Fartlek: What is it, Types and How to Do it

Fartlek: What is it, Types and How to Do it

I tell you in detail what the Fartlek Training is, how to do it, its benefits and practical examples. It will help you give variety to your training sessions and improve endurance!

What is Fartlek?

Fartlek is a Swedish word that roughly translated as “speed play”.

That’s to say, within extensive continuous resistance training, the frequency, amplitude and intensity of strides are alternated, thus constantly varying rates of effort.

Fartlek training

Fartlek Training, unlike interval training, has no rests.

Within a Endurance Training programme there are different types of training that improve particular abilities, physiological parameters as well as metabolic ones, and Fartlek is one of them.

Who invented it?

It was popularised by the Swedish athlete Gösta Holmer (1891-1983), in the 30s, training with the Swedish Cross team.

Their concept was to work at a faster rhythm than in competition, concentrating on the simultaneous training of speed and endurance.

Origin fartlek

Fartlek is a running-endurance method involving running different distances at different rhythms within a single training session.

Sometimes the terrain itself will provide such a change (for example, running in the countryside will have varied uphill/downhill slopes and flats).

Difference between Fartlek and continuous running

Fartlek is different from continuous running as, despite being a continuous method, the changes of rhythms are predetermined.

It’s a training method that provides a lot of variety in sessions and is frequently used, not only by endurance athletes, but also in the physical preparation of team sports such as football.

What is the purpose of Fartlek training

Fartlek training is a training method for developing and improving aerobic endurance.

The fact that in Fartlek you play with different rhythms and intensities helps athletes to develop qualities like speed, power and tolerance, which are required for such changes, improving adaption capacity.

Speed game

This type of training brings variety, compared to races with continuous and maintained rhythms, i.e. it is less monotonous and the athlete enjoys the session considerably more.

A Fartlek training session puts all body’s systems to work. If you want to know more about how they work, we recommend you visit This Post.

Benefits

  • Improves maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max.).
  • Increases the lactate threshold.
  • Increases running economy and the use of different energy sources.
  • Also improves muscle capillarisation and nervous system adaptions.
  • Capacity to handle higher loads and adapt to the needs of different energy routes.
  • Improves aerobic efficiency.
Different types of training or methods for improving endurance induce different physiological responses, so it’s Fartlek is ideal to combine with other methods throughout the sports season.

Who should practice it?

All endurance athletes should include Fartlek training in their training programme, combining it with other methods.

It’s widely used in sports such as football, where running and changes in pace and speed play a predominant role in the game.

This training is not exclusively oriented to runners, it’s also very common in the programming of cyclists, swimmers and also other athletes whose sport requires good aerobic endurance.

How to do Fartlek training?

Fartlek, as we have already seen, consists of performing changes of rhythm, intensity and frequency within the same training session.

Warm-up

For this, as in any other session, the warm-up is essential to prepare the musculoskeletal and articular system.

Both technical exercises and dynamic stretching can be alternately combined with periods of running at a gentle intensity and finished with some progressive straights.

Effective work

  • By Distance: once warmed-up, training blocks are performed alternating different distances with different intensities.
For example: jogging at a lively pace 300 to 800 metres, followed by 500 metres at a slower pace. This series can be repeated 5 times, recovering for 5 minutes with a very gentle jog, and then repeating the block work.
  • By Time: on other occasions, it can be performed with time intervals at a given intensity.

Considerations

  • Often the terrain itself can determine how Fartlek training looks: slopes, rough terrain, sand, snow.
  • The total time of Fartlek training, being a method sometimes called continuous extensive, can last between 45-65 minutes.
  • As mentioned above, there are changes in intensity across the length of the exercise.
  • By alternating intensities between high and medium-low, the total trianing volume can be high.

Speed of training

On top of speed, we can talk about intensities.

As “X” speed for one person might involve training below their aerobic threshold, while for another it might mean training above this threshold.

So, the variables we can play with in Fartlek training are:

  • Distance (which will depend on the specificities of the sport, whether endurance of a team game).
  • Intensity at every change of pace
It’s performed with intensities that oscillate between:
  • High, close to and above maximum oxygen consumption [therefore exceeding the ventilatory threshold known as anaerobic (VT2)];
  • Medium, in the training zone known as the “Steady State” (VT1-VT2) (a rhythm slightly below the anaerobic threshold but which the athlete can maintain a long period of time with great demands and effort); and
  • Low, with rhythms close to the most aerobic zone of the first lactic threshold (VT1).

Types of Fartlek

In this case, the times or distances to be covered in each interval will determine the Fartlek training.

Trail running

It might be the trainer in some cases or even the ground itself that determines these changes in rhythm and intensity.

Likewise, the demands of the sport itself will also affect those working times at each change of pace. That’s to say, the modality the athlete works in: 400-meter runner, long-distance runner, long-distance cyclist, football defender or midfielder, for example.

We might find fartlek training whose change of pace distances range from 1 kilometre to 5 kilometres, and others where it’s done over shorter distances (300-800 metres).

How to incorporate it into your training?

For runner, whether short or long distance, the ideal is to include some type of Fartlek training at least once a week.

As we have seen, it’s a method that allows the addition of training volume while working at different intensities and rhythms, offering a variety of stimuli and diversity to continuous training.

  • During pre-season: longer distances can be performed, but at less demanding intensities, along with other continuous running sessions and some occasional interval training sessions.
  • During in-season and competitive stages: you can introduce one of two sessions of this type at more demanding rhythms closer or above competition levels.
As always, it’s necessary to carry out adequate and specific programming for the sport to be practiced as well as progressive overloading of the different training sessions.

In what other sports can you include Fartlek training?

Given that it’s an endurance training method, and for the benefits stated above, it’s great to introduce Fartlek into training sessions for all types of endurance sports.

And also in sports or activities that feature a significant aerobic-anaerobic component, such as football, rugby, skating etc….

Football and Fartlek

Football is a sport in which running is implicit, although the position of each player on the pitch will mean their running requirements will be more or less important.

On the other hand, due to the duration of a football match the aerobic component is also a fundamental physical quality to be trained

We must seek not only energy efficiency and speed, but also the ability to maintain an effort at a given intensity. In addition to agility, we have to look at constant changes of pace.

Because of this, fartlek training is widely used in the physical preparation of football players.

To do so, after a phase of adaptation for the players to continuous running, sessions involving changes of rhythm can be introduced; that’s to say, Fartlek sessions with distances that oscillate between 1000 and 5000 meters, depending on the time of season.

Fartlek football

However, the duration of this Fartlek or continuous training should be at least 45 minutes.

The aim is for the player to be able to make a high number of changes of pace (such as those made during a match) of different distances without total recovery, in order to achieve good intense and continuous participation in a football match.

Bibliographic References

  1. Álvarez del Villar, Carlos. “La preparación física del fútbol basada en el Atletismo” (1992), Gymnos Editorial.
  2. García Verdugo, Mariano. Y Leibar, Xavier. “Entrenamiento de la Resistencia”, (1997), Gymnons Editorial.

Related Entires

  • Do you know the benefits of HIIT? We tell you in the following link.
  • Tips for improving running technique, click here.
  • Hydration is extremely important in long-duration activities, such as football… continue reading.
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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Sport runs in the blood of Isabel, which she has proven since she was very little up until now. She wants to share that passion with all those who are passionate about sports.
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