Advantages of Fartlek Training Session: An Interval Training Workout to Improve Anaerobic and Aerobic Endurance | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Advantages of Fartlek Training Session: An Interval Training Workout to Improve Anaerobic and Aerobic Endurance

While I generally advocate a HIIT workout routine for getting in great shape, today I’d like to discuss a Fartlek training session.  What is Fartlek?  It’s a term that means “speed play” in Swedish and is an interval training workout that involves continuous exercise alternated between low, medium, and high intensity intervals.  The main advantages of Fartlek training are that it allows you to burn fat and also improve both anaerobic and aerobic endurance.  In other words, it helps you to more efficiently perform really intense exercise as well as improving your overall aerobic capacity.

Fartlek Training Session

How does Fartlek work in practice?  Generally, Fartlek is performed through running but you could theoretically customize other activities to incorporate the same principles.  You start by running at an average pace and then pick a time to sprint.  After you sprint, you may run at a slower pace or the same pace that you started running at.  It’s up to you.  Then, when your body is ready, you can perform another sprint or simply run at an increased pace.  You decide how often to increase the intensity and how far the interval is.  You could base distances around landmarks (utility poles, lamp posts, trees, etc.).  Maybe one sprint interval is only 100 meters while the next is a fast paced quarter mile jog.  There’s no set structure.

Advantages of Fartlek Training

Why are Fartlek workouts a great way to train?  First, interval training in general is an effective way to burn fat.  It can be much better than simply running at a steady pace.  Second, Fartlek training improves anaerobic and aerobic endurance.  While steady state running improves aerobic capacity, it doesn’t help with high intensity sprints or other anaerobic activities.  Even more amazing, some studies on interval training have shown that it improves aerobic capacity better than steady state running.  It’s the best of both worlds.  Finally, you’ll utilize both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers meaning you improve power and speed (fast twitch) as well as endurance (slow twitch).

Another great feature of Fartlek training is how flexible it is.  Unlike a traditional HIIT workout routine that may involve sprinting for 30 seconds and resting for 90 seconds for a set amount of time, Fartlek allows your body to dictate the amount of rest time you need as well as how long the overall routine is.  You choose how often, how long, and how intensely you want to sprint.  You can also customize your workout based on a specific sport or activity.  For example, a basketball player might want to perform more short sprint intervals alternated with jogging vs. a cross country runner who may perform a series of longer fast paced running intervals.  The athlete can essentially simulate the activity involved in their sport.  Practice makes perfect!

Here’s a video that describes Fartlek training:

Sample Fartlek Workout

Here’s one of the original Fartlek workouts designed by Gosta Holmer for a cross country runner:

  • Warm up: 5-10 minutes
  • Hard pace: 1-1.5 miles
  • Recovery (fast walk): 5 minutes
  • Speed work: 50 meter sprints alternated with easy running until tired
  • Easy pace: steady running with brief 3-4 step sprints
  • Hard pace: uphill for 200 meters
  • Fast pace: 1 minute sprint
  • Repeat until tired
  • Cooldown

Another Interval Training Workout

One of the drawbacks to a Fartlek training session may actually be the discipline required.  To get the best results, you have to be honest with yourself and vary your speed and intervals when your body is ready.  Don’t get lazy and jog at a slow pace the entire time.  For people that fear the freedom of an unstructured routine, then a traditional HIIT workout routine might be a better option.  One of my favorite HIIT routines involves 15 second sprints with 45 seconds of jogging repeated for 10 minutes followed by 20-25 minutes of steady state cardio topped off with 1 minute of fast pace jogging alternated with 1 minute of slow paced jogging for 10 minutes.  A more comprehensive program is Visual Impact Cardio.

If you’re an athlete, I’d highly recommend incorporating a Fartlek training session.  This type of interval training workout will improve your anaerobic and aerobic endurance and also help you get better at your specific sport.  For everyone else, one of the biggest advantages of Fartlek training is that it allows you to efficiently burn fat.  Plus, a Fartlek workout can add a little variety and provide a nice break from a structured routine.   Give Fartlek training a try!

18 Responses to “Advantages of Fartlek Training Session: An Interval Training Workout to Improve Anaerobic and Aerobic Endurance”

  • Sam:

    This is really interesting and a method I had never heard of before. Interval training in the traditional sense is very effective and a great approach towards cardio but this different method is quite challenging.

    As I looked at it it reminds me very much of what soccer players go through; run, rest, jog, run again etc.

