I Smell a Fartlek

By Katie, 5:31 am

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It’s really hard to write a post about the fartlek and not make some childish, immature jokes. So let’s just get the laughing out of the way, shall we? :lol:



For those of who thinking I’ve lost my mind, let me assure you that “fartlek” is an actual term. It comes from the Swedish word for “speed play,” and it refers to a running workout where you occasionally pick up the pace for however long you’d like, and then slow down and recover…for however long you’d like.

If you’re a Type-A personality like me, initially you might be wary of this whole concept; you probably prefer structured workouts and regimented routines. And yet I truly believe it’s important for all of us – yes, even the Type A’s – to let loose a little bit when it comes to exercise. Sometimes we need to throw caution to the wind, let our hair down, and get a little crazy. 8-)

So that’s why I love the idea of a fartlek workout, which is actually supposed to feel more like playing than exercising. As this article from Runner’s World states,“Fartleks get us back to running like we did as kids, treating it as play and not as work.”

Not to mention it makes for an awesome workout! Study after study has shown that cardiovascular exercise is more effective when we vary our intensity level – as in intervals – than when we simply move at a steady pace. A fartlek is really just a free-form interval workout.

And even though the fartlek workout is technically a running one that focuses on speed specifically, the concept can easily be applied to all kinds of exercises: walking (with intervals of either power walking or jogging), elliptical workouts, biking, whatever! The idea is just to have fun varying your speed and intensity level.

So the next time your exercise routine starts feeling a bit too much like work, why not try playing around a bit with a fartlek workout? No snickering required. ;-)

Have you ever tried a fartlek run or free-form interval workout? Do you think this is something you’d like to incorporate into your exercise routine?

38 Responses to “I Smell a Fartlek”

  1. Lauren says:

    I have always wanted to try a fartlek but I never really understood until you just put it into lehmans terms. I am so ingrained to intervals or negative splits or any kind of structure that running without any restriction would be such a nice change for once.

  2. I haven’t done a fartlek run in a while just because I tend to slack off on intervals if I don’t have a plan in my head from the get go. I’ll sprint for 15 seconds and then call it a day. Not exactly the most effective for of interval training! Lol. But I like the idea of it…I just know I’m too lazy to make it work the way it’s supposed to. :)

  3. It reminds of the Friends episode where Phoebe runs with crazy arms!

  4. Love the idea of making it fun again!!

  5. Cyndi says:

    Thank you for this post. Lately when I’ve been running it’s been starting to feel kind of tedious and I think that the fartlek technique might be exactly what I need to help me get back into the groove.

  6. Tina says:

    I never even realized that I farlek’d all the time in my workouts. They may not be running but I have always loved switching up the intensity here and there during my workouts.

  7. i never have, but i really like that idea! i think i might try it today…i typically use a watch and time myself for stuff like this but i think it’d be fun to listen to my body!

  8. Hey, I think I fartlek all the time and I didn’t even know it!

  9. Shawnee says:

    I think this sounds like fun. I might give it a try during my workout this morning. Should I let you know how I feel after I fartlek? I am sure it will relieve some my built up pressure. :P

  10. Tamara says:

    Like Wendy, apparently I’ve been “Fartleking” all this time and didn’t know it! Walking can get boring, so sometimes I just break out into a run to loosen my legs and get my heart pumping, then stop when I feel tired. I’m all for pushing yourself, but since I’m not planning on entering any races and just exercise for longevity and endorphins, this is the way to do it :D

  11. I love fartleks! ;) I would choose this type of workout over interval training any day of the week. And if you do like more structure in your workouts, you can actually make them into a structured run. Distance-wise, it’s obviously not as not as exact as running on a track, but one of my favorite things to do is a ladder — start with 1 minute hard/1 min off, go up to 4 or 5 minutes and come back down. It’s an awesome workout, and keeps things interesting by switching it up.

  12. brandi says:

    this is funny :)

    I’ve never tried it, but thinking of it as just an interval is much easier to understand, that’s for sure!

  13. For me over eating is usually sparked by boredom, but occasionally by sadness. I feel like the first pang of it and then I head to the kitchen. So lately I’ve developed my own little alarm and when it starts going off I start an inner dialogue: “Why do I want to eat that? Am I really hungry? If I’m hungry, could I make a better choice besides this cookie (or whatever it is)? Will eating said cookie make me feel better, or will I feel even worse?” and usually I find that it’s not worth it and I try to soothe myself in other ways. It doesn’t always work, but it does most of the time. It’s a journey :_

  14. Cleaver. :)
    I’m kind of type A about fartleks as well. I’ll time my intervals so that I know I’m being consistent. I actually thought thats what you were supposed to do. Maybe next time I’ll just see how much my body can do without being so strict about sticking to a plan.

