Fartlek Training: Fitness Explained

Fartlek Training: Fitness Explained

Fartlek Training

If you're interested in taking your fitness game to the next level, you may have heard about fartlek training. This running technique is a popular form of interval training that many athletes use to improve their speed and endurance. But if you're new to the concept, you may be wondering, "What is fartlek training, and how can it benefit me?"

What is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek training, also known as "speed play," is a form of interval training that involves varying your pace and heart rate during a run. Unlike traditional interval training, which involves set periods of high-intensity work followed by rest, fartlek training is much less structured. You simply run at a comfortable pace and speed up or slow down whenever you feel like it, whether that's because of terrain changes, boredom, or just for fun.

Fartlek training can be a great way to improve your overall fitness and endurance. By constantly changing your pace and heart rate, your body is forced to adapt and become more efficient at using oxygen. This can lead to improved cardiovascular health and increased stamina. Additionally, fartlek training can be a fun and engaging way to mix up your running routine and keep things interesting. It allows you to explore new routes and challenge yourself in different ways, making it a great option for runners of all levels.

Benefits of Fartlek Training

One of the major benefits of fartlek training is improving your overall endurance. By pushing your body to varying degrees of intensity, you teach it to adapt to different conditions, making it easier to maintain a steady pace during longer runs. Additionally, fartlek training can help increase your speed, by training your body to adjust to changes in pace.

History of Fartlek Training

The concept of fartlek training was first developed in Sweden in the 1930s by Gösta Holmér, a Swedish cross-country coach. Holmér and his runners would incorporate interval training into their cross-country runs by speeding up whenever they encountered a hill or a particularly difficult section of terrain. He called this "fartlek," which translates to "speed play" in Swedish.

Over time, fartlek training became more structured and was used by athletes in various sports to improve their endurance and speed. In the 1940s, Swedish coach, Gösta Olander, developed a more formalized version of fartlek training, which involved alternating periods of fast running with periods of slower running or jogging.

Today, fartlek training is a popular form of interval training used by athletes of all levels. It can be customized to fit the needs of individual athletes and can be done on a variety of terrains, including hills, trails, and tracks. Fartlek training is also a great way to add variety to your workouts and keep your training interesting and challenging.

How to Incorporate Fartlek Training into Your Routine

If you're interested in incorporating fartlek training into your routine, the good news is that it's incredibly easy to do. Simply choose a route and start running. As you run, vary your pace, alternating between faster and slower intervals, based on what feels challenging, fun, or interesting. When you're just getting started, try incorporating fartlek intervals of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, alternating with a comfortable pace for 1-2 minutes. As you get more comfortable with the technique, you can vary your intervals more or less, depending on your fitness goals and what feels good for your body.

One of the benefits of fartlek training is that it can help improve your overall endurance and speed. By incorporating short bursts of high-intensity running into your routine, you can challenge your body to work harder and become more efficient at using oxygen. This can translate to better performance in other types of exercise, such as cycling or swimming.

Another advantage of fartlek training is that it can be done in a variety of settings, making it a versatile option for athletes of all levels. Whether you prefer running on a track, through a park, or on a treadmill, you can easily incorporate fartlek intervals into your workout. Additionally, because fartlek training is based on perceived effort rather than strict time or distance goals, it can be a more enjoyable and less stressful way to train.

Fartlek Workouts for Beginners

If you're still not sure where to start with fartlek training, here are a few beginner workouts to try:

  • 1-minute sprint, 1-minute jog - repeat for 10 minutes
  • 30-second sprint, 1-minute jog - repeat for 10-15 minutes
  • Run hard for two minutes, then jog for two minutes - repeat for 20 minutes

It's important to remember that fartlek training is all about varying your pace and intensity, so don't be afraid to mix things up and create your own workouts. For example, you could try alternating between a fast sprint and a slower recovery jog, or incorporating hills or stairs into your route for an added challenge.

Additionally, it's a good idea to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your fartlek workouts over time, as your fitness level improves. This will help you continue to see progress and avoid plateauing in your training.

Advanced Fartlek Workouts for Athletes

For more advanced athletes, there are endless possibilities for fartlek workouts. Here are a few to try:

  • 5-minute warm-up jog, then alternate 1-minute hard sprint, 1-minute jog, 1-minute medium pace, and 1-minute jog - repeat for 30 minutes
  • Hill fartlek - speed up whenever you encounter a hill and jog on flat terrain
  • Pyramid fartlek - alternate 30 seconds of hard sprint, 1-minute jog, 1-minute medium pace, 1-minute jog, 2-minute medium pace, 1-minute jog, 1-minute hard sprint, 1-minute jog, 30-second sprint, 5-minute cool-down jog

It is important to note that fartlek workouts should be tailored to an athlete's specific needs and goals. For example, if an athlete is training for a marathon, their fartlek workouts may focus more on endurance and pacing rather than speed.

