Fartlek: What is it and how can it improve my fitness?
Fartleks are a fun way to mix up your day to day runs. They are an excellent way to improve your endurance and speed at the same time.
What is a Fartlek?
The funny name “Fartlek” comes from the Swedish translation for “Speed play”. A fartlek training is some kind of interval training where you pick up the pace for a certain amount of time. But different from a normal interval training, you can decide for yourself for how long and how frequently you speed up. You are “playing with the speed”, so to speak.
What is the difference between a Fartlek and interval training?
Both fartleks and interval training involve multiple intense and fast running intervals. During an interval training you stop or walk in between intervals to catch your breath again. That’s different during a fartlek training. Here, you keep on running at a slower pace in between the fast intervals. Another difference is the timing of each interval. During a normal interval training. The timing and duration of each interval is predefined, whereas during a fartlek, you can variate yourself between the timing and duration of each interval.
What are the benefits of a Fartlek training?
Since a Fartlek is a kind of interval training, it makes sense that this form also works wonders for your fitness. A Fartlek workout increases endurance thanks to the tempo changes that challenge your muscles in a way that you don’t do during traditional cardio workouts.
Due to the variety in the intensity of your workout, you burn more calories than if you keep the same pace. Your workouts become more efficient because you burn more calories without having to increase the distance or time of your training run.
According to The American Council on Exercise, interval training helps prevent injuries that result from repetitive, aerobic exercises. If you are just starting out, make sure you start slowly with Fartlek training if you are not used to it.
If you keep doing the same workouts, chances are that boredom will set in and make it easier to leave your running shoes in the closet. A Fartlek breaks your monotonous standard workouts and provides a breath of fresh air through your training schedule.
Risk of injury
If you are just starting out with running, you might want to skip fartleks for now. Just like with any interval training, fartlek workouts take a heavy toll on your body. Going too fast, too quickly may result in injuries.
Not really buddy friendly
If you run with a friend, you might find that fartleks are a bit more difficult to do together. Just like with a normal interval, it can be hard to run at each other’s fast pace. However, if you both have the same fast and easy paces, it can be pretty fun to do a fartlek together. If you alternate in choosing the next interval, a fartlek can be a nice workout to do together.
You might skip the fast parts
The greatest advantage of Farteks can also be its biggest disadvantage. Because you have the freedom to choose the timing and duration of each fast interval, you might find that you want to skip those. A Fartlek training is all about adding some variation to your runs. Try to be honest with yourself and keep on doing those fast parts as well.
Before starting a Fartlek, you should do at least a 10 to 15 minute warm-up. This way you prepare your muscles for the faster intervals. Also, do a cool-down after your workout to prevent pain and to aid with recovery.
Fartlek training ideas and examples
A good way to do this workout is to choose an object in the distance, such as a tree, telephone pole, parking meter… Then sprint to that object. Once you reach it, slow down and jog for a while before picking a new goal.
Although the Fartlek is known for its flexibility, some runners still prefer a more structured workout.
After you warmed up, run 2 minutes fast, 2’30” slower, 3 minutes fast, 2’30” slow, 4 minutes fast, 2’30 “slow, 4 minutes fast, 2’30” slow, 3 minutes fast, 2’30” slow, 2 minutes slow and finish with a 10-15 minute cool-down. So remember the following pyramid structure: 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2 and take between those minutes each time 2’30 “rest.
Heart rate run
If you run on your heart rate, you can switch between different heart rate zones: you start in your 2nd zone (slow), accelerate to your 3rd zone (pace) and sprint in your 4th zone (fast). For example, run for 20 minutes as follows: 3 ‘slow, 5’ pace, 2 ‘fast, 5’ pace, 2 ‘hard, 3’ slow. Followed by 15 minutes, broken down as: 5 ‘slow, 2’ pace, 1 ‘hard, 2’ pace, and 5 ‘easy.
If you are running with music, you can use those songs to set the pace. Most popular songs these days use a verse and chorus structure. You can use this structure during your fartlek. Run slowly during the verses and speed up when the chorus comes up. This is a Fartlek workout I like to do but i must mention that not all songs or genres will work with this run.
Fartlek training on a treadmill
Fartleks are also perfect if you are training on a treadmill. You can manually adjust the speed to your liking or you can dive into the treadmill’s menu and look at the programmed interval workouts. The treadmill will automatically increase and decrease the speed.
How often should you do a Fartlek training?
I like to do at least one speedy training per week. When I’m not on a training schedule, I always prefer a Fartlek training over a normal interval training. I try to plan them in between an easy day and a rest day, or in between 2 rest days. This gives my legs enough time to recover for my next run.
Fartlek training is a fun way to add some variation into your running schedule. You make your training as intensive as you want. Increase your pace for a few minutes, use some fancy number sequence or run up a bridge. You determine the intensity of the workout and do what makes you feel good that day. Don’t be overconfident and watch out for overtraining. A little muscle soreness won’t hurt, but make sure it doesn’t last. Have fun!