What is fartlek?

In translation, the Swedish word ‘fartlek’ is speed play. In meaning, it is the true enjoyment of running!

Fartlek is similar to interval training in that shorter faster bouts of running alternate with slower running or jogging for recovery.

However, in fartlek, the running can be done on the road, trail, or grass parkland. There is no specific predetermined schedule to follow.

The athlete is free to set their own interval length and pace in response to how they are feeling at any given point of the workout.

Why do fartlek?

The purpose of fartlek is to increase an athlete’s fitness. Fartlek recruits the fast twitch muscle fibres during a longer run, so ensuring that the whole muscle is getting a good workout. Fartlek also helps to build speed and strength.

Swedish coach Gösta Holmér (1891-19830) developed fartlek in 1937 and, since then, many coaches have adopted it.

It was design for the faultering Swedish cross country running teams that had been beaten throughout the 1920’s by Paavo Nurmi and the Finns.

Holmér’s plan used faster-that-race-pace segments during longer runs and concentrated on both speed and endurance.

This is believed to be the first session that was designed by Holmér for a cross country runner.

  • Warm up: easy running for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Steady, hard speed for 1.5-2.5 kilometres; like a long repetition.
  • Recover: rapid walking for about 5 minutes.
  • Start of speed work: easy running interspersed with sprints of about 50-60 metres repeated until a little tired.
  • Easy running with three or four “quick steps” now and then (simulating suddenly speeding up to avoid being overtaken by another runner).
  • Full speed uphill for 175-200 metres.
  • Fast pace for 1 minute.

The whole routine is then repeated until the total time prescribed on the training schedule has elapsed.

How does one run fartlek?

A fartlek workout need not be structured in any way. After a proper warm up, run hard to the next lamp post, charge up the next hill, increase the pace to the next bend in the trail.

Allow for a decent recovery between each ‘interval’. This really is speed play. Have fun with it.

The ideal time to insert fartlek runs into your program is when you are making the transition from base training to faster, race-pace type training.

An advantage of fartlek is that the athlete can concentrate on feeling the pace and their response to it, thereby developing self-awareness and pace judgement skills.

It is primarily a technique for advanced runners as it requires ‘honesty’ to put in a demanding workload, and also a ‘maturity’ to not overdo the pace or length of the intervals.

Heart rate should rarely get above 85% of maximum at any point during the workout.

An athlete should finish this type of workout feeling pleasantly tired .

Give it a try next time you run, and if you enjoy it, then you have discovered the true meaning of fartlek, without resorting to a dictionary!

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