Fartlek Training to Improve Endurance and Variety

Fartlek TrainingIs Fartlek Training for you…

Do you ever feel that the boredom and monotony of your cardio workouts is sapping your motivation?

Do you ever wish that your fitness routines weren’t always so structured and rigid?

Then this workout might be a great addition to your workout routines….

Fartlek training means “speed play” in Swedish, but it could also be named “variety play” – here’s why:

  • No set structure
  • No set rules
  • No pressure to follow a rigid routine

It was invented in the 1930’s, and has endured because of its effectiveness.

It is a form of interval training where you vary the speed of your runs between low and high intensity.  Fast runs and slow jogs.  Sprints and walks.  Work and rest.

This is the beauty of fartlek…the routine is entirely based on how your body feels.  It is not a structured process like interval training.  It is up to you to stay motivated and focused, because the watch on your wrist does not tell you when to burst…your “insides” do.  (You can use your watch if you choose to be more precise).

This is why fartlek training is a great addition to your weekly workout routines.  It adds a little flavor to the process, and keeps things fresh.  All while adding nearly all of the benefits of interval training, and even HIIT, depending on your intensity.

You will only want to add 1 or 2 fartlek sessions per week to your routine, as the higher intensity requires more rest time (similar to interval training).

Benefits of Fartlek Training

Fartlek TrainingThe benefits of fartlek training:

  • Add variety (and therefore a little fun) to your workout that will keep things fresh
  • Lack of structure so you can try different speeds, intensity, and routines
  • Your cardio heart rate will approach (or achieve) your anaerobic threshold and improve your anaerobic fitness
  • Includes speed work
  • Achieve nearly the same benefits as pure interval training (if you reach that higher intensity)
  • All terrains will work, as you don’t have to maintain a steady pace and you can do it anywhere – beach, mountains, fields, treadmills, tracks, and more
  • Avoid overuse injuries because you are varying the stresses imposed on your bodyIncrease your body’s strength and efficiency
  • Serious lower body workout that you won’t get jogging – the first time I did fartlek my entire lower body was sore for a week
  • Really burn the fat — much more so than steady state cardio

Warm-up and Stretching

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFartlek training, a form of interval training, is a very different workout than steady state cardio (long jogs).  So you need to be very cautious in your preparation for this training.

When I first started doing this higher intensity training, my hamstrings gave me fits.  I would do what I thought was an appropriate warm-up (my steady state or jogging warm-up), and that just doesn’t cut it for higher intensity (especially if you are middle-age).

For the first month, my hamstrings would tighten up during sprints, and it would take days to work out the knots.  Then a week later I would be back to OK, throttle up the intensity a little, and my hamstrings would lock up again.

Here is the warm-up we suggest for higher intensity:

First, always make sure you are well hydrated.  Dehydration can contribute to muscle injuries and tightness because it degrades muscle function.  If you go cocktailing the night before (dehydration), maybe stick with a long slow distance jog the next morning.

#1   Light cardio to loosen and warm muscles, and get the blood flowing

  • Jog in place
  • Jump rope
  • Hopping up and down

#2   Dynamic stretching to begin loosening muscles

  • Lunges
  • Knee kicks
  • Arm rotations
  • Leg swings

#3   Light Static stretching

  • Calves
  • Hamstring
  • Ankles

#4   Jog in place 2 minutes

#5   Stop your jog and do light static stretching (again) with focus on calves, hamstrings, and lower back

Fartlek Routines

Remember, fartlek is not a rigid and structured routine, but the routines below are a general guide – you can use LOTS of variation.  I have shown times below only as a reference…everything is determined by your fitness level and what your body tells you.  Again, mix the times and reps as you see fit to experiment.

One last comment…Fartlek training and interval training are not for beginners or those new to fitness and exercise.  It is important to work up to this level – check with your doctor to confirm you are ready.  If you can comfortably jog 2 miles at a 6 – 9 minute per mile pace, you are likely ready for some beginner fartlek routines.

Gerschler Fartlek
  builds speed and endurance

  1. 5 min jog to warm-up
  2. Run hard 30 sec  /  Slow jog 90 sec
  3. Repeat with 15 sec decrease in slow jog:
    30:90 / 30:75 / 30:60 / 30:45 / 30:30 / 30:15
  4. Repeat 3x
  5. 5 min jog to recover

Watson Fartlek
   builds endurance for 10K & 5K

  1. 5 min jog to warm-up
  2. Run hard 4 min  /  Slow jog 1 min to recover
  3. Repeat 8x
  4. 5 min jog to recover

Astrand Fartlek
   builds endurance for 400m & 800m

  1. 5 min jog to warm-up
  2. Run hard 75 sec  /  Jog 150 sec  /  Run hard 60 sec  /  Jog 120 sec
  3. Repeat 3x
  4. 5 min jog to recover

Target Fartlek (my informal name for it)
   builds speed and endurance — jogging on the street or in your neighborhood

  1. 5 min jog to warm-up
  2. Pick a “target” (light pole, stop sign, green car, etc) 100 to 200m away
  3. Sprint to target
  4. Slow jog or walk for 60 sec
  5. Repeat 10x
  6. 5 min slow jog to recover

Treadmill for Higher Intensity Workouts

Fartlek training can be adapted for a Treadmill, but you have to be very careful.  If you try to adjust speeds on the treadmill while running, it can be dangerous – especially as you get more exhausted.

I use treadmills often for HIIT and fartlek training, but I don’t try to adjust treadmill speeds (very distracting).  I let it run at 8.0 or 10.0 mph, and just hop on and off the treadmill.  You will see in the video below, 8 mph is not a blazing fast pace, but it is a safe pace on a treadmill where you can also get a great workout.

Treadmill tips for fartlek and HIIT:

  • Do not try to continuously adjust speeds – dangerous and distracting
  • A simple workout: 20 sec ON – 20 sec OFF – 20 sec ON (alternating) — for 10 min
  • Make sure your shoes are tied very well, and you don’t have laces that might come loose
  • Stay focused on your space and speed, especially as you get tired
  • If you wear a walkman, watch the wires and keep your focus

Be careful – I have had several close calls and treadmill wipeouts are never pretty – see below 🙂


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