What's the Definition of Fartlek Training?

Updated April 17, 2017

The word Fartlek derives from the Swedish for "speed play." Developed in the 1930s, Fartlek training involves running at varying paces over set distances or for set times and was designed to target both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Since its creation, Fartlek training has been modified to suit different endurance and middle-distance runners.

Benefits of Fartlek Training

Fartlek training is a great training method for improving your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold refers to the point when you body can no longer meet the oxygen demands of the activity and starts using the anaerobic, or lactate energy system. By constantly working anaerobically with intermittent periods of aerobic activity, your body adapts in two ways: the point at which you reach your lactate threshold will be increased, and your body will become more efficient at dealing with lactic acid, the bi-product of working within the anaerobic energy system.

Athletes Benefitting from Fartlek Training

Fartlek training is particularly effective for endurance and middle-distance runners. A higher lactate threshold will result in an athlete being able to run faster for longer. It will also enable middle-distance runners to deal more efficiently with the lactic acid build-up associated with the latter half of their event.

Terrain, Duration and Intensity

Fartlek training can be carried out on a track, the road, on hills or cross-country. The total distance covered is of less importance than the duration and intensity of each training session. The intensity will vary depending on the athlete's phase of training and individual goals. Long-distance runners will endure periods of 4 to 5-minutes of fast-paced running with recovery jogs between them, with 800-meter runners running at close to maximum pace for up to 2 minutes with longer recovery periods in a typical Fartlek training session.

Example Fartlek Sessions

The Watson Fartlek is a training session designed for 3,000m to 10,000m and cross-country runners. Runners are made to stride hard (at close to maximum pace) for 4-minutes, followed by 1-minute slow jogging. This is repeated eight times.

The Saltin Fartlek is designed for 1,500-meter to 5,000-meter runners. In each session, athletes must perform six sets of 3-minute fast strides, with 1-minute jogging recovery time between each.

Designed for 800m runners, the Astrand Fartlek training session consists of running at maximum effort for 75 seconds followed by 150 seconds of jogging. Then 60 seconds of maximum effort running followed by 120 seconds of jogging. This is repeated three times.

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About the Author

Joe Faulkner-Edwards has been a freelancer for the BBC since 2008. He writes and researches innovative new factual entertainment formats and output-related material for BBC Online. Faulkner-Edwards is also a health and fitness expert. His health and lifestyle articles have been featured in "The Leeds Student" newspaper. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in broadcasting from the University of Leeds.