3 Awesome Fartlek Training Benefits

Fartlek training is awesome!  If your average run training sessions consist of intervals at a track or long runs on the road, a little variation to the routine can help greatly.  The weirdly phonetic phrase “fartlek training” can be used to add the tiniest bit of excitement to your workout.

What is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek is a Swedish word that means “speed play”.  The operative word in that definition is “PLAY”. I love to play.  And I can assume that most of us like to play every once in a while.  In my previous articles….

5 Great Fartlek Run Ideas                                                                                          11 Fartlek Training Advantages and Disadvantages 

I discuss fun ways to incorporate fartlek training into your weekly workout. One of the best things about fartlek training is the ability to have fun or play in a group or individually.

Fartlek Training - Man Running in the Mountains

Learn by Playing

Learn by playing.  As a teacher, I love helping kids learn through game play.  I tailor games dependent upon what the kids enjoy. I do the same for myself.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any folks who want to do fartlek training with me. But, I do heart rate fartlek training every week.  I program it into my TomTom Smart Watch.  The watch actually comes with presets that allow for a varying array of timed heart rate training. I love it because some days I want speed specific training and other days I just want to do a nice endurance fartlek.

So, you may be wondering what the benefits of fartlek training are. I’ve done a lot of research to find out exactly what are the real benefits of speed training, interval training, and fartlek training.  I’ve asked cycling coaches and running coaches. The general response that I received is that interval or speed training helps to train fast-twitch muscles to respond better when it’s time to accelerate. I used to think muscle was just muscle.  But there are slow-twitch muscles and fast-twitch muscles.

Fartlek Training - Muscles

Fartlek Training and Muscles

What are fast-twitch muscles and what are slow-twitch muscles?  Fast twitch muscles are used for bursts of power and speed. Slow twitch muscles are used for repetitive endurance needs.  There are many different types of muscles that serve a diverse array of functions throughout our body. For the sake of understanding muscles in regard to athletic training, we can focus on 3 types of fast-twitch muscles and 1 type of slow twitch muscle.  

Fast-twitch muscles are identified as ‘moderate fast-twitch’ (IIa) and ‘fast-twitch’ (IIb and IIx).  ‘Slow twitch muscles’ are identified as (I). Moderate fast-twitch muscles (IIa) are denser and faster to contract than slow-twitch muscles (I).  When you have reached the limit of your power needed to perform a movement, your ‘fast-twitch’ (IIb and IIx) kick-in and give you that extra push to keep going.  Fast-twitch muscles have the shortest endurance capability. Slow-twitch muscles (I) are utilized during endurance events.

What are the Benefits?

Fartlek Training - Kid Flexing

So what does all of this mean in regard to fartlek training?  From the view of how our muscles work during endurance sports, fartlek training helps our muscles to adapt movement from slow-twitch muscles to the utilization of fast-twitch muscles and vice versa.

Resistance exercises like weight lifting will help fast-twitch muscles to grow and strengthen.  But, the interplay of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles during an endurance event is better practiced during fartlek training.  Even standard interval training does not always facilitate proper communication between slow and fast twitch muscles. Continuous fartlek training allows for more interplay and communication of these muscle groups.  At least that is what experiments have shown. Genetic factors, diet, rest, and a slew of other factors play a role in how our muscles interplay and how our bodies will adapt to different stressors.

Preparing our bodies for an endurance race requires a lot of stuff.  That is why I like fartlek training. Fartlek training is playful. When I think about most of the reasons I enjoy anything, playfulness and fun are at the top of the list.  Running, swimming, cycling or any other sport is not always easy, but I think we all started doing this because of how great it makes us feel.

How to Fartlek Train

So now that we have discussed the why, let’s discuss the how.  How do you add fartlek training into your already busy training schedule.  The simple answer is: play a game. Here are some fartlek training games that you might have fun with.  

Tree to Tree

If you like running in the woods or on nature trails, you can go fast between a random selection of trees.  You can choose a time frame that suits you. Maybe 4 minutes of fartleks with a 4 minute jogging break. Create a circuit of trees that let you complete an hours worth of training.  

Catch Your Dog

Fartlek Training - Dog Running

If you have a lovely little pup.  Let them out in a field or meadow.  You can play a chasing game where you chase them from one point to another for a given amount of time that you have set on your watch.  Say 30 seconds on of chasing, jog for 1 minute, then another 30 seconds of chasing for 10 rounds. Your dog will love you for it. And you will be exhausted by you little friend’s fantastic changes in direction.  This is a great way to work on muscles you wouldn’t normally use on a training run.

Heart Rate

I use heart rate training for my weekly cycling sessions.  I just set my TomTom Smart Watch for the type of fartlek training I desire and my watch alerts me to what heart rate zones I need to remain in.  It’s difficult, but way more interesting than traditional bike speed training.

Group – Follow the Leader

Fartlek Training - Group Run

This one is super simple as well.  If you have a group of 3 or more folks, have each person lead for a predetermined amount of time.  Then, let the person at the end of the group sprint up to the head of the group. An example would be 6 minutes/mile pace for 20 minutes.  Each leader will stay leader for 1 minute and then the last person will sprint to the lead spot.

Make Up Your Own

Please make up your own games for a fartlek training regiment.  Fartlek training is meant to help the interplay of slow and fast-twitch muscles and to help us enjoy swimming, running, biking and any other type of endurance sport that we do.  Play!

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