Don’t worry if you have never heard of it, or think it sounds like it might be something that is slightly embarrassing to mention in polite company.
But before I get carried away, let’s start at the very beginning.
Before you continue, I wanted to let you know I will potentially make a small commission from any purchases you make via the links on this page, it helps pay for the upkeep of the site amongst other things.
What The Hell Is Fartlek Training And is It Contagious?
Firstly to put a stop to all that childish sniggering about the name, Fartlek is a Swedish word that roughly translates as “speed play”.
Straight away this will give you an idea of what the training method is all about.
In simple terms, it is about doing short increased cardio efforts whilst already doing some form of exercise.
So, in other words, when you are out for your run, when you feel like it, speed up for a period of time.
It is these random increased cardio efforts that have all sorts of long term benefits.
I’ll cover the benefits for runners doing Fartlek training in more detail later.
So Are Fartlek and Interval Training One and the Same Thing?
At this point, if you have already come across Interval training, you might be thinking how do the two training methods differ?
After all, they are both about increasing your effort for a short period of time when out running.
And both do this in order that you can increase your running pace and endurance.
Although both ARE very similar, the big difference is formality.
With Fartlek training, the emphasis is going on ‘feel’ and having fun with it.
If you feel it is the right time to do a sprint for a period of time, then you do it.
And if you don’t feel up to it, then no worries, you don’t have to.
Meanwhile Interval training is more defined.
Your increased effort is defined within a training plan beforehand.
The effort you put in will be pre determined and measured in terms of a specific time period or distance.
Your Fartlek training efforts should be spontaneous and not set in stone.
I am not trying to argue than one method is any better than the other.
They both utilise aerobic and anaerobic exercise and both have a place in any effective training regime.
Benefits of Fartlek Training
Beginners to Fartlek training will find it nicely informal.
But apart from this, WHY should you start introducing it into your runs?
What are the benefits to you?
Why bother putting in the extra effort?
Whether you are a runner who regards themself as experienced or just a beginner, Fartlek training has something for everyone.
Hopefully the following will persuade you that it is something well worth considering when you go out for your next run.
- As you are spending time going quicker, you will be activating your ‘fast twitch’ muscles. Done consistently over a period of time, this will increase your speed over the ground.
(If increased speed is your priority, you might want to check out ‘Speedrunner: 4 Weeks to Your Fastest Leg Speed‘)
- In addition to speed, Fartlek training will also help improve endurance. As you are constantly putting extra effort on your heart/lungs/body during the run, you will be working harder for longer. As the body adapts to this, it translates to an increase in your endurance levels.
- The constant change in pace works the muscles and tendons, causing them to get stronger and thus decreasing injuries. This is especially true if you are doing your training across different surfaces.
- For those looking for a way of losing weight, Fartlek running can be a great way of burning more calories. Every time you increase your heart rate, your calorie-burning also increases to provide the extra energy needed.
- The fact that you are going quicker for a proportion of your run, means you are going to do more in less time. Get better at running and saving time, what’s not to like 🙂
- As Fartlek running is unstructured and allows you to do as much as you want, it tends to be fun. And we all know, if something is fun we will not only continue doing it…but also do more of it.
As much as there are many positives for Fartlek training, it is not all good news.
It is only fair I give you the full picture by highlighting a few of the less desirable aspects of this method of training.
Increased Strain on the Heart
As mentioned, if you are going to increase your effort you are going to increase your heart rate.
On the whole, this is going to be a good thing, as the extra exertion will cause it to get stronger.
However, if you have pre existing heart issues this extra strain may not be a good thing. Therefore it is important that you consult your doctor before considering Fartlek training.
No Formal Plan
Yes, this WAS one of the plus points I spoke about when I compared the method to interval training.
However as there is no specific target for the increased effort, it can be easy to do the very minimum.
If you see yourself as someone who might be guilty of this, the formality of a planned Interval runs session might be the better option.
How Can I Introduce Some Fartlek Training Into My Running
Firstly, make it fun!
Make it so you enjoy doing it.
As for the length of your increased effort spells, again it is entirely up to you.
There are a number of ways of triggering when you put the extra effort in.
For example, you might choose landmarks to be the catalyst for your efforts.
This could be between lamp posts; run between two, jog the next 3 etc.
Or even less formal, as you run your route just select landmarks in your path to sprint to.
This might be a post box, a pylon, or a particular tree.
Another option might be for you to chose an event as the starting gun to an effort. An example might be every time you see a red car, or a black cat, or a magpie…
…I’m sure you get the gist.
If you listen to music on your run, how about doing a steady jog when there is singing, and speed up for the instrumental bits…
…or the other way round if that suits better.
Of course, if you like the idea of a bit more formality, or if you want to make sure you are doing enough, you can add your own rules.
e.g. Do at least 10 high speed intervals on the run.
Run at least 20% of the distance at increased speed…
…and so on
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you have a period of time to warm up your muscles to avoid the chance of injury.
Ultimately, make it fun, make it different, but also make sure there are enough efforts to get the full benefit.
Some Tips for Fartlek Training Beginners
If you are keen to get going on your first Fartlek training session, a few extra tips to make sure you get the most from your training.
The first is a general rule worth bearing in mind, whatever running you plan to do.
And of course that is to make sure you stretch and warm up fully before your start increasing your effort.
(If you are not quite sure about your stretch, here’s a great resource to help you with this important task.)
This could be 5 to 10 minutes brisk walking to gradually raise the heart rate and warm up muscles.
Even if you are fully warned up, it is a good idea not to go full out ‘pedal to the metal’ if you are a Fartlek training beginner.
If you do, you are likely to pull or tear something which is going to have seriously detrimental effect on your training…
…not to mention being bloody painful!
Avoid Going ‘Pedal To The Metal’ Straight Away
When you go for your increased effort intervals, start at less than maximum and just assess how things feel.
Increase the efforts gradually, until you find the balance between maximum effort and what your body can take.
Obviously the more training you do, the fitter you will become and the faster your Fartlek efforts can be.
Even if you are brand new to running and find even a slow jog difficult, you can still make use of the Fartlek training method.
If this is the case, the majority of your ‘run’ should be done at a brisk walking pace.
The Fartlek intervals would then be done at your slow jog pace.
You are just trying to increase the intensity you are training at for the duration of the Fartlek effort.
What that increase of intensity is. is relative, so just make it applicable to where you are on your running journey.
Whatever pace you are doing your training at, don’t forget to give your body time to recover.
After you have completed one of your efforts, allow yourself the time to prepare for your next interval.
Fartlek With Others
As I mentioned HERE, training with other people multiplies the chance of you sticking with it.
So a great tip is to find someone else who likes the idea of using Fartlek and arrange to go out with them.
You can use each other as friendly competition.
You can also make things more interesting by alternating who decides what effort to do and when to do it.
So there you go, hopefully this ‘Fartlek training for beginners’ guide has given you the info you need to try it out for yourself.
As part of a varied training program, it can be a great way to improve yourself as a runner.