    Good post once again.


  • Interesting name and technique! looks just like version of intervals with a new name but I’m sure its effective conditioner.

    I’m puzzled but like to know how its more effective at burning fat? Anaerobic wont burn a higher % of fat as aerobic infact it will take ATP and glucose primarily and only burn fat if the total effort of duration is long enough to create a high enough calorie deficit.

    Having said I think due to its variable timing of sprints and steady state it would definitely be a very good fat burner and increase heart and lung strength!

    If you I don’t have enough time this would be a good way to train.

  • Yeah Ray,

    I’m with you it looks like my sprinting workout mixed with a few bells and whistles. I am a fan of HIIT so no matter who does it or what version they have I know it works and this should be know different.

    I use to do them on the treadmills but got tired of almost falling trying to wait until the speed lowers. Then it got to the point were 14 on the treadmill just wasnt fast enough.

    Great for burning those calories though. Nice post Dave!


  • Dave,

    I’ve never heard of Fartlek but I used to do something similar where I would go on about a 2 mile run and incorporate several 40-50 yard wind sprints into the run at sporadic intervals. This really got me winded and was one of the tougher cardio workouts I’ve ever done.


  • Sam,
    When I first read about Fartlek training, soccer was immediately what came to my mind as well. Since they’re all in good shape, probably not a bad idea to emulate their routine.

    It is definitely a form of interval training or HIIT but just randomized. Nice to add a little variety. What I meant by fat burning is the fact that HIIT or Fartlek training results in a significant after burn effect whereas calorie burning stops when steady state cardio states. Aerobic exercise burns a higher percentage of fat but the same amount of interval training should result in more calories (as well as more fat calories) burned. That’s the research I’ve read at least.

    I’m a big believer in switching up cardio routines. It’s great for fat loss but can get very tedious over time.

    Sounds like a very challenging workout and the basis behind what Fartlek tries to accomplish.


  • Great post Dave.

    I first learned about and used Fartlek training when I was studying to be a personal trainer. As you said, this is really effective and really challenging. I definitely agree about being honest with yourself and not just coasting with the easier option.

  • I just like saying it, Fartlek. Fartlek. I think I will tell people that I do it just so I can say it. Fartlek.

    Ok, I know I need to grow up. :-)


  • David,
    It’s not a term that comes up that much so it’s good to hear you’ve learned about it already. I’d say it’s more of an advanced method of training because you have to be honest with yourself.

    It’s a great party topic. Bring it up to all your friends after a couple beers. Don’t worry, some of us never grow up.


  • Dave, you mentioned:

    “Another great feature of Fartlek training is how flexible it is…The athlete can essentially simulate the activity involved in their sport.”

    I am a tennis player and have been looking for an interval type training that could be done anywhere at any time. This seems perfect b/c I can modify to mimic the short bursts of sprinting that are necessary when playing singles. Throw in some longer distances for good measure to help with stamina for a long match.

    Thanks for putting this one out there!

  • Andrew,
    Sounds like you’ve got the system down. Hopefully this improves your speed and endurance in tennis. Good luck!

  • Cliff DePass:

    Fartlek is an excellent alternative to just doing short/long runs, track interval and hill repeats. Since I am a “Baby Boomer” runner I am very familiar with Fartlek running which was first made very popular by the great French miler Michael Jazy. It’s a great way train with the routine boredom of others forms of running. Finally another term for it is “Speed Play.”

  • Cliff,
    Thanks for passing along your experience. Sounds like you’ve made good use of Fartlek!

  • Fartlek is a new term to me. I will definitely be passing this on to my girl. She plays high level Volleyball and I think this would be perfect as it’s a long period of exercise with high bursts of energy/speed.

    I think it’s truly amazing at what the body can do if trained correctly.


  • Michael,
    Fartlek training sounds like it would be good for a volleyball player. Hope it helps your girl.

  • I heard about Fartlek training over 35 years ago, but didn’t really know exactly what it was. Seems like the old routines are often the best eh? Great explanation here, and I like the idea of the flexibility. Interesting as I was thinking the other day that HIIT should be a bit more flexible :)

  • David,
    An oldie but goodie, right? Fitness trends seem to come back around if you give them enough time. Nowadays, Fartlek is just another variation of HIIT.

  • Thanks for your report about fish oil.
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  • Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to pass this on to the guys at Crossfit Reign.

    Thanks for sharing Dave.

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