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How to Properly Execute a Fartlek Workout

1024 681 Christo Landry

What is a Fartlek?

Fartlek means, “speed play” in Swedish.  It’s a workout that combines hard and medium running.  An example fartlek would be 4 x 3 on / 2 off.  This means that you would run hard for three minutes, then medium for two minutes, and repeat that four times for a total of 20 minutes.  

Could you be a little more specific?

Contrary to popular belief, the most important portion of the fartlek is the “off” portion.  The goal of the fartlek is to include periods of fast running while keeping an elevated heart rate the entire time.  That being said the first portion of the workout to focus on is the “off” portions.  They should be at maintenance run (normal run) pace.  If you find that after a hard section that you can not sustain maintenance run pace for the entirety of the “off” portion then the pace for the “on” portions needs to be slowed.  Once you can continually complete the “off” sections at normal run pace then you can start speeding up the pace of the “on” portions.

Where do I do a fartlek?

Fartleks are meant to be continuous efforts, there is no stopping, shuffling, or jogging involved.  Thus a location must be chosen with this in mind.  Hills are fine for this workout as it is effort and time based workout.  Soft surfaces are great for this workout.

How do I know if I’m going the right speed?

While the goal of the workout is to be at 95% effort level, this workout will be tiring when done correctly, you will not be at 95% immediately.  The first few “on” sections will be difficult, but done right, your pace on the them will be negative throughout the workout.

I don’t think I did it right.

That’s ok.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice fartleks.  The idea is to figure out what went wrong and to try to avoid it in the future.  The biggest thing to work on is the keeping the “off” portions at maintenance run pace and then working towards negative spliting the “on’s” (each mile is equal to or faster than the one before).