Fartlek is a great training tool for runners

Fartlek is a great training tool for runners

For runners, there is probably no more versatile training than a fartlek. In this endurance and speed training developed by a Swede, you vary the speed and intensity of your run. It will keep you in constant motion and increase your aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

90 years old but still trendy

The idea of fartlek has existed for almost 90 years. It was developed by the Swedish national coach Gustaf Holmer. In the meantime, many studies have proven the effectiveness of this form of training. Therefore, every ambitious runner who participates in competitions should integrate it into their training.

How the fartlek works

Typical for the fartlek is running at different speeds. Sometimes you run slowly and in the aerobic zone, which provides the body with sufficient oxygen. Then you run phases at a higher speed, incurring an oxygen debt, i.e., running in the anaerobic area. The advantage:

  • The fartlek will teach your muscles to adapt to a lack of oxygen. Thus, it makes you more efficient.
  • By the way, this form of training burns many calories without any negative influence on the muscles.
  • Furthermore, you get to know your body and performance better during a fartlek. You have to be much more attentive to the changes in pace.

You should consider this

A fartlek is not suitable for beginners due to the load. But for all runners with experience, especially those preparing for a competition. You should start about eight weeks before the race. After that, one fartlek per week is usually sufficient.

Differences from other forms of training

Ambitious runners know interval training, pace runs, and the fartlek. The differences are: In interval training, you change your running speed again and again. With pace runs, you train above all your anaerobic endurance. The fartlek is a combination of both. The decisive difference. You run with a higher heart rate, and you don’t have the chance to recover because you always run in or beyond the aerobic-anaerobic threshold.

Forests and hills are ideal for a fartlek

The different variations of a fartlek

There are countless variations of the fartlek. You can change the distance, terrain, and speed at any time. Since it is impossible to go into all varieties, I will describe the four most essential fartlek options: the unstructured and the structured, the pyramid variation, and training on an ergometer.

The unstructed version

This variation is about listening to your body and adapting to the terrain. For example, you can run hills faster and straight sections slower. Or you can look for critical points. You can sprint between two trees, lampposts, or cars from time to time. And this is what your training could look like:

  • You warm up for 10 to 15 minutes and do dynamic stretching to prepare the muscles.
  • Then, you run for 10 to 90 seconds at 75% of your maximum heart rate.
  • So, you should always feel that you can run even faster.
  • You always start the next fast-running phase only when your breathing is more or less normal. This is individual.
  • You do 6 to 10 fast stages of varying lengths depending on your performance.
  • Finally, you run for ten more minutes as a cool-down.
The structured fartlek

As the name suggests, this is about clear guidelines. Runners who are not yet so experienced will usually find it a little easier to deal with them at first. Here is a training example:

  • You warm up for 10 to 15 minutes and do dynamic stretching exercises.
  • Run at a brisk pace for 4 to 8 times 1 minute and in-between 2 minutes at a gentle pace.
  • Run out for 10 to 15 minutes.
The pyramid variant

With this form of fartlek, you build up your training according to the pyramid shape. It can look like this:

  • You warm up for 10 to 15 minutes and do some dynamic stretching exercises.
  • 1 minute brisk, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes quick, 2 minutes easy, 3 minutes quick, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes quick, 2 minutes easy, 1 minute quick.
  • Cool down for 10 to 15 minutes.
Fartlek on a treadmill

If the weather is terrible, you can also do this type of training on a treadmill. A training program could look like this:

  • Warm-up for 5 minutes at a pace of 3 miles per hour on a 7% incline. If necessary, you can do some dynamic stretching exercises.
  • One mile at a speed of 6 miles per hour with a 1% incline. Then 3 minutes at a rate of 5 miles per hour and 1% incline.
  • 30 seconds at a speed of 12 miles an hour and 1% incline, then 3 minutes at a rate of 5 miles an hour and 1% incline.
  • Then another 30 seconds at a rate of miles an hour and a 1% incline. Then 3 minutes at a speed of 5 miles an hour and a 1% incline.
  • Repeat this until you have run 25 to 30 minutes. Then, run out again for another 5 to 10 minutes at a relaxed pace.
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