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Interval Training: Fartlek Intervals

What are Fartleks?

Despite being a funny sounding word (teehee), fartlek is a Swedish word, meaning ‘speed play’. Essentially, a fartlek session is a continuous run with speedier intervals, of no set duration or distance.

Where did the name come from?

Swedish running coach Gösta Holmér is credited with coming up with the training session idea in the 1930s, for the Swedish cross country running teams, who had been beaten in previous years by their neighbouring countries teams.

It’s since been widely adopted across the world as a very useful form of interval training, designed to build endurance and speed.

Are Fartleks just another form of interval training?

Yes and no. Interval training is often a strictly planned session, such as 8x800m repeats, usually with a defined recovery in between each one. Fartleks in their raw form are random AND are designed to be incorporated into a continuous run session, with recovery at your base rate.

How do fartlek’s help me?

Fartlek intervals as part of a continuous training session help to improve your endurance (with the continuous run) and also help to improve your pace (as a result of the higher tempo effort for the actual interval, and usually an increase in foot turnover.

Benefits of incorporating Fartlek intervals into your training schedule

  • Increased Endurance – these intervals stress both the anaerobic and aerobic pathways, helping to improve both.
  • Increased Speed – due to the anaerobic benefits above.
  • Adds Variety – keeping your training varied with a mixture of paces can help you to stay motivated.

However, there are downsides to fartlek training

  • Requires a decent base level of fitness to be able to continually run for the entire session. This isn’t a beginner level session, but that’s not to say that it can’t still be performed; it just won’t have the same benefits.
  • It’s also a session that’s best suited to solo runs, as you run to feel – and your effort will likely be different to someone else’s!

They are useful in all training blocks, whether you’re putting in the base miles, doing race specific training, or simply in a down cycle.

It’s also super important to make sure that you don’t overdo these sessions! Once a week at most, or once every couple of weeks is even better. The bulk of training shouldn’t be speed-work or interval-work, to reduce your injury risk.

Also remember, start-slow – you don’t want to be heading out at 5k pace for the easy effort part of the workout, as sustaining that with harder efforts will be a challenge!

What types of workout can I do?

Ideally a true Fartlek is a random pickup of pace at multiple times during a continuous run, of varying durations. However, runners do quite often want some structure to their training, so it’s common to see more rigid approaches.

Gershcler Fartlek

A well known example of this type of workout comes courtesy of Woldemar Gerschler, who was a German coach in the mid 20th Century. He liked the idea of interval training, so created his workout based on the fartlek style of pace pick-ups, with a continuous run.

  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • Run hard for 30 seconds (faster than 5k pace), jog 90 seconds. repeat with 15 second decreases in recovery jog for example; 30-90, 30-75, 30-60, 30-45, 30-30, 30-15 and 30-15-30.
  • Repeat the above step 3 times in total.
  • 10 minute warm down jog

Watson Fartlek

Beneficial training for 10k , 5k, 3k and cross country.

  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • Stride hard for 4 minutes with 1 minute jog recovery
  • Repeat the above x 8
  • 10 minute warm down jog

Saltin Fartlek

This is another session that is considered to be great training for 5k, 3k, and 1500m runners.

  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • Stride hard for 3 minutes with 1 minute jog run recovery.
  • Repeat the above x 6
  • 10 minute warm down jog
    Astrand Fartlek
    Considered to be beneficial towards 800m training.
  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • Max effort for 75 seconds, 150 secs jog run, max effort for 60 seconds, 120 seconds jog run.
  • Repeat the above x 3
  • 10 minute warm down jog

Hill Fartlek

This incorporates hill training which can also be considered as a leg strengthening workout. The key here is to pick hills that aren’t too steep, so that you can run up them multiple times without having to stop to recover.

  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • Select a 2 mile hilly course. Run hard up all hills twice before moving to the next hill, jog run between hills.
  • Repeat the above x 3
  • 10 minute warm down jog

Pyramid Fartlek

This is a timed fartlek session, with timings in the shape of a pyramid, starting at 4 minute efforts, then 3 minutes, followed by 2 minutes, 1 minute, 2, 3, and finally 4 minute efforts to finish.

  • 10 minutes warm up jog.
  • When the whistle is blown the athletes run hard until the whistle is blown again. Pyramid session of 4 min, 3 min, 2 min, 1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 4 min with a 60 second jog run recovery between each run.
  • 10 minute warm down jog