Fartlek training: what does it consist of and what are its variants?

Fartlek training is a method created in the athletic environment to improve running strength, endurance, and speed. Know what it is and how you can include it in your routine.

Last update: January 07, 2022

Developed in the early 1930s by Gösta Holmer, Fartlek training remains one of the methods most used by athletes to improve their performance. In principle, it is used in athletics; although other disciplines have also adapted it to their training regimes (such as soccer).

This type of system was created in parallel with interval training, or HIIT. Although they share similar principles, their main difference is that the Fartlek are less structured. Thus its practitioners are freer to choose how to apply it based on their goals, performance or weekly plan.

Its translation from Swedish is speed game. It consists of including sudden changes in speed, direction or terrain based on intervals. Over time, these changes generate a variety of benefits; Among which we highlight the increase in endurance and the decrease in race time. It is used by sprinters, midfielders and long-distance athletes.

Fartlek training types

Although designed exclusively for professional athletes, this does not prevent any sports fan from including Fartlek training in their exercise routine. For this you can choose different variants, among which we highlight the following.

Fartlek by times

It is the classic variant of training, the one with which it gained worldwide popularity. It consists of focusing the objectives on speed changes at intervals of time. These, unlike a HIIT workout, are not categorically structured. The athlete chooses them according to their endurance, strength, and running pace.

For example, running two minutes at a low or moderate intensity and then including one minute at maximum intensity. The times are chosen in a personalized way, as long as it is taken into account that the period of maximum intensity must be shorter than that of medium or low. This is because during the latter the body can recover to face the next change of pace.

Fartlek by distances

Using the running tracks for Fartlek training is a great option to unleash your full potential.

If there is no way to measure time or this method is thought to be impractical (you have to keep timing your progress all the time), then Fartlek distance training can be chosen. As the name implies, rhythms are determined by changes made every few meters.

The favorite terrain to practice this variant are the athletics tracks, since it is possible to make an exact measurement of the meters on them. However, and considering the informal nature of this training, there is no obstacle to adapting them to other contexts.

In this way, you can use objects to limit how often to change the pace of your speed. If you are training in the city, use a parked vehicle, a tree, a sign, a bench to sit on, or anything else to guide when and where to change your running pace.

Fartlek by terrain

In this variant, distances or time are set aside and replaced by changes in the terrain. It is well known that on the slopes you must make a greater effort, while on the descents you tend to relax a little more.

The trick is to plan a route that contains climbs, descents and flat terrain.. With the help of these you can integrate speed changes, preferably when the terrain tends to be steeper. The Terrain Fartlek can be perfectly adapted to the trail running, to the trekking, hiking and other similar sports.

Fartlek by pulsations

Many of the fans of athletics use to keep track of their heart rate. If you like to train with a heart monitor, the Fartlek Pulse is for you. It consists of integrating the rhythm variants according to the nature of the pulsations.

It all depends on what your physical condition, age or competition aspirations are. In general, during sudden changes, an attempt is made to keep the heart rate equal to or slightly above 160 beats per minute. In the recovery phase, they try to lower them to 130 or a little less.

Free fartlek

We also find the free Fartlek, a variant that brings together all the others and makes them coexist in a single day of training. The intensity changes in the race can be made based on time, distances, terrain or pulsations, or even combine them all at the same time.

For example, you can choose a steep terrain, delimit an object at a distance, propose to reach it at a certain time and do it with your heart rate equal to or above 16 beats per minute. As you can see, it is the most versatile variant that allows you to experiment more with the capabilities of the body.

As for the race time, it is usually determined according to the type of athlete. The following values ​​can serve as an example:

  • Speed ​​athletes: between 10 and 20 minutes.
  • Short middle distance athletes: between 20 and 40 minutes.
  • Medium long distance athletes: between 40 and 60 minutes.
  • Long-distance athletes: more than 60 minutes.

These times are only referential, since they need to be adapted to the capabilities of each runner. However, keep in mind that the race should be shorter as changes in speed will weaken you more in contrast to a continuous race. This at least until you fully assimilate the technique.

Benefits of the Fartlek training method

If you feel encouraged by this training method, just wait to discover its benefits. 100 years have passed since its inception and it remains as valid today as before thanks to the following.

You improve speed and coordination

There have been several studies that corroborate the efficacy of Fartlek training in improving running speed and coordination. An article published in Journal of Physical Education and Sports in 2014 suggests that the changes are noticeable also in non-specialized runners, in this case soccer players.

By including improvised variations of your speed you improve the coordination of the muscles with the brain. As you put it into practice, you discover that you do not need a stopwatch to define the race time or be continuously checking your heart rate monitor, in case you develop the variant by time and pulse, respectively.

Your speed will also see a considerable improvement. Continuous running can get runners so used to a pace and cadence that they slow down over time. This can be modified with the help of the Fartlek.

You increase your stamina

Studies suggest that Fartlek is also helpful in improving stamina. Maintaining a rhythm at maximum capacity for certain distances, times or terrain is not easy, but as you train the muscles become stronger with the necessary resistance to complete the journey without major news.

Endurance is a quality highly valued in endurance athletes, especially those who specialize in running marathons. Even among short mid-range competitors it is of great help, as they get used to constantly maintaining a high pace.

You improve your general aerobic capacity

Aerobic exercises are very positive for cardiovascular health. Combining or alternating them every few periods with strength exercises is also excellent.

The evidence indicates that through Fartlek training an improvement in lung capacity is achieved and with it an increase in the maximum consumption of oxygen that the athlete can process. In turn, a continuous program of several weeks is useful for cardiac modifications. Among them, decrease the resting frequency.

You increase your explosive strength

Very useful for sprinting runners, where a delay of a millisecond can cause a race to be lost. The way in which Fartlek improves explosive strength has been investigated; this is, the power with which a runner can go from a state of rest to one of maximum capacity.

Other ways that a rhythm-based routine of this type can benefit you include the following:

  • Helps tone your muscles.
  • Avoid results stagnation after you’ve followed a plan for a long time.
  • It can make you lose weight or, in any case, keep it off.
  • Contribute to improve your race times and results in the short and medium term.

Disadvantages and contraindications of Fartlek

As with any routine, Fartlek training is not without its disadvantages and contraindications. The first one is the risk of injury. Even among experienced athletes, improvised changes of pace can have a negative effect on the muscles.

They are exposed to a stress and demand for which they are not prepared, which can lead to a muscle tear or other similar injuries. It is for this reason that you should perform deep stretching and warm-up exercises to minimize risk. Even when you do, you must be cautious and increase the pace by listening to the body.

The terrain variant can cause you to strain your ankle, especially if you practice it in nature. If you are not trained, rhythm alternations can have a negative effect on your heart, which can start to work abnormally and cause episodes of arrhythmias or angina pectoris.

For all this, it is recommended that you do a stress test before considering including this method in your routine. When you do, don’t increase your pace more than necessary. Start with short shifts and increase them as you progress. It won’t be long until you get the hang of the technique and can experiment with the freedom of Fartlek training..

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