Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a form of conditioning which puts stress mainly on the aerobic energy system due to the continuous nature of the exercise. The difference between this type of training and continuous training is that the intensity or speed of the exercise varies within a workout, meaning that aerobic and anaerobic systems can be put under stress. Most fartlek sessions last a minimum of 45 minutes and can vary from aerobic walking to anaerobic sprinting. Fartlek training is generally associated with running, but can include almost any kind of exercise.
Fartlek training was developed in the 1930s by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér (1891–1983) and has been adopted by many physiologists since. It was designed for the Swedish cross-country teams that had been defeated throughout the 1920s by Paavo Nurmi and the Finns. Holmér's plan used a faster-than-race pace and concentrated on both speed and endurance training.
This is the first session that was designed by Gösta Holmér for a cross-country runner. This is also an example of what a fartlek session might look like, but fartlek sessions should be designed for an athlete's own event or sport and fitness level. Sessions should be at an intensity that causes the athlete to work at 60% to 80% of his or her maximum heart rate (estimated at 220 minus age), as outlined by the Karvonen Method. This should mean that the body will not experience too much discomfort while exercising. An athlete should also include a good warmup at the beginning of the session, and a cool down at the end of the session, to improve performance and to decrease the chances of injury and for other reasons.
- Warmup: easy running for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Steady, hard speed for 1.5–2 km; like a long repetition.
- Recovery: rapid walking for about 5 minutes.
- Start of speed work: easy running interspersed with sprints of about 50–60 m, repeated until a little tired.
- Easy running with three or four "quick steps" now and then (simulating suddenly speeding up to avoid being overtaken by another runner).
- Full speed uphill for 175–200 m.
- Fast pace for 1 minute.
- The whole routine is then repeated until the total time prescribed on the training schedule has elapsed.
Fartlek in popular culture
Fartlek Hill in Quantico Virginia, on the grounds of United States Marine Corps base, is named after Fartlek training, as the hill is the central part of Fartlek-type physical training used regularly throughout the officer training cycle.