One of my favourite types of workout is fartlek training. It was developed by the Swedish coach Gosta Holmer back in the 1930s as a method for developing speed endurance (fartlek means speed play in Swedish).

Many runners use this type of training in their routines, but it can be used in cycling, swimming, rowing, or practically any other type of aerobic training.

I like it because it breaks the monotony of a run (which I find quite boring), by making it interesting and challenging in a different kind of way. But from a fitness point of view it has a number of benefits.

It helps increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max), which in turn helps you run faster for longer (bringing your running times down!), and is a great fat burner also.

It is very similar to HIIT training in that you perform intervals of higher intensity training. However, there are some differences.

Whereas HIIT training focuses on short intervals of near maximal intensity, often around 90% or maximum, fartlek training focuses on different levels of intensity for differing periods of time. That is, fartlek sessions are less structured than HIIT sessions. Intensity levels can range from fast walking pace through to all out sprinting, and each interval can last from seconds to minutes.

Also, fartlek sessions tend to last much longer at around 45 minutes or more, compared to a HIIT training session of 20 minutes maximum.

Take a look at the example session below.

How to Perform Fartlek Training

Let’s say that you are a runner and you can run 5 miles in 45 minutes. That’s a 9 minute mile pace. You’ve decided you want to progress and bring your times down to become a better runner and generally fitter.

So you’re going to give a fartlek session a shot . . .

After a thorough warm up (as usual) you start off at your 9 minute mile pace for 1 mile. This will get your aerobic system going and get you ready for the session ahead. You then increase your pace to say an 8 minute mile pace for another mile, then ease back off to your usual 9 minute pace for 5 minutes to recover.

Then you increase your pace to a 7 minute mile pace for a further mile.

After this, you are pretty shattered as the intensity is much higher than you are used to. So you walk at a brisk pace for 3 minutes. After this you heart and lungs and legs are ready for another go.

Now it’s time for some sprint work.

For the next 5 minutes you intersperse your usual 9 minute mile pace with 4 or 5 sets of sprints of 50 to 60 meters.

You then finish off with an 8 minute mile run for a further mile.

This will take you 45 minutes and will work wonders on your speed and stamina.

Training Progression and Conclusion

The suggested workout above is not limit to running, as I’ve already mentioned. If you’re swimming lengths, you can do exactly the same. Pick up the pace for 5 lengths, then drop back for 5 lengths, and so on. Same with cycling and rowing, etc.

As you get fitter, your times will come down and your fitness will improve. If your want to progress further . . . continue with the fartlek sessions. You’ll find you can work at a faster and faster pace as your fitness increases.


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