What is a Fartlek?

What is a Fartlek?

Are you looking to begin a running routine with maximum results and in less time?

A “Fartlek” (pronounced “färt-LEK”) is the Swedish word for speed play. This type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout is based on periods of running at a fast pace, followed by a slower pace, all while continuously moving.

“HIIT workouts such as Fartleks can effectively improve fitness, endurance and overall cardiovascular function,” says Mike Griffin, a physical therapist at Aurora Health Care.

HIIT workouts shift between periods of high and low intensity, which engage both the anaerobic and aerobic metabolic systems. Griffin explains that the anaerobic system achieves a higher intensity, around 70% or greater of your maximum heart rate. The aerobic system is done at a lower intensity below 70% of your maximum heart rate.

“By applying both the anaerobic and aerobic systems to your workout, the body is able to burn increased glycogen and triglycerides, ultimately decreasing blood sugar and body fat,” Griffin says.

Research suggests brief intense interval exercise improved cardiometabolic health at the equivalent level as traditional endurance exercise, but in five times less time. HIIT workouts can dramatically improve health while removing barriers such as not having enough time to dedicate to longer workouts.

How can beginners incorporate Fartleks into their workout?

  • HIIT workouts should always begin with a 5-10 minute warm-up. This should be done at a pace you can still carry a conversation without losing your breath.
  • Begin the main workout by alternating 30 second fast phases, followed by two-minute slow phases. Repeat up to six times. The main workout should last around 25 minutes.
  • Fartleks can be performed anywhere outdoors such as on a nature path or outdoor track. They can also be done on the treadmill.
  • Always end your workout with a 5-minute cool down. This should be done at an easy jogging pace.

Equipment needed for starting your first Fartlek:

  • Properly-fitting athletic shoes
  • Stopwatch (to keep track of fast and slow phases)
  • Water bottle to stay hydrated
  • Course map

Runners should plan their route ahead of time to calculate distance. Mapping out a repeatable loop is ideal, which will allow runners to better streamline their workout, says Griffin.

Beginners should incorporate HIIT runs one to two times per week. Griffin recommends beginners follow each HIIT workout by two days of rest to help with soreness. If you are a beginner, you should remember to listen to your body. Patience is key to avoid injury while slowly building up stamina with a new workout routine.

Consult your physician prior to beginning an exercise program, specifically if you have a cardiovascular or respiratory history.

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more. 

Related Posts


One Comment

  1. We did fartlek training in high school starting in fall of 1970 cross country season.

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Liz Fitzgerald
Liz Fitzgerald

Liz Schoenung, health enews contributor, is an integrated marketing manager at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communication from Marquette University.  Outside of work, Liz has a goal of visiting all U.S. national parks.