Fartlek in Cycling: Everything you need to know

Fartlek in Cycling: Everything you need to know

How can you apply Fartlek Training to Cycling? We tell you in detail everything you need to take into consideration to optimise your training.

Let’s remind ourselves what Fartlek is

As you may know, Fartlek training was designed by the Norwegian athlete and trainer Gösta Holmer in the 1930s.

The translation of Fartlek is “speed play” and is used as a form of endurance training, in which different stimuli are sought in terms of training rhythms and intensities. We tell you everything you need to know about this type of training: go now.

Being extensive continuous endurance training, with a duration of more than 40 minutes, the frequency, amplitude and intensity are alternated, looking for continuous variations.

Unlike interval-type series training, there is no rest as such in this training.

As we pointed out in the previous article on this type of training, in Fartlek different distances are run at different paces within the same training session.


The terrain itself sometimes causes these changes (e.g. running in the countryside where the terrain is varied with uphill, downhill and flat terrain).

Fartlek differs from continuous running in that, although it is also a continuous method, the changes of pace are preset.

Now that we understand what this training modality consists of, let’s see how we can apply it to road cycling sessions:

What is Fartlek in cycling?

In the case of Fartlek training in cycling, a priori, we can say that, in most cases, it is the terrain that sets the pace – intensity.

As a result, most of the time we can say that within the same road bike training session we are constantly making changes of pace.

In cycling, the most commonly used training sessions (in addition to specific strength, interval or power training sessions) are long and continuous variable rides.

This type of session is characterised by a permanent change of intensity, within previously established limits.

For example, between 140-160 ppm, between 70-85 % of FTP, or between 33-36 km/h.

Fartlek training and cycling

Along with Fartlek training, it’s the most commonly used variant in cycling, given that the very orography of the terrain, group work, etc., brings about continuous modifications of the intensity levels of the work:

  • On the one hand, within a long outing, the route and its profile are determining factors in the intensity and pace of the session, thus configuring a fartlek-type training session with continuous changes in pace, cadences and intensities.
The slopes or long climbs themselves can be the perfect tool to introduce a change of pace / intensity, looking to go progressively until the end, or even finishing with a sprint.
  • On the other hand, a continuous training programme with changes of pace in specific sessions on the roller or exercise bike could also be applied, pre-defining the times, intensity and cadence changes for a given session in order to break the monotony of a roller session at continuous paces and intensities.

The most suitable parameter to take as a reference to determine the intensity of training is the percentage of the functional power threshold for each subject, since speed (unless it’s on a roller or a velodrome or a stretch with no disturbances or wind), is highly conditioned by other factors.

The heart rate, in long continuous sessions, undergoes a slight increase over time simply due to the body keeping moving, blood circulation, heat dissipation…


In this way, Fartlek training can be determined in more detail for each change of pace-intensity.

Therefore, if you’re able to train with a power meter, it’s the most objective way to determine the training zones, prior to a threshold test and/or Functional Power Test. We’ve left an analysis of power training applied to cycling in the following link.

Bike training to lose weight?

Recreational cycling, or indoor cycling sessions, can be part of a weight loss and body composition improvement programme, and it’s much easier and with less joint impact than starting to run without proper technique.

In addition, as the heart rate doesn’t rise as sharply when you start cycling, the perception of exertion for those starting a weight loss training programme is lower, resultantly meaning they can sustain the exercise for a longer period of time.

Thus, different types of training can be carried out on the bike to improve different parameters: VO2 max, aerobic capacity and power, intra-muscular coordination, aerobic base improvement, etc.

Why use fartlek?

Among the different types of training and stimuli, Fartlek-type training could be an excellent option for weight loss programmes as it is possible to carry out relatively long cardiovascular training sessions lasting 40-60 minutes, making it varied and fun for the athlete through different intervals and work intensities.

And as we’ve already mentioned, and discussed in other articles, this type of training is a powerful tool to boost aerobic performance.

Training Tips

As with any other activity, in cycling, certain considerations need to be taken into account when training.

In the case of cyclists on long road rides, the nutritional plan and hydration are fundamental so that the body can function without losing effectiveness throughout the ride (3-5 hours).


