What is Fartlek Training?

The more you get into running, the more you’ll begin to learn and try out different types of training methods to improve your performance. One such training workout is the fartlek workout. I’d heard of the fartlek, but for the longest time didn’t have a good understanding of what it was all about until I actually did a little research. In today’s blog, I hope to break down the fartlek and offer some insight into some of the benefits a fartlek session has to offer as part of your training plan.

What does Fartlek mean?

Fartlek is the Swedish term for “speed play”. “Fart” is the Swedish word for speed, while “lek” translates to play. The fartlek was developed in the 1930s by the Swedish national cross-country coach, Gösta Holmér. Holmér was looking to vastly improve the performance of the Swedish cross country teams against their Finn rivals. The main principle behind fartlek is to condition the body to get used to running at different speeds to eventually become faster over the longer distance. The results for runners who fartleked were not marginal: world records were made in the two-mile, the indoor-two, the three-mile, four-mile, 5000 m, and 10,000 m events, therefore proving the power of the fartlek for runners in the decades to come. 

Photo by Alex Lerum on Unsplash

What are the Benefits of Fartlek?

Fartlek training offers several benefits that can contribute to improving your running performance.

Improve Physical and Mental Endurance

Fartlek achieves this by pushing the runner out of their comfort zone – allowing both our bodies and minds to adapt and respond to changes in speed to build resistance and endurance over time through incremental bursts of speed. Fartlek training can also improve your ability to fasten the pace on race day to push yourself further and knock a few seconds off your finishing time. 

Race Day Ready

Fartlek exposes runners to quick and more intense running which transitions well over into race day. Fartlek can simulate some of the rigorous demands of race day. Unlike traditional interval training, fartlek training never fully allows you to rest, and encourages you to draw spurts of energy throughout the training session. Both are both examples of typical variances you’ll encounter on race day. 

Unstructured Fun

Fartlek can allow you to build the structure. Something you’ll definitely need on race day, as you won’t have anyone to tell you to run harder or ease off. Building structure through fartlek can enable you to assess your body’s response and allow you to push through. Moreover, for fartlek – focus is on perceived effort and can therefore be run over different terrains, elevations, and routes – which can make fartlek all the more enjoyable to run. 

How does Fartlek Training work?

As its name suggests, Fartlek means playing with different speeds. Unstructured speedwork is a good all-encompassing term for understanding how fartlek works. You can use either time or distance as your metric. For example, if you are using time as your metric, you can choose to run 3 minutes at a greater effort/faster speed, and 5 minutes at an easy effort/normal pace. For distance as an example, you could do 500 meters at a harder effort/faster pace and 500 meters at an easy effort/average speed for 4 km. 

Including Fartlek In Your Training 

Regardless of whether you’re new, experienced or somewhere in between when it comes to running – fartlek can offer benefits that serve to improve your training. Here are a couple broad guidelines you can use to incorporate fartlek into your regular training schedule. 

  • Keep It Moving – Fartleks should be continuous runs – so do your best not to stop or take breaks. If you find yourself needing to break, you might be going too hard. Do your best to keep it moving.
  • Accommodate Your Goals – There are a range of ways to structure fartlek training. One way you could structure your training is through distance goals. For example, if your aim is to run a half-marathon then consider lengthening the time increments dedicated to quicker and more intense effort.
  • Take Time to Recover – while unstructured, fartleks can still take a toll. Be sure to give yourself the right amount of time needed to properly recover.