Finding a workout method that suits you is vital to keeping you motivated and interested. Fartlek is a popular training method for beginners and experienced runners alike.

But what is it? Is it just for running? Is Fartlek easy for beginners? We have the answers… 

What is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek training, which translates to “speed play” in Swedish, is similar to interval training. It involves varying pace or difficulty during maintained cardio. So essentially while doing cardio you switch it up every now and again with increased pace.

Pivotal to Fartlek training is the aspect of fun. Your intervals should not be rigid and set in stone, instead you should be sporadic and spontaneous, randomly deciding to speed up, even if only for 10 seconds. Unlike traditional interval training, it’s all about how you feel; if you think you can push yourself that little bit extra, you do. If not, no worries.

How you measure your intervals is entirely up to you, or your environment. You may use lampposts as measures, sprinting between two then slowing for the new few. You might jog leisurely listening to music then increase pace during the chorus. You could even just speed up every time you see a dog. That’s the ‘fun’ part about Fartlek; it’s unpredictable, erratic and random.

Fartlek vs Interval Training

Although similar, and both orientated around improving speed and endurance, Fartlek and interval training differ in rigidity.

Fartlek is all about changing things up and being unpredictable, only doing what you want and can manage by playing with speed. You may not necessarily have a goal in mind, in fact this is almost preferable, and just want to increase endurance without restricting pressure.

Interval training also involves runners increasing and decreasing pace at various intervals; however, these intervals are calculated, planned and specific. Where Fartlek measures intervals using practically anything, interval training uses distance or time.

Regardless of whether you like structure or fancy being spontaneous, both training methods utilise aerobic and anaerobic exercise, creating an extremely effective workout.

See more: All You Need to Know About Interval Training

Is Fartlek Training Just for Running?

Fartlek training works with practically any maintained cardio, from swimming or cycling to running or rowing. Any cardio exercise which involves maintaining a level which can be changed at any point is ideal.

When swimming in a pool, you could randomly do a maximum effort lap every now and again. When rowing you could choose a point to go full steam ahead. Or when cycling you could find a point to pedal as fast as you can. The options are endless!

Benefits of Fartlek Training

If you aren’t already sold on this unique training method, seeing the positive effects it can have is sure to have you grabbing your trainers.

  • Time saving – incorporating speedy bits into your workout will make it quicker. It’s that simple. No more claiming you have time to do your run, just include more intervals!
  • Burn more calories – extended low impact cardio has its benefits, but high impact has more. Increase your pace, increase your heart rate, increase calorie burn. Win-win!
  • Have fun – this isn’t to say running is boring but following the same route with the same routine can get a bit… monotonous. But fear not! Fartlek keeps you engaged with your run, especially if you indulge in the ‘play’ aspect.
  • Sports training – if you play a sport such as football or hockey, you are probably not a stranger to interchanging a gentle jog for an intense sprint multiple times within minutes. Practise Fartlek and you will find you get better at this.

Disadvantages of Fartlek Training

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Fartlek isn’t for everyone, and you do need to consider a few things before you start counting lampposts.

  • Fitness required – you don’t have to be a trained athlete to do Fartlek (though it would help), but basic fitness is needed. Don’t worry though, if you are a beginner you could just walk for the low-effort sections.
  • Health risk – if you have previous injuries or heart issues, you should consult a doctor before starting Fartlek training. If you aren’t sure whether to consult a doctor, consult a doctor. Fartlek involves doing maintained cardio and will increase your heart rate, so be sure you can do this.
  • Motivation – while Fartlek can be super entertaining – like measuring intervals by how many dogs (!) you see – it may not be motivating for some. Having less routine may mean you give yourself a break lots instead of sticking to a plan. For those who like to take it easy, it may be better to set clear targets.

Fartlek Training Examples

As Fartlek revolves around freedom and spontaneity of an individual, there is little structure to a Fartlek workout. But, for example, you could plan to do a 30-minute run, with up to 15 high speed intervals. Or you may decide on your 1km circular park route there will be stretch you sprint each time you pass it. If you want more structure to your workout, consider using times (e.g. 1 minute sprint, 2 minutes jog, 1 minute sprint and repeat 4 times etc.), however this is much more like traditional interval training.

Significant to a successful run is warming up and down. Before you undertake any cardio, be sure to stretch and gently warm up your muscles; we recommend a brisk walk for 5-10 minutes.

Fartlek Training Tips for Beginners

If you are a beginner, you don’t want to push yourself too hard and get injured or put off running. Fartlek is ideal for those starting out and perhaps less aware of their endurance limits. You will quickly learn at what pace you feel comfortable, and how fast you can go for an interval. If you struggle to maintain a jogging pace, walk briskly and jog for your high-effort intervals.

When your interval is over, perhaps you’ve done 30 seconds or you’ve reached the goal landmark, slow back to your normal pace, let your breathing return to normal, then prepare yourself for the next interval.

Don’t fancy doing it alone? Grab a friend. Turn your workout into a game and switch around who gets to decide when an interval happens and how long it is. A little bit of competition will encourage even the most reluctant runner to keep up. Find out all the benefits of exercising with a friend.

Just remember: this isn’t rigid interval training. You can take your Fartlek workout at whatever pace suits you. Make your goals attainable and realistic and you will be overjoyed at the results.

Fartlek Training With Race At Your Pace

Why not take part in a virtual challenge with Race At Your Pace? Not only will you be motivated to exercise (you get a shiny medal!), you can complete you challenge however you like.

Race At Your Pace has challenges for swimming, cycling, walking and running across a wide variety of distances. As long as you complete your distance within a month, it doesn’t matter whether you did it slow, fast, or a bit of both with Fartlek.

Race At Your Pace share the Fartlek philosophy; that exercising should be fun and engaging, and, most importantly, you should race at your own pace.