Step your running up a gear with Fartlek training

Like us, you may have heard the word Fartlek thrown around recently, so what on earth is it?

Firstly… it is a lovely Swedish word which means “speed play” and although it is a bit of a buzz word in the world of running right now, it’s not actually that new! It was originally developed in 1937 by Swedish running coach Gösta Holmér to help the poorly performing Swedish cross country team.

So to try and explain it… Fartlek is a training method that blends continuous running with faster intervals, however it is quite informal, which makes it tricky to give people a definitive break down of exactly how to do it – it is a lot about how the runner is feeling rather than strict rules, and is supposed to help the runner learn their own body and its limitations.

So for those who have a desire to run faster or just take their running to the next level but don't know how to go about it – here’s how Fartlek can help you.

Fartlek is designed to help longer distance runners increase their speed – and we aren’t only talking marathon runners here! 5k Park Runners, 10k racers or casual pavement runners, Fartlek is for anyone looking to increase their time. Done by including periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running. Simple.

So if you are currently a runner that is a bit “one-paced” then Fartlek training can really help you understand the various paces you are actually capable of, improve your speed over distance and help you break through plateaus.

Fartlek is not interval or tempo training!

Unlike interval work, Fartlek is unstructured and alternates between moderate-to-hard efforts and easy efforts. Whereas interval training is rigid, with runners running for set intervals alternating between hard effort and little-to-no effort (aimed to cause peaks and troughs in heartrate), in Fartlek you don’t stop moving.

You simply try to include some faster intervals into your run, which will hopefully get easier and longer and increase your natural pace over time – it is ideal for non-experienced runners who get intimidated or overwhelmed by pressure. Knowing a pre-stipulated target can sometimes have a negative effect, while running free isn’t as nerve racking.

How to get started with Fartlek

After a warmup play with speed by running at a faster effort for short periods of time, simply deciding to run faster to that tree or lamp post, and then go back to your normal pace for a bit.

Fartlek is supposed to be a relaxed and fun way to push yourself and can be done alone or in a group.

Carla Ferdinando, Freedom Leisure Personal Trainer, says: I use Fartlek training with my PT clients and also in the run clubs I offer. It’s a really good way of training in a group where people of different abilities can get the most out of their workout but still feel like they are part of the social atmosphere as nobody gets left behind.  The goal with Fartlek is to keep it free-flowing and not be led by a stop watch – this way people learn to feel their own bodies and become better runners more naturally.

10 top tips for trying Fartlek:

  1. Next time you go for a run just try a speed-play session – don’t panic, this simply means playing with different speeds.
  2. To start with just decide to prove to yourself that you do have more than one speed – no need to measure or time; just feel the difference between different speeds.
  3. Simply run – master running free, like a child.
  4. Keep the pace and duration of each interval random and spontaneous, go by feel, go fast, go easy or even walk if you need to, just mix it up.
  5. For a 45 minute run aim to include 6 to 10 spontaneous faster bursts – don’t set a target before you go though.
  6. Don’t get into the habit of making every faster burst an all-out sprint! In order to work on your speed endurance you need to eventually complete a variety of interval lengths in your training. For example, 100m sprints to 1 mile intervals.
  7. Don’t make each block the same length or too short! Variety of duration is key, so some shorter bursts are great too.
  8. Don’t just vary your speed – try to vary the terrain too! Hills and undulations are a great natural way to vary your pace and improve your strength and conditioning.
  9. Keep the recovery intervals at an easy jogging or walking pace.
  10. Avoid referring to a tracker during your run (it’s fine to review how you did after) as the idea of Fartlek is to run by feel.

Finally, our last word on Fartlek…

Keep it simple, the essence of Fartlek is to make running stress-free, relaxed and enjoyable while improving naturally.

Inspired to run?

Many of our centres have running clubs and running technique sessions, with Fartlek training often included. Find a centre near you and enquire today.

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