  15. katie says:

    hahahah this title made me laugh! does that make me immature?
    ANYWAY I LOVE intervals!! I cannot do STEADY cardio anymore! its better for you too!

  16. I fartlek once or twice a week! However, like a few commenters above, I had no idea I was doing it! Such a silly term. :-)

    I agree that intervals make for a better workout, even if it’s just power walking. When I exercise at a steady pace, I don’t feel nearly as invigorated!

  17. Sounds like fun and would take some stress off of following a strike workout regime. Definitely reminds me of being a kid though where you are chasing after a friend (running faster) and then you catch them or they get away (and you run slower).

  18. I did a lot of this earlier in the year when I was doing a lot of running – really changed things up and meant getting the most out of a short workout.

    It’s great when I watch my kids play and run – they do this naturally; sprint then walk, sprint then run, sprint then have an ice cream…

  19. Dorry says:

    I’ve definitely experienced fartlek workouts but probably unintentionally – like I had a burst of energy and ran or rollerbladed super fast for a minute or 2. But now that I’m focusing more distance, I tend to keep a steadier pace. I think it’s a fun concept though!

  20. I’ve been doing fartlek workouts all summer and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I get bored with running at one pace, but I’ve never really known how to structure my intervals, so I just increase the pace for a bit whenever I feel like it. I had no idea this had an actual name though!

  21. We use to run fartleks in middle and high school cross country and always giggled through the workout!

  22. haha i have never heard of this but I think its a great idea to just let loose about exercise. I often times think I need to work for X amount of time or run X miles…kind of plays a numberon your psyche if you don’t meet your expectations.

  23. I used to unknowingly do fartleks when I first started running, before I knew what they were. I started with run/walk and eventually moved to run/jog. It’s fun and feels great to just do whatever your body feels like doing at the moment. I’ve moved into more structured workouts now, but would like to start doing fartleks more often.

  24. So is this basically like HIIT?
    If so,it’s REALLY effective for breaking plateaus and fat loss.
    I’ve never heard the term fartlek before!! :)

  25. it’s been a while but I’ve done a few fartleks. They are a fun change especially when done with a friend.

  26. haha…thst sound exactly how i work out! i’m not really rigid when i run (don’t know if that’s good or not) but it’s hard to be when you’re running through downtown and there’s masses of people everywhere. (you just run harder when space allows for it.) now that i’m following a half marathon plan though, every workout has it’s own agenda.

  27. Meg says:

    How fun(ny)! That’s kind of how I run most days. I am quite sure that I’m NOT a Type A. Sometimes I wish I was a little more of one! ;)

  28. MIchelle says:

    This is one of my favorite concepts. I tend to be a bit Type A too because I get out all the gadgets and time myself and track my distance, go to the track, etc. However if I happen to get to run outside (which is few and far between in this desert heat I am in right now) I love to vary my speed – like, “I am going to run as fast as I can to that pole!” It’s way more fun to do a fartlek run outside. Tougher on a treadmill though it can be done! It’s a great concept and a good way to introduce speedwork into running without injuring yourself like sometimes more structured intervals can do! Love em!

    • Katie says:

      Yes! Fartlek runs really are more enjoyable outside…choosing your next landmark to sprint to is half the fun! :)

  29. I just did a fartlek run this morning! I used to do my interval runs very timed out (like, run fast for one minute, medium for one, fast for one, slow for two, etc.) but I hated staring at my watch all the time! I have changed my “speed work” runs midweek to this kind of thing. “Hey, I will sprint to that tree!” It is awesome and I get a way better workout, weirdly.

  30. Jaime Runs says:

    I do this all the time…just make up a workout right before I head out. Usually it’s a run/walk interval to build up speed. I’m not yet at the point where I can do a jog/run interval. Baby steps.

    When I go, I try to go with my husband because he’s faster than me so he challenges me to run even faster. Plus, it’s nice to catch up on each other’s day during the walking portion :)

  31. Taryn says:

    Hi Katie!

    I found a link to your blog on Gracie’s (girlmeetshealth.com) this morning and I just wanted to let you know how much I love it! I read your latest post about intuitive eating and just had to keep reading your archived posts.

    Apparently I’ve been doing fartleks all this time and I never knew it! :) When I started going to the gym routinely back in April, I would go for a steady-state elliptical or treadmill session. Recently I became so bored with it that I just started increasing my speed/incline/resistance at my leisure, doing whatever I “felt like.” It’s definitely the best and most entertaining way to work out!

    Anyway, consider me a lifelong subscriber to Health for the Whole Self from here on out. I wish you enormous success in the future. Blog on! :D

    • Katie says:

      Taryn, thank you so much for your kind words! It really means so much to me – I am beaming from ear-to-ear right now! :)

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