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Fartlek Training Guide

If you’ve been running for a while, you’ve probably heard of fartlek training. Fartlek runs are unstructured runs that can help you improve your speed, endurance, and general fitness. To help you understand more about the benefits of Fartlek training and how to do it, we’ll go into more detail.

What is fartlek training?

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Fartlek is a Swedish word that essentially means “speed play.” It’s a very unstructured way to improve your endurance by varying the speed of your runs. Basically, it involves completing one continuous run with periods of varying paces mixed in (easy, moderate, and strenuous).1

When you do fartlek training, you don’t necessarily need to follow any specific structure. Instead, you can just switch up the pace and length of your runs depending on how you feel that day.

Fartlek runs are different from other speed workouts. For example:

  • Interval runs are short and intense bursts of running followed by periods of longer recovery or complete rest.
  • Tempo runs involve running at a consistent pace (usually whatever you can sustain for 60 minutes).

How long should a fartlek run be?

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Typically, a fartlek training session takes about 45 minutes and may include walking, jogging, running at a moderate to fast pace, or straight-up sprinting. However, a fartlek run may also be much longer than 45 minutes for some runners. That’s the beauty of fartlek training: You can make it whatever you want or need it to be!

What are the benefits of fartlek runs?

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Fartlek training has many benefits for runners of all experience levels. 

  • It’s fun and easy to modify. For beginners, it’s an excellent way to have fun while running because it’s more interesting than just maintaining one pace throughout your entire run. It also allows you to determine the intensity and speed of your run at any given moment, which can be helpful as you develop and improve your aerobic fitness.
  • It’s an excellent way to improve your overall fitness. If you play other sports, like soccer or football, fartlek training can also be a helpful way to train your body to adjust to varying intensities of running, like you would on the field. Due to fartlek’s extreme variations in pace, this type of training uses both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems within your body to build endurance, improve your respiratory function, and enhance your overall fitness.
  • It’s easy to do indoors on a treadmill or outdoors. You can also do fartlek runs indoors or outside in nature. It’s easy to incorporate fartlek training into nearly any outdoor landscape, whether running on a track, along a paved trail, or through a natural, wooded, cross-country route. You can easily use Vingo or another training app to run fartleks on a treadmill and manually change your speed as you run through exciting virtual courses featuring varying inclines.
  • You’ll burn more calories. If your goal is to lose weight, fartlek training can help you do it! Instead of running at a steady rate for 30 minutes, you’ll torch more calories if you vary the intensity and pace of your runs for the same amount of time.

How to run fartleks

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Although there is no specific strategy to run fartleks, here are a few tips that will help you get started with them.

Learn to listen to your body.

Instead of using a GPS or heart rate monitor to track your physical activity, fartlek runs are based on how they feel. You’ll need to learn to listen to your body and adjust your pace based on how your running effort feels. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it sounds, and the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Avoid stopping completely.

To complete a fartlek run, you can adjust your pace however you’d like, but the most important thing is just to keep moving. Even if you walk for a brief time, keep going! The ultimate goal is to keep jogging or running the entire time, but beginners may need to walk between efforts, which is totally fine. Adjust however you need, and soon enough, you’ll find that you don’t need to walk anymore.

Use landmarks.

If you’re new to fartlek training, knowing how to structure your runs can be challenging. One great approach is using the landmarks you pass along your route to help structure each session. For example, adjust to a faster pace when you reach the upcoming bench. Or once you get to the pond, slow down.

Who should do fartlek training?

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If you’re bored with your running routine, add a few fartlek runs to switch things up. Adding the variety may help you have more fun and thoroughly enjoy your runs.

On the other hand, if you’re training for an event or have very specific goals, fartlek training might not be the best approach due to its erratic nature. Additionally, if you prefer maintaining a strict schedule for your runs, fartlek runs might not be for you. With its extreme customizability, it’s easy to push yourself too hard accidentally or not challenge yourself enough, leading to a lack of results.

What is an example of a fartlek training session?

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Adjusting to any new type of training method can be challenging. To help you get started, here are a few examples of fartlek training sessions. Don’t forget to include a warmup and cooldown before attempting any of these!

Fartlek session #1:

  • Run on any outdoor terrain for 45 minutes.
  • Alternate between a slow jog and fast sprints for 10 seconds at a time.

Fartlek session #2:

  • Run as hard as you can for 30 seconds.
  • Run at an easy pace for 90 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Build up to 1 minute of hard running per every 1 minute of easy running.

Fartlek session #3:

  • Run 90 seconds at a fast pace, followed by 90 seconds at a slow pace. Repeat twice.
  • Run 60 seconds at a fast pace, followed by 60 seconds at a slow pace. Repeat four times.
  • Run 30 seconds at a fast pace, followed by 60 seconds at a slow pace. Repeat four times.
  • Run 15 seconds at a fast pace, followed by 15 seconds at a slow pace. Repeat four times.

Are there any disadvantages of fartlek training?

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Of course, like any training method, there are a few disadvantages of fartlek training:

  • It can be hard to do with friends. As you can imagine, fartlek runs can be difficult with friends. Since this type of training is highly individualized, it’s best to complete these runs independently. The only exception might be if you and a friend have similar slow and fast paces. In this case, you could potentially choose landmarks along your running route and switch up your speed as you reach each one.

  • You may be more likely to develop an injury. If you’re new to running, incorporating any speed work into your training right away could lead to injuries. If you haven’t run in years, sprinting at any point during your first run is likely to be very hard on your body. Wait a few weeks before incorporating fast sprinting into your fartlek training to avoid injuries.

  • It might be challenging to maintain a balanced training plan. Runners need a good, balanced training plan to maintain their fitness. For example, if you’re a long-distance runner, you may not want to incorporate too many fartlek runs into your routine because most of your runs should feel easy and comfortably paced. Any speedwork, like fartlek, should only make up a small portion of your overall training routine.

Key Takeaways:

Fartlek training is an unstructured form of running that has many benefits for beginners or experienced runners. It breaks up the monotony of any structured training program and is a fun and individualized way to reach your speed, endurance, and fitness goals.

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  1. Finney, Jaclyn, et al. “Fartlek Training with Personal Training Clients.” National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), NSCA, 3 Apr. 2020, https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/ptq/fartlek-training-with-personal-training-clients/

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