You may have heard of Fartlek training in the running community.
Despite its unusual name, Fartlek training is a relatively simple form of speed training.
Many runners enjoy Fartlek training because it offers an unstructured form of speed training, in that you don’t have to stick with a speed or distance when you do Fartlek training.
Unlike interval training or tempo running which have a regimented structure and intensity and distance, Fartlek training allows you to adjust the intensity and distance of your run based on how you feel on the day.
As such, Fartlek training is highly individualised and highly adaptable – and fun!
In this guide we’ll explore:
- What is Fartlek training?
- What are the benefits of Fartlek training?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of Fartlek training?
- How is Fartlek training different from other forms of speed training?
- 3 sample Fartlek workouts
- 5 fun Fartlek runs
Let’s get started!
What is Fartlek training?
‘Fartlek’ is a Swedish term for ‘speed play’ and is essentially a blend of distance running and interval training.
It was developed by the Swedish Olympic athlete Gösta Holmér as a way to experiment with different methods of improving fitness and adding variety to training.
The term ‘speed play’ is exactly what it says on the tin – in that you get to play around with different speeds in an unstructured framework.
A Fartlek run involves continuous running with periods of faster running mixed with periods of easy running.
The idea is that you introduce short periods of running at a higher pace into your normal runs.
These intervals can either be measured by distance or time (e.g. run for 200 metres or 30 seconds).
You can even use landmarks such as street lamps or post boxes as markers for your intervals, which arguably makes a Fartlek run all the more enjoyable.
Related: 6 interval training benefits for runners
What are the benefits of Fartlek training?
There are many benefits of Fartlek training, namely that it is a great way to improve your endurance and speed.
According to a 2020 study, after a 12 week training program in which runners undertook Fartlek training, the group had achieved significant improvement on muscular endurance.
Aside from improvements to speed and endurance, Fartlek training has the following key benefits:
- Improves mental strength when running.
- Improves your ability to adopt different speeds during a run (for example, to overtake someone or to sprint at the end of a race and knock seconds off your race time).
- Improves your race day mindset as it mimics the surges of speed you may do in a race.
- Helps you gauge and learn how to push your body whilst keeping physical and mental reserves.
- Helps you become more flexible in a workout, which can help with other speed training sessions where you are required to adjust the speed and intensity of your workout.
Related: How to run an 8 minute mile
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Fartlek training?
Fartlek training has the following advantages:
#1 Highly adaptable and flexible
One of the key benefits of Fartlek training is that it is a highly adaptable and flexible form of speed training.
This is one the benefits that attract runners to this form of training in the first place.
As such, Fartlek training is great for all levels of experience and fitness as it can be adjusted to the runner.
#2 Helps to improve endurance and speed
Fartlek training was originally designed for runners to improve endurance and speed in one session.
The fact that it combines periods of fast running with periods of easy running make it a great method for improving your endurance whilst focusing on your speed.
#3 Improves fast twitch muscle response
Your muscles include two types of muscle fibre: slow twitch and fast twitch.
Slow twitch muscle fibres are built for endurance activities like long distance running, whilst fast twitch muscle fibres are built for short, powerful bursts of energy.
In Fartlek training, because you are experimenting with different speeds, this encourages the build up of fast twitch muscle fibres.
#4 Highly individualised
Fartlek training is one of the most individualised forms of speed training, making it perfect for all levels of runner – from beginners to more advanced runners.
It’s really about making it as hard as you want it to be.
#5 Great for group training
The flexible, fun nature of Fartlek training makes it great for group training.
#6 Great for running motivation
If you’re in a running rut, or have become bored with your current training routine, then Fartlek training is a great form of training to introduce a bit of variety and fun into your training plan.
You can make it as easy or as hard as you like!
Fartlek training has the following disadvantages:
#7 Difficult to track progress
Owing to the highly individualised nature of Fartlek training, it means it can sometimes be hard to track progress over a period of time.
#8 Difficult to keep metrics
As above, because a Fartlek run is highly individualised in nature, it means it can be hard to keep metrics on your performance.
#9 If not performed properly, may incur injury
Whilst Fartlek training is an enjoyable and fun form of speed training, without a structured framework, there is a higher risk of injury.
If performed in an urban setting, be more mindful and careful when running near pedestrians and traffic.
#10 Requires more creativity
When you don’t have a structured framework to work towards, this requires you to be a little more creative when thinking of workouts.
After all, you’re in the driving seat when it comes to specifying the intensity and distance of your workout.
#11 Requires you to be close landmarks in your local area
It’s not always possible to do Fartlek training using landmarks like street signs and lamp posts, especially if you live in a remote area.
If you don’t have these landmarks in your vicinity, then a Fartlek run using distance or time as the markers for your intervals will be the next best option.
Related: How to run faster: 5 top training secrets
How is Fartlek training different from other forms of speed training?
There are three main types of speed training when it comes to running:
- Interval training. Interval training involves short, intense efforts of running with recovery intervals (such as walking or jogging).
- Tempo running. Tempo running involves sustained efforts of continuous running. A tempo pace should feel ‘comfortably hard’ which should be between 25 to 30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace.
- Hill sprints. Hill sprints are great for building speed and strength. They involve uphill running intermixed with periods of walking or jogging back down the hill.
Here are examples of what each speed workout could look like in your training plan:
An interval training session could look like this:
- 1 x 400m interval run at 80-90% of your perceived effort
- 1 minute recovery jog in between
- Repeat 4 times
A tempo training session could look like this:
- Start with a 10 minute easy run
- Complete a 20 minute tempo run
- End with a 10 minute easy run
A hill sprinting session could look like this:
- Find a 4-8% grade hill and start at the bottom of the hill.
- Run up the hill for 60 seconds at your 10k pace, with a recovery walk or jog back down the hill.
- Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Related: What is a tempo run? Benefits of tempo running
3 sample Fartlek workouts
Fartlek training can use distance, time or landmarks as the marker for the intervals.
#1 Time-based Fartlek workout
- 1 minute run at a fast pace
- 2 minute run at an easy pace
- 2 minute run at a fast pace
- 1 minute run at an easy pace
#2 Distance-based Fartlek workout
- 200m run at a fast pace
- 400m run at an easy pace
- 400m run at a fast pace
- 200m run at an easy pace
#3 Landmark Fartlek workout
For this workout you’ll need to choose landmarks such as street lamps or post boxes and use them as markers for your intervals:
- Run at a fast pace to the first marker
- Run at an easy pace to the second marker
- Run at a fast pace to the third marker
- Run at an easy pace to the fourth marker
If you’re struggling for ideas or need some inspiration for landmarks, we have provided some of my favourite Fartlek training workouts at the end of this guide.
5 fun Fartlek runs
Here are five fun examples of Fartlek training to give you some inspiration for your next Fartlek training session.
#1 Street sign Fartlek
Run fast to the first street sign, then adopt an easy pace during your run to the next street sign. Repeat this as many times as you like.
#2 Lamp post Fartlek
Use lamp posts as markers for your fast and easy runs. Run at a slow to moderate pace to the first lamp post, then pick up the pace in a fast run to the next lamp post.
#3 Mailbox Fartlek
Use mail boxes as your markers for this fun run. Every time you see a mailbox, switch or alternate your pace.
#4 Bus Fartlek
This workout requires you to be in a relatively built-up area. Every time you see a bus, speed up then return to a slow to moderate pace when you see another bus.
#5 See a dog Fartlek
If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love this workout. Every time you see a dog, speed up then return to an easy run when you see the next dog.
Related: Run for longer: How to increase running stamina and endurance