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Home arrow Fitness arrow Running arrow What Is Fartlek Run? Benefits, Exercises (Guide for Beginners)

What Is Fartlek Run? Benefits, Exercises (Guide for Beginners)

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 24, 2022
6 min read 1284 Views 0 Comments
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The ability to go from a normal pace to running at faster speeds is something even experienced runners take pride in. In this article, we will detail why you should run fartleks and how exactly it improves speed.

fartlek run

Runners all over the world are constantly seeking ways to improve their performance. An area that many runners seek improvements in is speed.

If you are tired of only being able to run at a normal running pace, chances are you have tried countless workouts to help you attain a faster pace and become a better runner.

Today, we look at fartleks and see how beneficial they are to the running community. Furthermore, we will be analyzing several variations of fartlek runs and see which is best for you.

What Is a Fartlek Run?

“Fartlek” is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” Fartlek training is an unstructured speed workout that mixes continuous endurance and interval training, creating a dynamic centered on speed play and endurance.

The fartlek workout method involves running at different speeds throughout the workout, alternating between fast bursts and jogs. This combination of speed and endurance unlocks your body’s ability to run faster for longer distances.

What is the difference between fartlek and interval runs?

Although interval and fartlek runs operate under the same premise (playing with pace and endurance), key differences separate workouts from each other.

For starters, interval runs involve fast running over a short distance mixed with equal or slightly longer recovery time. These recovery sessions range from running at an easy pace or complete rest. Contrastingly, a fartlek run is a continuous run, with the recovery periods coming from sessions of decreasing speeds (slow running).

Again, each of these workouts offers different levels of flexibility. Traditional interval training is a structured workout method, unlike fartlek, which is more unstructured.

That means that partaking in interval runs will have you following a controlled routine centered on exact timed or measured segments. That ultimately makes interval runs more track-oriented as you can measure and control the variables with greater precision.

On the other hand, fartlek is unpredictable as it revolves more around how your body feels, allowing you to experiment and spice up your workout easily.

Therefore, you do not necessarily need a stopwatch to time each segment. Thus, each segment’s distance, frequency, and pace will vary continuously based on the terrain, route, and runner’s preference.

How Often Should I Do Fartleks?

Since fartlek sessions are inherently flexible, adding them to your weekly routine is relatively easy.

However, it would help if you accounted for the length of your runs, frequency, pace during fast segments, and of course, your fitness level. That will ultimately help you decide how many times per week you partake in fartlek running.

On that note, you can make it a casual replacement for your tempo runs, use it to spice up your long runs, or squeeze it into your training plan whenever you feel like it.

However, incorporating a fartlek run might be tricky if you are in the middle of strict interval training with a goal in mind. In that case, it would be wise to complete that training cycle and allow your body sufficient rest before venturing into a fartlek run.

5 Benefits of Fartleks

Having gone through the entire article up until this point, you have an idea of the benefits of fartlek training.

Nonetheless, our job here is to make things simple for you. So, we will be looking at 5 benefits of fartlek running.

#1 Improves speed and endurance

Since fartlek run is a mix of speed work and distance training, it is a vital workout strategy for anyone that wishes to improve in these areas. That is because it works out your aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Your aerobic system is responsible for increasing your cardiovascular endurance, which allows you to increase your running distance significantly.

On the other hand, your anaerobic system targets muscle strength by increasing your anaerobic threshold. By increasing this threshold, you free your muscles of lactic acid, allowing them to function optimally, and you run faster.

Thus, you are well equipped to take on more challenging workouts by running longer distances at varying speeds.

#2 Burns more calories

You burn more calories when you switch speeds throughout your run than when you run at a steady pace. That is because it raises your heart rate and metabolism, pushing your body to consume more calories and energy than when you go at a normal long-run pace.

In essence, a 180-pound individual running fartleks at 12 miles per hour will burn about 608 calories in 20 minutes. Similarly, a 250-pound individual will burn 845 calories under the same conditions (speed and workout duration). 

On this point, fartleks are great for fat loss, weight management, and maintaining fitness levels.

