What is Fartlek training? You’ve heard the term, but what does a Fartlek routine actually involve?
‘Fartlek’ is a form of fitness training that works both the aerobic and anaerobic systems to quickly improve an athlete’s fitness. It is a simple method of training that can be tailored and effectively used by individuals to specifically train for a range of different sports.
As a method based around running at varying speeds, this type of training has been claimed to improve fitness and burn fat faster than other methods of training.
In this article we’ll look at the essential things you need to know about Fartlek training and show you exactly how you can use it in your own fitness routine – including some example Fartlek programmes.
Where does Fartlek training come from?
The concept of Fartlek training was developed back in the 1930s by a man named Gosta Holmer. He had been a Swedish decathlete, winning a bronze medal at the 1912 Olympics, but he later became the coach of the Swedish cross-country team.
As a coach, He’d had enough of seeing the Swedish cross country team losing during the 1920s, especially to the pesky Finnish team with their most famous runner and world record holder Paavo Nurmi (who set an incredible 22 running world records, and won nine Olympic gold medals), so his solution was to develop Fartlek training.
You might think he settled on that name only to cause teenage boys to chuckle at its every mention, but in fact it translates as ‘speed play’ in Swedish. A very logical term to describe what the training involves, as we’ll see below.
By using these techniques as part of their training, runners were able to make significant Improvements in their performances and eventually even managed to stick it to Paavo Nurmi — the new Fartlek generation smashed his 5k and 10k records by a whopping 30 seconds and generated an impressive medal haul of their own.
Fartlek Training – Another great Swedish export (along with Ikea)
What is Fartlek training?
As mentioned, Fartlek translates from Swedish as ‘speed play’ and this is a very accurate and straightforward way of describing it. In essence, this type of training involves playing around with the speeds you run at so that you’re working both your aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (high intensity) systems.
There is no exact prescribed way of doing Fartlek training, there’s no single rule on how many seconds or metres you have to run at one speed or another. In fact, to make it too prescriptive loses the ‘play’ element, and that would take away one of the best aspects about this type of training: the ability to tailor it to your own individual situation and appetite.
Fartlek training can be done anywhere: the running track; in a park; up and down hills, or on the streets around where you live. No special equipment is required as, at a basic level, all you need to be able to do is mix periods of sprinting with jogging and other speeds in between.
The idea is to play with your routines, mix things up to condition both your quickness and your stamina. But don’t confuse this ‘play’ with just larking about. It should still be hard work — it’s supposed to result in training at a high speed more often and more continuously than usual interval training.
How to do Fartlek training – sample routines
The early Swedish runners would do Fartlek runs over distances of around seven miles and would do somewhere between a third and a half of that distance at a higher pace: be it short 40 metre all-out sprints to quick-pace sections over 1000 metres. Even then, there wasn’t one specific routine that they trained each time.
Today, ask 100 people what their Fartlek routine is and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. That’s the way it should be – Fartlek is meant to be free, it’s one of the ways it differs from normal interval training. It’s unstructured and the intensity or speed varies as the athlete wishes – so you don’t need to go overboard on the planning.
That said, it’s useful to see a few ideas before you get started – don’t be afraid to adjust these examples – as long as you’re pushing yourself you should do it the way you want, in the conditions and location you want.
Example 1 – Street markers
Where I live, street lights are around 20 metres apart so make ideal markers but you can find whatever works for you: mailboxes, houses, fire hydrants.
Try running hard for two street lights, jogging for three, running hard for three and jogging for two. Repeat several times.
Example 2 – Dog park
Some Fartlek runners have been known to use the ‘dog park’ version where they speed up when they approach a dog in order to pass them, then slow down after passing for a recovery period. Before any accusations are made of having made this up, this is mentioned on the Fartlek Wikipedia page.
Of course, if you go round chasing dogs don’t be surprised if one of them bites you (or you get some choice words from the owner). The only point of mentioning this zany method is that it makes an important point: Fartlek realty doesn’t need to be anything too scientific. You can use any markers, spread at any distance to vary between high and low intensity – some people even use the sections of the music they’re listening to for the cues of when to speed up and slow down.
Example 3 – Stacks
This one uses stacks that decrease incrementally each time. Run hard for 30 seconds, jog for 90 seconds, then repeat. decreasing recovery by 15 seconds each time.
Or for another alternative method, try the following (with no breaks inbetween jogging and sprinting):
Example 4 – Fartlek for football / soccer
Sport-specific training is generally acknowledged to need to be slightly different to some of the above routines which are fine for building general fitness. That’s why we’ve covered Fartlek training for football / soccer in this separate page – it even shows you how pro players use it: Fartlek Training for Football / Soccer.
The Benefits of Fartlek and why you should put it into your fitness plan today
Clearly Fartlek training isn’t the only type of fitness training you can do, but it’s certainly a very good one to consider adding to your routine. If it wasn’t obvious from the above, it’s a great form of training with lots of benefits:
- It encourages you to vary the speed you run at, helping you improve your aerobic and anaerobic levels of fitness – in other words building endurance and speed.
- It mimics the stop-start rhythm of most sports, including soccer / football, allowing you to develop the specific type of fitness needed for your chosen sport.
- This sort of training, using periods of high intensity, helps the body burn calories even after the workout ends.
- It is much more interesting than jogging. You can vary your workouts to keep you motivated, and also adjust the difficulty as needed.
- Mixing low and high-intensity exercise may help reduce injury.
If you haven’t tried this type of training before, it’s definitely worth giving it a go. Let us know how you get on in the comments below.
For more on the history of Fartlek, see this article: http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/finding-fartlek