If you have never heard the word "fartlek," do not be surprised. The word is Swedish, and is best translated as "speed play." This training method was developed in the 1930s (some say 1937) by Swedish coach Gosta Holmer to improve the performance of Swedish national cross-country teams. The techniques have since been expanded and adapted for a variety of sports, including soccer. While the word may not be familiar, you may recognise the approach.
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The key to fartlek is variety. Unlike sprinters, who may alternate short runs with recovery walks, or distance runners, who run long and slow, fartlek practitioners strive to eliminate any regularity from their exercise. Slow jogging, hard sprints, recovery walks, skipping, jumping, hopping, changing directions--anything and everything is fair game in fartlek. The idea is to constantly challenge the body to be stronger, quicker and faster, while giving it brief rests when needed--and to have fun in the process. Fartlek is a freewheeling kind of exercise.
For a soccer player whose game requires a lot of starting and stopping, and who may have to sprint down the field, then jog slowly back to position, it is not unusual to run a 45-minute fartlek since that is the length of a half. But because fartleks are demanding, you may find it much easier to begin with a session as short as 10 or 15 minutes. It does not matter how far you run; in fact, it is not necessary to keep track of mileage at all. Fartleks are about quickness and stamina; since you do not run a specific distance during a game, you need not train for a set distance.
Because of their intensity, you will not want to run fartleks more than two or three times a week. If you are practicing heavily, you may want to shorten the length of your fartlek as well. Even a 10-minute workout can help you improve.
Your fartlek should begin and end with a steady jog--initially as a warm-up, at the end as a cool-down. In between, mix things up by mentally playing soccer--sprint down the field, walk a bit to catch your breath, zigzag from side to side and practice your footwork as you dribble an imaginary ball, trot back to your position, and then make several rapid starts and stops as you dodge imaginary players (perhaps even leap over a couple of fallen opponents) in your efforts to reach the ball. In a word, just have fun.
Fartleks do not require a track. As mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to keep track of how far you run. Neither do you need a playing field. Fartleks can be run in your backyard, in a park, on mountain trails--wherever you are and wherever you would enjoy training. Remember, fartlek means speed PLAY. So, by all means, enjoy your workout.
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