The Swedish word “fartlek” means “speed play,” and that’s exactly what this type of training is all about. Much like interval training, fartlek training alternates between periods of high-intensity effort and low-intensity recovery. However, the beauty of fartlek training is that it can be done anywhere, without any special equipment or facilities. All you need is a stopwatch or some other type of timer, and you’re good to go. New to fartlek training? Wondering how it can benefit your running? Keep reading to learn all you need to know about fartlek training, from the difference between fartlek and interval training to the benefits of this type of workout.
What Is The Difference Between Fartlek Training And Interval Running?
While both fartlek training and interval running involve alternating between periods of high-intensity effort and low-intensity recovery, there are two key differences between the two. With interval training, the periods of high and low intensity are predetermined.
For example, you might run for two minutes at a hard pace, followed by two minutes of easy running, and repeat this cycle for the duration of your workout.
With fartlek training, on the other hand, the periods of high and low intensity are not predetermined. Instead, you simply vary your pace based on how you’re feeling in the moment.
For example, you might run at a comfortable pace for a few minutes, and then pick up the pace for a minute or two when you feel like it.
Another difference between fartlek training and interval training is that interval training allows you to stop and rest in between the periods of high-intensity effort, whereas with fartlek training, the low-intensity periods are typically just a slight slowdown in pace rather than an all-out rest.
You’ll run continuously during a fartlek workout, only varying your speed as you feel necessary.
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The Benefits Of Fartlek Workouts
There are many benefits associated with fartlek training, including the following:
Tune In To Your Body
Traditional interval training can be tough on the body, especially if you’re pushing yourself to your max effort. With fartlek training, however, you can better tune in to how your body is feeling on any given day and adjust your workout accordingly.
If you’re not feeling up for a hard effort, you can simply back off the pace and take it easy. You’re allowed to experiment with different speeds and really listen to your body, which can make for a more enjoyable and sustainable workout.
Make It Your Own
Fartlek workouts are also great because they can be customized to fit your individual needs and goals. If you’re training for a specific race, you can design your fartlek workout to simulate the race conditions you’ll be facing.
For example, if you’re training for a 10K race, you might do a fartlek workout that alternates between two minutes of hard running and one minute of easy running.
You can also tailor your fartlek workouts to the type of terrain you’ll be running on during your race. If you’re training for a hilly race, you can do a fartlek workout on hilly terrain. Or, if you’re training for a trail race, you can do your fartlek workout on trails. The possibilities are endless!
But it’s not just race-specific fartlek workouts that can be customized. You can also tailor your fartlek workouts to your overall training goals.
For example, if you’re looking to build endurance, you might do a longer fartlek workout with more low-intensity periods. Or, if you’re looking to boost your speed, you might do a shorter fartlek workout with more high-intensity periods.
Improve Your Anaerobic Threshold
Your anaerobic threshold is the point at which your body starts to produce more lactic acid than it can remove. This build-up of lactic acid leads to muscle fatigue, and ultimately, slowing down.
Fartlek training can help improve your anaerobic threshold by increasing your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise (4).
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Boost Your Metabolism
Exercise, in general, is great for boosting your metabolism. But high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is particularly effective at revving up your metabolism and helping your body burn more calories both during and after exercise (2).
And because fartlek training is a form of HIIT, it can also help boost your metabolism. In fact, one study found that people who did a HIIT workout burned more calories in the 24 hours after exercise than those who did a steady-state workout at the same level of intensity (3).
Get A Mental Boost
Fartlek training can also be great for your mental health (1).
Like other types of exercise, fartlek training can help to alleviate stress and improve your mood. But since you can vary the pace during a fartlek workout, it can also help to give you a mental boost by providing a sense of variety and keeping your mind engaged (1).
The Downsides Of Fartlek Training
While there are many benefits associated with fartlek training, there are also a few potential downsides.
Lack Of Structure
The flexible nature of fartlek training is a double-edged sword. While it’s great that you can tailor your workout to your specific needs and goals, the lack of structure can also be a downside.
For some people, the lack of structure can make it difficult to stay motivated. It can be easy to start slacking off and cut your workout short if you don’t have a set plan to follow.
It can also be difficult to gauge your progress when you’re doing fartlek training. Without a set plan, it can be hard to tell if you’re improving or not. You might overestimate how hard you’re working, or you might not push yourself hard enough.
