Fartlek Training For Beginners – UPDATED – Fartlek vs Interval Training

If you haven’t heard of the phrase “fartlek training” you missing out on one of the most enjoyable workouts for runners. Not only that, fartlek training for beginners is a great way to add intensity to your training when you’re starting out. However, you may be confused about the difference between Fartlek vs interval training. In this article, we describe what a fartlek is and the difference between the two forms of training methods.

What Does Fartlek Mean?

Fartlek training is similar to interval training, although the pace often varies based on the distance of the “interval” So essentially you are doing an interval-type workout without the structure. That means that you don’t repeat the same length of the interval at the same speed.

Usually, fartlek sessions last approximately 20-30 minutes. During the session, you vary the distance and speed of each interval. That is the fun thing about fartlek running. You control the intensity and distance of each interval based on how you feel.

Unlike interval workouts, the recovery and distance of the intervals aren’t set in stone. Fartlek running varies based on the period of the training cycle you are in and how fit you are. That means the length and speed of the intervals should change with different periods of your training.

This type of training is often utilized by a variety of runners focusing on the road, long distance, and track. It is also popular with cross-country runners, as it allows them to replicate the fartlek over similar undulating terrain.

Fartlek Training For Beginners

Fartlek Training For Beginners

If you ended here, you are most likely looking for advice on fartlek training for beginners.

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If you are a beginner, fartlek training is a great way to add intensity without the stress that intervals produce. As a beginner, it is wise not to push your body too hard at the start, so it is a perfect workout to start with.

During a fartlek session, you will teach the body what feels comfortable. That will give you an insight into what speed you can sustain and for how long.

To begin a session, start with a 15-20 minute fartlek workout. Ideally, do this where there are some undulations. After a warm up start by increasing your speed to around 5k pace and hold for 2 minutes. After two minutes, half the time and use this as recovery (1-minute jogging). Then during the next interval, either extend the duration or shorten it. Half the recovery time from the interval time again and rinse and repeat for 15-20 minutes.

The length of the hard efforts should vary between 30 secs and 5 minutes, and the recovery should be equal or half of that time.

Once you get more confident in the workout, you can start changing the speed between 3k race pace up to 10k race pace. But like we said before, there is no real pace you should target and use these as a guide.

Fartlek Training Examples

Fartlek Training Examples

Below are some fartlek training examples to help you kick start your training. While we do specify the speed you should run at, this is ultimately up to you and your current fitness.

Example 1 (41 minutes total)
1. Start by warming up for 10 minutes
2. Run at 5k pace for 3 minutes, recovery 1.5 minutes 28.5
3. Run at 3k pace for 1 minute, recovery 30secs. Repeat 3 times
4. Run at 10k pace for 5 minutes, recovery 2.5 minutes.
5. Run at 5k pace for 3 minutes, recovery 1.5 minutes.
6. Warm down for 10 minutes.

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Example 2 (35 minutes)
1. Warm up for 10 minutes
2. Run 1 minute at 3k pace, recover 30secs x 6
3. Run 30 seconds at 3k pace recovery 15 secs x 4
4. Run 2 minutes at 3/5k pace with a 1-minute recovery
5. Warm down easy for 10 minutes

Advantages & Benefits of Fartlek Training

Fartlek running offers many benefits and advantages to a runner. If you aren’t already sold on this type of session, look at some of the advantages below.

Safe for beginners. The intensity of the session can vary based on how your body responds. If you struggle to hold speed for long periods, focus on short efforts during the workout and slowly increase the duration each week. Because the intensity is much lower than a regular interval workout, it’s a good workout for a beginner when starting higher intensity work.

Used during the base training period. Fartlek running is a great tool during the base training period. This can give you some light intensity that you can control before heading into more strenuous sessions.

Replicate racing. Used by many cross country runners. The workout can be run over a golf course or open fields to replicate a specific racecourse.

Can be performed in groups. Often called sausage running, doing a fartlek session with a group of runners isn’t just a good workout but fun too. Each person can take turns leading while the others guess the distance.

Change running surface. Doing the session on trails or open fields can give the legs a much-needed break from the harsh asphalt. Because you don’t follow a set speed or intensity, you can vary the terrain and surface as much as you want.

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Fartlek vs Interval Training

Fartlek vs Interval Training

Although similar, fartlek training is more focused on varying the distance and speed than predetermined intervals. So, fartlek training is all about changing speed and distance while using the session to prepare for harder workouts later in your programme.

Both have benefits in a runner’s training plan, but the time of year you implement each is slightly different.

Fartlek running is often placed into the plan early in the season. This helps to incorporate some speed into the training while the form builds, without having to recover from a more strenuous workout.

Doing this helps prevent overloading and allows the muscles and cardiovascular systems to adapt properly.

Fartlek vs interval training also varies in time. Often interval training is much longer or shorter than a fartlek session. Of course, this depends on the length of the intervals. Whereas the fartlek typically lasts between 20-30 minutes. The intensity of the session is also much lower than the interval session, as the intensity varies a lot during the 20-30 minute workout.

Ultimately the goal of a fartlek run is to vary the intensity and build the aerobic system. Interval training predominantly is to increase your leg speed, v02, and threshold. This is then performed at a specific pace you are aiming to run in your event, or slightly quicker.

Either way, both Fartlek training and interval training have a time and place in a runner’s training plan. By implementing both into your training you can expect to see much better results and fitness.


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