What is Fartlek and why you should try it


On the surface of it the word Fartlek could be seen as slightly comical for obvious reasons, but what does it really mean? At LFR we’ve had a Fartlek training night for the last year and many of you have attended, and improved as a result, but what is it supposed to be? What does it actually mean?

Fartlek training was invented by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér in 1937 to help Swedish cross-country running teams that were being regularly beaten by the Finnish. It worked and soon after started to be adopted by many coaches. In fact, during the 40’s Swedish mile-runners Gunder Hagg and Arne Anderson took turns lowering the world record in the mile, after embracing this training.

Fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, and the original plan relied on ‘faster-than-race-pace’ running interspersed with active recovery movement, fast walking or jogging in other words. Since then, the idea has been adopted by many coaches, clubs and individuals looking to improve their times and performances, right up to today.

The first Fartlek session was oriented towards the cross-country running, but it could be argued that there is cross-discipline benefit from such workouts. The session looked like this;

·      Warm up

·      Pacey run for 1 to 1.5 miles

·      Speed work: 50 to 60 meter sprints with active recovery

·      Easy running with some quick acceleration movement to simulate responding to overtaking in a race environment

·      Flat-out uphill running for 150 to 200 meters

·      Pacey run for 1 to 2 minutes to close out

·      Repeat stages from speed work above until session time ends

·      Warm down


So that’s what the first Fartlek looked like, and it looks like a beast if I am honest, although that doesn’t mean I am not tempted to try and re-create it to see just how hard that first session was. Of course the regular LFR Fartlek sessions are sometimes hard too. But what are the benefits of Fartlek though? How does it work? Firstly you need to understand that Fartlek improves your running but you might not know that it does so in four ways: Speed, endurance, running economy and stamina. All that from one workout!! No wonder its stood the test of time since 1937. Some of the benefits are that Fartlek is customisable, you can literally do what you like with it, meaning that you can tailor sessions to any ability. Its results benefit short distance and longer distance runners, so its very flexible. Fat burning is enhanced by alternating the intensity of the workout, so you would expect to typically burn more overall and more fat-calories from a fartlek workout. So Fartlek sessions have something for everyone it could be said.

Fartlek sessions are a great addition to a regular running schedule for all the reasons mentioned above, whether you are training for a race or simply enjoy running. We all know that spicing things up now and then helps keep our interest up, and the variable nature of Fartlek plays well into this. Additionally, we change our Fartlek run leaders each week to keep things interesting too.

So there you have it, a potted history of Fartlek and why its good for runners. If you haven’t been to any of our sessions on Wednesday night, you really should give it a try, they are super-friendly and all of the regular attendees have improved their times, so I suppose you could say it’s a fun, social way of improving… remind me what’s not to like?

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