. You break up the run with other exercises in-between. For example, run 5 minutes, do five burpees, and run again. Each time you can add something else.

Gösta Holmér, creator of Fartlek training
Gösta Holmér, the man who ‘created’ Fartlek training

Benefits Of Fartlek Training

The benefits of fartlek training are enough to get you excited to try it. You might have to stick to a basic structure first, get your running form better, and your fitness level a little higher as a beginner.

Helps To Improve Mindset 

Fartlek helps to train the mindset and cognitive health of an athlete or fitness enthusiast. Fartlek demonstrates how a usual race would go – up and downs, and in some parts, you need to up your pace or slow down to reserve energy for later. 

You will learn what your body can do and better understand when to push your body and when to give it a break. This feeling of accomplishment gives people a boost in their self-esteem and motivation to do even better and set new goals.

Can Be Done Anywhere

Around the neighborhood, on a sportsfield, along the beach, or on the track – where ever you choose to do fartlek training, you can do it. You do not need equipment, only your running shoes and rested body.

Can Be Done Solo Or In A Group

Whether you train solo or in a training group, there is always a place for fartlek. Groups are great to incorporate fartlek as a fun change, but be sure everyone in the group is almost at the same fitness level. Those who are not might feel excluded when they can’t keep up or frustrated when the group goes too slow for them.

Improves Strength And Fitness

The speed bouts and recovery run together helps to increase muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. Pushing above your usual pace and training at 75 to 85% of your maximum heart rate increase your heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to your extremities, conditioning your muscles to work harder for longer.

Adding hills and uneven surfaces to your running will strengthen your muscles and tendons. Stronger muscles and tendons lead to fewer injuries, leaner-looking legs, and better running form and execution, reducing your heart and lungs’ workload.

The slow twitch muscle fibers that develop during the more extended, slower paces you run or cycle will better your endurance and the ability to go further for longer before getting tired. The fast twitch muscle fibers you develop during the sprints will improve the strength of your muscles to push through more challenging runs.

Because fartlek training addresses both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, it is the perfect training to prepare you for a race or competition, as this happens in the changing conditions of a race, and your body will switch between the two types.

Control the pace according to your body and mood with a fartlek run

Can Help With Weight Loss

With its up and down intervals, Fartlek training uses different energy systems, not only one. Using different energy systems, you are more likely to get into fat oxidation, leading to fat burning. 

Because fartlek activates your aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms, you will burn calories during your run (aerobic) and after your run when you are working or sitting (anaerobic). Anaerobic metabolism burns calories after your exercise to restore the muscles that worked.

Fartlek is also continuous intervals, and the rest period is not a stop but a slower run or jog, leading to more calories burned than regular interval training. 

Low Risk Of Injuries

 You decide your tempo and how you want to approach the intervals, making this training safe for anybody. The only advice would be to act according to your fitness level and abilities; injuries will not come knocking on your door.

Adaptable To Your Fitness Level

As a beginner, you might divide your intervals into a walk, jog, and run if you like, which is what your fitness level requires. An advanced athlete or runner might go for a run, sprint, run, jog interval, or whatever challenges their unique fitness level.

Whether you are a professional runner, or a health and fitness enthusiast looking to improve your cardio, fartlek training will help you either way. The benefits are tremendous, and the approach won’t break you as you can customize it based entirely on how you are feeling in the moment.

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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