#3 Introduces variety to your training

Diversifying the workout and producing multiple variations makes the fartlek run unique among other running types.

Since you have complete control over the workout, you can integrate an endless pool of intervals into your aerobic workouts, keeping you active and engaged.

#4 Improves sports training

If you play sports regularly, then fartlek training will surely be a mandatory aspect of your training. Sports like hockey and football demand you randomly go from light jogs to fast bursts.

Fartlek training gives you better control of changing pace mid-game, thus improving your sports performance.

#5 Enhances focus

Aside from the physical benefits of fartleks, your brain receives significant stimulation with this training plan.

Let us put this into perspective. Imagine running around on a looped trail; you may decide to use markers to prompt the next pace switch. Of course, you could do this sequentially or randomly, depending on personal taste, but it all boils down to making active decisions off the fly.

Since fartleks are generally unstructured, the terrain, route, and pace force you to maintain focus and awareness at all times to implement your next decision. So, doing this puts you in the best position to make credible decisions on a race day.

5 Fartlek Exercises/Workouts

By now, you are well aware of what goes into fartlek workouts and their benefits. What you do not know, however, is that different workout patterns fall under fartlek training.

With that in mind, let us look at 5 fartlek variations (out of the many that exist) that will help you decide which one best represents your wants and needs.

#1 Mailbox variation

This fartlek training variation has runners going hard for a supposed 2-mailbox distance, recovering for 3 mailboxes, running hard for 3 mailboxes, and recovering for 2 mailboxes. They alternate between hard runs, recovery runs for an assigned time, or throughout the run.

#2 Dog park variation

This version has runners speeding up as they approach a dog and then slowing down as soon as they pass the dog. Then again, they may vary the intensity based on the type of dog they find, with large dogs signaling hard runs and small dogs signaling recovery portions at slower paces.

#3 Follow terrain variation

This version of fartlek training has the terrain determining the speed and intensity of the workout. A great example is a hill run; you can decide to sprint uphill and recover downhill, which leads to a higher workload.

Conversely, you can decide to run at the same pace regardless of the terrain. It depends on how hard you want your run to be.

#4 Music variation

This workout uses music as a template to map out sections of hard runs and recovery runs. 

Runners can change their speed and intensity after every song played – running hard, listening to songs with a high tempo, and going about their recovery runs listening to mellow songs.

Similarly, they can change the pace during different parts of a song, like running hard during the song’s chorus and slowing down throughout the rest.

However, you would need a special playlist for this to work effectively.

#5 Mona variation

Steve Moneghetti, one of Australia’s most dignified runners, devised the mona fartlek with his coach Chris Wardlaw in 1983. The goal of this workout was to create a 20-minute routine that provided the most stimulation to keep up with the competition.

A mona fartlek session consists of 2×90sec, 4×60sec, 4×30sec, and 4×15sec hard runs followed by a recovery run at a lower tempo between each repetition.


Here are some frequently asked questions about fartlek runs.

Are fartleks beginner-friendly?

Yes, fartlek workouts are beginner-friendly.

Do fartleks make you run faster?

Yes, fartleks enable you to run faster for longer distances.

How long is it recommended to do fartlek?

Your fartlek workout should last between 20–40 minutes.

Word From Our Coach

As the article suggests, there are many health benefits when you do fartleks. Nonetheless, it would help if you had sufficient preparations before exerting maximum effort.

Being able to go a mile faster is no easy task for most runners; still, your number one priority should be consistency, irrespective of the continuous nature and intense efforts required.

If running 5 days a week is your preferred option, try to pencil in at least one day inside your training schedule.  Your best bet is to talk to your running coach before starting fartlek sessions.


Fartleks are excellent ways of spicing up your training program. Their versatility makes them great for increasing speed work and endurance.

Then again, you benefit from weight loss, improved focus, aerobic fitness, and muscular strength.

Overall, health-centered habits will translate to healthy living. So steel your resolve, be active in the runner’s world, and you will see great results.

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 24, 2022
6 min read 1284 Views 0 Comments

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