New age fartlek running

Speed play techniques for runners

Fartlek is a form of run training using the speed element of the training session. When coached properly it can form an invaluable part of the runner's preparations.

New age fartlek running and woman runner on track.

New age fartlek running

'Fartlek' is a Swedish word which translates as 'speed play'. It originated from Gosta Holmer, coach to world record holders Gunder Haag and Arne Anderson, who trained in the Swedish pine forests.

Fartlek training was intended to be a rather unstructured session where the runner runs as they please and plays around with the speed element of the training session. However, coaches have tended to move away from this unstructured approach and will now have a set time for the session.

A typical structured fartlek session

  • 50 minute fartlek, containing 15 speed efforts. The longest is over 1,200m (0.75 miles), the shortest over 60m (approximately 66 yards) with the rest of the efforts in between these parameters with a jog recovery following each effort.

If employed during a road session, the coach might decide that the efforts should take place between a set of street lights with the next set being a jogged recovery, building up each repetition to say 10 street light posts with six street light posts jog recovery.

In these structured sessions, the athlete knows beforehand the set time of the fartlek, the number of efforts, the range of efforts and the recovery after each effort. However, certain coaches, will only inform the athlete of the length of the fartlek session in terms of time. The rest of the session, the number of repetitions, the duration of each repetition and the recovery after each repetition remain a mystery to the runner and are controlled by the coach using a whistle.

In this way, the athlete does not know what is coming next, how long they will have to run hard for and how long they have to recover. It brings a more structured and disciplined approach to the fartlek session. Using this system, all the energy pathways are involved making it very similar to the race situation, as well as involving other important training ingredients.

  • The short sprints with long recovery involve the pure sprint system.
  • The longer repetitions, which are run quickly with a short recovery, involve the lactate system (burning legs syndrome).
  • The consistent steady running, strides and recovery stages, involve the oxygen system (you can talk during these sections).

New age fartlek running and how to progress

Fartlek training can be used at any time of year, by mixed ability groups and with athletes of all ages. However, to make proper progress throughout the season, the length of the sessions and number of repetitions that are run within it must be increased.

Fartlek should also be progressive throughout the athlete’s career. A younger athlete is probably better suited to the whistle controlled fartlek, progressing to the structured fartlek as they become more disciplined. Remember, fartlek is not an easy option, but helps add variety to what otherwise could be boring sessions.

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