What seemed like a silly word to me, “Fartlek” is actually the Swedish word for “speed-play”. Most traditional speed workouts consist of running a set number of intervals at a specific pace or interval time. In other words they are very structured. However, fartleks are still considered intervals, but they are not structured at all! This is what makes them so fun.
So… How do I Fartlek?
After your warm-up, you set out on a fairly easy pace, and then based on your environment, you set short sprint goals for yourself along the way. For example, as you’re running you may notice a stop sign, fire hydrant, mailbox, tree, etc. 100 feet away or so, and to fartlek you just sprint to that marker. Then you slow your pace back to your normal running pace. You do this throughout your run.
Running fartleks really can add some variation to your run and it makes every run a little different. The fartlek targets change every time, and instead of sprinting that 100 feet, maybe you push yourself to a target 200 feet away, etc. If you are just getting started in running and want to add some variety to your runs, fartleks are great introduction to speed workouts.
If you are a more experienced runner fartleks are a great way to throw some variety into your regimen.
Why are fartleks good for me?
The biggest reason is muscle building for speed. Just like any other speed workout, that intermittent time sprinting helps build the muscles that will carry you at a faster pace on race day. Also, the intermittent sprints help strengthen your cardiovascular system thusly improving your endurance. Many studies show that the more you can vary your muscle building activities, the more responsive your muscles become to strengthening. This is referred to as “muscle confusion”. Muscle confusion has gotten a lot of praise from the Crossfit world, but fartleks can give you that same benefit for your leg muscles.
So, when you’re on your next run try throwing these bursts or sprints known as fartleks into the mix. Just keep in mind the point of the fartlek is to be a non-structured speed workout. So when you set your target and sprint to it, you should not worry about your sprint pace. Just know you should just be running faster than your normal run pace to that target.
If you use a GPS app on your phone or a GPS watch, it can be fun to check how your speed changed over your fartlek run.