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You’ve heard some runners talking about fartlek training and you have no idea what it is. You want to find out if the training method is applicable to you so you want to know what it is, how it’s done, and who’s it recommended for.
Fartlek training is simply fast running bouts intermixed with slow running bouts rolled into one continuous run in a completely unstructured way. Traditionally, the bouts of fast runs and slow runs are determined by landscape markers such as trees, bench, and lampposts.
If that still confuses you, don’t worry! Ahead, we will go over what fartlek running is in detail. I’ll also give you a few examples of fartlek runs that you can incorporate immediately. At the end of the article, we will go over some advantages and disadvantages of this training method over other speed training methods.
What Is Fartlek Training And How Do You Do It?
Fartlek is simply a translation from the Swedish word that means “speed play”. It was developed by a Swedish coach Gösta Holmér in 1930 for cross-country runners.
Wikipedia defines fartlek training as “periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running”.
Essentially, fartlek training is a training method wherein you mix up different speed variations into one continuous run. It’s an unstructured and less formal way of incorporating speed bouts into your training program.
You might be thinking that it’s just a different name for interval runs. It’s similar, but it’s not the same.
Traditionally, these bouts of fast running are determined by the environment or landscape markers such as trees, bench posts, parked cars, mailbox, dogs, etc.
Fartlek runs put you in control of your speed and the timing of when you’re going to speed up. Whereas the fast running bouts on interval runs are determined by a timer or a stopwatch.
Fartlek Training Example
If you’re wondering how to do it, consider this scenario: I do an all-out sprint from one white-colored house to the next, I do a recovery jog for four blocks, then as I turn to the corner I run a faster pace till I see another white-colored house.
To get a clearer picture of what fartlek training is, here are a few more examples:
- Run easy for 5 about blocks then sprint for two blocks
- Sprint every other lamppost
- Jog slow and speed up every time you pass by a tree until you can’t run any faster
- Do an easy run and sprint every time you see an uphill
There is no right or wrong way to do it. The distance between the two landmarks doesn’t even have to be exact.
Just be aware that you should have a vague idea of how many speed bouts you want to incorporate into your fartlek run to avoid undertraining or overtraining.
Is Fartlek Training Good?
You might be wondering if fartlek runs are any good and if it’s worth a try to add to your running program.
In general, fartlek training is a good way to train your strength, endurance, strategy, and race mindset. It’s also a great way to have fun and take the pressure off training because you don’t have to follow a rigid training intensity and duration.
Whether you add it or not depends on your personal preference. Some runners who want more structure in their program may stick with HIIT. While some may prefer the less-pressure type of speed runs — fartlek.
Who Is It Recommended For?
Fartlek training is a great way to spice up your training and have fun doing it. However, it is not ideal training for every type of runner.
In general, fartlek training is recommended as a speed training variation for those training for 5k and 10k races. It mimics what happens in short-distance races where having multiple bouts of fast runs and recovering from it during slow runs is ideal.
The reason why I don’t recommend it as a part of half marathon and marathon training is that at those distances, you’re usually just running at an easy pace.
Multiple bouts of sprints and fast runs early in a long-distance race can consume your energy and cost you the race.
Is Fartlek Training Good For Beginners?
Now that we know what fartlek training is and how it’s done, you might be wondering if it’s a good training variation for beginners.
In general, fartlek training is an ideal speed training variation for beginners because it puts you in control of the speed and the overall intensity of your workout. It’s also a great way to learn about proper pacing and timing.
But do this with caution. If you’re a beginner, it’s easy to blow this off and run too hard on your first few speed bouts. And if you do it too often, it could lead to injury.
One of the best reasons why fartlek training is good for beginners is that you’ll get to know your different ”speed zones” better. You will have a general idea of what intensity you can maintain and how fast you can recover from a bout of a fast run.
This will help you navigate through a race and determine when to chase or when to stand back.
If you’re gassed out during a 5k fartlek run after each fast bout in training, don’t worry. It’s a classic example of learning from experience so you don’t do it in the actual race.
Also, don’t limit yourself to just running and sprinting. It’s perfectly fine to combine walking with running during a fartlek run. The whole idea is that you combine a slow pace with bouts of fast pace runs. Whether you combine running, jogging, walking, or sprinting is completely up to you.
How Long Does My Fartlek Run Have To Be
There’s no magic number for how long fartlek runs have to be. It varies from person to person depending on their racing distance or current level of fitness. However, there is one thing that you can base your fartlek run duration upon.
