'Fartlek' is a Swedish word that means ’speed play’. It’s similar to interval training, but is much more loosely structured. Rather than alternating fast work intervals with recovery intervals based on a strict schedule, runners depend on inspiration, spontaneity, the landscape, or on arbitrary cues.
Benefits of Fartlek Training

Fartlek offers the same basic benefits of interval training:

-Extremely efficient training of your maximum oxygen capacity.

-Extremely efficient training of your lactate threshold (the maximum intensity you can sustain longterm).

-Effective training of your ability to recover from intense efforts.

-Effective training for weight loss.

And fartlek offers some unique advantages:

-Runners find it more fun than intervals.

-Runners find it less mentally stressful than intervals.

Structure of a Fartlek Workout

A fartlek workout starts with a thorough warmup, transitions to the speed work, and then ends in a brief cool down, just like a standard interval workout.

Mailbox Fartlek: Runners choose an arbitrary pattern that uses mailboxes for cues. An example would be, “run hard for two mailboxes, recover for three, run hard for three, recover for two." The workout goes on for a pre-determined distance or amount of time.

Dog park Fartlek: Runners speed up when they approach a dog, and slow down once past the dog.

Music Fartlek: Your playlist becomes your coach. Speed up for high-energy songs and slow down for ballads. Or structure the music and your rules any way you like.

Terrain Fartlek: Take advantage of rolling hills. Run hard uphill, jog easily back down.

Team Fartlek: When running with a group, group members take turns announcing “races” within the run. A member arbitrarily points to a distant tree or sign or billboard as the “finish line,” and the group will race to that point. Afterwards the pace will slow for recovery, and the group member whose turn it is next will announce the next finish line whenever he or she chooses.

Fartlek in Your Training Program

The rules are the same as for intervals, and fartlek workouts can simply substitute for some of your interval workouts. Build a solid fitness base with several weeks of moderate, steady-state training. Then incorporate a fartlek or interval workout into your schedule once or twice a week, with a recovery day afterwards.

Avoid fartlek or interval training the week before a race, or in the two or three weeks before a major race like a marathon.

We hope you’ll try out Fartlek training this season. We think you’ll find both effective and enjoyable.