What is fartlek training?

23 September 2020 Alicia Turner
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Question for you — when you run, are you fartlekking? A healthy amount of fartlekking while training is a good thing! Here at FIA we encourage fartlekking… Okay, jokes aside, let’s talk about all things fartlek and how it can improve your client’s training.

For those trainers out there that have clients with goals of increasing their running endurance or their need for speed, you may find yourself stuck in a rut when it comes to programming. Are you finding that your programs are based on traditional interval training and becoming a little repetitive? Yep, we get it — they can. And if you are noticing it, chances are your client is too. As a trainer, you want to ensure your sessions are innovative, exciting, and challenging. Not only for your client but for you too! Are you starting to train athletes or more elite clients and need to up the ante? Say hello to fartlek training!

So, what is fartlek training?

Not just a funny name, but a form of interval training that is often forgotten or not understood enough to use. It’s a Swedish word meaning speed play and is very effective when introduced to improve runners’ endurance, as the pace and distance set is constantly varied which prevents you and your client becoming bored with a predictable setting while challenging your client’s body through bouts of endurance periods and speed aspects. It is aerobic based, continuous training and these randomised changes in pace, set and distance covered mimics many sporting games such as soccer and AFL.

Why fartlek training?

By adding fartlek training to your client’s regime, the consistency is broken up which allows them to be challenged in ways that potentially their current training methods can’t. This tests your client’s muscular and energy systems, preventing them from plateauing and not experiencing positive gains.

Fartlek training is also its own version of a HIIT session, which allows clients to complete a session in a reduced amount of time, at a much higher overall intensity. This aspect leads to an increase in the number of calories they would normally burn.

But most importantly, with regular exposure to fartlek training, your client will start to see an increase in their speed and endurance, due to the nature of the training and its ask of the cardiovascular system to respond quickly to the various changes, preparing them for potential sporting events. These changes allow the client to train both aerobically and anaerobically in the one session, making this style of training perfect for athletes. It’s one thing to be able to train in an anaerobic state but by being able to recover by processing waste products while still remaining at a moderate to high intensity and adjusting to the varying changes in heart rates and breathing rates certainly sets your elite clients apart from the rest.

How do we program using this method?

Whether you are in a gym or outdoors training clients, fartlek training can be implemented and just as effective in both environments.

Firstly, a relevant warm up is needed to prepare your client. Your warmup should be 10-12 minutes in duration with a combination of both a light aerobic phase, dynamic stretching and a relevant drill or two.

Next, you will be deciding on one style of training such as running, cycling, or rowing. Let’s says you choose running, you then need to decide on the approach you wish to take. When and for how long do you want your client jogging at a moderate pace, running at a high-moderate pace, sprinting, running on flat surface or potentially climbing hills? The key is to ensure there is no pattern to the program. Your client is unable to predict the next move. An approximate 20-30 minute fartlek phase would be appropriate based on your client’s ability. For example:

  • 3 minutes moderate pace
  • 1 minute moderate to hard pace
  • 5 minutes moderate pace
  • 1 minute hard pace
  • 2 minutes moderate pace
  • 2 minutes hard pace
  • 30 seconds hard pace
  • 30 seconds maximum effort
  • 1 minute moderate pace
  • 5 minutes hard pace
  • 1 minute maximum effort
  • 2 minutes moderate to hard pace
  • 3 minutes moderate pace

Lastly, completing a 10-12 minutes cool down which is regressive in nature and including both an aerobic phase and static stretching.

There you have it, fartlek training. Give it a go yourself and see how you find the session or feel from it and then use this method to mix things up and see how your client responds. Nothing but gains to be had!

Alicia Turner

Alicia Turner

Senior Trainer & Assessor

Alicia holds her Certificate III & IV in Fitness, Diploma of Fitness, a Bachelor of Food Science and Human Nutrition and is currently completing her Master’s in Public Health.

Alicia has specialised in small group training for 8 years in both a corporate and outdoor training environments. She has been a mentor to many Personal Trainers starting out and lives and breathes the health and fitness industry.

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