Fartlek: the Freestyle Speedwork for Runners


Have you heard of the fartlek workout before?

Maybe you are a bit of a rebel who does not enjoy the structured style of interval workouts where you run around and around a track.

Well then, fartleks are for you!

They are basically a free style form of speed training.

Fartlek  is actually Swedish for “speed play”. 

Makes sense that the word "play" is there as this workout is easy to mix up and have fun with! It is a wonderful way to break up a run and can be very spontaneous and full of variety.

On this page we will talk about:

  • The goal of running fartleks
  • The benefits of doing it
  • Who this workout is best for
  • How to perform this workout

The goal of running fartleks

The idea of fartlek is to run at a face pace until you find it difficult and are out of breath.

At that point you should stop, rest and recover your breath (keep moving though) before giving another burst of fast running.

It can be randomly put into a running workout depending on how you might feel that day.

Always remember though to warm-up properly (run at least a mile) before you begin.

Unlike interval training, you don’t have to watch the time or the distance of how far you run unless you want to.

For example you can run to the nearest tree at a fast, hard pace and then recover until the next tree.

Mixing it up and being creative can make this speed workout very enjoyable!

Who Should Fartlek?

This type of speed training is great for beginners who have been running for a couple of months or for those who want to begin a structured speed workout such as interval training.

It will help you ease into the demanding interval training period if that is your goal.

However, beginners should be cautious when it comes to fartlek because often times they push themselves too hard and too fast for too long and take on a high risk of injury in doing so.

Those who have been running for more than a year will usually be able to better judge when they are being too intense. 

This is not to say that running during a speed workout should be easy. They should be out of your comfort zone but build up intervals and time and don't challenge yourself to too much at once. 

Different Types

There are two basic types of this “speed play” aside from running on a flat surface:

  • Hill
  • Timed

Let's discuss how to perform each style! 

How to perform on hills

As the name suggests, this is done out on a hilly terrain.

If you are a beginner however you will first want to incorporate fartlek on runs where you are on a flat surface.

Build up slowly to the hills. The benefit to running on hills is that come races you will be able to tackle those hills with no problem.

Here's how to do it:

  • When you come across a hill on your route, increase your speed and continue on up the hill at a faster pace.
  • At the top of the hill slow your pace down and catch your breath as you run down the hill. Remember: never race down a hill as this can increase your risk of muscle strains and muscle soreness as you are using a large amount of eccentric forces (braking forces) in your leg muscles.

HOw to perform timed:

Timed is for those who want a more structured type of speed workout without doing intervals.

  • Run at a hard pace for a set time, such as 30 seconds, and then recover before going on another 30 second bout.
  • You can always increase or decrease your timed segments to whatever works best for you. A nice goal for beginners is to run about 4-5 minutes of fartlek and increase by one or two minutes each week.

Benefits of running this workout

This workout will train you to run anaerobically which is important if you want your body to be able to put off the lactate threshold for as long as possible.

Your lactate threshold is when you begin to tire easily because you have switched from aerobic to anaerobic running due to having increased the production of lactate, an acid, in your muscles which causes them to go slow. 

If you increase the time it takes your body to reach lactate threshold then you will be able to go longer and faster during endurance runs.

If you have a time goal in mind then you must train your body to push back this lactate threshold, teach it how to use oxygen efficiently by running both aerobically (longer, slow runs) and anaerobically (shorter, fast runs). 

Remember, fartlek can be fun if you make it and it’s an excellent way to gain speed and endurance at the same time! 

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