It is therefore important to plan gel or energy bar use to provide the necessary energy supply to the body, as well as flasks with isotonic drinks to recover the minerals lost through sweating and breathing.

Correct positioning – biomechanics on the bike (whether on your road bike, MTB or stationary bike) is also necessary to achieve the most efficient and least harmful pedalling, as well as to avoid discomfort and/or injury caused by incorrect body position.

Warm Up!

The warm-up and warm-down are also fundamental, dedicating at least 15% of the total time of the session to them.

At this time, we’ll try to pedal very gently, at relatively fast cadences (80-100 bpm) and with very little development and/or resistance, so that breathing is natural and not forced.

  • In the case of outdoor rides or training: it’s highly recommended you know the route beforehand, check that all bike equipment is in perfect condition (back light visible, condition and inflation of tyres, condition of the brakes and spare parts in case of any breakdown or incident), as well as making sure the helmet is in good condition, and it’s always advisable, regardless of the season, to wear gloves.
  • In the case of Fartlek-type training sessions on a stationary bike or roller: have the times, changes of pace and intensities for each of them well determined.

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How to do changes of rhythm

As I’ve already indicated above, in the vast majority of cases, the terrain itself determines the changes in pace and intensity.

As such, we can choose roads/routes with continuous ascents and descents, flats so that we can consciously, and sometimes unconsciously, modify the intensity of each section.

Let’s not forget that this type of endurance training has a duration of between 40 minutes and up to 5 hours for more experienced cyclists or those preparing for long endurance events.

So we can work in intervals with heart rate at between 120 – 180 bpm, (depending on each individual), or rather, in different training zones, thus also training the different metabolic pathways in the course of the session.

According to Burke, this type of Fartlek training will demand 40% aerobic capacity, in a 50% aerobic-anaerobic transition zone and maximal aerobic power.

As I pointed out, one of the advantages of this type of training is that it provides variety and also presents different varieties:

  • Solo work on a varied route in terms of altimetry, which in itself provokes changes in pace and intensity.
  • Group training: relaying while maintaining the constant speed of the group already provokes these individual changes in intensity.
  • Group training by organising breaks or individual training within a group – this is quite similar to competition.


Fartlek-type training, unlike a series and/or interval training design, has no recovery between those intensity changes, hence it is included in the continuous resistance training models.

What’s important is post-training recovery.

This factor will determine whether the training is effective or not and that the necessary adaptations are produced, both in terms of general rest of the nervous system and nutrition.

Given that in this type of session different energy substrates are used, and the duration of the training session is usually several hours, you need to recover in the hours following the session.


A combination of both carbohydrates and protein to ensure substrate repletion and repair damaged muscle, such as Evorecovery from SportSeries.

It’s advisable for the subsequent session to have a more regenerative and oxygenating component for a full recovery.

What’s the training intensity?

The intensity of the training in this type of session can be established on the basis of several variables:

  • Heart rate;
  • Speed; or
  • Power.

Currently, the most commonly used parameter, due it being fairly objective, is power, which is used to determine the different training zones based on the functional power threshold data.

Throughout the training session, with changes in pace-intensity, we’ll work in more oxidative zones (zones 1-2), more intense zones at the lactate threshold and close to the functional power threshold, and moments where we work in demanding zones close to maximum oxygen consumption.

Bibliographic References

  1. Algarra, J.L, Gorrotxategi, A. (1996). Ciclismo Total. 2. El Rendimiento en el Ciclismo. Capacidades Entrenables. Gymnos Editorial.
  2. Algarra, J.L, Gorrotxategi, A. (2021). El Entrenamiento en el Cic lismo de Ruta. Biocorp Editorial.
  3. García Pallarés, J., & Morán Navarro, R. (2012). PROPUESTA METODOLÓGICA PARA EL ENTRENAMIENTO DE LA RESISTENCIA CARDIORRESPIRATORIA. Journal of Sport and Health Research, 119-136.

Related Entries

  • How to improve muscle recovery in Cycling? We give you our suggestions.
  • We tell you how to improve your endurance through Polarised Training. Click here.
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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio really loves sport, demonstrating it from a very young age and sharing her enthusiasm and knowledge to this day
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