What is fartlek training?

Phil Goulding Phil Goulding Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer
Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer Phil Goulding explains what fartlek training is, what it's good for and when to do it.

Fartlek is a Swedish word and roughly translated means ‘speed play’. Fartlek training involves varying the intensity or speed of your run to improve your fitness and endurance.

When you do fartlek training, you're essentially 'mixing things up'. 

Fartlek sessions are usually performed for a minimum of 45 minutes and intensity can vary from walking, right up to sprinting.

What is fartlek training good for?

This type of training is very individual as the participant can determine the intensity and pace. It can be fun and offers much more variety compared to the monotony of a steady state session.

It is a good way to train all three of the energy systems and also different muscle fibre types because of the large variations in intensity. Fartlek helps to train your body to react to changing intensities which can be very important in some sports, especially team sports such as hockey, rugby or football.

You can do fartlek training indoors or outdoors. If training on a cardiovascular machine such as a treadmill selecting the ‘random’ programme would somewhat simulate Fartlek training but you could also just change the pace and incline manually throughout your run depending on how you are feeling. Fartlek training is quite random in nature and allows you the freedom to alter the intensity of your training session.

When should you do fartlek training?

Fartlek is a good choice for those who dislike a set structure or routine to their cardiovascular training sessions. It allows you to have control over your training which may help you have more fun. This could then mean you're more likely to stick to your training which in turn will give you better results.

However, Fartlek may not be suitable for those looking to measure improvement or those with a very specific event or goal in mind. Due to the erratic nature of the training, people who are inclined to train hard even when it is not suitable (such as those with increased cardiovascular risk) may push themselves too hard. Similarly those who are new to training may not push hard enough to get any cardiovascular benefit.

Example of a fartlek training session

Run 45 minutes outdoors on a varied terrain altering pace between a slow jog and several fast sprints for 10 seconds at a time.

Last updated Friday 1 April 2022

First published on Monday 4 January 2016