Updated: January 11th, 2022
The ultimate fartlek training guide.

Pronounced exactly as it looks, Fart-lek is a Swedish term translating to ‘speed play’ quite literally a training method where you blend different speeds throughout your endurance run, cycle, swim, row, or whatever your preference of cardiovascular training. It can be super structured or based on feel and inspiration throughout your training session, it is personalised to you and how you feel that day; have fun with speed play.

Okay, tell me more about fartlek training

You may think fartlek training sounds a lot like interval training, and to some extent, you would be right, however, interval training is far more structured with two speeds. For instance:

  • 5 rounds of a 30-second sprint, immediately followed by 1-minute rest.
  • Fartlek however asks you to keep moving, the more structured Fartlek session can look like this:

  • 30-second sprint, then 30-second walk, followed by 3-minute jog and repeat
  • The more relaxed and versatile among us might use landmarks for fartlek training:

  • Sprint up the hill, then slow recovery jog around the tree and back to the top of the hill, walk downhill jogging around the bend until the next tree.
  • Runners through the trees

    Fartlek training is so flexible, you can use it on a treadmill (selecting the ‘random’ feature will replicate fartlek training just remember to keep an eye on the speed) likewise you can watch TV as you run – so you could sprint the adverts and ease off for the programme your watching? There are many treadmill games to play to keep your training entertaining whilst also getting fit with fartlek training. Did I mention it was versatile?

    As the nights draw in, and perhaps you are concerned for safety, this type of speed play can make your loops more interesting, instead of sprinting to the tree you push and sprint to the bin on loop 4? Or if you’re bringing a friend along for the route, yet are running at different speeds you can meet up at certain, predetermined landmarks along the way. Live in a city? Use street lights as speed play triggers; there really are so many options. Fartlek can be done anywhere, it’s super convenient and is ridiculously beneficial.

    Beach runner versatile fartlek training

    What are the benefits of fartlek training?

    • You can use fartlek training to measure your cardiovascular fitness Subjectively, especially as a beginner, sprinting to a further landmark this week? Did you need to walk for less time to feel recovered?
    • You also get all the health benefits associated with running
    • Brilliant beginner-friendly tool, but also for seasoned athletes who want to feel more into their training
    • Helps to drop the egopeople seem to assume because you are a runner, you can’t stop… um yes, you can! And for ultra-runners this is paramount. It helps with their race technique, maybe yours too?
    • Nice, easy to control method to return to running after injury, illness or post-pregnancy.
    • Improves your running speed
    • You’re much more likely to stick to the training because you are in control and it’s more fun that way (who likes being told what to do all the time?)
    • More forgiving than interval training
    • Impacts your cardiovascular endurance – getting you fitter and fitter each time
    • Tailor it to your mood and energy levels. You can have a high-intensity session and push your limits or you can slow it down whilst tapering
    • Ideal for team sports that unknowingly perform speed play during a soccer game, basketball, netball for example.
    • The sheer spontaneity kills boredom. You can get so creative with your efforts and challenge yourself or climb the highest hill and stroll along the top enjoying the view
    • Burns a lot of calories, as a form of High-intensity interval training (HIIT) as speed play typically involves higher energy levels, which means greater calorific burn.

    Running team doing intervals to street lights

    Alright, what are the negatives of Fartlek training?

    • There is always an injury risk with training – if you are coming back from injury, get assistance ad guidance from a healthcare professional before any training. Likewise, proceed with caution, don’t get too carried away with all the speed play fun, limit your sprints the first few times around and increase with experience. Too much too soon isn’t fun and will likely lead to muscle strains so be careful.
    • Although you can meet up on the route, this type of training is more of a solo activity – unless one wants to play the leader and the other is capable and up for following your erratic training. (Hey maybe you have crazy running friends like me?)

    Wow, the pros considerably outweigh the cons, huh?

    Solo runner

    So, how should I be doing fartlek training?

    To start, find your basis. By that, I mean finding your comfortable pace is a must to work from (otherwise how hard will we know to push for a sprint, likewise to back off and recover?)

    Starting by biting off more than you can chew is a recipe for disaster – and remember, the higher the intensity, the higher the risk for injury. So begin slow, go into the session open-minded about where you can run to without it being too much hard work; a fartlek workout should not leave you feeling exhausted and depleted – you should finish feeling refreshed and energised.

    Happy energised dog running

    Ultimately, with fartlek training, your main focus should be on time moving instead of distance covered. With that in mind, if you have signed up for a 5k and using fartlek to train for it, the session should be a maximum of 15-20 minutes. If you’re an experienced runner training for longer distances such as half marathon or marathon, you can extend the timing of your fartlek session to 60-75 minutes. Allowing additional time for a warm-up and cool down pre and post-run.

    Session structure examples

    Structured 20-minute Fartlek workout:

    • 10 minute warm-up
    • Run fast for 4 minutes
    • Very slow jog/walk for 60 seconds
    • Comfortable jog for 2 minutes
    • Run fast-paced for 4 minutes
    • Very slow jog/walk for 30 seconds
    • Comfortable jog for 2 minutes
    • Run fast for 4 minutes
    • Comfortable jog for 2 minutes
    • 10 minutes cool down

    Non-structured, flexible 20-minute fartlek session workout:

    • 10 minute warm-up
    • Plug into a 20-minute playlist where you sprint the chorus and ease off for the rest of the song, with a walk or very slow jog for the silence in between songs
    • 10minute cooldown

    Which one will you go for?

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