3 Simple Fartlek Training Definitions

A fartlek training definition is simply “speed play”.  It is translated from a Swedish term coined in the 1930s by the Swedish National Team’s coach Gosta Holmer.  The team had been beaten by Finland quite handedly during the 1920s. Coach Holmer tested and implemented “speed play” to help his team get faster.  

Fartlek Training Definition 1: Interval training without stopping

Fartlek training definition - woman running

Interval training is a type of training applied to nearly every sport.  In terms of running, swimming, and cycling; interval training involves high intensity bursts or tempos that focus on speed.  After sprinting or maintaining a high tempo for a designated period of time, athletes will generally rest.

A fartlek is interval training without stopping.  You just slow down during the breaks. This type of training is implemented by most running, swimming, and cycling coaches.  It is very useful for preparing our muscles to be able to perform at a higher rate. I have used this type of training throughout my life.  I wouldn’t say that is fun. In fact, I would say it is not fun. But, it works.

Fartlek Training Definition 2: Heart Rate Fartlek Training

Fartlek Training Definition - Woman holding heart

When you read other articles I have written about fartleks, you will see that love heart rate fartlek training.  You need a heart rate monitor that is on your watch or band, and/or use an arm strap or a chest strap. I prefer a chest strap because it is more accurate.  

Once you have your equipment, set up a plan of your own.  Here is a sample fartlek training session for heart rate fartlek training.


  • Easy 10 minutes at 110-130 bpm

Fartlek Pattern    (20 – 30 minutes)

  • 30 seconds at 120-140 bpm
  • 60 seconds at 150-170 bpm
  • 90 seconds at 110-125 bpm
  • 60 seconds at 150-170 bpm
  • Repeat

Cool Down

  • Easy 10 minutes and 110-130 bpm

If you have a multi-sport watch like a Garmin or TomTom, you can use the preset heart rate fartlek programs on the watch.  I love using my TomTom Spark because it already has all of the presets on it. I mostly use it for my bike training session, but it works great for run sessions as well.  

But, the best practice when doing fartleks is to design your own fartlek plan.  Once we have ownership of our training plan we are more likely to enjoy the fartlek session.  We are also more able to critique the plan to suit our needs. I highly recommend doing heart rate fartleks.  This type of fartlek allows us to keep our training sessions more based in science and data.

Fartlek Training Definition 3: Gamification of Fartlek Training

Fartlek Training Definition - Wooden toys running

The definition of fartlek is “speed play”.  I think that a huge part of playing involves games.  Fartlek games don’t necessarily have winner and losers.  But they do involve an objective that is meant to be more fun and less data driven.  Providing nuance to stale interval sessions is really worth it!

In a few previous articles that I have written I provide a few examples of games that you can play while doing fartleks.  But, just as I mentioned for the heart rate fartlek definition, creating your own games is much more beneficial.  Tree to tree, car to car, house to house, dog to dog, song to song, and any other way that you can think of creating a game out of your speed training is the most fun and rewarding way to do fartlek training.  

We all want to get into good training shape for our next big road race, triathlon, or exploration.  And I believe that the best way to do that is to sprinkle in fun to a well organized regimen. Happy fartleking!