As a general rule, your fartlek runs should mimic the race you’re training for which is usually around 30 to 60 mins for 5k and 10k races. You can go shorter or longer depending on your usual race time and distance.
If you’re simply doing fartlek runs for health purposes, you can run for 15 mins to however long you want. Just keep in mind that you should avoid overtraining and that you put safety as your main priority.
How Often Should I Do Fartlek Training
Unfortunately, there is no magic number for how often you should do your fartlek runs. It depends on a lot of factors including training preference, training volume, the current level of fitness, and the other training elements that you have in your program.
For 5k to 10k runners, replacing one speed training session with a fartlek run every two weeks is a good way to add more variation to your training. What you don’t want to do is replacing your long runs with fartlek. Long runs should be your staple in your program and you should never turn them into a speed run.
I know a lot of people who complain of being too tired after a supposedly easy day. In most cases, the reason is that they turned an easy run into a fartlek session by trying to catch another runner or making challenges for themselves mid-run.
What Does Fartlek Training Improve?
- Strength and endurance
- It improves your race strategy
- Improves your ability to gauge your energy during runs
- It improves both aerobic and anaerobic systems
- It improves your ability to tolerate and deal with lactic acid
- Improves your ability to recover from hard running bouts
Advantages Of Fartlek Training
Fartlek running has a few advantages over other types of speed training.
1. It Puts You In Control Of Your Workout
Unlike most types of speed runs, fartlek training puts you in control of the intensity and timing of your fast running bouts. These fast bouts are generally determined by how you feel. And because of that, it takes away the pressure from speed training.
2. It’s A Good Introduction To Speed Training
For beginners, one way to introduce yourself to speed training is by doing fartlek runs. It gives you a taste of how it feels to run fast and because it’s unstructured, you have the overall control of whether you need to slow down or you can run faster.
Fartlek training is a “less scary” version of HIIT. Both improve your strength and endurance, but fartlek training allows you to go by feel while HIIT tells you what to do even though you aren’t ready yet.
3. It Mimics The Race
If you’re training for a race, a fartlek run is a good way to practice running the actual race.
Unlike interval or speed training, your race is not controlled by a GPS watch or a timer. It gives you an idea of how it’ll feel like sprinting to chase another runner and then going back to your regular pace.
4. It’s More Fun
Let’s be honest, using the landscape or terrain to determine your speed is more fun than waiting for your timer to go off.
Sometimes, I even try to race with cyclists during my fartlek runs just to test myself against them. Although, it doesn’t take long for them to leave me in the dust.
5. It Teaches You To Recover Efficiently
The idea that you’re forcing yourself to run even when you’re under fatigue from the speed bouts is a great way to teach your body how to recover without stopping.
6. Gives You A Skill To Change Pace Mid-Run
Once you know how to change pace mid-run, it’s going to be hard for the runner behind to change you. One, he has no idea what you’re doing or when you’re going to slow down. And two, if he chases you, he’s running out of his comfort zone.
Disadvantages Of Fartlek Training
Although fartlek training has a lot of advantages, there are also disadvantages associated with this type of training.
1. It’s Unstructured
Because there’s nothing concrete telling you to go fast or slow down like a timer or a heart rate monitor, it’s really hard to decide whether you should go or not.
Based on my personal experience, a part of you will tell you that you need more time to recover, and another part of you will tell you that you’re turning it into an easy run which is really annoying.
2. It’s Very Easy To Overtrain or Undertrain
Because you only rely on “feel”, it’s really easy to blow your training session.
If you run too hard too often, you might end up with sore muscles that could inhibit you to train the next day. Or worst, get injured.
On the other hand, having very few bouts of speed runs may result in a very easy workout that defies the purpose of a speed workout.
3. It Could Be Hard To Run With a Training Buddy
Unless you and your training buddy are identical in performance, fartlek training poses a challenge for training with a running partner.
Firstly, it’s very easy to be competitive that you both end up running too hard to beat each other. Secondly, you won’t have the same recovery time, so there’s going to be a lot of waiting.
Fartlek training is a good way to increase your training intensity and add more fun to it. However, you shouldn’t turn all your runs into fartlek. Having a proper balance between speed runs and long duration runs is key to a good running program.
Beginners will find fartlek training a good way to introduce speed training into their program. It’s “less scary” than the traditional HIIT and it’s easier for beginners to handle.
Fartlek training has a lot of advantages over other types of speed runs but it also has its disadvantages. Whether you include it in your training program or not will depend on your preference.
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