The Fun Way to Run Faster

Saying “Fartlek,” Swedish for “speed play,” may make you laugh, but you get serious benefits from including it in your training regimen.

Fartlek training is no laughing matter. It’s an interval training technique that helps boost your speed, cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.

Fartlek training helps boost your speed, cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.

Traditional interval training is very structured. For example, a speed workout may call for intervals of 1 minute sprints at a 7:30 minute per mile pace, separated by 2 minutes of easy running in between. Fartleks are the interval opposite of speedwork. Instead of setting off on timed sprints, you increase your pace based on how your body feels. While speedwork is rigid, fartleks are flexible.

When to Fartlek
If you’re training for your first 5K, fartlek workouts are a fun way to introduce speed training into your regimen. Plan your fartlek workouts so you’re not tackling the exercise when you’re already sore or feeling sluggish. You want to feel energized – not drained – as you fartlek. And don’t fartlek the day before you’ve planned a long run. You want to be completely recovered before tackling new distances.

Beginners should practice speed training only once a week, as these workouts – which boost performance by stressing the body – can be hard on your joints and muscles.

How to Fartlek
Begin your workout by running at an easy, maintainable pace. Following your warm-up, introduce fartlek intervals by slightly increasing your pace for a short distance. One-tenth to one-quarter mile fartleks are perfect for newbies. Again, it’s not important to be exact about the length of your fartlek, so you can just run faster until you reach the end of the block, through the first verse of the song that’s playing on your iPod or until you count to 60 in your head. At the end of your interval, drop back to your normal pace.

Beginners can do two to four fartleks during a workout. Because so much of fartlek is intuitive, focus on how your body feels during your sprints. Can you go a little faster? Or run a little further? You make gains when you just push yourself to the edge of your comfort zone.

Where to Fartlek
You can fartlek anywhere – on a treadmill, on the sidewalk, on a track, or even on a trail. Fartleks don’t require a watch, a GPS device or mile markers. Try varying your fartlek workouts across different surfaces and tune into how it impacts you.

Do you have training strategies that help you get stronger, faster or more fit? Share them in Comments so we can all learn from each other.

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