Besides having the best name in all of running workouts, fartlek training is also fun to do. The Swedish word means “speed play” and that’s exactly the intent of these workouts.
No need for a track.
No need to time recovery.
Nothing forced, but lots of benefits.
What is Fartlek training?
More unstructured than intervals or tempo runs, fartleks teach your body to incorporate varying speeds into a run, which can come in handy at the end of a race or during certain sections of a race when you want to take advantage of a downhill or realize you need just a few more seconds to crush that race goal.
Fartleks are portions of fast running with no defined recovery period.
It could be based on running for a certain amount of time or distance.
The main thing that makes it different from intervals is you can recover as much as you need. While an interval workout might say something like 3 repeats of 2 minutes at half marathon pace with 2 minutes of recovery, a fartlek is just a set number of reps to complete over the course of the entire run.
6 Fartlek Workouts
In any speed session, you should include a dynamic warm up and usually at least a mile of running before starting your first interval. As noted there is no set recovery period, so you’ll simply go back to an easy run effort between each repeat.
- 3 mile run with 5 x 30 seconds hard effort
- 5 mile run with 10 x 1 minute hard effort
- 6 mile run with 7 x 1 minute increasingly hard effort
- Long run with 1 minute hard effort every mile
No Watch Option
A fun alternative is to pick certain landmarks during a run like lampposts or trees to act as starting and stopping points, we call these types of runs mind games for runners. For example, you might pick a tree in the distance and run hard to it, then run easy until the next tree you spot a block or two further down.
If you do these at a track club workout, then they generally involve the coach calling out random amounts of time to speed up or slow down, which feels like a suspenseful game, a bit like duck, duck goose!
Fartlek workouts ARE NOT LONG EFFORTS.
These are not usually mile repeats or a steady state tempo run, fartleks tend to be shorter intervals for a few minutes or up to a 1/4 mile. This is partially because you are doing them randomly throughout your run and the longer sessions would require a much longer total run.
What does fartlek training improve?
It’s an ideal way to work on speed training because it’s less intimidating for many new runners than strict intervals and more fun for long time runners to break up high mileage weeks.
- Helps you practice shifting paces
- Helps you better learn what easy/recovery paces feel like after pushing hard
- Allows you to continue running without needing a break like you might from a full on track effort
- Easier to recover from than some other speed workouts
- Forcing you to throw in speed on days when you might just settle in to an easy pace and hold it
Are fartlek workouts good for weight loss?
Running for weight loss is a multifaceted thing, which is why I’ve written a whole ebook about what you need to know! But yes, they can be a useful tool in the process because you’re switching between fat burning with the lower intensity and increasing the total calorie burn with the intense sections.
Which leads to the next question of is fartlek a HIIT workout? No.
It doesn’t sustain the level of intensity that you would with a high intensity interval workout and it’s not designed to be used that way. You’d get more from a cardio + strength training session like Danielle Pascente if you want HIIT.
How often to do fartlek workouts?
Every training plan is different, but in general you want no more than two speed workouts per week. A fartlek counts towards those speed workouts.
If you’re a new runner, then fartleks can be an ideal way to start incorporating intensity without overdoing it. Your schedule might look something like this:
S: Long easy
If you’re working on improving speed, then you’ll also want to include a few other key pieces of training:
- How to do strides — can include these at the end of easy days
- Running drills to improve your cadence
- Beginner speed workouts to also incorporate
- Understanding tempo runs
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