If you’re looking for a fun and dynamic way to mix up your running routine and improve your overall performance, then you might want to give fartlek training a try.
In this post, I’ll be sharing all about what fartlek training is, how to do it, and why it can be an effective tool with benefits for runners of all levels.
Plus, I’m sharing my 3 favorite fartlek workouts you can include in your weekly run training program, whether you’re a beginner runner training for your first 5k or an experienced runner looking to mix up your training for your next half, marathon or ultramarathon race.
By the way – if you’re interested in running a marathon, check out our marathon training plans! And if you’re considering training for an ultramarathon, you need to read my Trail & Kale co-founder’s ultimate guide to trail marathon and 50k training, it’s packed full of exclusive insights and tips for your training, race day and recovery.
What Is Fartlek Training?
Fartlek training is a Swedish word that means “speed play.”
It’s a type of running interval training that involves varying your pace and intensity throughout the run, which can help improve your VO2 max, overall running performance and endurance to enable you to run faster and further.
How To Do Fartlek Training
To do a fartlek workout, you’ll start with a warm-up jog at an easy pace for about 10-15 minutes.
Then, you’ll start incorporating faster intervals into your run. These intervals can vary in length and intensity, depending on your goals and fitness level.
For example, you might choose to sprint for 30 seconds, followed by a 1-2 minute recovery period at a slower pace.
Or you might do a longer, steady-state interval at a faster pace for 2-3 minutes, followed by a shorter, more intense sprint for 20-30 seconds.
If you’re after examples, I have you covered! I’ve included details of some of my favorite fartlek workouts for you to try, later in this post.
How long should a Fartlek run session be?
There’s no set recommendation for how long your fartlek training sessions should be.
The key is to mix up your pace and intensity throughout the workout, rather than sticking to a steady pace for the entire run.
You can do a whole run focused on fartlek workouts, or mix things up mid-run by spending just 5 or 10 minutes doing a bit of this ‘speed play’ to keep your regular training run more interesting than just running at your normal pace!
The benefits of incorporating fartlek workouts into your run training
Here are four great benefits of incorporating a fartlek workout (or two) into your weekly training plan:
1. Add variety to your training workouts
Fartlek training can be a great way to mix up your running routine and keep things interesting, as well as to challenge yourself and push your limits.
There’s a reason it’s called ‘speed play’! It’s supposed to keep your runs playful, and variety can be a lot more interesting (and possibly fun?) than simply running at your normal running pace each time you go for a run.
2. Fartlek is a form of interval training
Like other types of more traditional interval training and other challenging run workouts such as tempo runs, throwing some fartlek sessions into your training program can help improve your overall running fitness and endurance.
It can also help you become more comfortable running at a range of different speeds and intensities. If you’re looking for a more scientific way to assess the intensity of your training, monitoring your heart rate using heart rate zone training is a good way to get personalized readings that are more accurate than just using the RPE, or rate of perceived effort, method.
3. Mental toughness
Challenging fartlek training sessions are also a great way to improve your mental toughness, as pushing yourself to run those faster intervals can be challenging, and sticking to it requires focus and determination.
4. Versatility – you can do fartlek workouts anywhere!
One of the benefits of fartlek training is that you can do a fartlek session anywhere, whether you’re running on a treadmill or hitting the trails.
You don’t need any special equipment or gadgets, just a willingness to push yourself and mix up your pace and intensity throughout the run.
How to incorporate fartlek runs into your run training plan
There are a few different ways you can incorporate fartlek training into your running routine.
Here are three of my favorite easy fartlek training examples to try for yourself:
Option #1: Dedicated weekly fartlek workout
Do a dedicated fartlek workout once or twice a week, where you focus solely on mixing up your pace and intensity throughout the run.
For example, you might do a fartlek interval every mile, where you sprint for 30 seconds and then recover for 1-2 minutes at an easy pace. If you feel good, you could change the duration of your sprints to a longer period, or shorter – but more intense efforts, such as 15 or 20 second sprints.
Option #2: Incorporate fartlek interval training into regular runs
You can incorporate fartlek intervals into your regular runs, by adding in a few faster intervals throughout your run in between periods of running at a more steady pace.
You can either plan to do this in advance or do as I do and just keep an open mind when you head out for a run.
For example, I like to do this during my runs outside when I feel the need to liven the run up a little. If it feels a bit repetitive running at your normal pace, throw in a few minutes of fartlek training, for FUN!
The easiest way to do this without any prior planning is to do fartlek intervals every time you pass a certain landmark, such as a tree, lamppost or a mailbox – or even, if you’re feeling competitive, other runners on the path or trail you’re on 🙂
Option #3: Do Fartlek interval training to music
Although passing landmarks (and sometimes other runners) is a fun way to mix things up with fartlek workouts, my personal favorite way to incorporate fartlek training into my running schedule is to run with music, which I can do outside or when running on a treadmill.
In fact, this is one of my absolute favorite ways to make an otherwise tough treadmill run a really fun way to work out!
When the beat kicks in or a song changes key, I throw in a fartlek interval. I run at a faster pace for as hard as I can until the song changes again, which could be in 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or until the song ends, depending on what I’m listening to!
What else you should know about fartlek training
When incorporating speed work such as fartlek intervals into your regular runs, it’s important to listen to your body and not overdo it.
As a type of interval training it can be hard on your body if you’re new to it, especially as a beginner run or someone getting back into running after a break.
Start with just a few intervals and gradually increase the number and intensity as you get fitter and more comfortable with the workout.
Fartlek training can be a challenging and effective way to improve your running performance and endurance, but it’s important to do it safely and responsibly.
Make sure to warm up properly before starting the workout, do your pre and post-run stretches, and listen to your body throughout the workout to avoid injury or overexertion.
Also consider whether you need to review the effectiveness of your running cadence, and if it would be helpful to change how you breathe while running to more effectively get oxygen into your lungs to fuel those intense fartlek intervals!
Overall, fartlek training is a fun and dynamic way to mix up your running routine and challenge yourself to push your limits.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned runner, incorporating fartlek intervals into your running routine can help you become a stronger, faster, and more versatile runner.