Yes, it may be a funny sounding word when you first hear it, but the term “fartlek” is from the Swedish language and actually means “speed play”. Runners around the globe are using this technique to step up their speed and improve workout endurance. Can it make your next run better?
Swedish coach Gösta Holmér developed this exercise style in 1937. While there is not necessarily a set structure, fartlek is designed to focus on speed and endurance training using short bursts of “faster than race pace” efforts.
If exercise is part of your healthy lifestyle, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of or have tried Tabata or HIIT workout styles. Fartlek could be comparable to HIIT or Tabata as it also implements the technique of maximum effort over short periods of time with only brief breaks for a rest.
Assuming you already have some basic running experience under your soles, as with any new exercise regime, take it slow as you take your run to the next level. Fartlek can be done anywhere—on a sidewalk, hiking trails, a treadmill, or a sandy beach.
Like most workouts, fartlek involves a warm up, several intervals, and a cool down. The goal is to do spontaneous sprint bursts combined with the amount of active recovery you feel you’ll need to go faster on each progressive burst.
Think of a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio—one minute burst with two minutes off for recovery, or a one minute burst with three minutes off for recovery—based on your needs. That active recovery is when you continue moving, but usually at more of a resting pace, such as an easy jog. (Here’s an infographic that visually shows this method.)
Speed play is a super way to rid your workout of monotony and prevent plateaus. Interval workouts, like fartlek, can help you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Giving your body mini breaks between bursts of exercise in a session can help you have a great fitness routine while putting less stress on your body as you exercise. When you regularly fartlek, or speed play, you’re working your cardiovascular system which may result in noticeable increases in speed and endurance.
Next time you lace up your sneakers—whether you have a coach, grab a workout buddy, or run on your own—consider the Swedish technique and exercise fartlek style!