Long before HIIT (high-intensity interval training) became the world’s biggest fitness trend, runners mixed up the steps in their training and alternated between faster sprints and recovery periods. More precisely Swedish runners, because the Fartlek running system was developed in the 1930s. Fartlek means “speed game” in Swedish. When you’re done with the Swedish word for speed as a fart (it’s okay, we wait, it’s your own time you’re wasting) you’re sure to discover a workout style that will add much-needed speed to your casual jogs.
Fartlek is a loose term that generally applies to a continuous run where you change your pace to include some high-speed sections. This can be done in a very free way, where you run a little faster with any mood or when passing a certain landmark, or more structured when you reach certain distances with your intervals.
There are many reasons to include Fartlek sessions in your workout. The first reason is that this way you can avoid boredom, especially if you have a route that you run regularly. Regular Fartlek sessions will also make you a better runner, as the faster exertions improve your speed endurance. This is key for those looking to save seconds or even minutes on their PBs. And if your primary goal in running is to lose weight, then no doubt Fartlek is for you too, since interval runs that increase heart rate burn more calories than constant pace runs.
Below are a variety of structured and unstructured Fartlek sessions that are suitable for runners of all abilities.
How to Get Fartlek
Fartlek is a mixture of regular continuous operation and intervals at higher speeds. From there, it̵
The lack of structure allows for a lot of variety. You can create quick sections around landmarks, terrain, or other road users. If you’re interested in something a little more defined, Fartlek allows you to do that too. Sprints and recovery sections are clearly defined in minutes or meters before the start. Regardless of how you choose to do it, it’s always a good idea to incorporate some Fartlek sessions into your running.
Five unstructured Fartlek runs to try out
1. Pass the pooch
If you go to a large park on the weekend, share the space with hordes of walkers who can be incorporated into your Fartlek workout. Every time you pass a dog, run a little faster than your 5 km pace for 30 seconds.
2. Strava segments
If you’re a Strava obsessed and know all of the segments near your home, trying to set a PB for each segment is a great way to change the pace of your runs.
3. Hill Runner
A simple but brutal way to mix up your runs. Run faster every time you encounter an incline during your session.
4. Street light sprints
Sprint the distance between two street lights, then rest between the next two, and then sprint again. Do this a few times during a run for the length of a road.
5. The home straight
If your favorite regular run involves multiple laps of a park, there are some great ways to mix up a speed play. You can speed up and slow down for alternate laps, or mark a section of the lap as your “home straight” where you open up and sprint for the line every time you get to. You can even create a Strava segment for this section of your run if you want to see how your sprint times go.
Six structured Fartlek runs to try out
1. Long-term Fartlek
During your longer runs (anything over 10 km), increase the pace for 2 minutes every 6 minutes. Don’t do an all-out sprint, increase your speed by 10 seconds per km.
2. Rapid voltage spikes
Try a 25-minute spike run to improve your 5k and 10k times. Run faster than the desired speed of 5 km or 10 km at 10 seconds per km for 90 seconds, then relax for a minute, then swing again.
3. Head workout
This is a great way to improve your racing pace for a number of different tracks in one session. Start with 2 minutes at 5 km pace and then with 2 minutes of recovery. Then 3 minutes at 10 km pace, 2 minutes recovery. Then 4 minutes at half marathon pace, 2 minutes recovery. Then reverse it. So 4 minutes of half marathon pace, 2 minutes of recovery, 3 minutes of 10k pace, 2 minutes of recovery, 2 minutes of 5k pace (or higher if you can), followed by steady jogging to cool off.
4. Countdown to the effort
If you’re not sure how fast you want to run, you can structure your Fartlek session by skill level with a simple countdown workout. Start with 5 minutes at 80% intensity. Then 4 minutes at 85%, 3 minutes at 90%, 2 minutes at 95% and finish with 1 minute total power.
5. Pick up the pace
This session is another good workout for training at different racing speeds. It involves hard bursts of progressively faster running with only 90 seconds of rest in between. After a good warm-up, run for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, with the first 30 seconds being around your marathon racing pace, or about 5 seconds per km faster than your normal training pace if you have not run marathons recently. From then on, each 30-second block should be done faster to get the final 30 seconds going at your 3-mile race pace. Take 90 seconds to recover, then do another set of 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Aim for a total of four sets of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
6. Miles and Miles
This is no fun at all, but it will do wonders for your 5K and 10K times. After the warm up, perform six 1-mile bursts with a 3-minute break in between. Try to keep up a fast pace while keeping your mile times within 10 seconds of each other during the six attempts rather than completely destroying yourself to match Roger Bannister the first time. Try to find a 1-mile flat loop – a park is a good choice – to keep your times consistent.
7. Gerschler Fartlek
The German running trainer Dr. Woldemar Gerschler was one of the great innovators of the sport and in the middle of the 20th century developed an interval training system that led to great success for many of his athletes. Designed by Jude Samuel, former MMA fighter and current BAMMA matchmaker, this Gerschler Fartlek session involves gradually reducing the time it takes for you to recover between sprints, resulting in a terrifyingly tough climax of the workout.
Start with a 10 minute warm up (every second sweetheart) and then do three rounds of the following.
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 90 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 75 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 60 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 45 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 30 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 15 seconds
Sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for 15 seconds, then sprint for 30 seconds
When you’ve finished your three rounds and maybe cried a little about how hard it was, warm up for 10 minutes.
Five reasons to try Fartlek
1. Improve your running
Adding pacemaker intervals improves your pace endurance, which will definitely show the next time you try to set a PB. Short sprint intervals are best for building your 5/10 km race pace, while longer, medium-paced runs are best for preparing for more than 10 miles.
2. Avoid boredom
Walking, whispering softly, can be a bit monotonous at times. You will see boredom go away when you have to run every time a dog appears on the horizon.
3. Good for sports training
Even the fiercest runners could gasp for air after 20 minutes of six-on-six football because the physical demands are different. Fartlek’s fast intervals reflect the stop-start action of the sport, making them the perfect way to train for the new season.
4. Fit for everyone
Infinitely variable, everyone can use the advantages of Fartlek. Just go a little faster than your normal pace in the sprint sections.
5. Fast fat burning
Fartlek’s heart pumping intervals ensure you get your calorie-reducing solution in record time. A 25-minute sprint run is more effective at burning calories than a normal steady-pace run.