Additionally, incorporating strength training exercises into fartlek workouts can help improve overall athletic performance. Exercises such as lunges, squats, and plyometrics can help build muscle and improve explosive power, which can translate to faster sprints and better endurance during longer runs.

Differences Between Fartlek and Interval Training

While both fartlek and interval training involve varying your pace and heart rate, there are some key differences between the two techniques. Interval training involves set periods of high-intensity work followed by rest, while fartlek training is much less structured. Additionally, fartlek training is often done on varied terrain, while interval training is typically done on a treadmill or track.

Another difference between fartlek and interval training is the level of intensity. Fartlek training allows for more flexibility in intensity, as the runner can adjust their pace based on how they feel. Interval training, on the other hand, requires a higher level of intensity during the high-intensity periods, often pushing the runner to their maximum effort. This can make interval training more challenging, but also more effective for improving cardiovascular fitness.

The Science Behind Fartlek Training

So why does fartlek training work? The science behind it lies in the body's ability to adjust to changes in pace. When you vary your pace during a run, your body experiences a phenomenon called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Essentially, this means that your body continues to burn calories and improve your fitness level long after your workout is over. Fartlek training also helps improve your body's ability to use oxygen effectively, leading to better endurance and overall fitness.

In addition to the physical benefits, fartlek training can also have mental benefits. The variation in pace and terrain can help break up the monotony of a typical run, making it more enjoyable and engaging. This can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue with your fitness routine.

It's important to note that fartlek training should be incorporated into a well-rounded fitness routine that includes strength training and rest days. It's also important to listen to your body and adjust the intensity and duration of your fartlek workouts as needed. With proper implementation, fartlek training can be a valuable tool in improving your overall fitness and reaching your fitness goals.

Mistakes to Avoid When Doing Fartlek Workouts

As with any form of exercise, there are a few mistakes to avoid when doing fartlek workouts. One common mistake is not warming up properly. Make sure to take at least 5-10 minutes to do some light jogging or dynamic stretching before starting your workout. Another mistake is overdoing it - remember that fartlek training is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, not torturous. And finally, make sure to stay hydrated and replenish your body with the right fuel before and after your workout to prevent injury and ensure optimal performance.

Common Questions About Fartlek Training Answered

Here are some common questions athletes often have about fartlek training:

  • Is fartlek training safe for beginners?
  • How often should you do fartlek workouts?
  • Can you incorporate fartlek training into other forms of exercise?
  • What if you need to take a break during your fartlek workout?

Combining Other Forms of Exercise with Fartlek Training

If you want to take your fitness game to the next level even further, consider combining fartlek training with other forms of exercise, such as strength training or yoga. This can help you improve your overall fitness and prevent injury by strengthening your muscles and improving your flexibility.

Monitoring Progress and Results with Fartlek Training

If you want to track your progress with fartlek training, there are a few ways to do so. First, pay attention to how you feel during and after your workouts. Are you able to maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time? Are you feeling less winded during runs? Additionally, you can track your heart rate during workouts, or use a fitness tracker to monitor your speed, distance, and overall progress.

Tips for Staying Motivated During Fartlek Workouts

Here are a few tips for staying motivated and enjoying your fartlek workouts:

  • Choose a scenic route with varied terrain to keep things interesting
  • Listen to music or an audiobook to keep your mind engaged during runs
  • Bring a friend or join a running group to keep things social and fun
  • Remember to take breaks and enjoy the scenery - fartlek training is supposed to be enjoyable, not a punishment!

Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Nutrition for Optimal Performance in Fartlek Training

Finally, it's important to fuel your body properly before and after your fartlek workouts to ensure optimal performance and avoid injury. Before your workout, eat a light meal that includes carbohydrates for energy, and some protein to support muscle growth and repair. After your workout, be sure to replenish your body with a combination of carbohydrates and protein to help your muscles recover and rebuild.


In conclusion, fartlek training is a fun, easy way to improve your fitness level and take your running game to the next level. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced athlete, there are endless possibilities when it comes to incorporating fartlek training into your routine. And best of all, it's more than just a way to improve your speed and endurance - it's a fun and enjoyable form of exercise that can take you on new adventures and keep you motivated for years to come.

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