This fartlek training guide (yep, you heard that correctly) could be just what you need to turn what feel like shackles on your sneakers into tiny wings.
If formerly manageable mileage has become difficult, even when you’re properly fueled, hydrated, and rested, you might be experiencing a “runner’s burnout” of sorts, and need to shake up your training, says Bethany Welch, RRCA-certified run coach and co-founder of Sweat From Home. That’s where fartlek training can come in to help, she says. “This form of training can be a fun way to increase endurance, as well as improve speed through non-specific intervals,” she explains. “Basically, the runner varies their speed from slow to fast for the duration of a workout in a non-structured way.”
Fartlek—which translates directly in Swedish to “speed play—is the brainchild of Swedish cross-country running coach Gösta Holmér, who developed the training style as a way to reinvigorate his team. He instructed his runners to vary speeds throughout their training at a faster-than-race pace.
And according to Welch, Holmér’s original method is a highly effective tool in keeping you energized (and entertained) throughout a run. Let’s get into it.
How Fartlek Runs Work
Although fartlek training sounds complicated, according to Welch, it’s actually a pretty simple concept: Using landmarks (say, a mailbox or a tree), the runner decides on interval distance and speed. “You might speed up between mailboxes, then slow down when you approach a house,” Welch explains. “Maybe then, after you hit your next house, you speed up double-time to the next telephone pole, and so on and so forth.”
“You can also do these types of runs with time,” she says. “For example, maybe you run 30 seconds at a hard race-pace, followed by 30 seconds of easy.” But using time comes with a caveat: “The key is that this is an unstructured run,” reiterates Welch. What this means: Don’t feel the need to stick to set intervals. Try to move, and act, impulsively.
The Benefits Of Fartlek Training
The primary benefit you get from fartlek training is surprise, creativity, and fun—and ultimately, a reinvigoration in your regular running routine (that’ll make you stronger in the end). And TBH, how many times will a workout instruct you to move this freely?!
While fartlek runs aren’t technically interval runs (interval runs are based on specific, timed structure), the physical benefits of both are fairly similar: improved oxygen uptake abilities (translation: you’re able to deliver oxygen to your muscles faster, meaning you can run faster for longer), a decreased resting heart rate, and better overall endurance.
Another major benefit associated with fartlek training? The runs can be performed just about anywhere.
What Does a Fartlek Run Look Like?
Below, Welch provided a sample fartlek run to try. Aim for a 10-minute dynamic warm-up prior to beginning your run, incorporating moves like bodyweight lunges, squats, knee lifts, planks, and jumping jacks.
●Begin with an easy 10-minute warm-up run (you should be able to carry on a conversation).
●For the actual intervals, try to decide on “structure” in the moment: Pick a landmark in front of you and run hard to it. Once you reach the landmark, move into a recovery jog (that conversation-easy pace) for as long as you need. Once you feel recovered, pick a new landmark and sprint towards it.
●Repeat landmark intervals until you hit whatever time or mileage goal you have (15 minutes is a good goal).
●End with a 10-minute cool-down (you should be able to carry on a conversation).
Ready to get started? Keep Welch’s final pacing tip in mind: “Going off a perceived exertion scale can be beneficial for everyone,” she says. “When heading into a fast speed, aim for a seven out of 10. With an easy pace, try a four or five out of 10.”
That being said, Welch says it’s important not to go “all out” on the hard intervals too quickly, which can lead to injury. “Don’t do too much too fast,” she reiterates. Happy (free) running!
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