June 1, 2021

What Is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek training is one of the most versatile and valuable training sessions you can do. What is it and how does it help?

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I was a young teenager when I first heard about Fartlek training. I’d recently found a coach, and there on my first training plan from him was a funny word I had not seen before – FARTLEK.

Fartlek is the Swedish word for speed play. Simply put, Fartlek training is to run alternating between a harder effort and an easier one.

While I now had it officially labelled and in my training plan, I’d been running Fartlek sessions since I was six without even realising it. 

Kids are some of the best practitioners of Fartlek training because they often vary their pace as they run. It’s not usually intentional in their case, but adults could learn a thing or two about running intuitively and its joy from young runners.

Types Of Fartlek Training

One of the main reasons I love Fartlek training is its ridiculous versatility. You can use Fartlek sessions at any point in your training programme, even when you’re not training for a race.

Despite the many variations of fartlek sessions you can run, there are two primary types of Fartlek.

  1. Random Fartlek 
  2. Structured Fartlek

Random Fartlek

Random Fartlek is the traditional form of Fartlek training. You run varying the intensity and length of the repetition and recovery as you feel. 

This type of Fartlek is my favourite, and I have been running it for more than three decades. 

One of my favourite sessions of all time is hilly Fartlek. Hilly Fartlek – as the name suggests – is Fartlek run over hills. Each week, I would run a hilly Fartlek session in the Auckland Domain with my friends. We did this for several years.

Sometimes we’d push the uphills, take the downhills as recovery and run the flats at a steady effort. Other times we’d run the downhills hard and recover on the uphills and flats. 

It was challenging and tremendous fun.

As technology becomes more advanced and prevalent, it’s been interesting to watch many of the athletes I coach struggle with this type of freeform training. They have a hard time running to feel and with the randomness of this type of session.

How do I programme this into my watch is a common question I’m asked when I prescribe this type of session.

Easy, you don’t!

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Structured Fartlek

Structured Fartlek is more organised than random Fartlek, and most athletes have an easier time digesting and executing this type of session.

You can structure Fartlek by assigning a time or distance.

Some examples of this include:

  1. 30-minutes alternating 1-minute hard and 1-minute easy.
  2. 30-minutes alternating through each zone. 30-seconds easy, 30 seconds steady, 30-seconds mod hard, 30-seconds hard, 30-seconds very hard, 30 seconds easy, 30-seconds steady and so on until you reach 30-minutes.
  3. 10 x 2-minutes hard, 1-minute easy.

There are nearly limitless options, so get creative and have some fun. 

Benefits Of Fartlek Training

Fartlek training has several benefits.

Besides being an effective form of speed work and helping to improve cadence, the changes in pace can be a great way to condition your body for managing surges during races.

The more you run Fartlek, particularly random Fartlek, the more intuitive you will become as a runner. You’ll begin to sense your paces and better gauge your efforts.

Fartlek can be an exceptional bridge from easier base training to more race-specific training, and it provides a ton of variety that will help to spice up your weekly training schedule.

You can run Fartlek sessions on flat roads or over hills, on running tracks or trails. It’s the most versatile session of them all, and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.