Fartlek training: this interval running style is the easy way to improve your run

Posted by for Strong Women

It’s amazing what switching up your running style can do for your motivation. The interval technique known as Fartlek will keep things interesting (and improve your fitness). 

If you’ve been running since the beginning of the first lockdown – when Run 5 Donate 5 was trending and people’s Instagram Stories were dominated by Strava screenshots –you’ll now be over a year into your running journey (congratulations, by the way). But is the novelty starting to wear a little thin?

While 2020 was the year of running, there’s no reason why gyms reopening should mean giving up the fantastic cardio workout. Switching up your training is a great way to give yourself an extra dose of motivation to keep going – and it’s a bonus if these new techniques also help you improve in the sport

Fartlek training could be the answer. Translating to “speed play” in Swedish, the running style is a form of interval training whereby you mix up your (you guessed it) speed. “This style of training is loved by sports players to train pace, endurance and power,” says Kerry Dixon of The Athlete Method. “But it’s also great for general runners, including beginners, as a way of improving fitness.” 

What is Fartlek training, and how do you do it?

Fartlek training involves running at different speeds for intervals, but that’s kind of where the rules end. Much like HIIT, it’s up to you to decide how you break up your work/rest pattern. 

“It’s about varying the intensity at which you train,” explains Kerry. “Unlike a 5k, in which you try to maintain a low tempo pace for a continuous run, in fartlek training there’s going to be short bursts of speed.” 

For example, you might run for two minutes at a steady pace, and then pick up the speed for three minutes, and repeat for the duration of your session. Although the period of faster running can be a sprint, it doesn’t have to be, and if you do want to go super-fast, Kerry advises reducing the amount of time you spend working on speed. “You could try sprinting for 30 metres and walking for 100m,” she suggests. 

A woman running through the park in a hoodie and leggings.
Fartlek running can improve fitness, says Kerry.

“It’s about having the stamina to be able to sustain the timeframe you want to run for. If you want to do a flat out sprint, you’ve also got to give time for the energy systems to replenish, otherwise lactic acid is going to build up and you won’t be able to finish the session,” explains Kerry. 

Remember, this workout is all about doing what works for you. “Some people rest, some people walk, some people jog. It really depends what you’re doing in those ‘on’ intervals and how much recovery time you need,” Kerry says. The one rule she will give, though, is that the workout shouldn’t last any more than 45 minutes as “your body won’t be able to sustain the speed intervals if you go for much longer”. In fact, she says that just 20 minutes of fartlek is beneficial enough to improve your fitness. 

What are the benefits of fartlek training?

“Fartlek works both your aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same time,” says Kerry. This will help to increase energy levels and VO2 max (the amount of oxygen your body consumes during high-intensity exercise) all of which “essentially means you are working out at a higher intensity for longer and recovering quicker, hence improving overall fitness.”

And, it really is for everyone. “It’s a great form of training for people who run long distances, such as 3k, 5k or more to increase their speed,” says Kerry. But it can also be a simple workout for beginners to train for just five minutes at a time to learn about pace. “They might run between two lamposts, then walk between the next two, and so on,” says Kerry. 

So, if you’re feeling a bit bored with your running or have hit a speed plateau, fartlek might just help. 

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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