An Introduction To Fartlek Training

1013963_415560035230243_469778341_nFartlec training was something I first came across as a schoolboy in PE class.

Like most of my puerile peers, its seeming association with flatulence instantly piqued my curiosity.

However, upon discovering the word was nowhere near as interesting as it sounded, it drifted off my radar.

That was until a few years ago when I started training for my first half marathon, and its name cropped up in a running programme I had decided to follow.

On a side note, perhaps more training techniques would gain renown if they were named after embarrassing bodily functions/parts – teste training, fanny jogs?

What is Fartlek?

Fartlek is a Swedish term which literally means ‘speed play’.

It is a form of interval training where the runner mixes up, or ‘plays’, with the intensity of their session rather than running a set distance at a set speed.

However, unlike interval training, fartlek is completely unstructured.

In other words, you basically make your running speed a bit drunk and all over the place (not literally, obviously, although that would add another interesting dimension to Fartlek training).

Fartlek sessions usually last for around 45 minutes and comprise everything from aerobic walking to full-on anaerobic sprinting.

The rest times between your high intensity bursts should revolve around on how your body is feeling.

The history of Fartlek

gusta-holmerFartlek training was pioneered by Gösta Holmér in the 1930s.

‘Father Fartlek’, as I am calling him (although that sounds a lot like German gay porn star), was a former decathlete and later coach to the Swedish cross-country team.

His approach was a success, and Fartlek training was later adopted by the Americans in the 1940s.

Since then it has become commonplace not just in running but in the majority of sporting disciplines.

It has even (so I’ve discovered from research) been appropriated by connoisseurs of cunnilingus as a revolutionary tonguing technique.

Why is Fartlek training beneficial?

By regularly varying the intensity of your session, you are working out both your anaerobic and aerobic systems.


Simply put, the more quick bursts you do, the more you will increase your anaeroboobic threshold, which is suited towards improving your 5k and 10k racing.

And, likewise, the more longer bursts you do, the more you will increase your aerobic capacity, which will benefit your half-marathon and marathon racing.

Mixing it up is the key here.

By acclimatising yourself to ‘changing gears’ in this fashion, you will teach your body to recover quicker and also stimulate different muscle fibres.

And, on a less scientific note, Fartlek training can also inject some variety into to your training regime, which can be a warm welcome after all those same-intensity workouts!

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Examples of Fartlek sessions

Before you start having some fun with these workouts, remember that fartlek training, like interval work, should always begin with a 10 minute steady warm-up.

Pick a landmark

This consists of quick bursts of speed between two random landmarks.

If you’re running in an urban area, these landmarks can be anything from lampposts and postboxes to kebab shops and tramps.

If you’re out in the countryside, substitute these landmarks with sheep, scarecrows, dog-walkers or colossal piles of cow shit.

Mix this up by choosing an object a 1,000m away and then running towards it at your 5km race pace.

Fartlek with a friend

For this session you will need a friend.

If you haven’t got one of those, you could try going all Rocky Balboa and take your dog out running – perhaps sprinting between every bark.

For those of you who aren’t socially retarded, run with a friend and take it in turns to decide how to vary the intensity.

Hill Fartlek

Choose a hilly course and every time you come to a incline, sprint to the top.

Obviously don’t choose an incline that is 2 miles long, unless you’re feeling sadistic.

The Fartlek pyramid

This one is an absolute beast (although it’s structure lends itself more to interval training):

5 minutes 80% effort, 2 minutes easy

4 minutes 85% effort, 2 minutes easy

3 minutes 90% effort, 2 minutes easy

2 minutes 95% effort, 2 minutes easy

1 minute 100% effort, 2 minutes easy

And then back to the top!

How about you?

What are your experiences of Fartlek training?

Any more workouts that you can share?

Let me know in the comments below!