What is a Fartlek? – I Didn’t Know Either

What is a fartlek? In the links below, you can read other articles that I have written on this subject…

Advantages of Fartlek Training

Fartlek Run Ideas

The first time I had heard the word ‘fartlek’ I was a sophomore in high school on a summer training run with the cross country team.  Yep, we were exactly what you might imagine. Skinny, pimple faced nerds going for a run through the suburban neighborhoods of anywhere America. “Let’s do some fartleks on this trail,” one of the upperclassmen suggested.  I just pretended to know what he was talking about and then proceeded to feel the pain of the ‘speed play’ that proceeded. Up and down wet leaf covered trails in 30 second to 1 minute intervals for the following 30 minutes.  I was whipped. I wish I could say I kept up with the guys, but I couldn’t. It felt like playing a soccer game without stopping.

You can also see some other articles I have written about fartleks here:

It’s Swedish

What is a fartlek - Man running

A fartlek a Swedish word that translates into English as ‘speed play’.  It can be applied to nearly any sport. As a triathlete, I do fartlek training while swimming in the pool, during bike rides, and when I am on endurance runs.  As I learned in high school, it can be a little painful at first. But, after incorporating fartlek training into my training sessions, I get to enjoy all the benefits.  The biggest of the benefits is being able to do endurance races faster.

Fartlek Benefits

Every year I try to compete in at least 3 races.  And each year I keep getting better. I feel that a large part of my personal successes have come due to speed play or fartlek training.  There a definitely more important factors to training and improving. The biggest being consistency and diet. But, after I have gotten through the discipline of accomplishing my weekly workout schedule, I can see that fartlek training is certainly a major aspect of achieving my goals.  

How to do Fartleks

So now that we know what a fartlek is, how do we do it.  Here is a mental picture to help you create your own fartlek workout.  

  1. Have fun
  2. 50/50: slow like a dog trotting/ fast like a horse galloping
  3. Change the game often

The whole point of fartleks is to use speed and have fun.  Don’t just let your regimented mind tell you exactly how far or how long you should go.  Make your own rules.

I can make 50 different types of games for you, but try to create your own.  Here are 5 examples of fartleks that I like.

Be sure to warm up for at least 5 minutes before you start a fartlek session. And be sure to cool down for at least 5 minutes after a fartlek session.

Tree to Tree Fartlek

I love running in parks and on trails.  If you are in a park or trail that you frequent often, then you can set a mental map of which trees you will gallop to and which you will trot to.  If you are on an unfamiliar path, just pick a tree in your line of sight as you are running. It can be far away or near. You decide. When you start getting tired, you can lengthen your slower trots and shorten your faster gallops.

Depending on your endurance level and goals, vary the speed and duration of this fartlek.  If you want to focus on all-out speed, make your gallops at about 80%-90% efforts for 10-30 seconds and your trots last until you catch your breath.  If you want to focus on more tempo or race speeds, make your gallops between 60%-80% efforts for 30-90 seconds and your trots for an equal amount of time.

Song to Song

Be sure to perform this when it is safe.  Be sure you can HEAR CARS around you!

What is a fartlek - Swimmer

Hit play on your playlist or let Spotify do its thing.  The first song will be at a nice trotting pace. The next song will be at your galloping pace.  Continue this for 30-90 minutes. You decide. This is a great one to use for swimming, cycling or running.  I prefer doing this when I want train at or above race pace. I use a Sony Waterproof MP3 Bluetooth headset.  This headset has become super useful because swimming in the pool can get super boring. But it works well with all sports.

Heart Rate Fartlek Training

What is a fartlek - Heart Rate

Why is heart rate training so great?  There is quite a bit of debate surrounding the theory of heart rate training.  Some think it is an accurate measure of the amount of stress being placed on the body, and others think that is not.  Yet, the vast majority of sports science studies and papers share a believe that it is a great indicator of exerted effort and its impact on the body.

That being said, if we do fartlek training while using a heart monitor it helps us to gauge how hard we can train in that given moment.  Let’s face it, we have days that we just don’t feel that great, and we have to listen to our body. Knowing how quickly your heart rate elevates and declines is a good indicator of how well your body is handling the workout you are doing.  

This one is my favorite type of fartlek training

As I have mentioned in my other articles about fartleks, this is my favorite type of fartlek training.  It does requires more equipment. A heart rate monitor strap and/or a watch that has a built in heart rate monitor.  I use my TomTom Spark 3 to do all of the work for me. I connect my chest strap heart rate monitor to my TomTom via Bluetooth.  The watch comes with a few preset heart rate workouts that are enough to kick my booty into shape. I usually use the speed training workout so that I can focus on my fast twitch muscles.  

I truly believe this has helped my training more than any other type of fartlek training.

1/1

Simple and easy.  1 minute trotting then 1 minute galloping for 30-60 minutes.  You can also very the minute count for this. You can do 2/2, 3/3, and on and on.  It’s all up to you. I recommend doing your gallops at your intended race pace.

Catch the Leader

What is a fartlek - Men Cycling


This is super fun if you are in a group.  It can be done on a bike ride or a run. Simply decide what pace the group will maintain first.  Will it be 5,6,7, or 8 minutes/mile pace? Then decide your collective duration. Usually 20-45 minutes is suitable.  After that has been settled, each person at the back of the line will sprint to the front of the pack. After a new leader has sprinted to the front, the new last person in line sprints to the front of the pack.  Repeat this until your duration has lapsed.

Conclusion

These are just a few fartleks that you can do.  There are literally 1000s of variations of fartleks that you can make up.  The goal is to speed up a little bit and play. Make it fun. That is what a fartlek is.

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