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What is Fartlek?

Fartlek is a Swedish word for “Speed play”. It is basically a run where there are faster periods of running mixed with slower periods of running. This is not necessarily sprinting and jogging, but could be walking and jogging. The pace of the faster running may also vary between medium efforts to full sprinting. It is often unstructured and improvised. A runner may sprint between lamp posts for example, or up to landmarks on their run at various distances at various speeds. Fartlek can however also be structured.

What is Interval Training?

Interval training is a type of training which can apply to all sports. The principle is that there is a period of high intensity followed by a period of recovery with low intensity or rest. This is then repeated several times. A popular term these days is “HIIT” [high intensity interval training]. The time periods for work and recovery can vary according to which energy system you are targeting [see below].

What is structured fartlek?

A structured fartlek session will have fixed intervals for the faster and slower periods of your run. These intervals may vary in time, but the session has a pre-set framework rather than being more improvised, as with standard fartlek. It differs from Interval training in that for running, interval training may be done on track, or in a gym with other exercises, whereas a structured fartlek session would be incorporated into a distance run.

Why is fartlek so popular?

If you are training for an event or just training for your own health and fitness, there are always days when it seems like a slog. To be able to vary your running training even on your regular route, is a great way of keeping things fresh. You can have multiple different sessions with a variety of timed efforts, even though you are running down those same roads you know so well. Physiologically, you are however also improving both your aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways.

What are the benefits of fartlek running training?

A runner has the opportunity to improve both their aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways during a fartlek session. It can improve speed as well as endurance and the variation in speed during your run not only keeps the session interesting, but keeps you responsive if you race.

Which energy systems do we use during a fartlek session?

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