If you’re someone who thrives on structure and likes to see tangible results from your workouts, then fartlek training might not be the best option for you.
You Might Not Be Ready
Fartlek training is a high-intensity workout, and it’s important to make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared before you jump into it.
If you’re just starting out with exercise, or if you’ve been inactive for a while, you might want to ease into things with some low-intensity workouts before you try fartlek training.
The same goes for if you’re dealing with any injuries or other health issues. Make sure to talk to your doctor before you start a new workout routine, and listen to your body while you’re exercising.
Potential For Injury
Fartlek training poses a higher risk of injury than other types of workouts. Beginners who are more prone to shin splints (pain in the lower legs), for example, might want to steer clear of this type of training.
That’s because when you’re constantly changing speeds, it can be easy to overdo it and wind up putting too much stress on your muscles and joints. If you’re not careful, you could end up with an injury that sidelines you for weeks or even months.
Overuse injuries are also a risk with fartlek training. Because you’re constantly changing speeds, it’s easy to get too caught up in the workout and push yourself too hard.
If you find yourself feeling excessively tired or sore after your workouts, or if you start to experience any pain or discomfort, make sure to take a break and let your body recover.
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How Often Should You Do Fartlek Training?
Fartlek training is a high-intensity workout, so you don’t need to do it every day. In fact, you might even want to take a day or two off in between fartlek workouts to allow your body to recover.
How often you do fartlek training will also depend on your fitness level and goals. If you’re just starting out, you might want to do fartlek workouts once or twice a week.
If you’re more experienced, you can increase the frequency to three or four times per week. And if you’re training for a specific event, you might want to do fartlek workouts every day.
Remember, the key is to listen to your body and not overdo it. If you start to feel excessively tired or sore, or if you’re dealing with any injuries or health issues, make sure to take a break.
How Long Should A Fartlek Run Be?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the length of a fartlek run. It will depend on your fitness level, goals, and the amount of time you have available. All that matters is you vary your speeds throughout the run.
If you’re just starting out, you might want to keep your fartlek runs on the shorter side. A good rule of thumb is to start with a warm-up of about 10 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of intervals, and then a cool-down of 10 minutes.
As you get more experienced, you can increase the length of your intervals and the overall duration of your run. Just make sure you don’t push yourself too hard.
What Is The Difference Between Fartlek Training And Tempo Runs?
Fartlek training and tempo runs are both types of interval training, but there are some key differences between the two.
With fartlek training, the intervals are unstructured, which means you can vary your speeds as you see fit. Tempo runs, on the other hand, are structured, meaning the intervals are predetermined and you maintain a consistent pace throughout the workout.
Fartlek training is also typically done at a lower intensity than tempo runs. That’s because with tempo runs, the goal is to push yourself to your anaerobic threshold, which is the point at which your body can no longer supply oxygen to your muscles fast enough.
Fartlek training, on the other hand, can be done at any intensity, which makes it a good option for beginners or anyone who wants to take a more relaxed approach to interval training.
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Tips For Successful Fartlek Training
If you’re new to fartlek training, here are a few tips to help you get started:
As with any type of workout, it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity. If you go too hard too soon, you could wind up injured or excessively sore.
Make sure you have the right gear before you start your workout. This includes comfortable shoes and clothes that won’t restrict your movement.
Before you start your intervals, make sure to warm up with a 10-minute jog or walk. This will help get your muscles and joints ready for the workout ahead.
After your workout, take some time to cool down with a 10-minute jog or walk. This will help your body recover and reduce soreness the next day.
Don’t Neglect Rest
Fartlek is a high-intensity workout, so it’s important to take rest days in between. This will help your body recover and reduce the risk of injury.
The Bottom Line
Fartlek is a great way to add some variety to your workouts and challenge your body in new ways. But it’s important to remember that this type of training is high-intensity and can be tough on your body.
Make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared before you start, and listen to your body while you’re exercising.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Exercise for Mental Health (2006, nih.gov)
- How high-intensity interval training can reshape metabolism (2022, sciencedaily.com)
- The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: a randomized trial (2015, pubmed.gov)
- The Effect of Eight-Week Sprint Interval Training on Aerobic Performance of Elite Badminton Players (2021, pubmed.gov)