Fartlek: The High Intensity Interval Training Workout You’ve Never Heard Of

We all know that cardio, in some form, is really necessary at points to supplement a healthy diet, burn fat and ultimately keep the weight in check. Some people might like cardio more than others.

There are several ways to knock out a great cardio session.

What if there is an option to combine the high-intensity aspect of a HIIT workout (speed) and the even pace of steady-state cardio (endurance) into one great training session?

The Fartlek Run can do that for you.

What is a Fartlek?

I’ll be honest, the 10-year-old version of myself thinks a Fartlek is hilarious. Okay? We can get that out of the way now.

Fartlek is a Swedish word, which means “speed play”. This speed play method was developed by a man named Gosta Holmer in the 1930’s, in—you guessed it—Sweden.

As mentioned earlier, a Fartlek workout is blending speed and endurance into one training session.

This is great for competitive runners in that it will make your body adapt to the mental and physical demands of racing. Although, those of us who use cardio for the purpose of fat burning can definitely benefit from the Fartlek method.

Fartlek, with a capital “F” is different than interval training.

During an interval workout, the runner would run near max effort for a pre-determined time, immediately followed by a rest period.  A Fartlek is different in several ways.

You might even prefer the Fartlek over a HIIT workout because the Fartlek is generally less structured in time and distance, with the runner varying their pace between different speeds.

How do you perform a Fartlek workout?

When I was in high school, and then in college, our distance running team would run these Fartlek work-outs. What we would do as a group would be to run in a single-file line at a comfortable pace. The runner at the back would then accelerate to the front of the pack. Each runner he passed in the line would challenge him briefly, then fall back to a comfortable pace.

This went on until that runner reached the front of the pack. The next runner at the back would then repeat the process. Doing this would force the runner from the back of the line to vary the pace in order to make it to the front of the line.

This would also mimic a racing situation. However, you may not be training for a race yourself. But the Fartlek can still be an effective and even enjoyable way to get in some cardio.

The advantage of a Fartlek workout is that you can structure it however you want. You don’t need to be on a track running laps or hitting a certain time on the stopwatch.

It could be as simple as accelerating from light post to light post. This is why they call it “speed play”.

During a Fartlek workout, you will be combining a traditional steady-state run, and then adding very brief intervals of acceleration.

This could be much better for those of us who use cardio as a fat-burning tool, because with the Fartlek you can break the boredom of a long, steady-state cardio run, without having to give an all-out max effort of a high-intensity interval training session.

Sample Fartlek workouts

Depending on how far you run at a time, you can try these Fartlek workouts, and adapt them to make them your own. The following workouts are based on a 30-minute cardio session or longer.

The Ladder Fartlek

Start with a 10-minute warm-up, either outside or on the treadmill.

  • Accelerate to a hard pace for 2 minutes
  • Slow to an easy jog for 3 minutes
  • Increase speed to a “comfortably hard” pace for 2 minutes
  • Easy jog 2 minutes
  • Slightly increase the pace from a jog to an easy run for 4 minutes
  • Easy jog 1 minute
  • Slightly increase the pace to an easy run for 4 minutes
  • Easy jog 1 minute
  • Increase speed to a “comfortably hard” pace for 2 minutes
  • Easy jog 2 minutes
  • Accelerate to a hard pace for 2 minutes
  • 5-minute cooldown

The Landmark Fartlek

This Fartlek should be done outside. Start with a 5 to 10-minute warm-up.

This one is simple. After your warm-up, pick a landmark in your surroundings and accelerate towards it. Here are some examples:

  • Mailbox
  • Lamppost
  • Trees
  • Buildings

After making it to the landmark, slow down for as long as needed. Repeat.

The great thing about the Landmark Fartlek is that it is very unstructured, but you still get the intensity of interval type cardio while breaking up the boredom of just running.

The Music Fartlek

Most of us will be listening to music while we’re running. A great way to use this is to vary your pace depending on the parts of a song or vary pace for different songs. I’ll explain what I mean.

If you are going to use a single song to Fartlek, you could run steadily for the verse and accelerate during the chorus.

Choose songs that are faster, so you can match your cadence. I recommend anywhere from 120 bpm (beats per minute) to 160 bpm.

Here you can find a list of songs to choose from and what their bpm are. This list ranges from 120 bpm to 180 bpm. Plus, they include a useful run-down on how to find your ideal bpm for running.

Using these suggestions, you could also alternate between faster and slower songs to vary your pace.

For deeper Fartlek information and sample workouts, visit Strength Running, where they break down Fartlek training.

What are the benefits of the Fartlek?

Bottom Line

We all know cardio is an essential tool we need to maintain and reach our fat loss and weight goals. Some people like cardio, or at least don’t mind it. While others consider cardio a necessary evil.

The point is that anyone can use the Fartlek. Beginners all the way to the advanced.

A Fartlek can also bridge the gap for beginners who want to try a higher intensity workout, but don’t feel ready to hit the gas and go all out on the HIIT. You decide when and where to ratchet up the intensity.

Whether you’re training for that 5K or trying to shed some fat, the Fartlek is a very diverse method to achieve your goal.

As the founder of Guardian-Elite Fitness, Marty helps readers learn the most effective ways to lose weight, gain muscle and eat healthy during their busy lives. Marty has years of experience with finding the best methods for weight loss, overall health and fitness information to help his readers on their own fitness journey. Visit Guardian-Elite Fitness website or find us on Facebook today, and see how you can get fit, stay lean and make gains!

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