The name itself can invoke giggles; at least in grade school boys. However, fartlek training is much more than that for runners of all levels. Fartlek, meaning "speed play" in Swedish, is a form of training that involves periods of fast running mixed with periods of slower running.
Fartleks cater to a wide variety of runners, fitness levels and training schedules. It is training designed to help the body take on a higher workload by combining short bursts of speed and sustained hard effort. Developed by the Swedish running coach Gosta Holmer, fartlek training enables runners to engage different muscle fibers during the course of a run.
What are the benefits of fartlek training?
Adding fartlek training to your running program can have a positive impact in many ways, including:
Simplicity of fartlek
You can help keep your training fresh by incorporating fartlek training into some of your runs. It can be fun, and its unstructured nature can be refreshing while keeping your routine from getting boring.
Part of the beauty of fartlek training is how it can fit seamlessly into almost any training program. For example, during your run you could sprint from one landmark (i.e. a light pole) to the next landmark, then jog to the next corner, followed with a medium effort, more jogging, and another sprint between two landmarks. It's not restricted to just track workouts.
Bust through plateaus to the next level
If you do the same running routine week after week, chances are you're going to hit a plateau and won't reap the same benefits you did earlier in your training. To take things to the next level, you can:
Burn more fat
The short bursts of intensity inherent to fartlek training are fueled by glycogen, which is carbohydrates that are stored in the body. Once the glycogen stores are depleted, the body has just one fuel source to burn…fat. This fat is burned in a way that lasts long after your workout.
Fartleks simulate race conditions
Long runs build aerobic endurance and speedwork provides anaerobic benefits. Fartlek training can be the bridge between the two that translates well into your race day performance. In other words, it simulates the ebb and flow of competitive running.
Incorporating fartlek training into your routine
Fartlek training can be incorporated into most running routines, especially those for beginning to novice runners. Its creator, Holmer suggested that competitive runners can benefit by doing fartlek routines in their base-phase of training. The reason is that most runners naturally do more intense work close to their peak phase, when it should also be included as they start to build up the miles.
Doing this type of training during the base-phase can be as easy as incorporating it into one or two runs a week as you slowly build your miles. One method is to do a one-minute surge every six to seven minutes. It need only be at a pace just slightly faster than your long-run pace.
Fartlek training leaves it up the individual to determine what pace and change of pace is needed to build speed and endurance. It's not as demanding as traditional interval training, and is far more flexible.
An additional benefit of fartleks is that they lead you to running at higher speeds just by putting a little more stress on your system. It also improves your anaerobic threshold.
Try out some of these fartlek workouts
Here's some various fartlek routines you can add to your regular training program:
If you feel that you're in a training rut, give fartleks a try and see what adding them to your training routine can do for your performance. We think you'll be happy with the results.