Fartlek Training


What comes around goes around

Fartlek, meaning Speed Play, is a form of training that has been around for many years. Fartlek training was developed in the 1930s by Swedish coach Gosta Holmer (1891-1983). It was designed for the Swedish cross-country teams that had been thrashed throughout the 1920s by Paavo Nurmi and the Finns. Holmer’s plan used a faster-than-race pace and concentrated on both speed and endurance training.

Fartlek training is essentially a form of Interval Training performed in an informal, unstructured manner. Fartlek sessions should ideally be done outside over natural terrain such as golf courses, trails or rolling fields.

Because of it’s free-style nature and emphasis on fun, outdoor runs, Fartlek training can be psychologically stimulating in a positive manner. When properly executed Fartlek training has the ability to develop both general and specific endurance for a broad array of athletes including those participating in field games such as soccer, field hockey, Ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, and rugby league, as it develops aerobic and anaerobic capacities which are both used in these sports.

When implementing Fartlek sessions the pace should alternate between fast and slow with an emphasis on fast running. Outdoor Fartlek sessions are an excellent change of pace after being forced indoors during winter months or by bouts of inclement weather. Depending on how and when you cycle Fartlek runs into your current training regimen they may also act as a great form of active recovery.

When designing a Fartlek training session you are limited only by your imagination and the terrain you have access to. Remember Fartlek is a free style form of training. Look at it as structured improvisation. Do not worry too much about the exact order of exercises or distances that you run. Just be sure to challenge yourself and work hard.

Fartlek training is generally associated with running, but can include almost any kind of exercise. Below I have outlined just one example of the variety of exercises that could be included in a 2 – mile Fartlek session:

  • Jog or jump rope for 5- 10 minutes as a warm-up.
  • Do 5-6 minutes of brisk calisthenics covering all major muscle groups.*
  • Run a half mile at a fast, steady pace (about 75% max speed).
  • Jog a quarter-mile.
  • Perform three to four acceleration sprints of 150 yards (jog 50 yards, stride 50 yards, sprint 50 yards) walk 50 yards after each.
  • Do four to six sprints of 20-50 yards, jogging 50 yards between each one.
  • Jog a quarter-mile as a warm-down.
  • Stretch all major muscle groups

*Example of calisthenic circuit: 30 seconds on 15 seconds off.

  • Walking Lunges
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Sit-ups
  • Burpees
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Alternating back raise
  • Hamstring Bridges
  • T-stability push-ups

So there you have it, a simple and flexible system which practically guarantees that you will never get bored. Give Fartlek training a try and I am sure you will see and feel the fitness benefits while enjoying some time outdoors with nature.



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Step up to the Bar

Part Two: Adding Conditioning Drills to your basic plan

In part one of this article I outlined a very basic strength training plan, using a barbell as your only tool. Now we are going to step it up a notch and turn this simple workout into an intense Strength and Conditioning plan. In keeping with our low-tech tools for high-performance results concept, the only thing we are going to do for conditioning is run.

When I say run I don’t mean go for a leisurely jog in the park. I mean go to your local high-school track and run some 400’s. Or get out on the football field and do a series of 40’s – 50’s, or maybe a few 300 yard shuttle runs. You can also run stadium bleachers (if you are lucky enough to have a stadium near by). Or go out in the woods and run a little cross country. Just be sure to keep things interesting by mixing short and long intervals, fartlek runs and continuous runs using various running speeds, distances, volumes and work-to-rest ratios.

Let’s add those two days a week of varied conditioning drills and see how our program looks.

Conditioning Workout 1. (Monday)

Warm-up: 5-min walk, then 6 x 1min jog, 1min walk
4 x 200m*
8 x 100m
10 x 50m
Cool-down: 5-min jog

Strength Workout 1. (Tuesday) 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Rest 90 seconds between sets

Bench Press
Bent-Over Row
Calf Raise
Full Contact twists

Conditioning Workout 2. (Thursday)

Warm-up: 5mins walk, then 6 x 1min jog, 1min walk
1 x 400m*
1 x 200m
1 x 100m
1 x 50m
10 x 80m
Cool-down: 5-min jog

Strength Workout 2. (Friday) 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Rest 90 seconds between sets

Standing Press
Close Grip Bench
Standing Curls

*For the sprints, rest three times the length of time it took you to sprint. For example if you ran your first 400 in 60 seconds, you should rest 180 seconds.

So that’s all there is to it. It does not get more straight forward then that. If you are wondering what you should do on the other days, I’ll tell you… Nothing! Rest, eat, sleep and hit your training days hard.

Stick to this plan for the next 3-5 months and see what kind of progress you can make. Remember you can vary your sets, reps and the version of the recommended exercises. Don’t forget to change up your running drills as well. I would say change things up every 4-6 weeks or so. Right everything down, keep accuarate records and you will soon learn which combination produces the best results for you.

In the old days there were really only two choices for strength and conditioning, barbells and running. Well, that’s really all you need.

Now get to it!